webadmin@spfccc.orgCommunity Christian Church of Springfield

4806 E. Cherry
Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821 


Spiritual Reflections in an Age of Terrorism

In the Wake of the Paris Terrorist Attack
Nov. 15, 2015

Community Christian Church of Springfield, MO
Roger Ray, pastor

James Madison, Political Observations, 1795 "Of all the enemies to public liberty war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes...known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

During my annual physical my doctor asked me if I am seeing my dentist every year, then he asked me if I wear a seat belt when I am in a car, and finally he asked me if I smoke. He explained, the three most likely things to kill a man in middle age is to be in a car accident without a seat belt on, or to smoke cigarettes, or to allow gum disease to go undetected, which, was news to me, is suspected to have a relationship to heart disease.

My doctor was doing his due diligence, asking me about behaviors or habits that might pose a threat to my welfare.  He did not mention dying from being shot, which is, statistically more likely than dying in a car accident but you can't really expect a doctor in the Ozarks to bring up anything that might draw gun ownership into question.

As a progressive spiritual community, in the midst of the fear, outrage, and dangerous talk of war in response to the Isis inspired terrorist attacks in Paris on Friday evening, it is important for us, since we talk about evidence based faith rather than superstitious or purely emotional thinking, to apply both our faith and our critical thinking skills in the midst of a crisis.

This is who we are. This is what we do. We have to talk about what is true and not be sucked into the anxiety, hatred, and bloodlust of our lower nature.

In spite of what might be implied by watching the news on a daily basis, your chances of being killed by a terrorist is not only not high on the list of likely causes of death but, again, based purely on math, you are many times more likely to be killed by a dairy cow.  You may say that you are highly unlikely to be in a field or barn with a dairy cow, and yet, even though that is probably true, it is more likely than that you will be a place that will be killed by a terrorist.

Since 9-11, our nation has spent over $700 billion dollars on Homeland Security. It is now a huge industry with office buildings rivaling the capacity of the Pentagon and the Department of Defense, devoted to finding potential terror threats and either stopping them or defending against them.

We had a speaker at Drury University a few years ago from the Homeland Security agency who was, basically, on a public relations mission.  In the question and answer time, I asked him if the flu was actually a much greater threat to American lives than terrorists and that rather than spending $700 billion dollars on Homeland Security, we could save many more lives by encouraging people to get their annual flu shot and to remember to wash their hands.  Our guest speaker was furious, I suspect, because, in fact, the flu does represent a greater threat to Americans than terrorists do by a factor of several hundred thousand.

Terrorism is the warfare of the poor.  When we go to war, we use our navy, our air force, and our armies. Oppressed people who feel that they have a legitimate reason to go to war but who do not have the equipment of modern warfare, turn to terrorism. You cannot defeat a country like Russia by blowing up a single passenger plane but you frighten the population and humiliate the government.

They do not have the ability to attack a French military base but they can strike a newspaper office, a concert, a market where unsuspecting civilians are vulnerable.

They certainly could not take on an American navel vessel or take to the air to challenge one of our fighter jets, but they can infiltrate commercial airways, or leave a bomb on a city street during a crowded public event.  Again, that does not amount to defeating the United States in a war but if you listened to our 24-hour news cycle, it would appear to come pretty close to doing so.

The point of terrorism is to scare people. It only works if the general population agrees to be scared. Terrorists try to make their numbers, the size of their constituency seem many times larger than it actually is through violent scare tactics. And our media plays into their deception.  Some of our presidential candidates were immediately reacting on Friday night, talking about refusing to accept any Syrian refugees into our country, or even deporting the few who are already here as if we should now suspect every Muslim on the planet of being a terrorist or a terrorist supporter or sympathizer.

There are over six million Arab Muslims living in France. If even 10% of them were extremists wanting to commit acts of terrorism, that would be 600,000 terrorists in France alone.  If it was one percent, that would still be 60,000 terrorists. People, if one tenth of one percent of Muslims were terrorists, that would be more than 6000 terrorists in France. These people who committed these horrible acts do not represent Islam... there were eight known criminals who may have some more accomplices, some of whom were from Belgium.  These are violent criminals and they should be treated as such and we should not try to take a pound of flesh out of every Arab or every Muslim we meet.

Isis announced that they would infiltrate the flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and take their fight to Europe. In spite of Europe's best efforts at vetting the millions of refugees who have streamed into their countries, Isis managed to make good on their pledge and brought a nightmare to France. Vetting refugees who arrive in large numbers with no papers, no known history in criminal records, is going to be virtually impossible.

So, is the answer to turn our backs on millions of refugees fleeing violence and starvation? There will be people in France who say yes. There are lots of people, including people who think that they should be president of this nation of immigrants, who would turn their backs on millions of desperate people to keep out a dozen terrorists. Because some people are willing to be very virtuous as long as it doesn't cost them anything.

It is not a small thing. Paris just lost a hundred and twenty lives of mostly young people who were out having a good time on a Friday night... more than 300 were also shot and wounded. This is huge, it is serious, but is it enough to make us turn our backs on millions of people among whom there are thousands who are innocent who will be killed if they are not allowed to escape battlefield of war.

The fact remains, that the majority of what is called terrorism comes from people who claim Islam as their motivation. Modern Islam has challenges to face because it isn't just those who become terrorists but those who are sympathetic with the extremists. It is a real issue and not a small one.

Of course, if you were listing terrorists from the perspective of a schoolgirl in Pakistan, or a farmer in Afghanistan, you might think that the people who are operating our drone program are terrorists.

People in Syria might think that American, French, British and Russian bombers that kill people in their neighborhoods and villages, are terrorists.
As was reported in the New York Times this week:  "Mr. Hollande actively stepped up French participation in the military air campaign in Syria at the end of September. Just last week, France attacked oil operations under the Islamic State's control in Syria. On Oct. 8, it conducted a targeted strike against militants in Raqqa, Syria, apparently targeting Salim Benghalem, a French citizen fighting for the Islamic State."

We tend to see a terrorist attack like the one in Paris as a stand-alone crazy crime...but there are no coins that have only one side.  And our media has been nearly apoplectic talking about the horror in Paris without mentioning the fact that Beirut and Bagdad have been attacked on the same day. No one in the American press was screaming for an all out war on Isis when they brought down a Russian commercial plane.

And I get it.  I have a friend in Paris.  I called Brigitte to be sure that she was okay.... We tend to identify with Western Europeans more than we do with Middle Eastern or Eastern Europeans because we are more likely to have family or friends there. But really, come on, does it really matter if you are sleepless and frightened in Beirut or in Paris?

We can all agree that terrorism is evil. We can agree that the public beheadings, the deaths of innocent civilians in almost all of these events is horrible... but if we are honest, we must admit that they do not happen in a vacuum. There are reasons why Isis can recruit people and why some people can be driven to the point of becoming a suicide bomber.

They do not hate us for our freedoms, though they are often offended by many of our cultural customs. What they hate us for are things like sending in the CIA to overthrow the government of Iran to install Reza Pahlavi as shah. They are mad about our manipulation of their governments for access to their natural resources and to control their borders and their trade.

For the most part, the Arab Muslim world loves the west. They want our economy, our technology, and many of our products. They don't want to be occupied and they don't want to have their culture extinguished by ours...and, honestly, who does?
I am horrified by the civil war in Syria. I am heart broken for the millions of refugees. We hear of politicians screaming that we can't just sit back and watch - and a part of me certainly agrees with that and yet, I think of the Hippocratic oath that doctors are suppose to live by.... The pledge that in their practice of medicine they will do no harm.

We keep deposing tyrants to install someone we think will be better only to find out that things are much worse.  There is a bloody civil war going on in Syria but if the west brings our air force and military might to help the rebels and Russia brings their air force and military might to help the Assad government, then, what we can be sure of is that thousands upon thousands of innocent Syrians will die and millions more will become refugees.

If only we could topple bad governments and install good governments, it might be worth doing, but so far our track record is horrible.  Ever since 9-11 we have assumed the posture that every terrorist act calls for us to make a horrifying and disproportionate punch back, telling ourselves that will stop them next time.... But it doesn't, it only makes it worse. And now, we have lots of people demanding that we do it again...without ever stopping to consider what a horrible mistake that can be.

Which, it must be said, is exactly what the members of Isis want us to do.

They are not frightened by the prospect of a war with the West. A war with the West is their goal.  That is what they want.  They suffer from delusions that they would win such a war with Allah's help but what they never seem to notice is that Allah doesn't get involved with such things. Rationally, does it really make sense to do exactly what Isis wants us to do?

I would remind you of the tragic murder of nine innocent people at the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston this past summer.  The shooter, a domestic terrorist, went into this historic church that has a long history that began in opposition to slavery and continued as a leader throughout the Civil Rights Movement.

This deranged white racist thought that if he went to that church, and murdered a lot of black people, that he could start a race war. And, he assumed, that his race would win that war because, after all, a lot of his sort have been stockpiling arms for a hundred years for that precise purpose.

But there was no race war ignited by that June 17th mass murder because by June 18th there were surviving church members speaking up about forgiveness and reconciliation. And by the time a week had passed, that church was covered in flowers and filled with donations from white people all over the world including from us.... I collected your donations and drove the check to Charleston myself and delivered our sympathy, our support, our commitment to compassion to them in person.

And one of the people that Dylann Roof hoped that he could make to hate people like you and like me enough to want to kill us, came out onto the sidewalk in front of Mother Emanuel Church on that 100 degree day in June in Charleston, SC and she hugged me and we wept and thanked each other for the opportunity to show that there is another way, a better way, than hitting back.

The United States government did not bomb Shelby, North Carolina even though that is where Dylann Roof was arrested. They did not bomb Lexington, SC where he lived.  That's the nest of racist sympathizers that produced him. No, they arrested Dylann Roof and put him in a cage where dangerous animals deserve to be but there was no hint of needing to kill his relatives and friends with drone strikes....

Or invade Canada because a lot of people there look like him, the way we invaded Iraq because they lived in the same global neighborhood and were the same shade of brown as the people from Saudi Arabia who attacked us on 9-11.

I do not know what the comprehensive answer to the threat of terrorism is but one thing I do know, doing things that create more terrorists is not the answer. We need to stop manipulating the internal affairs of foreign governments and we need to strop trying to use the military to address every global crisis.

As president James Madison said 225 years ago: "War is the parent of armies; from these proceed debts and taxes...known instruments for bringing the many under the domination of the few. . . No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare."

Real global peace will be achieved through raising the standard of living of people everywhere, by making sure that everyone has access to clean water, housing, education, health care, and a chance to live free. We will not create the world we hope for at the tip of a spear.... We have already spent more than $2 trillion dollars and killed a half a million people proving that doesn't work.

Now we can try something else, something smarter, something more kind, and something more effective.  For today, I beg you to stop being afraid. If I may end with a philosophical quote from Yoda.... Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.  So, I think we should try the other way.

Roger L. Ray, D.Min. 

Community Christian Church
4806 E. Cherry Springfield, MO 65809
(417) 877-7821

"I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up." (Martin Luther King, Jr. - Nobel Speech)
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