From Chuck Colson and Breakpoint.
“I want to talk about the clash of civilizations and the two struggles that we’re engaged in, because they are literally life-and-death struggles. I want to talk about the challenge to the Church, the cultivation of the Christian mind, and the defense of truth. And I want to talk as well about what it means to be the Church and what it means to engage the culture.
I will be hitting upon this throughout this talk: Remember always the balance between the two great commissions—to make disciples, baptize them, teach them all that I have taught you, draw people into the faith, but at the same time, remember that the culture is to be reclaimed. The world is to be reclaimed because it is God’s world. My duty today is to bring God’s truth and righteousness and majesty to bear in the culture. So we have two great commissions.
Neil Plantinga, the president of Calvin Seminary and a great scholar, says there’s a way the world is supposed to be, but it isn’t that way. C. S. Lewis said the same thing. He said there are two critical points to understand about life. One is that people know the law of nature, and two is, they break it! These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in—absolutely so.
So many Christians limit their understanding of Christianity. I watched that special shot at Ted Haggard’s church on NBC, and they were interviewing people on why they were in church. And universally, the answer was because it renews me for the week, it restores me. Somebody was asked, “Do you read newspapers, do you know what’s going on in the world?” “No, I’m so busy raising my kids, trying to keep my life together.” That’s a very insular view of Christianity. But Psalm 8 and Genesis 1, particularly Genesis 1:28-2:15, make it very clear that we are to care what is happening around us. We are to take dominion. We are to cultivate and till; we are to care about the creation around us.
During the Cold War, with communism and atheistic Marxism versus Western liberal democracy, there was a huge clash of civilizations that threatened to blow us up in a nuclear holocaust. I was in the White House during those years, and it was really frightening. I would get briefings by generals and admirals, and they’d come into the situation room or the Roosevelt room, and we’d get these briefings about throw weights and megatons. I’d go back to Patty at night and say, “Wow. The decisions we’re making could mean the destruction of the world. Doomsday. This is on our shoulders.” There were nights when I was physically ill thinking about it.
But we were dealing with rational people on both sides. Mutually assured destruction: We weren’t going to destroy them if we could be destroyed by them as well. So there was a dreadful balance that does not exist today.
The situation today with radical Islam—Islamo-fascism as I call it—is more dangerous than the Cold War. Samuel Huntington is a professor emeritus at Harvard who wrote a book in the 1990s in which he said there’s a great clash of civilizations going on in the world today. There is Eastern religion, that is, the whole Asian Rim, then there is Islam, which is the thirty-some countries stretched between Indonesia in the east and Nigeria in the west, then there is Western liberal democracy as formed by the Judeo-Christian tradition. Those are the three great civilizations.
He forecasted that in the twenty-first century there would be a clash between those civilizations and it would be between Islam and the West. Nobody paid much attention to him in the mid-1990s. Everybody figured peace was here to stay forever. We’ve defeated communism. Nobody was watching what was going on.
Until September 11.
As Samuel Johnson once said, “The hangman’s noose marvelously concentrates the mind.” September 11 awakened us to the fact that there are people out there who really want to see all Jews and Christians and “infidels” destroyed—not just defeated, not just conquered, but destroyed!
This is not a reflection on all of Islam. I certainly wouldn’t say all Muslims believe this kind of stuff. But there are at least one million people who are followers of Islamo-fascism. There are a lot of people who would like to make bombs and bring them into this country and blow us up. It’s not a difficult thing to bring a dirty bomb into any one of our major cities. It’s obviously not a difficult thing to hijack planes and fly them into buildings. If you can do that you can bring suitcases into this country.
The war, this clash of civilizations, is a war that will last for generations. Your grandkids will have to deal with it. It isn’t going to go away. All the solutions to it are long-term solutions. All the solutions are painful and will require incredible perseverance on the part of people in the West. We Christians can understand that, because we can take a longer view of history. But today’s instant-gratification culture doesn’t get it, doesn’t want to get it, and will fall for the notion that this war will go away once we find bin Laden in the mountains of Pakistan. Once we get this immediate threat out of the way, life will go back to normal. No, it will not. It can’t. It can’t, because we understand that this is a struggle between two fundamental ways of looking at reality.
Islam and Christianity are fundamentally different. You will meet all kinds of Muslims who will tell you, “Oh, we really believe in the same thing. We believe in Jesus.” And you’ll find a lot of Christians who say, “I’ve been talking about Jesus with these Muslims. They’re coming closer to Christ.” Give me a break! There are approaches to Muslims, by the way. I’ve evangelized Muslims, and I know how they respond, and I know that when they understand the historicity of the resurrection, it suddenly opens their eyes.
But they start out with premises that are absolutely opposite ours. We are both monotheistic. We both believe there is one God. We both come from the same origins in that sense. But everything else is different.
We say there is one God in three. The Trinity. They see the Trinity as blasphemy. We understand grace, that God loves us. They don’t. They understand Allah’s forbidding law. We understand that we are responsible for the sin in the world. They don’t. They believe that people are basically good, corrupted only by Western decadence. So that once Islam takes over by jihad, there will be peace forever.
The new president of Iran is a Madhiite, which means that he believes that Madhi is going to return and establish peace and justice in the world in the midst of chaos. So, his whole notion is to create more chaos. Hasten the return of Madhi. Like the pre-millennialist who would say that the best thing we could do is get more chaos so Jesus will return. I don’t want somebody in the White House who believes that. But that’s what you’ve got in Iran today.
We believe in redemption. There is no redemption for the Muslim. He walks across the sword of judgment and can fall off on one side or the other. He may make it, or he may not make it.
And we believe in religious liberty, because we believe the truth will always win out. The Muslim doesn’t. The Muslim believes in theocracy. Not just a state church, but a church state. What you have to understand about the Islamo-fascist movement is that what they are looking at is a war that started in the seventh century and is continuing today. We don’t think that way. We think it’s September 11 to today. “Oh, man! Four years of this is terrible!” That’s what Americans are saying. Muslims are thinking about this as centuries old.
You have to understand that many Muslims are still smarting over the fact that their armies were defeated just short of Paris at Poitiers in 732 (halting Islam’s advance in Europe). Crusades, then counter-Crusades, and so on until eventually the armies of the Ottoman Empire got as far as Vienna in 1683. Bear this in mind: It was a decisive battle when the Polish and German infantry turned back the Turks at Vienna. Do you know what day it was in 1683? September 11. If you tell me that bin Laden just picked that date out of the air, I’ve got some costume jewelry to sell you later on.
Bin Laden knew exactly what he was doing. He was resuming the war. He was avenging the defeat of Muslim armies that happened four hundred years ago.
There’s a book called Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman, an eminent scholar. In that book, Berman describes the work of one Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian radical arrested in 1954 and executed in 1966, who wrote the book In the Shade of the Qur’an, which was published in 1970. He had lived in Colorado, so he knew American culture and the West. His basic thesis was that the West was totally corrupt, that Christianity had failed, that Christianity failed to bring in the reign of God. The Christians have had their turn, and now they must be destroyed because they are totally decadent.
Qutb was fundamentally influenced by a lot of German and French writers in the pre-Hitler period, the same influencers who brought post-modernism to America: Heidegger, Derrida, all of these intellectuals who were so angry at the West. They’d sit in their cafes on the west bank and they would talk about all the things that the West did that was so terrible. They hated the West. And Qutb read all of this. He read anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist literature and Nazi existentialist literature.
Here’s the interesting thing if you want to know whether or not a worldview makes a difference: This brilliant but paranoid man was executed in 1966. He’s gone. But his brother, Muhammad Qutb, fled Egypt and became a professor at a university in Saudi Arabia, and one of his star pupils was none other than Osama bin Laden.
So if you want to know what Osama bin Laden believes, read Sayyid Qutb’s writings. Read In the Shade of the Qur’an, and you will understand that this man is a fascist no different in his worldview than Adolf Hitler.
We are in a struggle of life and death. My great fear is that Americans won’t get it. And the hope is that people like us who want to defend the truth will understand it because, at root, it is a religious conflict.
You read the press today, and the press says, “Oh, it’s the fundamentalists in Islam who are no different than the fundamentalists in America.” Oh, please! They don’t get it.
I don’t care that they don’t get it and think badly of us, but I care deeply that they don’t get it and our society could be destroyed.
This is a struggle that Christians need to understand and lovingly learn to evangelize Muslims and be able to understand the larger implications of American foreign policy, which may or may not work in Iraq, but which may be the only thing you can do to keep the radical Islamists pinned down in their own back yard. That’s a good thing. But it’s an expensive thing. It’s a difficult thing for a democracy to sustain.
I remember I was at a dinner in Washington six or seven years ago, and they were saying that these are the days of the American empire. This is the age in which America has the military power to put out all these struggles around the world and maintain peace. This is Rule Americana. I asked, “How many of you guys around the table have ever served in the military?” Only one hand went up. And then I realized that they don’t understand what it takes to get the military involved in all parts of the world. It’s a huge thing. Then I asked, “Has there ever been an empire that was a liberal democracy?” The people of that democracy won’t stand for it, won’t have the patience for it.
So, what has to happen in the war of ideas is for people in the West to understand what they believe and why they believe it. And to understand what is basically an evil force—Islamo-fascism—on the other side.
That’s the clash of civilizations on one front. The clash of civilizations on the other front is the culture war going on in America. What you have to understand: Abortion and gay marriage and all the things that inflame us are only manifestations and symptoms of a deeper problem in American culture that started in the 1960s when some of the same people who influenced Sayyid Qutb came to America and began to teach in our universities.
And what were they teaching? That we can’t trust anything that was ever written before by any other culture because their writings only reflect their prejudices. That there is no truth. These people introduced the concept of deconstruction, which had started in Europe as an intellectual movement in literature, into every American academy, so that today, truth has been dispensed with in our understanding of philosophy and issues of life.
And without truth, we have to make subjective decisions about everything, including life itself.
Also in the 1960s we had the sexual revolution. We had the teachings of Freud that suddenly burst forth. Kinsey helped, but it was Freud’s basic argument that we are repressed by our sexual inhibitions, and therefore we can find freedom from what’s oppressing us (our sexual inhibitions). So you get the mantra of the 1960s: cheap drugs and free sex.
The problem is that all of this introduced into the moral realm what had been the exclusive argument in the economic realm: the notion that choice is the key thing. Now choice has become the basis of life, because we’ve taken away a transcendent standard. Therefore, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade was simply reflecting the cultural zeitgeist of the 1960s. The problem of Roe v. Wade was not just that it ushered in an era of legal abortion, but it removed a fundamental building block in the law, establishing the right of privacy over the common good, even over the right to life!
When you look at all the decisions that have weakened the Court and the laws, you’ll see why it’s such a passion of mine to bring back the law in our culture, because you can’t live without it. You’ll have total nihilism without it. Look at the whole string of cases, Roe v. Wade; Casey v. Planned Parenthood; Roemer v. Evans, the Lawrence decision: What’s the one single truth about all of those decisions? They are the ones that have unraveled the moral law, which caused Justice Scalia to stand up and dissent in the Casey case and say that there never again will be moral legislation in America. What were these cases exalting? Sex. That’s at the heart of every one of those cases. The idea that nobody can tell me anything about how to use my body; my body is just an instrument; my body is different than me, it’s just something I use for my pleasure.
It’s fascinating. Philip Johnson is the one who says this, but the overriding issue that has unraveled the law in America is sexual libertarianism. It’s rampant in America today, even among so-called conservatives. When I did a piece on BreakPoint® on the evils of sexual trafficking—that women can’t sell their bodies even if they wanted to—there was a storm of protest from conservatives!
If you take away a transcendent source of truth in society, what happens as a result? How do people answer the question of how now shall we live? They answer it by saying, “I’m going to follow my own idea about life.” What that results in is that ideology takes the place of revealed truth. Ideology is the enemy of the Gospel. It’s the enemy of historic conservatism, because historic conservatism says that the primary job in life is to preserve the moral order. And it relates to a conviction that comes from our belief in revealed truth. Revealed truth, whether it’s revealed in nature or in Scripture, is the opposite of man-made truth. All utopianism is ideology. I don’t care whether it’s to the right or the left. It makes no difference.
I look on both political parties today, and my heart breaks, because I see one captured by one ideology one captured by another ideology. So we Christians have to stand back and say, “This isn’t a good thing.” Because what happens in a society of Red and Blue is that they can never agree on anything. And so you have inevitable anarchy and bitter partisan warfare. It’s understandable. Ideologues battling over ideas that people get in their coffee-house cafes as they discuss things back and forth: “I’ve got a better scheme of how the world should be organized.”
No! Let’s look at the way the world ought to be, then figure out how we ought to live based on revealed truth, of which ideology is the enemy.
The Christian challenge today is not to be “us vs. them,” but to lovingly approach the world and say, “There are two battles going on, and we want to show you why our way is better.”
The thing that we always hear is, “We don’t want to listen to you right-wing fundamentalist Christians because you want to impose your views on us.” Where did you first hear about somebody charged with wanting to impose his views in American history? Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell? No. 1860. The opponents of Abraham Lincoln charged that if he were elected, he would force his moral views and impose them on the American people. Thank God he did. Thank God he won!
We Christians can’t impose anything on anybody. Nor do we want to. What we want, in Richard Neuhaus’s wonderful words, is to make a proposal. We’re not imposing; we’re proposing a way to live! Come to the feast! Come join us!
And the thing we’ve got to do, most important of all, is to be thinking, “How can I show my friends, my neighbors, my associates, that there really is a better, more excellent way?”
And a lot of that will be determined by how you behave. Christians always need to earn the right to be heard. We have no basis to go to people and say, “This is the way it is!” We go to them and say, “Let me show you”—one beggar showing another beggar how to find food. If we have that kind of humility, we have such a great proposal that we will win the debate.
My greatest dream in life would be to go and argue that the Christian worldview is true and nothing else is—a case that I believe I could prove to the satisfaction of any objective court, if you can find one today. There is only one worldview that is rational and that makes sense, and it is the biblical worldview. All others are false, and I can prove they are.
Once you can do that lovingly, we will begin to turn this culture around.”
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