Living Life Under the Threat of Terrorism

The daily newspaper and television documentaries have been reminding me that we are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on our nation. Newscasters have been interviewing survivors and family members of those who were killed. They are reliving before the cameras the terrible events of that September day in 2001.

Some of them fought back tears as they remembered fellow first responders, family members and co-workers who had died. Some testified to the new lease on life they had been given as survivors. Some shared deeply moving stories of their struggles with permanent injuries and PTSD.

Like you, I will never forget where I was and what I was doing when news of the destruction of the World Trade Center reached me. I was at Glen Eyrie, the home of the Navigators in Colorado Springs, attending meetings of a mission board. Flying home was out of the question. All commercial airlines were grounded for several days afterward. I remained at Glen Eyrie until I could get a flight home to Oklahoma City three days later.

Tomorrow we will remember the tragic events of September 11, the porous airports, the hi-jacked airliners, the heroism of the passengers on United Flight 93, the crash into the Pentagon, the rush to protect government officials, the confusion in the streets of New York City. We also recognize the profound changes to American life that have ensued, especially the willingness of Americans to trade privacy and personal freedom for increased security.

The precipitous withdrawal of American forces from Afganistan and the subsequent resurgence of the Taliban, has thoughtful people speculating about the possibility of new terrorist organizations emerging to threaten the United States of America. Some say that there have been “sleeper cells” of terrorists in our country all along, awaiting the opportunity to strike again with renewed confidence and deadly force. Is their signal to strike the anniversary we commemorate tomorrow?

What should we do? Should we close our borders and close our hearts? Should we load up on guns and ammo  and fuel our passions with suspicion, fear and prejudice? Should we hunker down and hide out until the second coming? What is our duty to one another, to ourselves, and to God as we seek to live healthy lives in a dangerous world?

You and I are not the first ones to ask such questions. At the beginning of the Second World War, the Oxford University scholar C.S. Lewis was invited to give a sermon at St. Mary’s Church in Oxford. This was occasioned by the uncertainty caused to Oxford undergraduates by the coming war with Germany. Lewis, himself a veteran of World War I, was asked to put world events into perspective for the young men of the university. How could they continue with their studies when war was imminent?

What Lewis said to those students about the war in Europe could apply as well to us living under the threat of terrorism. Permit me to extract just a few of the points he made. (To read his address in its entirety, you may find it online, or you may order the book of Lewis’s addresses edited by Walter Hooper, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses.)

Lewis said we must remember that the world has always been a dangerous place. Life has never really been “normal.” The war (or terrorism) “creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.” We must accept it.

He reminds us that the great Christians of the past “thought it is good for us to be always aware of our mortality. … We see unmistakably the sort of universe in which we have all along been living, and must come to terms with it.”

Just as Lewis  believed the allied cause was just and that serving one’s country in the military was a legitimate duty, so it follows that he would agree that to oppose terrorism is a righteous cause. That said, it does not excuse or endorse every strategy, political, military, or covert that has been used in the war on terror. Those are prudential judgments to be made by the wisest of leaders under the guidance of God.

Ordinary people are not to suspend the ordinary course of life on account of the fear of terrorism. To the students living under the threat of war Lewis said that they should consider their work as scholars as work done for the glory of God. “The work of a Beethoven and the work of a charwoman become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of offered to God, of being done humbly ‘as to the Lord.'”

Just as we are not to live in fear, we are not to give in to futility and frustration with the thought that life is so tentative and uncertain that there is no use pursuing one’s dreams and goals, marriage, children, career, serving God. No!

C.S. Lewis wrote, “A more Christian attitude, which can be attained at any age, is leaving futurity in God’s hands. We may as well, for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to him or not. … Happy work is best done by the (person) who takes his/her long-term view somewhat lightly  and works from moment to moment ‘as to the Lord.’ It is only our daily bread that we are encouraged to ask for. The present is the only time in which any duty can be done or any grace received.”

” Christianity does not exclude any of the ordinary human activities. St. Paul tells people to get on with their jobs. He even assumes that they may go to dinner parties, even dinner parties given by pagans. … Under the aegis of his church and in the most Christian ages, learning and the arts flourish. The solution to this paradox is, of course, well known to you . ‘Whether ye eat or drink or whatsoever ye do , do all to the glory of God.'”

One thing I noticed in the interviews with survivors of 9/11 is that they did not stop living. Nor were they living in fear. The were determined not to be defeated by the threat of terrorism. They embraced the gift of life.

Pastor Randy Faulkner


A Well-Regulated Morality

The moral sense shapes behavior. The recent tragic acts of domestic terrorism in Texas and Ohio remind us that among us there are young men without a moral sense, who possess weapons of murder, and who are willing to use them.

In El Paso, a young man obsessed by racist, anti-immigrant ideology murdered twenty shoppers in a Walmart store, wounding two dozen others. Not long after that, in Dayton, nine people were murdered and another sixteen were wounded, by a mass shooter who mowed down his victims in 60 seconds.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the number of mass shootings so far this year in the U.S. now totals 23, with 131 lives lost. This is almost as many incidents after seven months in 2019, as occurred throughout all of last year (25, with 140 lives lost). These acts of mass murder are carried out by young men without conscience or moral restraint.

The moral sense shapes behavior. What shapes the moral sense? Developmental psychology teaches that there are social and biological influences. Humans, we are told, are social creatures and the moral sense grows out of the social nature. Aristotle said, “It is the peculiarity of man, in comparison with the rest of the animal world, that he alone possesses a perception of good and evil.” It is the duty of society to exalt the good and restrain the evil.

Going deeper, it is the family, of all social structures, that has the most important role in shaping a moral sense in the young. “They are not born knowing the difference between right and wrong. … The transmission of virtues is one important reason for a home,” wrote William J. Bennett.

Finally, there are spiritual sources of morality. Russell Kirk said that “political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems.” There is in fact a transcendent moral law which should rule society and personal conscience. It is this natural law, with its absolute standards of right and wrong which makes justice a possibility.

When this law, God’s law, is ignored, denied or disobeyed, it becomes impossible to speak in any meaningful way of fairness, empathy or truth. If there is no rational foundation for morality, then kindness, bravery, generosity and love are no more virtuous than murder, torture, racism, or genocide. “If God does not exist, everything is permitted,” wrote Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

What does this have to do with mass murder and domestic terrorism? When young men’s habits of thought are formed by hours spent reading hate-filled nationalist propaganda, or playing violent video games, or watching TV shows and movies promoting dystopian anarchy, their brains are hard-wired to devalue human life.

More importantly, when they are deprived of the knowledge of God through holy scripture and through the church, it is as though, to them, he does not exist. If he does not exist, for them, morality does not exist.

Wikipedia has comprehensive lists of all incidents of mass shootings and their perpetrators, going back many years. Most were young males. Almost all school shooters were children of divorce. Most mass murderers lacked strong social bonds and were isolated loners. Many had stored up years of anger and alienation. They collected grievances. Some were bullied. It is clear that someone failed these young men.

Young men’s moral development does not happen without purposeful guidance. Biologically, the moral sense of boys develops differently than that of girls. I have read that the part of the brain that governs self-control is actually smaller in boys and develops later. This is not to excuse bad behavior, but to emphasize the need for strong moral guidance from adults, especially parents, until boys become men.

This accentuates the role of the church in teaching biblical morality as the highest and best life, a life that is pleasing to God. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-2 says, “Brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Notice the emphasis on “instruction,” “pleasing God,” and growth (“more and more”). This is not a picture of hyper-vigilant thought control. This is a model of the loving guidance of the Christian community, the church, regulated by the authoritative word of Christ.

It is only a step, then, from believing in God, and accepting his moral law, to recognizing one’s need of him and accountability to him. It is through faith in Jesus that young people may be given the knowledge of God and his will for their lives. These lives in Jesus Christ, regulated by holy scripture and God’s Holy Spirit, are offered the purpose in life for which they were created.

We are seeing what might happen when young men are deprived of the knowledge of God and a well-regulated morality.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner Randy 2019-spring



Christian Ethics and the Crisis at the Border

Christian Ethics and the Crisis at the Border

The immigration crisis at our Southern border is perceived as a security crisis. Perhaps it is. But it is also a political crisis. It points up the need for a comprehensive, humane and workable immigration policy, suited to our national interest.

It is a diplomatic crisis raising questions about U.S. policy toward neighboring countries in Latin America. In some of these countries, gang violence, human trafficking, dismal living conditions, and sometimes authoritarian governments, exploit the people. These factors prompt thousands of them to become desperate migrants, risking their lives and their children’s lives on a journey to the north.

No person of compassion can fail to be moved by the plight of these refugees. If we still believe that human rights are a foundation of our American national character, then we will see this crisis as a humanitarian crisis.

Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, dated July 4, 1776, wrote the “self-evident” truth that all people are “created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights,” especially the right to life and freedom. This is a reason we speak of American exceptionalism and greatness.

This understanding of human dignity is rooted in the teachings of the Bible. It says God created mankind in his own image. Human rights are derived from the fact that human beings bear the image of God. This is what it means to be human. Human rights, dignity, and equality are bestowed by our Maker, not by any government.

If we believe and live by the Bible, this truth will influence our opinions about foreign policy, criminal justice, the rights of the unborn, economic policy, and the platforms of presidential candidates. These same biblical values should, I believe, also guide our thinking about immigration and the refugee crisis.

Jesus quoted the Hebrew scriptures when he taught us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Leviticus 19:18 is just one of many teachings given to Israel that are carried forward into Christian teaching (Galatians 5:14). Justice and compassion for foreigners were priorities of the laws given through Moses.

For example, the words of Deuteronomy 10:18-19 are restated in different ways throughout the Bible: “He (God) defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you. … And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Jesus teaches his followers that it is he whom they are serving when they show hospitality to strangers (Matthew 25:35). If this Christian ethic governs our lives as individuals, then it makes sense to me that this same value system should influence our national policy. After all, we are a government “of the people,” and it is the beliefs of the people that inform our response to issues like border control and immigration.

So the wisdom of the Bible provides us with a way of thinking about immigrants and refugees. Of course, we should be concerned about border security and the rule of law. This too is a moral issue. But obsessive fear, ethnic bigotry, and inflammatory rhetoric are contrary to the Christian way of living.

Those who are willing to be guided by the teachings of the Bible will recognize that immigrants have the same God-given human rights and dignity as those who were born here. Whatever conclusions “we the people” come to about immigration policy and the humanitarian crisis at our Southern border, should be influenced by these truths.

    –  Pastor Randy Faulkner