Monday, November 22, 2004

"It has something to do with religion." So ends this morning's WSJ cover story on the rude awakening of the Dutch to the danger of "Islamic terrorists in their neighborhoods". With the murder of Theo van Gogh by Mohammed Bouyeri, a "well-educated guy with good prospects," according to the mayor of Amsterdam, the Dutch recognize that the "war on terrorism" has arrived in their country.

The article quotes a Dutch social worker, as he considers Bouyeri's grisly murder of van Gogh: "Doing such a thing is beyond all limits . . . Something happened in [Bouyeri's] head that made him crazy. It has something to do with religion." The social worker speaks as if "religion" is something quite outside of his own experience and not a way of describing and ordering one's life, of understanding its meaning, of reaching our "potential", and of describing means and limits necessary to connect fully with "reality". He speaks as if he, himself, has no religion.

What would we say to someone who comments, after a tour of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, "Doing such a thing is beyond all limits . . . Something happened in [Hitler's] head that made him crazy. It has something to do with politics"?

When I was a Duke, I took a class in the Sociology department taught by Dr. Tiryakian, a class called "the Sociology of Religion". This was in the late '60s, the heyday of Modernism. His thesis was that only "religion" - what modernists would call "supernatural" religion and not the National Council of Churches kind - could ultimately satisfy a hunger that each person has. It was as if I were in Sunday School, when the teacher talked about an empty place that only God could fill. Dr. T's stories that supported his thesis had to do with Africa and medicine men and the like. But he was right on.

The religion that we call "secular humanism", so refined and sophisticated in post-Christian Europe, may be enough for those populations who were winnowed by 400 years of immigration to the New World and more recently bled out by the wars of the Twentieth Century. But it was not enough for young Mohammed Bouyeri. It is not enough for most young people on this earth.

When we attend church, supply leadership there, push the ecclesiastical bureaucracy, formal or informal, local or regional, either out of the way or into adapting to the "post-modern" world, parse our budget to supply support for missionaries like Macon, Kellsey, and Sean, and insist on fidelity to the truth of Jesus Christ, we are face to face with Mohammed Bouyeri and his idea of "religion". Mohammed is trying to get to us, frankly, and to our children. What he is up to does not have something to do with religion. It has everything to do with religion. And religion, finally and ultimately, is everything.

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