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Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11 and American Decadence

This morning marked the eighth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center buildings in New York City by Islamic fundamentalists. On that day of tragedy, nearly three thousand people of all ages and ethnicities lost their lives in an act of terrorism that is still being avenged by American troops in Afghanistan. Most of the masterminds behind the attack are still at large, especially Osama bin Laden, the head of al Qaeda, who, in spite of an incessant manhunt, remains in hiding somewhere in the remote, mountainous wilderness of Afghanistan or Pakistan. September 11, 2001, was a horrible day for the United States of America, and it continues to reverberate through its people.

Curiously, the question of whom to blame is also still being debated. Although a surprisingly hefty minority believes 9-11 was an "inside job" by the U.S. government to incite the country into going to war for oil and to suppress Americans' freedoms to a greater extent, most people place the blame squarely on the shoulders of bin Laden and his fellow radical Muslims. Islamic terrorists have been plaguing U.S. assets, installations, and citizens for at least four decades, escalating their attacks as often as they can. In addition, they have targeted our allies all over the globe, from Israel to Britain to Australia to Denmark. Guilt for these atrocities is not hard to place.

If that is so clear, where is the controversy?

The arguments begin when anyone even remotely suggests that we Americans played a role in bringing these attacks upon ourselves. This morning on a Charlotte radio station, the host played a clip of a local Christian minister quoting Chuck Colson's May 4, 2006, "BreakPoint" broadcast titled "Decadence and Vulnerability":

Now, we want to be careful not to blame the victim—that is, to blame innocent Americans for murderous attacks against them. At the same time, let's understand how America's increasing decadence is, in a sense, giving aid and comfort to the enemy. When we tolerate increasing amounts of trash on television, when we permit pornography and gambling to invade our homes via the Internet, when we allow babies to be killed at the point of birth, we are fueling the flames of radical Islam. And when we talk about legitimizing homosexuality by granting same-sex relationships the status of marriage, we're giving powerful ammunition to those who use America's decadence to recruit more snipers and hijackers and suicide bombers. We're also making it much more difficult for Christian pastors and missionaries to win the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world—one more very good reason we need to clean up our act.

Colson plainly states that his intention is not to blame the victim but to show that America's increasingly secular and decadent culture adds fuel to the fire of Islamic fundamentalists' hatred. In their eyes, we are already infidels, and every instance of immorality that they see coming from the depraved West reinforces their belief of divine justification in putting us to slaughter. They are religious fanatics who, like a crazed rapist blaming his victim, feel that their horrid crimes are entirely warranted because their enemies had it coming to them. Colson writes:

Mark Galli . . . in Christianity Today . . . noted that Islamic militants are angry at the West for exporting "hedonism and materialism into their very homes through television, enticing Muslims to become religiously lazy and morally corrupt." Galli quoted a 1985 communique from the terrorist group Hezbollah which said, in part: "Our way is one of radical combat against depravity, and America is the original root of depravity." Members of these groups see themselves, not as terrorists, but as holy warriors fighting a holy war against Western decadence.

Had Colson suggested that a Christian reformation in America would stop Islamic terrorism against America and Americans, he would have been wrong. While he does suggest that a moral revival would modify Muslim impressions of Americans, it does not change the fact that we would still be infidels to them. They would still want to convert us to Islam either by persuasion or by the sword, for that is the aggressive nature of the religion.

However, Colson is a Christian minister whose focus is reaching and teaching the individual believer, not the whole society, although he would undoubtedly be thrilled if his teaching convinced all Americans to live moral lives. In his own way, he is doing his best to plant seeds of biblical truth that may one day sprout and mature, turning one person at a time away from the excesses of the modern American lifestyle. He knows, as many Christians know, that America's problems are moral and spiritual in nature, and if this nation is to solve its growing problems, the solutions to them must be moral and spiritual as well.

That being said, we would be foolish to leave God out of the equation. Notice Psalm 11:4-7:

The LORD is in His holy temple, the LORD'S throne is in heaven; His eyes behold, His eyelids test the sons of men. The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous, He loves righteousness; His countenance beholds the upright.

This is David's poetic way of saying that God is not playing intergalactic Space Invaders® while we humans run wild over planet Earth. No, God is watching. He tests mankind to check where they fall against His standards. If they are righteous, He extends His loving kindness and blessing, but if they are evil, He sends punishment in various forms of destruction. He is not a sap who lets decadence have the upper hand for long—witness Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).

There is plenty of blame to go around for the disaster of September 11, 2001. Certainly, the Islamists who perpetrated it bear most of it. Yet, we must also acknowledge that American culture is far from righteous, and God is amply justified in chastising this country. The question is: Have we learned its lessons?