Sermon on the Mount

Are traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs responsible for Brexit and survival of ISIS?

Are traditional Christian and Jewish beliefs responsible for Brexit and survival of ISIS?

Here are two examples -- one Christian, the other Jewish -- of religion's staying power and influence over the entirety of Western culture. They're presented as reminders of why journalists need a working knowledge of religious history to fully connect the dots in today's bleeding world.

I came across the first example not long after the game-changing 9/11 Al Qaeda terrorist attacks. The second's an essay I read just recently.

Let's begin with journalist and author Robert D. Kaplan's "Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos." I consider Kaplan one of the more interesting journalistic minds working today.

His book struck me as fascinating, prescient (in hindsight) and disturbing.

My fascination stemmed from its emphasis on the enormous influence that bedrock religious concepts still exert today over critical societal actions. They're there, taken for granted but subliminally directing us. This is so even if we fail to consider, as individuals or even -- tsk, tsk -- as journalists, the importance of these civilizational building blocks.

It was prescient because of what it said that relates to the quagmire we face as a nation today in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It was disturbing because it challenged my liberal American impulses about the limits of ethical warfare.

Oh. And, yes, I agree. "Ethical warfare" may just be the ultimate oxymoron.

Kaplan concluded that to defeat non-state terror organizations that play only by their own brutal rules required a radical change in the military tactics of Western nations, by which he meant those historically and culturally Christian.

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How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

GEORGE’S QUESTION:

When are we as Christians allowed to fight back and protect our civilization?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

George wonders whether Christians should work in police departments, whose conduct is much in the news, as well as the armed forces or other security vocations that  involve use of violence and possible  injury or death.

The Religion Guy previously addressed various religions’ views of military service in this post. But it’s a perennial and important topic worth another look, this time limited to Christianity. [Thus the following leaves aside the pressing problem of Islam's growing faction that applies religiously motivated terrorism against the innocent, fellow Muslims included.]

The Christian discussion involves especially two Bible passages. In the Ten Commandments, God proclaims, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:17).  Or so say the familiar Douay, King James, and Revised Standard versions. However, most recent Christian translations instead follow the same word choice as the Jewish Publication Society editions of 1917 and 1985: “You shall not murder.”

Hebrew scholars tell us the verb here refers specifically to illegitimate taking of life, that is “murder,” as distinct from various other types of “killing.”

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Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

HAEVEN ASKS:

I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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