USS Clueless has an analysis here on what drives Osama bin Laden and the radical Jihadists, which I think is excellent (mostly). On the subject of Osama, Steven Den Beste appears to be exactly right, but his analysis of Christians is oversimplistic to put it kindly. I put it kindly because I really like his stuff for the most part. But he’s really off track on his comments about Christians and what drives different kinds of Christians.
I’ll comment on that part of it. It boils down to this- either you believe God doesn’t really get involved in world affairs today, or you’re a zealot. This is pretty typical. Atheists will accept religion in other people as long as it’s a nice safe stripped-down religion that doesn’t make any real claims.
One line I particularly liked was this: “Religion is a source of comfort for powerless people living in a terrifying world.”
I don’t like it for the reasons Den Beste wrote it- he’s describing people who are ignorant of what’s really going on, and powerless to change it, as the ones who need religion, while rationalist superminds like himself who apparently are in complete control of all aspects of their lives prefer to be atheists.
No, I like it because it’s precisely true. Religion is a source of comfort for powerless people living in a terrifying world. The part that Den Beste misses is the extent to which we are all powerless, and to which the world is terrifying.
Den Beste is a white male living in America. He is extremely intelligent. According to his biography he is currently unemployed, although he has skills in engineering and will no doubt be employed again once things pick up. He lives in a country where a man can be unemployed for a time and write very long and perceptive blog articles, rather than one where he would live in a cardboard box and be attacked by dingoes.
Den Beste had nothing to do with any of this (except the engineering skills and the great blog posts). He may feel light-years ahead of that Dark Ages peasant, but anything he knows about any of that is the result of the simple accident that he was not born a Dark Ages peasant. He could have been. There were lots of Dark Ages peasants. Broadly speaking, there have been far more people born in the world into that kind of life, and are even today, than are born as intelligent white males in the richest country the world has ever known. And how sanguine would he be about religion being for the ignorant and powerless if he’d been born an outcast in India or a woman in Pakistan? He had nothing to do with any of that, and yet he seems to think that he is somehow less powerless than that Dark Ages peasant.
Our wealth and our arrogance do a good job of obscuring a simple fact to many of us- we are exactly as powerless as that Dark Ages peasant.
What good will his atheism do him if he gets diagnosed with inoperable cancer tomorrow? If a loved one is murdered? If a loved one betrays him? Many things of this nature have likely happened already, because they happen to all of us. And when they happen, I could choose to view them all as the result of totally understandable natural processes, over which I have no power, or as part of the plan of a sovereign God who loves me (who, it’s true, typically works through natural processes) over which I have no power.
Either way, I’m not in control. But one of those options puts me in the hands of my loving Father, and another one puts me at the mercy of arbitrary forces, an orange in the clockwork of nature to be ground and crushed. Because we all get ground and crushed.
Faced with that terrible truth, where do I turn for comfort? That’s right, religion. My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
If that makes me a Dark Ages peasant, or pre-enlightenment, or a zealot, I’m OK with that. If those are the worst things I get called in my life, I’ll be all right.
I could write a great deal more on this, but I have a busy day. I have to go out this afternoon and spend some time with the family of a man (a talented white male American) who got bitten by a mosquito, got West Nile and died. Sometimes life makes our arguments for us, much better than we ever could.