Monday, September 11, 2006

The Islamic Stereogram

A couple of years back people found themselves to be fascinated by stereograms, pictures of repeating patterns of color and shapes in which, if stared at for a few moments, a 3-D figure could be discerned. I thought of stereograms while reading an article in The Washington Times in which Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the 9/11 commission, expresses puzzlement about the motives of the 9/11 hijackers:

What motivated 19 relatively well-off Arab men, all Muslims, to become such horrific suicide bombers? Lee Hamilton, vice chairman of the national September 11 commission, says motivation was the "big question" the panel could not answer.

"We were never able to answer why the 19 were willing to kill themselves. What was the motivation? I am talking in a very personal way," Mr. Hamilton, a Democrat who represented Indiana's 9th District in the House for 34 years, said in an interview with The Washington Times.

"What was the motivation for each one of these hijackers? I think the question of motivation was opaque to us. We just could not nail it. They were dead, of course."

I'm not sure how, after all that the terrorists themselves have said, anyone in the West who hasn't been asleep could say that their motives are "opaque" to us. For the benefit of those who have not been paying attention and for those like Mr. Hamilton who are staring at the stereogram but simply can't pick out the figures, let me suggest one short-term, one mid-term, and one long-term goal of the jihadis:

In the short-term they want the United States out of the Middle East. There are two main reasons for this: One, we are infidels and our very exhalations defile their sacred land. Two, it's difficult for them to achieve political power in those Muslim states which are still governed by less radicalized rulers as long as we're in the way.

In the mid-term they want to destroy Israel. The Israelis are not only infidels who occupy land in the very heart of the future Islamic caliphate, but the success of the Israelis, political, economic, and military, is an indictment of the ineptitude and incompetence of the Arabs and hence of their religion. This incurs Arab hatred of the Israelis far more than does the "Palestinian problem" which most Arabs couldn't really care less about.

Having achieved the first two goals and consolidated their power in the Middle East, their long-term ambition is to spread their religion across the globe. Their dream is that the whole world be Islamic. The world will essentially be given the Centanni option: Those who will convert will be allowed to live, those who won't, won't.

Thus, what motivated the 9/11 hijackers was goal number one which they saw as a necessary step to reaching goal number three. The hijackers were motivated purely by a religious ideology that sees the war against America as the biggest battle in the struggle to impose Islam on the world.

Why do they hate us? They hate us because we're infidels and we're successful. In their minds it is they who hold the truth and yet they've been failures since the 14th century, while the West believes the lies of Satan and has been incredibly successful. This fills them with a burning rage borne of jealousy and humiliation coupled to a profound anguish over the injustice of it all.

But now they believe Allah wants to change that, and they are willing to give their lives in his service and to his cause. Like the Communists who believed that they were on the right side of history, the Islamists believe that they can't fail because they're carrying out the will of Allah.

They themselves have said all this which is why it is surprising that Mr. Hamilton and the members of the 9/11 Commission profess to be unable to discern the pattern in the Islamic stereogram.

William Wilberforce Movie

A movie on the life of William Wilberforce is set to be released early next year:

Like Martin Luther and Nate Saint before him, real-life hero of the Christian faith William Wilberforce will be making his big-screen debut next year, with a new historical drama called Amazing Grace. Directed by Michael Apted, the film will receive a U.S. distribution from Samuel Goldwyn Films and Roadside Attractions.

The Walden Media movie-set to be released on February 23, the 200th anniversary of Britain's abolition of the slave trade-stars Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) as Wilberforce, an outspoken Christian and political activist who played a large role in bringing about the slave trade's end. Albert Finney, Romola Garai, Rufus Sewell, and Michael Gambon also star.

The distribution companies plan to market the film to a wide variety of audiences-arthouse crowds, human rights activists, and also religious groups. Roadside's Howard Cohen notes that "Wilberforce is a hero to many Christians because he combined political actions and his belief in God." Cinematical reports that there may be plans in the works for Walden Media to join in the film's marketing campaign.

Wilberforce is a man with whose life too few people are familiar.

He devoted his life to the cause of abolishing Britain's role in the institution of slavery almost from the time he converted to Christianity in 1784 until his death in 1833.

As a member of the British parliament he gave his first speech against slavery in 1789 and continued the fight for abolition throughout his life, often against massive and vicious opposition. In 1807, he achieved his first victory when it was made illegal for a British subject to transport slaves, but slavery itself was still legal throughout the Empire, and British slavers did a brisk, if illegal, business in slave trafficking. Sea captains were fined 100 pounds for every slave found aboard their vessels, so, to avoid the fines, the slave ships' crews, when they saw a naval patrol boat approach, would throw as many slaves overboard as they could. This practice outraged enough people that eventually it was recognized that slavery had to be outlawed altogether.

Wilberforce himself felt that slaves couldn't simply be emancipated only to be left to fend for themselves uneducated and unskilled. Nevertheless, the forces he had set in motion in 1789 eventually proved ineluctable, and one month after his death in 1833 slavery was abolished throughout the British Empire.

William Wilberforce is a genuine hero in the fight for human rights, and he deserves to have a quality film made about his life. I hope the one coming out in February does him justice.

Manly Men and the Vanishing Christian Male

Joe Carter brings his sharp wit to bear on the trend in some circles to portray Jesus as some sort of Hell's Angel with a halo. He writes:

First, my bona fides. I'm a former Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps. I've spent fifteen years in the Corps and fifteen seconds (cumulatively) riding bulls. I've spent my summers in 100 degree weather baling hay, shoeing horses, castrating hogs, and running laps for sadistic football coaches. I've fixed pump jacks in Texas oil fields and made auto parts in a Missouri factory. I've changed engines on F-18s, tires on Humvees, and a carburetor on a '76 Gremlin.

I've hunted snipe and fished for shark. I've eaten rattlesnake, alligator, and the pork pattie from an MRE. I've lived through tornados, typhoons, and a divorce. I own a .40 caliber Glock. My hero is John Wayne.

In other words, there is some evidence that I am-or at least once was-a fairly "manly man." I'm also a devout Bible-believing Christian. But for the life of me, I can't discern how the two are connected, much less why one is necessary for the other. Yet that is the impression I often get when I read about the "feminization of the church" and the move to provide young Christian men with "masculine" role models.

Carter has specifically in mind here a pastor named Mark Driscoll who evidently makes much of the need for a more masculine Christianity. Joe doesn't necessarily disagree with the general idea, but he does wonder, as I do, about the concept of masculinity that is sometimes promoted in the name of a "muscular" Christianity. Contrary to some who think otherwise, I don't believe there's much about a professional wrestler, for instance, or an ultimate fighter (except perhaps their courage) that a young boy should emulate.

Even so, I think it's important that we begin to reemphasize masculinity and masculine virtues, properly understood, because, Joe's concerns about the "move to provide young Christian men with 'masculine' role models" notwithstanding, there is a need for young men to see mature males in positions of leadership in the church. If this does not happen, the church will be increasingly regarded by young men as a women's club, and more of them will think it irrelevant to their lives.

This is already a concern in many churches whose pews and leadership positions are often filled with women. Perhaps the erosion of male interest is partly due to the gospel's emphasis on gentleness, submission and love for a male figure (Christ). I think such an emphasis is psychologically and subliminally difficult for many men, but this is meliorated somewhat when men see other men preaching, teaching and leading in the church. When they don't they tend to lose interest.

Thus there are two trends in today's church that'll eventually prove unhelpful if we wish to increase male interest in church. One is the growing number of gays in the ministry, and the other is the growing number of women in positions of leadership. Leave aside all the arguments pro and con for both of these trends, the fact is that, if they continue, young men will increasingly see the pastorate as a calling for either gays or women, they'll not see it as something that "straight" men do. Forget about whether this is right or wrong. It's simply a fact, I believe, of male psychology.

An anecdote: I used to coach high school football. Back in the 1970s all our managers were young men who were proud to be part of the team and to play a role in the team's success. Then we began accepting girls as managers and within just three years boys simply stopped doing it. The role of manager had come to be seen as one that girls fill, and the guys looked for other outlets for their energies. Today, it's unusual to find a male manager in any sport in any high school anywhere.

A similar evolution will take place, I suspect, in the pulpit of our churches. In those denominations which are ordaining relatively large numbers of women, there will be a corresponding decline in the number of young men who choose to go into the ministry. It's already happening, of course, but it's hard to tell at this point whether the decline in male candidates has led out of necessity to a rise in female clergy or whether the increasing numbers of female pastors has led to the decline in males. Perhaps both phenomena are responsible. The point is, however, that we need to be aware that ordaining women (and I'm not saying that we shouldn't) is going to accelerate the shrinking of the numbers of young men who take an active interest in matters of faith.

This may lead to a vicious cycle where the decrease in the number of committed young men will lead to a decline not only in the number of males entering the ministry but also the number of males in the pews. The same thing will happen, I suspect, in churches in which gays are prominent in positions of leadership.

This is not an argument for refusing ordination to women or to gays (if they're celibate). It is, though, a call to understand that unless we take into account its ramifications on the male psyche we can expect a dwindling number of straight men in the pew as well as in the pulpit and this would be a sign of a church in serious distress.