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The almost daily news reports about men and women strapping explosive devices to their bodies, becoming human bombs, and exploding in public places in order to cause terror have become, sadly, all too common and frequent.
Beyond the ideologies of radical Islam and the rejection of Western culture, beyond the struggles within Islam itself, beyond the issues of social assimilation facing Western societies and the presence of the “other” in their midst, I ask myself a more fundamental question:
What has happened to our relationship to the human body that it can now so easily be used as a bomb to destroy other bodies?
My experience with Islamic theology and spirituality is that creation is taken very seriously and, similar to Christianity, creation is for the sake of man, so that man may praise God. Creation is good and it carries signs of the Divine within it.
My purpose here is not to explore an Islamic view of creation. Rather, I am curious about what is going on in the cultural psyche that accepts and promotes a functional and utilitarian view of the body, and ultimately allows for its use in service of any cause, ideology, or program.
If a gift, then what is my responsibility to my body, to the giver of the gift, and to others? If a possession, am I autonomous in its use; is there an ethic of social responsibility or not?
There is more here than what meets the eye. At the heart of all of these questions lies a fundamental issue of worldview.
The modern period in philosophy, beginning in the late Middle Ages (1300 – 1500 A.D.) and extending to the present, carries some basic assumptions:
1. An anthropocentric (man-centered) rather than Theo-centric (God-centered) view of the world, and relationships within that world.
2. The belief that there is a neutral–secular–world that carries no fundamental biases of its own.
3. This secular realm should be what shapes and informs the public arena of discourse, while other “non-rational” and “biased” discourses (primarily religious discourse) are to be privatized and kept outside the arena lest they “infect” pure reason.
4. The human person is an autonomous being who creates his own sphere of dominion, and the primary mode of relationship with other persons is individual rights-based rather communion based.
This represents a huge shift of worldview from the pre-modern period; it is quintessentially non-Christian and pagan.
The Christian worldview is characterized by the following convictions:
1. The created order is God-centered. All life and meaning in the created order is from God and belongs to God.
The immanent (the here and now, concrete life of materiality) only has actual substance and “depth” precisely because it is “suspended” from or essentially related to the Transcendent; without such Theo-centric relationship we are left with nihilism (nothingness).
2. “Creation” is a better and more truthful term than “nature”. Creation implies that there is a Creator whose gift is Creation. Nature implies that the material order is “just there” and locked within its own meaning structure.
This kind of meaning is actually no meaning other than what the human person gives it. Again, man becomes the center of the world; he does not discover meaning; he “creates” it.
3. The idea that there is a “neutral” secular place, where only pure reason has any currency, is an act of self-deception or fanciful thinking.
Post-modern assessments of what can be known (epistemology) are actually of great help in their insight that there do not exist any “places” that do not have some kind of explicit or implicit set of presuppositions or assumptions (as I listed above).
The Christian arrives on the scene of public discourse with clear assumptions in faith: God exists, He has a rescue plan for lost humanity, His Kingdom plan has been accomplished in the Son, and He is the true LORD of the universe.
4. The Bible, the Word from God, has dominion over our lives and NOT the other way around.
5. There is no such thing as autonomous human reason. We are created to be transformed in Christ, so that our minds are renewed and we take on the mind of Christ.
For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. – 1 Corinthians 2:16 (ESV)
6. Any attempt to establish an “independent” immanent realm divorced from its Creator (the Holy Trinity) leads to classic dualism, which is a heresy.
Indeed, there is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). On the other hand, the Christian worldview is Incarnational.
Ironically, the material order is saved from nothingness precisely because God gives it as a gift.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2 (ESV)
So, how does all of this relate to suicide bombers and my questions concerning how the body and its use at the beginning of this article?
Once you have a worldview that says that physicality, the material, the body have no meaning aside from what human persons assign them, then it is a very quick and short step to using bodies in whatever way accomplishes a pre-determined goal or result.
Once we divorce the world of bodies from their Creator, then we have made our bodies into mere instruments of any use we fancy.
Sadly, the human person truly becomes a stranger to himself; he has become locked in a prison without exit, a world made flat because it has rejected its Lord and Master.
In this estranged world there may be a kind of belief in “God”, but this “God” is distant and not deeply involved in the human story (deism).
He is not the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is not the God who took flesh and dwelt (or “tabernacled) among us (John 1:14).
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6: 19-20 (ESV)
The Islamic suicide bomber is caught in a web of perverse contradictions that accentuate the misery of our human situation. The bomber is using his body to accomplish a so-called holy mission, the very same body created by God according to his own scriptures!
This bomber is involved in act of terrorism that, ostensibly, is a dramatic symbol of repulsion against secular, depraved Western cultural values and permissiveness.
Yet, the actual philosophical underpinnings of such acts are precisely those of the Western pagan worldview!
Those of us in Western societies, who deplore suicide bombings, should not sit back too comfortably in judgment. Our culture is deeply implicated in the same flat and godless worldview concerning the body.
It is mired in the fracturing of meaning when man believes he can create reality in his own image, and tries to escape God’s dominion over his life.
The signs of this spiritual disease in the heart of man are multiple:
This list could be much more expansive; indeed, as broad and deep as the dimensions of a life lived without Jesus, Lord and Master, the Alpha and Omega.
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.
The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. – Revelation 21: 5-7 (ESV)
So, some essential questions for all of us to ponder, and even to be disturbed by, are:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us – Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)
Christians have been entrusted with the dignity and responsibility of a great inheritance, for “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:20).
Let us not squander this treasure, but joyfully and humbly proclaim the glories of God to a shattered and confused world in need of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord. – Augustine of Hippo, City of God