(On Screen): After the most recent major bombing attack by al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, which targeted Muslims and Arabs, Mrs. du Toit wrote a post in which she tried to analyze al Qaeda's strategy. In response, Donald Sensing wrote a post titled "Osama bin Laden's strategic plan", the first line of which was:
Well, folks, he ainít got one
Donald's post is long and comprehensive and superb, but I'm not sure I agree with his conclusion:
Bin Laden has a strategic goal, but does not have a strategic plan. Osama bin Laden does not even rate being called a lousy strategist.
I agree that bin Laden is a terrible strategist. He unquestionably completely misjudged the American people, for one thing. But I don't agree that he has no plan.
Rather, I think he did have one, and I would have thought that a man of God like Donald would have spotted it: bin Laden's strategy was to get God, or Allah, involved in the war against the infidel.
But it's perhaps not so strange that Donald didn't see it; he's a man of God, but he was a career military officer before becoming a minister, and he's a rationalist and a son of the Christian Enlightenment. Our enemy's thinking is just as foreign for Donald as it is for me as an Atheist.
Religion has always faced certain problems, and of those probably the foremost was the classic question: why do bad things happen to good people, and good things happen to bad people? It manifests in many ways, great and small. Why do devout nations who follow God's teachings and attempt to serve His will on earth seem to lose out to nations that do not?
There are a lot of ways of answering that question. For instance, it may be that God doesn't actually care about us. Maybe we're really not His chosen people. Or it may be that He isn't really an activist, interfering, meddling God, like our holy writ says He is. Or perhaps there is no God. Problem with these answers is that they're heresy; what they say is that our fundamental religious beliefs are partially or totally incorrect. Needless to say, religious leaders have always taken a dim view of those who suggested those explanations.
So religious leaders have wrestled with other answers, which don't require abandoning faith. There's the "Job" answer: God works in mysterious ways, and terrible events are part of some larger work which we do not fathom, and perhaps cannot fathom.
There's the "challenge/free will" answer: we live to be tested, and one can only be tested by iniquity.
The Christian Enlightenment has an entirely different answer, but it found that answer by completely changing its image of God. For post-Enlightenment Christians, God's influence in the world and His relationship with his believers doesn't extend to temporal affairs; those things tend to be governed by natural laws and by the decisions of human beings. A believer sees God as a source of wisdom, of moral guidance, of strength, and of forgiveness.
Some of that developed out of the rise of science. During the Dark Ages, for most people the world was a very small place, consisting of the area they lived in or could walk to. Storms appeared, rained on them, and vanished. If there were earthquakes, or drought, these were also local events, unrelated to anything happening anywhere else. Likewise for plagues, or all the other terrible things which happen to good people. All of these things were thus seen as being caused by God, because there could be no other explanation for them.
Religion is a source of comfort for powerless people living in a terrifying world. It offers them reassurance that they are not victims of random events, and the comfort of being able to influence them. When the shaman performs his rain dance during a drought, it doesn't change the chance of rain, but it does make the people of his tribe feel better. And if you don't know why it rains or doesn't rain, then it's entirely possible that his rain dance may make a difference. After all, at least sometimes a drought does end after he performs it. In the cases when it failed, maybe he didn't do it right.
Over the course of about three hundred years in Europe, more and more of these things began to be explained in other ways. Hurricanes didn't appear out of nowhere to ravage the land; they started somewhere and moved to where you were. God didn't snap His fingers and create that hurricane just over your horizon to strike you; it appeared as a result of global weather patterns.
And if you prayed to God to make the storm miss you, it meant you were praying to God to make that storm hit someone else. If you prayed that you win the lottery and become rich, it meant you were asking God to not give that prize to someone else, who might need it even more than you. God loved everyone equally, it was presumed, and thus it was selfish of you to even ask for such a thing. If God saw fit to grant you such a blessing, you would be grateful Ė but you would not make plans based on such a possibility.
Such a believer doesn't sing, along with Janis Joplin, "Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz?" Such a prayer would be frivolous, disrespectful, contemptuous, self-centered, corrupt. But what was even worse was to pray for misfortune for your