11th September 2001 - A Clash of Two Post-Christian Cultures?

Randall Hardy

There can be little doubt that the attacks which occurred in America on this now infamous day have touched almost every human being on the face of the earth. Experts are predicting that millions of the world’s poor will become even more destitute as a result. A majority of nations are now on war alert and under pressure to state their allegiance to one cause or the other. Diplomacy has rarely been so active, yet no-one it seems is sure what the outcome will be. How can the Christian believer make sense of the things which are happening at a pace few ever thought possible?

More Terrifying than Fiction

I am writing exactly a month after the unthinkable happened. The attacks on Afghanistan began a few days ago, whilst in New York the search still goes on for the remains of those who died in and around the World Trade Centre. As people everywhere are trying to come to terms with what happened, perhaps it is helpful to realise that it was not the death toll per se which shocked us. In January - just eight months earlier - over 15,500 people were killed in an earthquake in India and the world did not stand in even a minute’s silence for them. Two years previously, in excess of 17,000 were killed in Turkey by a slightly smaller quake, and relatively few outside that region felt touched by their deaths. So why were so many devastated by the death of these 6,500 or so people?

It seems to me that there are three probable factors. The first is that this was no "natural" disaster. These people died because others had planned, probably for years, to make this happen. Secondly, it was happening right at the heart, as many perceive it, of the civilised world. Certainly, downtown New York is the international hub of much of the world’s economic activity, and the USA the champion of capitalism. This was a horror which occurred in the western world’s, and especially America’s, own front room. Finally, and we cannot underestimate its effect, this was the first disaster which was watched live on television around the world. I suggest these are the three main factors which combined to make this a day which changed the lives of millions.

Is God Involved?

It is not my intention here to look at the political background which has paved the way for this, but as a Christian I want to consider the spiritual factors which are relevant to the dilemma now faced by governments and individuals around the world. We are repeatedly told by the politicians that this is not a "religious war". However Osama Bin Laden and other members of Al Qaeda, whether this was their doing or not, have made it very clear that that is exactly what they consider it to be. Given that this is a war that was started by Islamist[1] terrorists, it can only be defined by them. It is unwise for the West to protest otherwise. If this war has nothing to do with religion, why has America fallen back on time-worn phrases such as "In God We Trust" and "God Bless America"?

If the USA and other western countries do indeed trust in The LORD[2] as strongly as they say they do, surely a valid question must be, "why did God let it happen?". There are other similar questions, such as "why the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon?", but I will not address them here. Elijah asked the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel if their god was asleep or on a journey when he did not answer their prayers[3] - was The LORD asleep on September 11th? Sleep is not something The LORD needs,[4] so it is valid to seek to understand why He did not intervene and prevent these events. First, we must be clear that He did take action that morning, but not the action we would have wanted him to. The four planes which were hi-jacked could carry in excess of 1000 passengers and crew: only 266 people were on board in total. Over 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Centre: only 20,000 were there when the first plane hit. Two-thirds of those inside escaped alive. These are a few examples of the "coincidences" without which the human tragedy could have been much worse that day. David Wilkerson, Senior Pastor Times Square Church, has written[5] that their church was warned by the Holy Spirit 6 weeks earlier that a calamity was coming. They had gathered to pray for four nights a week since receiving this warning - who knows how many more would have died if this church had not responded obediently to The LORD’s prompting?

The LORD Hates Mixtures

There can be no question that The LORD was aware of what was coming and yet did not prevent it. Are we able to discover why He did not defend a nation which claims to trust in Him? A common response has been to ask if this was The LORD’s judgement upon America and perhaps the capitalist world as a whole. There is no doubt that this must be considered seriously, but there is also another question. Could America have done something which precipitated an angry reaction in others? At the beginning of September the United Nation's World Conference against Racism was held in Durban, South Africa. It was used by many Arab nations to denounce Israel, so much so that the Israeli delegation walked out. The only other nation to leave with them was America. It may be that the date of September 11th had been planned well in advance, but in recent weeks few have asked if this demonstration of loyalty to Israel was the last straw for those who consider America their enemy because of its support of this small but significant nation?

I have pondered this and I think we must all recognise that the America - Israel relationship is a major factor in the hatred many people have for the USA. But if this relationship was the cause of the attack, it is surely strange that The LORD should allow those who serve another God to triumph over those who are supporting His special people Israel. We are told in the Psalms[6] that those who would stand in God’s presence must be without blame. Old Testament Israel’s belief that it was the keeper of The LORD’s temple did not prevent it from being conquered by the pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar. When a people who are called by The LORD’s name depart from Him in their hearts and minds, they then become vulnerable to disaster from any source - even from the hands of those who refuse to acknowledge The LORD as God.

A Kingdom for a King?

This brings us to consider the role of Islam in this crisis. This we can cover briefly. Islam holds a unique place in history. Of all the "world faiths" it is the last to be founded. It post dates Christianity by 600 years and needs to be understood in this context - Mohammed believed he was called to correct the errors of Judaism and Christianity. By the time of Mohammed, a significant proportion of the church had become unfaithful to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are over 30 references in the Qu’ran to Mary - Jesus being described as her son. This focus seems to epitomise Mohammed’s abhorrence of the practice of worshipping Mary[7]. The Qu’ran also reflects his own experiences of meeting believing and unbelieving Christians and Jews. For whilst there are some statements which group Muslims, Jews, Christians and Sabains together as believers, believers are also told not to take Jews or Christians as their friends.[8] Recognising that Islam post-dates Christianity and that its foundations include features that are a reaction against a corruption of the gospel, helps us to see that it is not neutral towards Christianity or Judaism. The popular practice of bundling all three religions together as Abrahamic faiths fails to address the historic context that spawned the birth of Islam, and fails to address their fundamental differences.

Jesus taught that His kingdom was not a political one to be established on this earth by human means. He said if it were, His followers would fight[9]. Over many centuries the visible church has failed to believe this and has engaged in many wars, either to defend the faith or to extend its influence. The Crusades, the Inquisition and the Irish conflict are amongst many which stem from the notion that the Kingdom of God would be established through worldly and not spiritual methods. Whilst in the Old Testament Israel was called to establish an earthly kingdom, the Church never received such instruction and every attempt to do so has resulted in sin and bloodshed.

The teaching of Jesus with its emphasis on a spiritual kingdom and love for enemies contrasts strongly with Islam, which promotes an earthly domain for Allah, to be established by his followers by force if necessary. Mohammed was no stranger to battles and many of his followers have sought to build an Islamic empire through earthly wars. It has not always been clear if they expected conversions to Islam to result from their influence or their oppressive rule - but the latter has not been unknown. Though not making headlines in the West, Christians in places like Indonesia, southern Sudan and Nigeria are at this moment suffering physical attacks from Islamists in an attempt to force them to convert to Islam. In many Islamic states today, such as Saudi Arabia, it is a capital offence to convert from Islam to Christianity. At best it seems the Islamic world is unsure how its religion is to be spread. Recently some Muslims who work in the British media have begun to acknowledge that the human rights record of the majority of Islamic nations is appallingly bad. They have said that it is time to put their own house in order, but this is not a widely supported call. Today’s Islamist terrorists are those who are attempting to take both Mohammed’s example and his teachings (both of which are preserved in the "hadith") to their logical conclusion by seeking to establish Allah’s kingdom on the earth.

Self Made Secularism

When Mohammed rejected Christianity, it was an apostate church he reacted against, but he did not reject belief in a divine creator. It is generally agreed that he thought he was establishing a pure religion, one he believed could be traced all the way back to Adam. By contrast, in historic Christendom and the New World of North America, the quest has been to free ourselves from accountability to God. Britain has been amongst those nations which since the mid 1800’s have sought to shake off their Christian heritage. The last 50 years have seen an all out campaign to secularise our societies. On September 5th, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor[10] admitted that in Britain Christianity was down but not out. Last year the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of "a tacit atheism which prevails". The West has turned its back on the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and sought to replace it with a mix of secular and religious humanism. For many science is now our "saviour", but for others it is our destroyer and they seek refuge in the blend of environmental and occult awareness commonly referred to as the New Age. Our flight into secularism has been fertile ground for the growth of violence and immorality in our societies - things which are condemned by both the Bible and the Qu’ran. However to those of other religions and particularly to Muslims, Western nations are still seen as Christian nations and it is the name of The LORD we dishonour when we say with our lips we trust in Him, whilst our actions reveal that our hearts are far from Him![11]

The Apostle Paul warned what happens morally and mentally when a society turns away from The LORD - "Professing to be wise, they became fools".[12] The last few weeks have illustrated how in its pride, the Western secular mindset has become foolish. We are so convinced that there is no God, that we belittle the faith of those who believe there is. We don’t do this directly or in a disparaging way (except where Christians are concerned), but when politicians speak of the commonness of all faiths or when they court the "moderates" of any religion, they are actually saying that their religion is of no value, of no importance except as a social grouping, a sub-culture within society. Believing there is no God, they proclaim all faiths must tolerate all faiths. Their underlying rationale for this insistence, though it is never acknowledged, is that all faiths are built on myths and are therefore folly.

However the folly belongs to those who in the world’s eyes are wise, for they fail to recognise the spiritual realm where The LORD dwells, and where the powers behind the philosophies and religions of the world operate.[13] This lack of understanding is well illustrated by the repeated protestations that they have not been engaged in a religious war - indeed for Bush, Blair and their Western allies it may not be, but for the Islamists it is very much a religious war. Their inability to recognise the religious mindset of their enemy means that the West will inevitably underestimate the commitment of their enemy. For example our politicians assert that the Qu’ran condemns suicide and so it does. However they fail to acknowledge that it also esteems killing and martyrdom in the cause of Allah.[14] Unless the secularised Western world view rejects its own tenets of "non-faith", it will never appreciate the real reasons why it has become the enemy of so many.

Blind Guides?

If the political leaders of the West have become secularised in their thinking, is the Church able to help them recognise their foolishness? On 2nd October the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey and about 25 other church leaders issued a joint invitation to prayer in the aftermath of the American attacks.[15] There are two things which need to be noted from this call. The first is who they were asking to people to pray to, and the second is what they were asking them to pray for. One paragraph of the statement read, "It is, crucially, an open invitation, extended to all. To Christians, of course, from whatever background. Other people of faith may wish to participate in their own way. It is also an invitation to anyone on a spiritual journey or seeking to embark on one; to people of no faith. No-one is excluded. All are welcome." This is clearly a difficult time to be distinctive about faith, but these church leaders made the same mistake as the West’s politicians: they failed to distinguish between faith in The LORD, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, and faith in the whole variety of deities worshipped by every other religion except the Jews. Jewish history, however warns us very strongly about the dangers of failing to acknowledge that The LORD alone is God. From the day they left Egypt until they were exiled in Babylon for 70 years, the Israelites continued to worship other gods along with The LORD. For this they were constantly reaping trouble.[16] When there is a crisis of the present magnitude, the cry on the lips of Christians should be "Return to The LORD your God!"[17] Unless we, the people of the post-Christian Western nations, humble ourselves and turn from our moral and intellectual arrogance to seek The LORD, then we will continue our decline into futility. This is not a moment when Christian leaders should be telling people to go and seek whatever god they please.

The statement by this group of church leaders also followed the political lead by asking people to pray for justice. As I read that request, a horrendous thought hit me very hard. At the moment justice is being defined in terms of recompense for the injustice done on September 11th and through previous terrorist attacks. However, we must understand that when we are asking The LORD for justice, the justice He supplies is His righteous justice. Now the question is this, does our post-Christian society really want His righteous justice? The answer must surely be "No!" - if our hearts were truly humble before Him, if it was Him we were really trusting, if we were honestly asking Him to bless our countries, then it would be His mercy we would be pleading for not His justice. It has been encouraging to see how many Christians have been talking about the time Jesus was asked about similar (but much smaller scale) events in His day. He strove to make sure His questioners understood such events in their eternal perspective.[18] If He was on earth now and had been asked about those who died in the World Trade Centre, then His answer would have reminded us that those who died there were no worse sinners than those anywhere else. He would urge us all to recognise that unless we humble ourselves before The LORD in repentance then our eternal destiny will be more horrific than the physical deaths of those whom the cameras watched jumping from high windows or of those on whom the towers fell.

It is very sad that the Archbishop of Canterbury and his colleagues failed to call the people of Britain (and other countries) back to The LORD by declaring the same message as Jesus did. It is sad that they chose instead to lull people into a false hope of peace and justice, when the Bible warns that lawlessness will increase as history draws to a close.[19] Perhaps saddest of all though is that at least four people who are counted amongst the leaders of Bible-believing Evangelical and Charismatic Christians in Britain added their names to that statement. Is the church becoming as blind as the tacitly atheistic society in which we live? If so, then we are all about to fall into a ditch.[20]

God Our Help in Ages Past, But What About the Present?

Many are wondering what the future holds. The world economy was teetering before all this. Now we have war of a most uncertain kind. Have Bush and Blair been wise to seek a world coalition against terrorism? What other options did they have? I have little doubt that from the moment the first plane struck, America and its allies were in a no-win situation. If they did nothing, then they would be open targets and things would get worse. But there is no guarantee that the course they have now embarked on will not have the same result or worse. Perhaps if they hadn’t just paid lip service to the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures but had taken them to heart, then they may have found wisdom for the day when they needed it most. When Jerusalem was attacked in the days of Jehoshaphat, he turned to The LORD in prayer and pleaded for His intervention.[21] His prayer climaxed with these words, "O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You." Only kings, presidents and prime ministers who are humble before The LORD can pray in this way. This was genuine trust in God. This was a real plea for The LORD to bless the nation. The LORD heard. He answered through a prophet, and Jehoshaphat was told what to do. In this instance The LORD’s word was, "You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of The LORD, who is with you…"

Now I am not saying that The LORD would have said specifically this to our politicians and church leaders if their message had been for us to humble ourselves and repent, but I am sure they would have received Godly counsel from Him and He would have intervened to take the danger out of this situation. Instead, as they make allegiances with nations which serve other gods, the reality of their trust has been exposed for what it is - the same thing that always brought trouble on Israel. Today it seems it may be a snare not only to those nations which enter into such pacts, but also for Israel. As I write Tony Blair is beginning to recognise that the price being demanded by many Arab and Islamic nations for their support for a global coalition, is a resolution of the Palestinian "problem". A few days ago the Prime Minister of Israel, Ariel Sharon, was rebuked for raising the possibility that the US was in danger of appeasing its Arab coalition partners in the war on terrorism at Israel's expense. Could this happen as Bush and Blair (or their successors), one day recognise that this will be the price the post-Christian West will have to pay for support from "moderate" Islamic nations in the fight against Islamist fundamentalism? These are men who have the declared aim of seeking both a homeland for the Palestinians, and a kingdom for Allah. Will their terrorism achieve its objectives?

The Final Irony?

Before September 11th many Christians believed world events were steadily progressing towards the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. That morning, events on America’s East Coast quickened the pace. We may not yet be sprinting towards the predicted troubles, but the human race has pitched itself irreversibly in that direction. There are plenty of Biblical prophecies which point to our rebellion resulting in all the nations of the world coming against Israel, with a world political system to oversee this. Now, modern day Israel is not perfect and is not blameless in the present conflicts. However Western leaders with their post-Christian secularism not only fail to recognise the spiritual dimension in their own troubles, but they fail to perceive it in the Middle East as well. The sad fact is that those who do, are often ridiculed for their naivety. Where is all this taking us?

I cannot help but think there is a great sense of irony in events which have yet to take place. On the one hand we have the post-Christian Islamic culture, which long ago rejected the Lord Jesus Christ as God’s Son and Saviour, and turned to an alternative religion. This religion, whose name means “Submission”, has as its objective a world system built on the worship of its god, Allah. On the other we have Western post-Christian culture, which owes much of its civilisation to the gospel of Jesus Christ, but which has now turned its back on that message. By the start of this century the West had wilfully embraced the gods of secularism and with them the total denial of any divine authority. Morally, as well as spiritually, everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes. The trouble is that those eyes are blinded to the wisdom which leads to life, because that wisdom is what we have chosen to reject. Neither of these two cultures understands the other. They have no basis of communication - one is secular, one religious; one is seeking peace on earth, the other peace in paradise; one has abandoned personal morality, the other preaches it (though its practice is far from perfect). As we look back on September 11th we have to recognise that though these cultures had glanced off one another in the past, that on that day they clashed with such an almighty force that the world will never be the same again.

However, the last irony may be this - the chief priests would not have paid Judas 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus, if they had realised that they were fulfilling prophecy.[22] So too I doubt if the secular West and the Islamic East would continue on their present courses if they realised that the most they will accomplish is to pave the way for the one event they both are seeking to deny. That event is the return of the Lord Jesus Christ to establish His Kingdom on the earth! The Bible is clear that He will return at a time when Israel is attacked by all the nations of the world. This will be in a time of international trouble (both political and environmental) and there will be a secular and religious world coalition trying to hold everything together. Israel has yet to undergo one important change. At the moment many Jews are unable to recognise Jesus as Messiah, but the day will come when, "they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn."[23] Perhaps it will take trouble of the magnitude which some can now see on the horizon, to humble Jewish hearts until they seek their God earnestly. The question is, will people in the rest of the world, including its great post-Christian cultures, also seek The LORD whilst there is time? Will they humble themselves before it is too late?[24]

Jesus said, "Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."[25] Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus! Come![26]


[1] There is a real difficulty in knowing what to call terrorists who find their inspiration from the Qu’ran and the teachings of Mohamed. Many Muslims object to the phrase "Islamic Fundamentalists" arguing that anyone who holds to the five principles of Islam is a fundamentalist. "Islamist" is a suggested alternative to "Islamic" in this context and I have adopted it in this essay in the hope that my terminology will not be a hindrance to some who might otherwise give this work serious consideration.

[2] The Bible does have many names for the God who created the heavens and the earth and who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, but they are rarely used in English translations. The reason for this is probably the custom which was adopted by the Jews of not using His name so that they could not be accused of taking His name in vain and so breaking the 3rd commandment. YHWH is the English representation of the Hebrew name which God revealed to Moses when He spoke with him through a burning bush. It is from this name that the English Jehovah derives, but most translations commonly use "the Lord". To distinguish God’s name from other uses of "the Lord", in this article I have adopted "The LORD".

[3] 1 Kings 18:27 "And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, ‘Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.’"

[4] Psalm 121:4 "Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep."

[5] "The Towers Have Fallen - But We Missed the message" Available at: http://www.worldchallenge.org/dwmessages/towers_fallen_final.htm

[6] Psalm 24:3&4 "Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, Nor sworn deceitfully."

[7] Qu’ran 5:119 Section 16. "And behold! Allah will say: ‘O Jesus the son of Mary! Didst say unto men, "Worship me and my mother as gods in derogation of Allah"?’ He will say: ‘Glory to Thee! Never could I say what I had no right (to say). Had I said such a thing, Thou wouldst indeed have known it. Thou knowest what is in my heart, though I know not what is in Thine. For Thou knowest in full all that is hidden.’"

[8] Qu’ran 5:54 Section 8. "O ye who believe! Take not the Jews and the Christians for your friends and protectors: They are but friends and protectors to each other. And he amongst you that turns to them (for friendship) is of them. Verily Allah guideth not a people unjust."

[9] John 18:36 "Jesus answered, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.’"

[10] Head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales

[11] Mark 7:6 "He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: "This people honours Me with their lips , But their heart is far from Me."’"

[12] Romans 1:22, but read the context from v16-32.

[13] Eph. 6:12 "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places."
2 Cor. 10:4-5 "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ,.."

[14] Qu’ran 9:111 Section 14. "Allah hath purchased of the Believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the Garden (of Paradise): They fight in His Cause and slay and are slain: A promise binding on Him in Truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Koran: And who is more faithful to his Covenant than Allah? Then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: That is the achievement supreme." (emphasis mine)

[15] Was available on the Church of England web site at: http://www.cofe.anglican.org/cgi-bin/news/item_frame.pl?id=148

[16] Amos 5:25-26; Acts 7:42-43 "Then God turned and gave them up to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: ‘Did you offer Me slaughtered animals and sacrifices during forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? You also took up the tabernacle of Moloch, And the star of your god Remphan, Images which you made to worship; And I will carry you away beyond Babylon."

[17] Hosea 10:12& 13 "’Now, therefore,’ says the LORD, ‘Turn to Me with all your heart, With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning. So rend your heart, and not your garments; Return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and merciful, Slow to anger, and of great kindness; And He relents from doing harm."

[18] Luke 13:1-5 "There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.’"

[19] The words of Jesus, Matt. 24:12-14 "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come."

[20] Matthew 15:14 "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch."

[21] 2 Chronicles 20

[22] Zechariah 11:12-13 & Matthew 27:1-10

[23] Zechariah 12, specifically v9-11, "It shall be in that day that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. In that day there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning at Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo."

[24] Isaiah 55:6-7 "Seek the LORD while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon."

[25] Luke 21:28

[26] 1 Corinthians 16:22 & Revelation 22:20

© Copyright Randall Hardy - October 2001
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