An early account of the shooting of four marines and one policeman reports that the day before his July 16th shooting rampage Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez was researching internet sites that encouraged martyrdom for the sake of Allah. The same report tells the reader that officials are working diligently to discover a motive. But the Chattanooga shooter told us why he did it. Three days prior, Abdulazeez had posted on his blog that “life is short and bitter” and that Muslims shouldn’t let “the opportunity to submit to Allah … pass you by.”
Whether he took his own life or others took it from him, in what rightly seems to us a senseless slaughter of the innocent Mohammad was displaying an acute pathology of the human desire to adventure for that which we believe to be good and life-fulfilling. He was in the grips of a fatal distortion of the desire for completeness and significance that will make a student with a promising career in computers join the Carmelites, or a successful CEO abandon his position to study Old French, or, on a markedly undramatic level, two people without much visible means of support enter into marriage and somehow make it work.
There was a young man in Assisi who abjured a promising career in the clothing business because he had heard God call him with the words “Build up my church.” Perhaps it could be said that Francis was radicalized by Jesus Christ. On a certain day for a certain person, meaning will be more important than lunch. For almost everyone on some day there will occur that desire to live beyond the ordinary that represents the highest fulfillment of life.
The lone wolf, self-radicalized (as it is said), sometimes having grown up within Islam, sometimes outside it, finds meaning in its absolutism. It is difficult to find in Christianity such quick results: life or death now. Christianity moves through a rich and complex field of ideas that requires thought and, the saints will tell us, prayer and reflection. It is good to die for Christ but not until one is sent for and until then it is better to live for him.
But the quest of the Carthusian in the solitude of his monastery and the quest of Mohammad in suburban Chattanooga as he sought to transcend this short life are of the same genre. Both are given a desire to find the meaning of their lives in pleasing God. One is a pathology given to the all too common belief that killing infidels and dying in the attempt is the certain path to salvation; the other requires that one live for God and others.
ISIS is a sure path to early and unambiguous meaning. Christianity offers a richer, deeper, no less demanding field of meaning. One cannot love father and mother more than Jesus. One must deny one’s self and take up one’s cross. Whoever would save his life will lose it. Islam will transfer one from the easy field of modern relativity into the precincts of absolute meaning almost instantly. Christianity also rescues us from that some grey world but with the challenge to seek life not death. At the heart of the faith is the great sacrifice of love from which the resurrection to life eternal blossoms. Christians do not submit; we believe.
We will never defeat Islam in the sense in which the word ‘defeat’ is usually taken, just as the powers of darkness will not defeat the religion of Jesus Christ. The loves and loyalties that live in the human heart are indefeasible. Many Muslims may be pacified (not converted) by attending college, studying computers, and taking up the trappings of American secularism, just as many Christians will be enchanted by the world so as to move Christ to the margins of their lives.
But the steam of any civilization having at its historical heart a revealed religion will always be those who see the vision and have the desire, so that out of the grey morass will arise a Saint Thomas who will defy his family and forego his destined position as head of a great monastery in order to be a teacher, or a Dr. King who will defy death in order to bring his people closer to their proper place in the American world of hope and opportunity from which they had been excluded.
Surely our approach to Islam would be improved if those responsible for conducting the ‘war’ would give their attention to understanding the power of religion, whether pathological or salvific. But one suspects that their scorn for any revealed religion makes them blind, unable to understand that Saint Paul’s willingness to die in order to be with God and Mohammad Youssef’s willingness to kill and to die in order to please God are of the same genre—one a pathology leading to death, the other a gift leading to life. When someone dies shouting ‘God is great” or murders because this life is bitter and he wishes to submit to Allah, he has told us his motive.