So most of you know by now that the past week has been a little scary in the UK. First there were two car bombs discovered and disarmed here in London, and a few days later two men drove a flaming car rigged to explode into the main terminal at Glasgow Airport.
Londoners tend to take these things in their stride. They survived the Blitz, years of IRA violence and the 7/7 bombings with an admirable attitude of nonchalance. It’s funny, the same thing that makes most Americans so frustrated about living here—the apparent sense of aloofness or complacency you get when you want something from someone—is actually a survival trait learned over decades of violence and loss. On the TV news after they found the bombs here in London, person after person said that they weren’t going to be kept in their homes by a few crazy people. Young people went to clubs. Middle-aged people trudged on to their jobs. Old folks talked about how much worse it was when the Germans were bombing them every day.
In these days of political posturing and division over Iraq and other matters, it’s easy to forget something very important: The British are exceptionally brave and accomplished people.
But today there is news regarding the people behind all of the bombings (and a few others that never took place), and that news is almost as shocking as the crimes themselves.
Most, if not all, of the people involved in this plot were medical doctors.
What? Wait a second. For the last 10 years or more, going back to the intifada in Israeli-occupied territories, we’ve been hearing a bizarre line of defense on behalf of those who would strap a bomb on their chest and walk into a pizza parlor, or a bus, or anyplace else crowded with innocent people. We’ve been told that these tragic murderers were disaffected and poor, that they lacked a sense of hope, that they had no economic future.
Most of the people involved in this plot were doctors.
These guys weren’t poor or ignorant or hopeless. They were physicians, educated and trained to help the sick and wounded. They were supposed to be the hope of each of their ethnic cultures and their shared religion. Whatever their grievances were, they were supposed to be better people than that, and they weren’t—they aren’t. Whatever their advantages, their particular brand of religion trumped what they had learned about the world and its people, and led them to try and destroy a couple of nightclubs and a regional airport. What a waste. And what a crock to say that only economic factors matter in interpreting the behavior of human beings. Can we finally put Marx in his grave after this one?
Now let me say right here that I believe that there are some aspects of Islamic violence toward the West that make sense. Mistakes—some less innocent than others—have been made and continue to be made among politicians in America, Britain and beyond. The list is long, but at its core there has been a lack of understanding of Islamic culture—especially among those who would call themselves evangelical Christians—that has contributed to the enormous gulf between us. I single out evangelicals because they (we?) remain among the last groups within Christianity who believe that those outside the faith need to be drawn in, loved in, preached in, served in.
I also say that as a way of earning the right to say this: It’s long past time for Muslims and non-Muslims alike to denounce together the fanatical violence being done in the name of the Islamic faith.
For Christians, we need to draw out the essential truth from these last events, and here it is: Sin and evil are equal-opportunity players. We keep talking about the Fall in our churches as if it were some abstract concept or artifact from another time. We base our whole faith on Christ, who came to cover the wounds and brokenness caused by our ‘bent to sinning’, and then forget that we’re still sinners in need of a savior.
Let me put it another way: It’s too easy to look at a poor backward Islamic terrorist and pray like the Pharisee: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers and adulterers...’ But what do we do when the terrorists are, well, a lot like us? I left a church in Glendale that was full of professional people, business leaders and teachers, and came to a church in London full of bankers, oil executives and more teachers. There are even a few doctors at both churches. What do we do when the terrorists are too much like us?
Our only response—after we’ve caught them all and stepped up our security efforts (I’m not crazy)—is to remember that Christ came for them, too. I don’t want them running free in the streets any more than you do, but I also don’t want them either killed or marginalized any further, not before they can hear the same gospel message that offered salvation to me. That’s the call on every Christian’s life, no matter how awful or repugnant the sin in front of us might be.
The oath that doctors take begins with a simple principle: ‘First, do no harm.’ I have no idea just how these guys managed to go so completely against their training, and in the end it doesn’t really matter. The main thing is still the main thing:
Just because these doctors forgot their oath doesn’t mean that I have to forget mine.