Trying to control radical religious fundamentalists, by bombing and shooting them, is like trying to control a forest fire, by burning down the entire forest — forgetting, of course, that sparks will be carried by the wind into neighboring forests.

This year we commemorate the centennial of the “Great War to End all Wars.” A major accomplishment of that First World War was setting the stage for the Second World War.

When will we begin to understand that increased military violence simply leads to a continual cycle of violent interventions, that never really address the root causes of conflicts: poverty, ignorance, social inequality, cultural blindness, religious discrimination, and economic imperialism?

What would the ethic of Jesus say about dealing with ISIS? How would that ethic have us respond to the situation in Iraq, Syria, and points East and West today?

I am not a professor of political science; but an historical theologian, who, necessarily, has studied a lot of wars and Christian violence over the years.

When, under Constantine, Christianity became the Roman Empire’s state religion, it lost much of its counter-culture influence. It quickly put on the breastplate and ideology of administrative torture and violence, for dealing with wayward people and various kinds of enemies.

After 1,700 years not much has changed. We have been stuck in cycles of violence, with little or no capacity to reflect and realize there can be other ways of dealing with violent and destructive human beings: non-violent resistance, better education and enlightenment, multi-cultural understanding and acceptance, inclusive governance and diplomacy, sustainable development, and community-level peace and reconciliation processes.

Perhaps we are slow learners. Arming some or all rebel groups in Syria makes about as much sense today as support for the Afghanistan “freedom fighters” did in the 1980′s. And……lest we forget……George Bush Jr’s invasion and military engagement in Iraq contributed to the current sectarian divides, and helped lay the foundations for today’s extremist ideologies, including the growth of ISIS.

If the West is going to send or drop anything in the Middle East, it should be humanitarian aid not more bombs and destruction. It should contribute to the building-up of the infrastructure instead of destroying it. It should halt the proliferation of (produced in the West and sold by Westerners) weapons in the region, promote education, promote broad-based access to unbiased knowledge and information, really work to eliminate poverty, and provide health care.

There are other ways to deal with ISIS. For example, ISIS has gained control of massive oil reserves in the Kirkuk area. Why not an international purchasing embargo that would stifle their resources?

There are other realistic and effective non-violent ways to proceed today.

Concerned individuals, groups, and nations have to be willing to work at it. It is analogous to environmental awareness and climate change policies. The United States and the United Nations need to put on their thinking caps. Christian, Islamic, and Jewish religious leaders (representing the three great Abrahamic religious traditions) need to commit themselves to serious reflection, study, dialogue, and mutual collaboration.

And of course…..Arabs and Muslims need to reflect about how such a violent fundamentalist Sunni death cult like ISIS could emerge in their midst; and they need to acknowledge their own responsibility for allowing this to happen……and their responsibility to correct the evil. They could have and should have seen it coming.

Another non-violent proposal. For starters, in every major city in the United States, England, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, civic leaders should begin inter-religious think-tanks and action-groups to deeply reflect, seriously discuss, and concretely plan how men and women today can live and learn together to defuse and counteract inhumane fundamentalist movements.

They should focus particularly on young people and ask themselves: What have we done and what are we now doing that motivates young men and women to become global terrorists and fundamentalist murderers? What is the appeal of radical fundamentalism? How did the image of God become so twisted into a vengeful and violent being, who delights in the torture and death of the “infidel”? Who, in fact, are today’s “infidels”?

Just as we have moved well beyond the eleventh hour in global warming, we have moved well beyond the eleventh hour in global violence. In both cases, we are all at fault. We all bear the burden of re-configuring the world around us.

Yes, one can bomb and kill fundamentalist fanatics. In the process, however, one risks turning oneself into an equally-evil counter-fanatic and accelerating the growth of still more fanatic fundamentalist movements.

We cannot run from today.

We all bear responsibility for tomorrow.


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