Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Victory

"Temple of Baal-Shamin, Palmyra" by Bernard Gagnon

Anyone familiar with the Old Testament--well, anyone who takes it seriously, I suppose--might well think of what ISIS did last week as almost righteous. After all The Temple of Baal-Shamin was at one time a temple to Baal. Most orthodox theologians summarize the entire New Testament as an exercise for Israel to learn that there is only one God, and He is their God, Jehovah, a word sometimes thought too divine to even spell.

I don't know what Pat Robertson says, but I would suppose that the super-righteous might just think ISIS was merely accomplishing what the Israelites didn't or couldn't accomplish thousands of years ago: they took out a temple to a god who is not god. If you don't know Baal, read the Old Testament prophets sometime. Start anywhere; the Bible's prophetic literature rumbles along with the same turbo-charged animus: Baal means enemy.

When Elijah's Mt. Carmel Championship sacrifice blew up in flames, 450 prophets of Baal must have crawled into the innards of their own sacrificial pyre because, embarrassingly, theirs hadn't (see I Kings 18). Elijah destroyed 'em. Google the story sometime. You'll find dozens of Sunday School plans. Why not? It's a great story to tell. "Maybe your god is on the toilet," Elijah taunted when 450 holy men couldn't get their bull lit. I've always loved that line, Elijah as a kind of 1000 B. C. Bill Maher.

See that temple?--reportedly it's gone, a temple to a what ISIS and Elijah both would call a pagan god. So ISIS got the job done two thousand years later.

But we mark our years with an A.D. and not a B.C. Along came Jesus Christ, and threw everything off balance, as the Misfit says in O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find." Things have changed in the post-Jesus world.

I'm a believer, always have been and likely always will be, and I think what ISIS did is perfectly barbaric. ISIS wants only one story told--theirs. Every other story is pagan. Every other story is evil. That doctrine allows them to behead their enemies. Nothing has worth but what they say has worth. They live in a vile and violent world of righteous us vs. evil them.

So this week, as yet another Sunday school lesson in orthodoxy, they drilled dozens of holes in what's left of this bit of Canaanite antiquity, filled those holes with explosives, then blasted away, bringing the temple down. It's pagan, after all--always was and always will be.

Perfectly bright people, men and women who grew up in the West, have signed on to barbarism, to rape and murder in the holy name of their god. It's madness.

And that's why what three men did on the train from Amsterdam seems Elijah-like. They took down some ISIS would-be martyr confessionally-bound to kill pagans on their way of Paris. They saw the AK-47, recognized the madness, and ended the carnage before it could begin, right there on the tight quarters of the train.

In Fierce Patriot: The Tangled Lives of William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert L. O'Connell makes a claim that might well be outrageous to Southerners, but it's the thesis of the biography. Sherman's famous March to the Sea was undertaken with a strategy that made war democratic. Sherman's men were often separated from the command structure and therefore free, within guidelines, to operate on their own. Sherman left crucial decision-making up to individual platoons and soldiers, O'Connell says, in a way that foreshadows what happened in Normandy in early June of 1944.

I'm no more a military historian than I am a theologian, but it's clear to me that three American military men--none of them in fatigues, none of them armed--acted completely on their own when they wrestled the would-be assassin to the floor of that Paris-bound train.

Last week ISIS planted dynamite in one of humankind's grandest antiquities, an ancient temple with Old Testament roots. Blew it up. I'm sure they killed people too, likely hundreds of them. The treachery spawned from their evil orthodoxy knows no limits.

But this week, blessedly, three American military, off duty, and one French-American musician brought down a ISIS fanatic on a train to Paris. When they did, for a moment they disregarded their lives for the sake of the hundreds on board that madman had in his sights.

"He who saves one person," an old Jewish proverb says, "saves the world."

Greater love hath no man than this," Jesus says, "that a man lay down his life for his friends."

Somehow, this week, what they did feels like a great victory, a raging fire on Mt. Carmel. 

The assassin's god must have been on the toilet.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Please permit me to take a look back at II Kings as well....

2 Kings 23:10
New International Version (NIV)

10 He [Josiah} desecrated Topheth [The name of an area in the Valley of Hinnon where altars used for child sacrifice were located], which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molech.

As with the destruction of Baal by the prayers of Elijah, Josiah carried out the renewal of the Book of the Covenant found in the temple. One of his many many cleansing activities was to destroy the alters used to sacrifice children.

I am looking forward to the day in the USA when the "high places" will be removed so child sacrifice at the altar of convenience will cease and their body parts will not be sold as if they were parts to a Buick.