Apocalyptic Terrorism and the New World Order: The Longing for the End
"For the Christian faith, the power for new beginning is central, not coercion to perfect world history or the apocalyptic command to destroy this world. The goal of Christian hope is the beginning of life, not the end of the world. The foundation of this hope are Christ's resurrection and Christians' ability to begin new projects in history." Translated from the German.
For a humorous break, see www.toostupidtobepresident.com.
Apocalyptic Terrorism and the New World Order
The Longing for the End of the World
By Jurgen Moltmann
[This article originally published in: DIE ZEIT, 01/2002 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, www.zeit.de/2002/01/Kultur/200201_apokalypse.html. Jurgen Moltmann is an emeritus professor of systematic theology in Tubingen and author of "Theology of Hope", "The Crucified God" and "God in Creation: An Ecological Doctrine of the Trinity.]
The scenario of the crimes of September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington made many people speechless because an apocalyptic rather than a rational script was followed. The World Trade Center, symbol of the globalized progress of the modern world and the Pentagon, symbol of superpower America were juxtaposed to the hijacked aircraft and anonymous mass murderers, executors as they believe of the judgment of a supernatural power.
Rational goals and objectives of the assassins are not discernable. Voices of bin Laden and Mulah Omar speak of retribution for suffered insults of Islam, God's vengeance on unbelievers and America's destruction. Did religious energies become criminal here? Did we underrate the religious energies as when the fundamentalist Khomeini challenged the modernizer Shah Reza Pahlewi in Iran? The script for the terror drama of September 11 extends beyond the ideas of modern reason and yet is logical and consistent. The assassins were educated, well-trained young men, not illiterates wielding Kalashnikovs. They came from respected families, not from the slums of the Third World. The drama of their actions was doubtlessly religious but this characterization is not enough. Within the religious, the eschatological pathos of the end obviously dominated. We call this "apocalyptic" although it has little to do with ancient apocalyptic traditions.
The World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not only useful sites of modern trade and military planning. They also had symbolic value. Another religious pattern appeared, the millenarian idea of the "perfection of world history" through globalization of economic and military power, not the apocalyptic idea of the "end of the world". This thought pattern is ruled by the pathos of the end and allows no alternatives. The collision of ideas of the world's end occurred on September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington: a triumphal idea of world perfection and an apocalyptic idea of the world's ending. This was the attack of the terrorist ending of the world on the global perfection of world history.
Ideas of an "end of history" are directed to the goal or end of history. If world history has a pre-determined goal, this goal is its perfection. History gradually advances to this end. According to biblical traditions, this goal is the kingdom of the Son of man and Christ's "thousand year reign". According to ancient interpretation, it is the "golden age" that according to Virgil supersedes the present "iron age". According to modern hopes, it is the "kingdom of eternal peace" (Kant) and the "kingdom of freedom" (Hegel). For Francis Fukuyama, at that time in the State Department in Washington, the "end of history" began in 1989 after the disintegration of socialism and the victory of "capitalism and liberal democracy". We call these ideas of perfection chiliastic or millenarian and messianic insofar as they determine the present.
In contrast, if world history finds its termination in the end of the world, this history is broken off by catastrophes. This is the "end of the world" according to biblical traditions, the "conflagration of the world" in ancient interpretations and nuclear, ecological or terrorist catastrophes according to modern fears. These ideas of the end are termed "apocalyptic". Without structuring progress, they take away the meaning from every epoch of history. World history is the senseless history of violence and suffering. Its end is its best part.
Whoever has power is always interested in the advance and global expansion of history. He understands the future as a continuation of the present. Whoever is oppressed and insulted is not interested in the progress of suffering history, only in its speedy ending. Who benefits in one or the other idea of the end?
The Great World Judgment
Two messianic ideas mark the spirit of the modern world. The "modern age" reflects Europe's epochal consciousness. After "antiquity" and the Middle Ages", the "modern age" should bring the third age of humanity, the age of perfection. Only the "end of time" can come after the messianically charged "modern age". For immigrants, "America" was and is "the new world" with freedom for everyone. The messianic elements in the "American dream", American civil religion and American politics are clear. The seal of the US and every dollar bill has the promise novus ordo seculorum: the new world order. This new world order is proclaimed for all times, not only for one time. As the modern age implies the new age of the whole world, the new world order intends an order for all humanity.
Messianic ideas have influenced the self-awareness of the US from the start. As the innocent nation, America has the appointment or manifest destiny as the "city on the hill" and the "light of freedom" "to redeem the world" and build "God's reign" on earth. This creates the holy feeling of belonging to a redeemer nation (E.L. Tuveson, Redeemer Nation. The Idea of America's Millennial Role, Chicago 1968, 1980).. These ideas could be mere relics from the rhetoric of American presidents if not for two facts:
1. The "American experiment" continues while the Soviet experiment of creating the "new Soviet man" out of many nations failed definitively in 1989. America is the land of immigrants: e pluribus unum. Whether it is a melting pot for the different races and religions or not, new waves of immigrants arrive, recently more and more Vietnamese. The "American experiment" is an experiment of humanity, not only of Americans. The people of the world wait for the American promise of the new world order to be fulfilled. Only the universal acceptance of human rights satisfies this promise, not American imperialism. All men are created equal, says the American Declaration of Independence, not only American men! Thus the messianic hopes of the US can only be realized in a world peace order based on human rights and the rights of nature.
2. The last prophet of the new world order was Francis Fukuyama in 1989. Fukuyama interpreted the "end of history" with the help of the very individual Hegel interpretation of Alexandre Kojeva, Paris as "the world without alternative". The West triumphed after 1989 since there was no longer a concrete alternative to "capitalism and liberal democracy". Thus humanity finally found in the pluralist democracy what was sought for millenia in all the political experiments: the end of history in a world without alternative. What was once history can only be still visited in the "house of history". What the West was and wanted followed the end of the East-West conflict in 1989. Now many like to speak of the "one world", the "world community", the global village or the "civilized world" according to our standards. However the globalization of production and markets, finances and resources, communication systems and cultural industries brought new conflicts in the world, not peace. Aggressive capitalism produced more inequalities while democratic communities depend on the equality of citizens. Fukuyama and Kojeva misunderstood Hegel. Freedom from conflict ends history, not lack of alternatives. No "end of history" and no messianic new order appears as long as new conflicts arise between nations and with the nature of the earth.
We know the apocalyptic pictures of the great world judgment, the four apocalyptic riders, the final struggle between Christ and the anti-Christ and God's struggle with the devil in the valley of Armaggedon. "The religion of the oppressed" is manifest in these revenge visions. The persecuted in their powerlessness have dreams of omnipotence. The megalomania of the humiliated changes abruptly into persecution complex or paranoia. The theology of the martyrs who amid pain saw the fall of the godless powers was apocalyptic in all ages: the "great whore Babylon" is overthrown. Because they are not universal and cannot rule all things, all monotheistic religions have a dualistic underground that can be seen in their apocalyptic.
There is a passive apocalyptic terrorism: the end of the world is near and unavoidable. When it comes, the true believers will be "enraptured" while the godless are destroyed. In the past one thought of fire from heaven and after 1945 of a "nuclear Armaggedon" (Ronald Reagan). Few things are as disastrous as this apocalyptic fatalism. While the Jewish and Christian apocalypses sought to awaken hope amid the threatening dangers, modern secularized apocalyptic is nothing but naked apocalyptic terror and exterminism.
It is no wonder that an active terrorism has arisen today out of this apocalyptic interpretation of threatening crimes against humanity. The way is not far from the passive expectation of the end of an unbearable world to the active ending of this world. "Better an end with terror than this terror without end."
We have seen a series of apocalyptic mass suicides in the last decades: in 1978 in Jonestown, Guayana, 912 members of a People's Temple sect, in 1993 in Waco, Texas, 78 followers of the Davidian sect, in 1995 in Canada and Switzerland, 53 members of a sun temple sect, in 1997, 38 believers of a Ufo-death sect in San Diego and two years ago 1000 members of a catholic Mary sect in Uganda. Redeeming "rapture" from this perishing world was their motive.
Apocalyptic terrorism can also lead to active mass murder. Dschingis Khan felt called to mass murder. "I am God's avenger"... Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge murdered two million in the killing fields of Cambodia and left behind a destroyed land.
Since September 11, 2001, we are confronted with a new quality of this active apocalyptic terrorism. One becomes an assassin for money or out of conviction; suicide assassins only arise out of conviction. The Islamic terrorists obviously fancy themselves martyrs of their faith are highly venerated by their equals. For what conviction do they murder? For decades, the US has been accused by fanaticized masses on Middle East streets as "the great Satan" and the western world damned as the corrupt "world of the godless": materialism, pornography, disintegration of the family and women's liberation are some of the accusations.
People in the West have not taken this seriously but smiled condescendingly at the charges as primitive. However "the great Satan" is none other than the apocalyptic "enemy of God". Whoever weakens and humiliates him is on God's side and deserves paradise. The idea of fighting with God in the final struggle against the godless neutralizes all normal inhibition on killing, enhances the ecstasy of power and transforms suicide into a service of God. The suicide mass murders of New York and Washington may have felt like God who destroys the godless at the end. If they felt like divine executioners, they didn't need any understandable justification for the mass murder. The purpose of terrorism is terror. We faced a little known form of Islamic apocalyptic and Islamic assassin tradition from the 10th century. The question remains from whatever conceptual world the motives originated: Is it a sign of deep religiosity to become mass murderers?
Islam and the Modern Age
Dialogue between the world religions is necessary but that is not the problem of the day. A clash of civilizations (S. Huntington) is not the challenge facing us. September 11, 2001 was the terrorist reaction of a radical wing of Islamic fundamentalism against the foundations of the modern world that for them is the western world. The rise of the western world went along with a decline and fall of the once great Islamic world. The breakdown of the Osmanian empire in the First World War , the colonial rule of Christian states in the Middle East, the founding of the state of Israel after the Second World War and the globalization of the modern western universal world must have wounded the "house of Islam" and deeply humiliated the Islamic Umma.
The actual threat today is not the western world but Islamic society with its traditional unities of religion and state, religion and culture and religion and economy.
The modern world emerging from the West has developed three basic conditions for peaceful cooperation of different religious communities in a common civil society:
1. separation of religious community and civil society resulting from the separation of church and state,
2. recognition of freedom of worship, and
3.recognition of the human rights of the woman.
Islamic fundamentalism protests against these three conditions by introducing the medieval Scharia and urging a holy war against westernized Islamic states and the western world. Islamic communities living in the western world accept these conditions guaranteed by the democratic constitutions. Modern Islamic states have adopted them more or less. Are they thereby distant from the Koran? They must judge this themselves. Some questions cast a light on possible conflicts of Muslims. To whom do they give their loyalty, the German state where they are citizens or the Umma, the brotherhood of all Muslims? Does individual freedom of worship mean that persons can enter Islam and leave again without harm? Finally, should a Muslim boy obey his female German teacher? What does his Mullah tell him in the Koran school?
The Christian Hope
The modern world is an open society, open for post-modern culture and ecological reforms. Peace between different religious communities can only be guaranteed under the three conditions with which Europe and America overcame the confessional wars in the 17th and 18th centuries and built the religiously neutral state, the secular society and the modern world. Therefore these conditions are the essential foundations for the modernization of the world in other cultures. While Asian cultures had few problems with these conditions, the Islamic tradition in Arab countries has difficulties so that the globalization of the modern world failed for them.
Christianity also knows analogous reactions to the modern world in orthodox traditionalism, catholic authoritarianism and protestant fundamentalism. Still the modern world as a whole understands liberation as: 1. liberation from the duties of a political religion through the separation of church and state, 2. as political realization of concrete religious freedom in the democratic freedom of worship, and 3. as public acknowledgment of the God-likeness of man and woman in equal dignity and equal rights. After September 11, 2001, Christendom of whatever confession must resolve to defend the three basic conditions against all forms of fundamentalism and promote them as conditions of freedom for all religious communities.
For the Christian faith itself, the power for new beginning is central, not coercion to perfect world history or the apocalyptic command to destroy this world. The goal of Christian hope is the beginning of life, not the end of the world. The foundations of this hope are Christ's resurrection and Christians' ability to begin new projects in history.
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