People who should know better, good people, have said to me, “These Islamic terrorists are a problem . . . and the problem is that they are Muslims first and Americans second.”
Evidently religion is only safe if it conforms to whatever the political consensus in Washington happens to be at the moment. The teaching authority of the church should follow the election returns or at least not encourage its members to use religion as a reason to defy them.
Christians have good reason to fear this kind of nonsensical thinking. It has often been the prelude to the persecution of the pious. The long standing religious exemption to oath taking in court and to military service were a recognition that for a Quaker or any other pacifist Christian Caesar, even a duly elected Caesar, could never be Lord.
The reason the Founders supported weak and small central government (compared to today’s leviathan state) is that the larger the state the more people and the more places it will begin to make demands that a free man will find in mortal conflict with his conscience.
And in America a man must follow his morality even against the dictates of the federal government. Nobody wants to do this, anarchy is a dreadful thing, but worse than the threat of anarchy is the state that tyrannizes over the consciences of men.
Morality is not safe in the hands of the state and voting does not sanctify a law. Critics of traditional marriage are right to view their defeats at the ballot box as temporary just as those who support marriage cannot cease from mental fight simply because their cause it unpopular at the moment with “youths.”
If the consensus about the nature of marriage does break down, then it would be better to get the state out of the business altogether than to force men to approve of a contract they view as fundamentally contrary to the laws of nature and of nature’s God.
The trouble with the man who performs an act of terrorism in the name of religion is not that he takes his religion seriously, but that his religion is evil. If a man practices a form of Christianity that justifies killing abortion doctors, then that man is a bad Christian. The way to cure his problem is not by trying to make him a slave to the state, but a better Christian.
If he has acted on his beliefs, then this conversion should be aided by what Johnson calls the mental concentration of the knowledge of imminent hanging.
There are some religions that are simply incompatible with republican or democratic forms of government. A Christian who works to have his moral vision enshrined in law using republican means may be wrong, but he is a good citizen. However, a Christian who uses violence against individuals and force to achieve his goals has broken covenant with the commonwealth. He may form a new state, if he is able, but he cannot be part of ours.
This implies, I think, a need to recognize that some forms of Islam make a man unfit to be a citizen. Just as you cannot swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth or be a secret Stalinist and remain a member of this republic, so you cannot profess forms of Islam that demand a theocracy or advocate terror and be a good American.
We are “one nation under God.” The “under God” is important, because it means that for all men we recognize the prior claims of conscience. We will do all in our power not to offend that prior claim, but men in a nation must set some boundaries. These boundaries, as these so-called Islamic terrorists may be quite wrong, and we accept that if they think so, and given the logic of their beliefs, that they are at unending war with us. We would expect no less of a some weird Christian absolute monarchist or Stalinist secularist. They hate our state, our founding documents, and our very existence is an affront to them.
Some of our most prized virtues are to them our greatest vices.
The trouble then is not that the terrorist will not say Caesar is his lord. We respect that right and honor it. That is something that could make him, at least in this one respect, a good American. What we cannot tolerate and think deadly wrong is his religion, not Islam in its mainstream form as practiced by millions of good Americans, but an Islam that does not is so far in disagreement with our social contract that no possible compromise exists.
We cannot, to be consistent, ask a citizen to compromise with his conscience, even a perverted conscience, so these men cannot be citizens. They are outside of the American family, though not of course outside the human family. We owe them basic human rights, which is why they must never be tortured, but if they choose to live here then they must find themselves at war with us. We will fight that war with honor, but it is a war.
The problem with the terrorist is that his religion is incompatible with our own. There is no possible compromise with it and he must either convert to some happier faith, move to a state which agrees with his moral vision, become a hypocrite to his own ideals, or find himself at war with us.
Pretending that all our opponents are mad is not the answer. We must recognize that some are trapped in religions that we cannot find a way to integrate into our commonwealth. This would be true whether the faith was a twisted Christianity, Judaism, paganism, secularism, or Isalm.