The court martial of Nidal Hasan began yesterday. He is the Army Major who has admitted to shooting 13 fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in 2009. Three weeks before the shooting Hasan had received his orders to deploy to Afghanistan. As a Muslim he could not bring himself to fight against his fellow Muslims, so instead he attacked a room full of defenseless army personnel who were filling out paperwork at a processing center. According to prosecutors, Hasan felt he had a jihad duty to kill as many soldiers as possible.
I am not an Islamic scholar, so I will leave it up to other Muslims to comment on whether Hasan’s actions represent true Islam. (And for the record, there are plenty of peace-loving Muslims in this world.) I am more interested in a comment he made during his opening statements. It was reported on cnn.com on Tuesday that Hasan said, “We mujahedeen are trying to build the perfect religion.” I am not sure what that means, but it would appear that the perfect religion involves destroying anyone who does not belong to it or who is perceived to be a threat to it.
Perhaps that is why the Bible is strikingly silent on matters of religion. A word search of the New International Version will show that the word religion is only used five times in the entire New Testament. It appears twice in Acts (chapters 25 and 26). In both of those cases the Apostle Paul is disputing with his fellow Jews as to the true interpretation of their own religious tradition. The other three times occur in 1 Timothy and James. In those instances there is reference to our religious obligation to care for our families and to keep a tight reign on our tongues.
That’s about all the religion you will find in the Bible. Religion, you see, is about humanity’s efforts to define, understand, and control the divine. It is about our need to construct the right systems and rules to make sure everybody and everything stays put and behaves like they are supposed to. The attacks at Fort Hood are a tragic outworking of such efforts. The only way we humans can achieve our purposes (especially religious ones) will ultimately involve violence of one form or another.
I say this not as an attack on Islam, for the Christian tradition has more than its fair share of blood on its hands. I say this to point out the difference between religion (any religion) and the gospel. Religion is about our efforts to work our way to God. The gospel is about the unbelievable announcement that God has worked his way to us. He did it not through rules or systems, but through a flesh and blood person who lived the perfect and true life – the life we were all created to live. He was the perfect incarnation of God’s righteousness, a righteousness that we will never achieve, no matter how tightly controlled the systems we create may be.
Again, I don’t know what a perfect religion looks like, though I am pretty sure it does not involve destroying the lives of others. But the good news is that we don’t need a perfect religion, for we have a perfect Savior.