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The Battle For Hearts And Minds – And Souls

Mal Fletcher
Posted 13 September 2004
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The fight against terrorism is truly a battle for hearts and minds. It is about psychological and sociological issues – but at root it is a spiritual issue, too.

Over this past weekend people in New York City and Washington DC paused to remember, as they did in other regions of the world, the carnage of September 11, 2001.

Three years on and, with the horror of Beslan and the bombing outside Australia's embassy in Jakarta this week, the scourge of international terrorism is still a very potent threat to public security -- and to people's peace of mind.

Speaking on BBC News, terrorism expert Professor Paul Wilkinson expressed concern that we appear to be losing the battle for hearts and minds.

We seem to be failing in our attempts to isolate terrorists from the people they claim to represent, he said. And that should concern us as much as does the apparent regeneration and spread of terrorist cells.

We should, he added, put more energy into making these agents of fear unpopular among the people who currently support them, or who at least turn a blind eye to their activities.

These sentiments reflect a truth that is often overlooked in all the commentary on terrorism. Most of the current talk centres around motivations that are political or cultural in nature.

This sometimes overlooks the fact that at its root terrorism is also about much deeper issues – and not just the psychological and sociological issues to which the Professor referred. Terrorism involves spiritual issues as well.

I'm not talking here about the differences between religions, though these can be a contributing factor. I'm referring to issues that relate to the human condition itself.

Christianity owes its central truths about the nature of God to the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ. The Father God described by Jesus would not have instigated the events of September 11.

Far from it, He is a Person who lovingly and tenderly cares for those who seek Him and love Him. He is working in the world to bring salvation to even the most irredeemable hearts and minds.

His greatest act in our history, that of giving up His Son for us, is an act of awe-inspiring and selfless love. Yes, He will act as Judge of all the earth and He will punish wrongdoing where there is no repentance, but no one who reaches for him is beyond His compassion and concern.

In St. Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome, we read that God has clearly shown us what He is like, through His creation, His scriptures, and the revelation of Jesus His Son.

It is when men and women choose to overlook that revelation, says Paul, when they ignore what God has shown us about himself, that they begin to think in a way that is ultimately futile or 'vain'.

As one translation of this passage has it, when people neglect to understand who God is and give him his proper due in their lives, they 'trivialize themselves'.

When we lose sight of the nature and character of God, we drag down our own potential, for we were made in the likeness of God, to learn to act like Him.

This is what happens in acts of terror. People choose to ignore the nature of a God who is fundamentally not a destroyer, but a builder. He is not a taker of life but a giver of life – a fact best evidenced in the way He offered His Son on our behalf.

As much as anybody else, we in the comfortable West need to re-evaluate how we see God.

What difference does it make how I see God? It changes everything. When I know who God is – in my heart, not just my head, by revelation, not just through education – I am empowered to learn His way of doing things.

One heart willingly turned toward God and aligned, through the power of His Spirit to His will, can make a difference. One mind that chooses to acknowledge God's nature, and to live accordingly, can lift the tone of social intercourse and make the world a less selfish and less unjust place.

The battle for hearts and minds is not just psychological or sociological; it is spiritual, too.

Winning it will start with a willingness to acknowledge what God is like, as Jesus revealed Him, and to give Him the space to work in our lives.

© Mal Fletcher 2004
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