Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Theology Matters, Especially ISIS Theology

Ask the Thoughtful Pastor: Theology Matters, Especially ISIS Theology December 9, 2015

Dear Thoughtful Pastor: I have been wondering what it is about the Islamic religion that justifies the actions taken against innocent civilians?  Certainly people have been making war on each other for as long as we have been called Human

A long time ago we decided to formalize this ritual killing into something called war. We set rules.  As we got better at war, we set tighter rules. Now most of the world believes it is ok to kill members of an organization which could be described as an army, be it uniformed (most of the world) or a formal, named, band of people out to take something away from another group.  But, we generally also believe it is not OK to kill people not directly associated with these armed groups.

What is it about the Islamic religion as practiced in the Mideast–especially Saudi Arabia–that fails to differentiate between these two groups of people?

Differentiation matters here. We need to differentiate between Islam in general and the terrorists of the so-called Islamic State. We have a similar problem in Christianity: how to differentiate between Christians in general and those who murder innocents at Planned Parenthood facilities.

All claim religious affiliation. All differ in how they interpret the will of God or Allah.

The bedrock truth: theology matters. “Theology” simply means “words about God.”

Everyone has a theology, even those who declare atheism. Their theology, their words about God are, “there is no God.”

Our various words about God determine worldview and actions. Theologies can send some into lives of sacrificial service to the least and lost. Theologies also can send some as armed avengers of God, making way for a new or renewed kingdom.

The ideological core of ISIS appears to be a highly radicalized form of Islam. It dictates that any who disagree are by definition “infidels.” Therefore, Allah wishes their death. Those who are agents of death, especially by their own deaths, are the blessed of Allah.

The greater the resistance to these radicalized ones, the more entrenched their words about the will of Allah become. Any resistance, attacks against them or against Islam in general say that they must devise greater and more destructive means to eradicate the unbeliever. Thus they usher in the new, world-wide, kingdom under their designated ruler, the Caliph.

Currently, we in the US have heightened awareness of attacks on our own soil. What we do not understand, however, is that most of those being beheaded, murdered, displaced, robbed, enslaved, impoverished, or raped by ISIS are moderate Muslims. Those are the real “infidels” of the theology underlying ISIS actions and decisions.

In the Christian world, many who self-define as Christian may have little or no overlap in theology with others who also self-define as Christians. The Muslim world also boasts a broad spectrum of theology and practice.

At this point, I am occasionally embarrassed to be identified as Christian, mainly because of the vitriolic hatred of Muslims/gays/abortion supporters/etc. I see proclaimed from so-called “christian” pulpits. The vast majority of Muslims face that same embarrassment. They have no identification with the radicalized words about Allah being spouted from the words of ISIS adherents.

You insightfully mentioned Saudi Arabia in your question. From what I understand, it is from that mega-rich sheikdom that the more radicalized forms of Islam spring and are funded. This is also part of the world where routine mistreatment of women and outsiders functions as their “normal.”

In much of both Christian and Muslim history, practice and doctrine show theological willingness to treat women as less than fully human. Could this exclusionary male-centric theology ultimately lead to the lackadaisical attitude toward killing of the non-fighter, i.e., innocent civilians? If the part of humanity that conceives and bears children inherently has less worth than the part that impregnates, then what stops the impregnators from denying human worth to those who differ in more than biological function?

Again, start with theology. The general ignorance of religious underpinnings of our now tightly interlinked world serves us poorly. It means we often profoundly misunderstand the worldview of another. Without that understanding, we have no way to enter dialogue.

Unfortunately, it appears that the very basis of ISIS theology denies hope of dialogue and of coming to shared understanding. ISIS adherents believe they and they alone have the truth in their words about God.

We have no choice but to seek to eliminate ISIS. We must do this on our terms, not theirs. Ideally, it means supplying a new narrative about the world. Less than ideally, it means more bloodshed.

However, this is not the same as eliminating Islam or denying a rightful place for Muslims in the world stage and in the US economy and culture. If we move in that direction, we commit the same ideological errors and crimes against humanity as ISIS adherents do.


All questions are welcome. You can email your questions to, “like” her Facebook Page, use this form to send them or message her on Twitter. You can also send a question through conventional mail to the following address: Thoughtful Pastor, 314 E. Hickory St., Denton, TX, 76202.

[Note: a version of this column will appear in the Friday, December 11, 2015 print and online editions of The Denton Record Chronicle.]

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  • Bobbie Mosher

    In our Bible study this week I was amazed at how some of the individuals I considered well informed feared all Muslims and did not (or could not) separate them from ISIS. As a result, Pastor Jody has decided to do a study on the Islamic religion after the first of the year. I am planning to attend and hopefully many others in the congregation will join us. I feel that only by understanding the beliefs of Muslims will we be able to deal with the extremes of ISIS. Thank you for this posting.

    • Bobbie, this is what is so scary–not seeing the difference. So much harm come from the general unwillingness to think more clearly about this.

  • Your mention of Saudi Arabia’s support of Wahhabi Islam is an important factor in what is happening with ISIS. Saudi Arabia will not contribute to the defeat of ISIS, because both are following a form of Sunni Islam that was radicalized in the 18th century by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab. He made an agreement with the House of Saud that his followers would support the continued reign of the Saudi family so long as that family supported his religious movement. The fact is, if the Saudi government – i.e., the rulers who are descended from Muhammad bin Saud – were to stop funding Wahhabist schools and the dominance of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, the Wahhabist imams would turn their followers against the House of Saud and remove them from leadership in that nation, setting up something like the Islamic State there in place of the current government. Because most of the rest of Middle Eastern Muslims are Shi’ites, Saudi Arabia has been pointedly unhelpful in terms of caring for the displaced persons in Syria and other parts of the region. The entire area is a political and economic nightmare made worse by the overlay of religious commitments that are employed by the radicals in their attempt to achieve political, economic and social ends, not least of which is to get the neocolonialists out of their countries, so they can rule themselves without outside interference. That this is almost impossible to do through warfare does not deter them from trying, because they have not achieved what they’re seeking through the various things they’ve tried in the past; plus, they have had some notoriously bad rulers over the past hundred fifty years, which doesn’t make things any easier. For us to inject ourselves into the situation as a “Christian” nation in any sense is simply adding fuel to the fire rather than helping to put the fire out. By refusing to put “boots on the ground,” President Obama is doing at least one thing better than his predecessor did, since any “outsider” looks like an “occupier” to the natives, regardless of the side of the religious or sociological battle on which they might locate themselves.

    • Thank you for offering good information about Saudi Arabia and how easily we can make things far worse. But most of the world seems to think there is an easy solution to this extremely complex problems.

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