The Non-Neutral State as Theologian

We are told by our secularist masters that government is to remain free of religion. It should take no position on religious matters. But as Greg Bahnsen said:

The alternative to God’s law is not no law at all, but human law; governments which do not guard the majesty of God and His righteous law have no alternative and choice but to uphold the majesty of their own human authority … If no higher law is adhered to, then the law of man is absolute; there is no logical barrier to stop such a state from becoming totalitarian. When the state’s will is substituted for God’s will, then the only real crimes become crimes against the state (as in Imperial Rome, present day Russia, and much of the United States), for example, treason, defection, and so forth.

And so it is that our government has no problem ruling on the finer points of religion when it threatens our order. One think tank that has done the government’s thinking for it for decades is the RAND Corporation. In a report from RAND titled “Deradicalizing Islamist Extremists“, published in 2010 we find advocacy for one form of Islamic theology against other forms. For example:

Nevertheless, precisely because Islamist ideology plays such a central role in these groups, it is necessary to change militant Islamists’ beliefs as well as their behavior. Moreover, while it may be difficult to alter the worldview of Islamist radicals, there is an opportunity to use mainstream Islamic theology to undermine radical Islamist ideology.

Let me say here that the government is right to oppose Islam, but what is it opposing it with? Simply put: secularism. There is no real concern for any truth claims, all such claims are assumed to be so many baubles for the unenlightened masses. The goal is to get these Muslims to embrace an ideology that is effectively neutral towards truth claims. You can believe in Jesus or Allah, it doesn’t matter, so long as your beliefs make absolutely no claims on politics or the State. Once they start doing that, the State will not tolerate them, and thus the State makes a theological claim of its own. Witness:

Because ideology is such an important driver of violent Islamism, most of the existing deradicalization programs in Muslim countries include an ideological component in the form of a theological dialogue. These prison-based programs enlist imams, Islamic scholars, and some- times even former radicals to discuss Islamic theology in an effort to convince militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong. Since the discussions “are based on a common reference to Islam and Islamic law as the ultimate source of truth and legitimacy,” they are more compelling than other approaches and, at times, effective in moderating the prisoner’s beliefs.


A credible interlocutor who was knowledgeable about both Islamic theology and democratic ideals was used to conduct the ideological intervention, which consisted of challenging the political and social underpinnings of the radical narrative as well as its theological foundation.

In these cases, once a trigger emerged, the leaders of the radical organization began a period of internal deliberation. When presented by credible interlocutors—usually accomplished Islamic scholars, or ex-militants—mainstream Islamic theology served to push the mili- tant leaders to disengage and deradicalize by raising questions about their ideology. Mainstream Islamic teachings pulled the leaders toward moderation by offering them a chance to redeem themselves in the eyes of God, as well as a way to justify the strategic and ideological shift to their followers. Because Islamic jurisprudence prohibits many types of jihad, the militant leaders could present the organization’s moderation as a correction of past beliefs that were the result of a misreading of Islamic theology.

Because counter-radicalization and deradicalization programs are embedded in a war of ideas, the counterideological component of these programs is extremely important. Most Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian programs employ a form of theological dialogue in which main- stream scholars and sometimes even former radicals engage extremists in discussions of Islamic theology in an effort to convince the militants that their interpretation of Islam is wrong.

As I said, the claims of Islam are evil and should be resisted, but they cannot logically be fought by a secular state claiming neutrality as the highest value of all. They can and should be combatted by a renewed Christendom, one which combats the rule of Allah with the rule of the Son of God, now reigning at his Father’s right hand. In the end, Christians need to realize that America is not fighting for truth, but for neutrality as the highest god. We can be wise enough to let it conduct this battle as a necessary precursor for the spread of the Gospel, but we cannot think that this equates with the Great Commission. And if we embrace the RAND way of thinking about religion, we will see this same logic turned on us – keep your religion in your head and you will be fine, but if it makes claims on the State, woe betide you!

2 thoughts on “The Non-Neutral State as Theologian”

  1. And, of course, these kinds of things can have unintended consequences, like when Israel and the US used to think that Islamist groups were good counterweights to secular leftists like the PLO or the USSR.

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