The fundamental struggle over governance in the Western world in the last 200 years has been between rule by man and rule by law. We are increasingly seeing another element introduced into this conflict: rule by God, or thearchy (as opposed to theocracy, rule by priests). While much of the impetus comes from outside the West--fueled by Islamic fundamentalism--there is a strong and growing internal component as well. Consider the case of Roy S. Moore, former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who insisted on displaying the Ten Commandments prominently in the courthouse, a symbolic gesture testifying to the supremacy of the rule of God.
Much of our attention since September 11, 2001, has been focused on Islam, but militancy is also on the rise in other religions. Orthodox Jewish militants are increasingly influential in Israel. In India, militant Hinduism plays a major role in political life. And there are signs that militancy is growing in both numbers and importance in Christianity. The Christian right, long a matter of discussion and dispute in the United States, now appears to be a force in Europe, too, where it is fiercely anti-immigration and is especially anti-Muslim.
Evangelical Protestants are the fastest-growing segment of Christianity, and they are aggressively expanding throughout the world. Zealous missionaries have made impressive gains in numbers of adherents everywhere. Indeed, they have been so effective that some observers see a shift in power in Christianity to the Southern Hemisphere. Evangelical Christians in countries such as Brazil, Mexico, the Philippines, and Congo now increasingly outnumber those in more developed Northern countries. As it becomes a more Southern religion, Christianity will change, perhaps radically. Among other things, its adherents will be more enthusiastic and therefore more militant and even aggressive.
In the United States, recent scandals involving priests and bishops have resulted in Catholic laypeople becoming more assertive in demanding change in the church. Voice of the Faithful, a lay group that started in the Boston area in 2002, became nationwide within six months, with 22,000 members in 40 states.
A 2002 Time/CNN poll reported that 60% of Americans believe biblical prophecies about the coming end of the world, and 17% expect that end to occur in their lifetimes. The Left Behind series of novels about the End by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins is the best-selling fiction series of our time.
Millenarianism--the belief in the end of the world (the Rapture)--is entering the mainstream of cultural consciousness. In addition to believing in the end of the world, millenarianists support Israel (a sign that Jesus will return), detest the United Nations and other international agencies, and approve of a conservative political agenda.
President George W. Bush and others say that the aim of Islamic terrorists is to disrupt and intimidate the West, particularly the United States. But studying what drives Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda reveals something very different. The Egyptian philosopher Sayyid Qutb, who was executed in 1966, was the inspiration for Osama bin Laden. Qutb's greatest bete noire was what he saw as the spreading corruption of Islam by liberal Western ideas--in particular, that concept so epitomized by the United States, the separation of church and state. To Islamic fundamentalists such as Qutb and bin Laden, church and state are, and must be, inseparable. So their goal is not disruption or intimidation, it is destruction. They see the United States, particularly because of its continued espousal of separation of church and state and its superpower status, as the biggest obstacle to rule by God. To bring about their desired end, that obstacle must be removed entirely.
Among Westerners, too, there are signs of a yearning for a more intense or even extreme religious experience. …