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Book review: Alone with a Jihadist

In Church and State, Military on December 7, 2009 at 10:48 am

At the risk of being a spoiler, the last paragraph in Aaron D. Taylor’s book, Alone with a Jihadist, left me with such optimism, I must reveal it now.

“… why wait till the age come? The world is crying out for peace today. Let there be peace on earth – and for the love of God – let it begin with the Church!”

Last month, shortly after Cara and I founded Lifted on Eagle’s Wings, I was reading one of my daily newsletters and found a Sojourner’s column written by Aaron D. Taylor. I was so impressed with what he had to say, I sent him a short note of praise.

We communicated in short emails and I ordered his book. I must be clear from a personal place. I never thought for a moment this young Pentecostal evangelist, from the most conservative place theology could imagine, would resonate with me for an entire book. I ordered the book more so I could understand that “other side” of Christianity. It was a way for me to sit back with my maturity and my Christian confidence with my answers about God and be ready to refute every point this person made.

Taylor shocked me to the point that I am recommending his book to atheists. Yes. The wisdom, honesty and Biblical truth that he illuminates in his book astound me.

Taylor has traveled the world as a missionary. He answered a call to be part of a documentary called Holy Wars and spend a day with a radical Muslim jihad. His book touches upon his experience but expands upon the idea why Christians should never go to war. Never. Never kill, never fight with violence. Even after sitting down with a powerful extremist who considers it his mission to destroy our nation, our religion, and us, he still feels we should never go to war, to never fight violence with violence.

In the United States, we hold democracy side by side with our Christian teachings. We believe that we truly are One Nation Under God. We Trust in God and we fight for that freedom. Our flag waves side by side with the cross. It’s interesting to note that the largest democracy in the world is not the United States, but India. Yet, we Americans consider democracy our God-given right. It’s easy to trace the origins of such a mindset. Our currency, our pledge, our justification for our actions all refer back to God, from our earliest memories. Not much unlike the schooling of Muslim. They also learn at an early age about their faith and their nationalism.

One of the most informative statements from the first chapter reveals the views a jihad holds towards American Christians. “You still haven’t described how you would implement the Bible as a way of life or in government… What is godly government? I don’t understand… I don’t expect you to know the reason why you don’t know because the answer is not in there… Let me tell you what we do with homosexuals, okay? They are to be taken to the top of a mountain and thrown off and killed. It’s capital punishment. For the one who is an adulterer, if they are unmarried, a hundred lashes. If they’re married, stoned to death. This is Islamic Sharia. It’s comprehensive… I’m trying to be honest with you because you are holding a completely corrupted message that doesn’t tell you what to do in these situations.”

The jihadist’s point was that the Muslim religion is very clear how to deal with aberration. Christianity is unclear, therefore an invalid form of government.

The jihad continued, about America, “Nothing is addressed. Evil is allowed to run rampant, okay? And you just keep propagating peace and love and all that sort of thing and it’s not really good enough…”

With that sort of introduction, the book humbles the most militant Christian. As the book continues, Taylor examines why militant and Christian need not include violence.

Taylor repeatedly cites Biblical evidence to make the case for peace. Jesus turned the other cheek, preached for us to love our enemies, and even rebuked Peter for defending him. Jesus never endorsed violence. Instead, He gave us the gifts of scripture, worship, and love.

Taylor also juxtaposes the American Revolution for freedom from England with the peaceful non-violent evolution from Canada and Australia. He considers the financial cost of war versus peace. He addresses it all.

Highlighting peaceful revolutionaries such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and even American writer Henry David Thoreau, Taylor explains a different way, a truly Christ-like way. He probes our nationalism, our faith, and our core beliefs in a way that remind us indeed that Jesus did not just come to forgive our sins, but instead to teach us how to live.

I highly recommend his book if you’re a Christian who just doesn’t understand why we shouldn’t violently fight the evil forces of our world. I recommend this book to anyone who embraces the idea of peace, but doesn’t know why we bother. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned why we are at war. 

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  1. The whole idea that democracy and Christianity are inseperable is problematic, to put it nicely. The suggestion is repulsive to me. I’ve seen Christians claim God was on their side and kill ‘those gawddamn faggots’ aka Matthew Shepard. Democracy in action ?? I’ve also seen a Muslims, who’ve survived years of oppression and have literally nothing, welcome armed ‘infidels’ to their homes, sharing what little stuff they had that was passing for dinner that day.
    It’s about values.
    I do not care who you pray too.
    I do not care where you are from. I’ve mentioned before that religion is more a function of birth zip code than ‘divinity’.
    I DO care what you do and how you do it.

    I’m not impressed in this ‘my religion is better than your religion’ tripe implicit in saying “It’s easy to trace the origins of such a mindset. Our currency, our pledge, our justification for our actions all refer back to God, from our earliest memories. Not much unlike the schooling of Muslim,” only to go on and use an jihadist example of Sharia law as follow up. It’s dangerous noise that gets people killed, day in and day out.
    Speaking of killing people…..
    Congrats to Aaron for deciding it wrong ‘for Christians’ ( but not anyone else ? WTF, over? ) to kill for any reason. I’ll be sure to remember him while helping to ensure he’s able to afford such luxury. It’s sort of insulting, really; like some fat, pampered dude slowly chewing on his steak while talking about how no one should ever be a butcher.
    I don’t think I’ll be reading this book. Thank, got a lot…good luck, though 😉

  2. (from Kim) Robi, it’s an honor to hear the opinion from a man who walks the walk. That’s why I asked you to weigh in on the FB page. I recognize how easy it is for me to have an opinion (chew steak?) without being out there. I am merely echoing Aaron, so I am the one who never had to work as a butcher. I respect your thoughts. Thank you.

  3. Don’t hate the fatties, brother. We like our steak. ha!

    Robi! I am going to disagree with you (and quite possibly piss you off). Can you believe it? I suppose there’s a first for everything.

    I don’t know that it would have been appropriate for the author to comment on what is ok for other religions, given he’s not a member of other religions. I can get speaking to your “team.” However, I do agree with your sentiment that “my religion is better than your religion” is utterly absurd. But I didn’t see that the author or Kim was implying that. In fact, quite the opposite. ??? I’m not sure how you’re drawing that conclusion?

    I’m not a fan of condemning opinions that differ on the basis of a job. As in the, “As a military professional, I fight for your right to say such things” sentiment. Are we in Iraq and Afghanistan for the purpose of securing our democratic way of life? Does killing and dying in Afghanistan and Iraq strengthen our rights to free speech, voting, education, the judicial system, etc.? I do think we’re protecting America’s interests abroad, but not for the *sole* purpose of “democracy.”

    We have this collective sentiment that the military exists to fight for our freedom, regardless of the actual actions being taken by our military forces. Even you have said that the military is now asked to build nations, be peacemakers, teach, etc. Is that really “fighting for our freedom?” Is the concept congruent with the reality of the acts? I would say it’s an odd mix of yes and no. (My brother-in-law, who is in the military and a staunch Republican, would competely disagree with me on this point!)

    Belittling another’s opinion because they do not share your job description makes no sense to me. Yes, your work has elements that most could not even begin to tolerate, but that doesn’t make someone else’s personal theology any less valid. Not all military professionals are Christians, but we do very strongly identify as a Christian nation (which I deeply loathe and find patently dangerous), despite our religious diversity. But is the author saying all Americans should choose non-violence? Or all Christians? Or all who follow Jesus (many followers of Jesus do not even consider themselves Christians).

    Taking a radical non-violent stance is a perfectly logical conclusion based on Jesus’ teachings. However, I can’t manage it, even though I love me some Jesus. I’m too violent of a person, but I deeply respect people who can and call others to do the same.

    There are all kinds of folks who fight for democracy and they’re not in the military. The ACLU, other non-profit organizations like Public Citizen, volunteers who fight the GOP to ensure poor folks get registered to vote, etc., and I’ve never once heard them use the “I fight for your rights” like folks in the military do, and often (in modern times, anyhoo), their actions are more directly linked to the concrete acts that constitute a democratic union. Democracy is a multi-faceted beauty and it doesn’t exist solely through military action.

  4. And man, I am so sorry that every time I open my mouth, it becomes a freaking novel. I write for a living. I can’t help it. Or so I tell myself.

  5. Aldra,
    First off…Bwuuuhahahahaha !
    Raaawger on da steak 😉

    I cannot accept your apology, you’ve done nothing but what this site is designed for, unless I miss my guess.

    It’s not hard for Aaron or anyone else, to see what’s acceptable with other religions. You need not be a participant to observe effectively.

    I AM safety wired to the ‘groupthink’ detection position; ‘hypersensitive’ almost accurately describes it. It’s because when humans form groups they inevidibly become dangerous, it seems ( admittedly my glass half empty interpretation).

    Currently, regardless of any degree of distaste, my job includes active participation in efforts to ensure that all religions continue to be practiced where you and I live. One of the few homogenous beliefs our various enemies have is that we need their religion ‘or else’. That’s not really defense of democracy ( what the hell ever THAT is) as much it is a defense of life, liberty, and the pursuit of those who threaten it ( trademark US Navy). I’d likely disagree with your brother in law.

    I’ve not read the book, which alone is pretty hobbling to my position. Given what I’ve HEARD (not read): U.S democracy and Christianity are inextricably intertwined, it’s wrong for any Christian to kill. The next illogical step is that in order to be true to the core values of this Christian based, U.S. democracy, thou shalt not kill. No sale. Again, I’ve NOT read the book, but that’s the stench I get from it. If what I’ve heard of it is consistent, it would be impossible to be a ‘sheepdog’ while being Christian. I know this to be a fallacy.

    I don’t really have to belittle Aaron’s opinions, they seem to do that without my help at all. It’s not based on my profession, I’d have felt exactly the same in high school. There is a strain of humanity drawn to hurting others simply because they can. They are EVERYWHERE, all races, religions, locations. I’ve never done well with these folks, though I can really claim to have had ‘plays well with others’ stamped on any of my report cards.

    I’m with Peter, keep your hands off my sheep, even if the sheep in question is actually the lamb of God. It’s almost a viceral reaction for some, to include me.

    Again, I’m not ‘fighting’ for democracy ( I’m pretty disgusted by our version ). I choose to ‘fight’ becasue there are those who would just as soon end us as they would accept us, the same reason I’d (hopefully) be ferocious should I encounter a burglar with my family in da house.

    ….and YOU write novels ??

    Btw, I used to work for Public Citizen before I went to OSU. Funny how THAT turned out 😉

  6. Kim,
    It think I’m gonna have some steak now 😉
    Thanks for the exercise !

    I may not understand your views, but do know that the explaination of my own views are not presented merely to disrespect yours.

  7. Well, that is a perfectly logical and understandable response. I want to write a novel, but I’m better at that when I have something to disagree with. ha! Thanks for the clarification, particularly about the “fighting for freedom” bit.

    One day, we will have to chat about your days at Public Citizen. Ah, the nonprofit world! How I love/hate thee!

  8. Now isn’t this civil and nice? Robi, I was nervous writing this review due to our new friendship, but I also know that unless I state my views and opinions, I’ll never have a chance to see the flip side. I do apologize that I didn’t write a better review of the book, as Aaron wasn’t the least bit arrogant or holier than thou. Please direct any offense taken in my direction.

  9. I can cuss at you if need be, Kim. The ability to be confrontational and inappropriately hostile is one of my many charms.

  10. Apologizing for not writing a better review ? MAN I hope I didn’t hint that I was lookin’ for THAT. No worries at all.
    If I’m hung up on your review, I should read the book and write my own 😉
    So far as worrying over friendship, if we can’t discuss opposite views, even if the conclusion is that we simply see ‘it’ differently, then you shouldn’t worry about our friendship.
    I’d not be much of a friend worth havin’.

  11. *smile* No Robi, not at all. I suppose I feel like I should have put a stronger emphasis on the point of the book that separated our religion from our national identity.

    I invite and welcome your opinion, it broadens my horizons in the most positive of ways. I’m so extremely grateful that you called into TableTalk the same night Cara and I were speaking!

  12. Truthful words, some true words man. Totally made my day!

  13. Well I guess it is time for me to chime in Kim. I read your review and all the replies. As far as religion goes I was babtized Catholic ( I know, I know) I guess I am not what you would call a good Catholic however. I am not a very religious person. I feel however that I am a decent person. You will likely find my beliefs somewhat akin to my friend Robi’s I have served with him for years now and know him to be a very decent human being such as myself. However as I mention in my discussions on the Pandemic of Peace page. Do not take this as an excuse to harm myself or anyone who has not harmed you.

    I do want peace I would love to live in a world where we did not have to lock our doors, watch people we don’t know closely and can walk the streets without looking over our shoulders. I really would, but we don’t. I also am not naive enough to think that Jesus meant to turn the other cheek, and then wait for that one to be struck as well. We are not fighting for democracy here, we are fighting to make sure these people do not strike us again. We want the people here in Afghanistan to be able to live there lives the way they want, and many of them do not want to live with the Taliban. Let me assure you there is nothing here in this country that we want either. We are here to wipe out these Religious Fanatics who think their way is better.

    One reason I am not very religious is because of hipocracy in ALL religions. This Jihadist he says they take homosexuals to a mountain and throw them off. I was just outside a little while ago because we had a rocket attack and heard one of the workers who works around the prison mention that when left alone these people who are being detained are freely having homosexual encounters. HIPOCRACY!!! Don’t tell me your religion has ways of dealing with aberrations and all the muslims that are being detained are either willingly having homosexual intercourse or they are raping another person, garbage. Now take the televangelist telling people to repent for their sinful ways by sending him money so he can have mistresses and drink and party and do all the things he tells his “Congragation” not to do. Listen you are either a decent person or you are not. I am not saying Muslims are not decent people I am not saying there aren’t decent people in all religions, there are. I am saying the people who are blowing themselves and others up and anyone of any religion who harms or takes advantage of another is not a decent human being.

    Peace is one thing but reality is another. I will live peacefully but DO NOT try to harm anyone because if I am in a position to take you out I WILL to save that other INNOCENT person. Let’s not play dumb either. If you are in my house in the middle of the night you are there to do one of several things rob me, hurt me or my family, or possibly kill us. Here is how it goes “personal responsibility”. Maybe you are in my house to just steal some money for food. Well here is the thing I don’t know that! I do know however that people are abducted raped tortured and even killed by people who break into houses in the middle of the night. I AM NOT GOING TO TAKE THAT CHANCE. I will not gamble with my families life or well being because you might be hungry. You need to understand that this stuff happens as well and YOU KNOW what you are there to do NOT ME I am going to assume the worst, you should know better. If you are in my house in the middle of the night. YOU WILL BE KILLED. being peaceful does not mean being stupid. (I think I may be vying for the title of Novelist myself but I want to make myself clear.) I am here fighting because you don’t have the right to kill or harm anyone because you think they violated your religion. I believe there are people here who want these “Hipocrites” to leave them alone. I also want them to know that we will not allow you to come and hurt our families at will just because you don’t like our religion.

    We are not fighting for Democracy we are fighting for people to live a life without fear of retribution from religous fanatics who want to impose their will on others. As I said in my discussion on Pandemic of Peace. Stop killing people both here in Afghanistan and around the world and I will go home and put my weapon away, do not however mistake that as an excuse to start killing again nor a willingness on my part to allow you to do it. So I guess I would have to disagree with Aarons point of view about not fighting violence with violence. However not having read the book it would be foolish of me to make a judgement just yet. ( Cliff steps down from his soapbox) Oh and just to clarify (You) is a generality with regards to evil people. Thanks Kim for asking my opinion.

  14. I would like to share Cliff’s facebook group here,
    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=219745174321&ref=mf

    You are invited to join this Pandemic of Peace!

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