The Moral Imperative of Afghanistan

August 23, 2021 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


The scenes out of Afghanistan these past two weeks have been nothing short of horrific. Scenes of Afghan civilians clinging to the side of a C-17 as it took off from Hamid Karzai International Airport, desperate to escape the predations of the Taliban, are now seared into our collective consciousness. Stories of people hiding in the wheel wells of U.S. military planes, and then being crushed by their landing gear, are jarring reminders of just how quickly this nation is deteriorating as the U.S. ends a 20-year mission there. So many people’s lives are under threat from Taliban extremists – from U.S. citizens who have not been able to leave to Afghanis who have served, often valiantly, assisting the U.S. military. Already, there are stories of the Taliban beheading Afghanis who assisted the U.S. military and fears that the group will sexually enslave women who do not follow the organization’s strict interpretation of Sharia Law.

On October 7, 2001, the U.S. launched a military campaign against the terrorist organization Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the September 11 terrorist attacks and was assisted by the Taliban, which provided safe shelter for Al Qaeda. In the decade prior to this, the West lived largely under the philosophical influence of Post-Modernism and its smug amoralism. Universal standards of right and wrong, righteousness and wickedness were largely relegated to outdated and culturally embedded categories from a religiously superstitious era. The modern world had no need for such sanctimoniousness.

But then, planes were plowed into the tallest towers in New York City, sending them crumbling to the ground, and thousands of people lost their lives in an instant because of 19 terrorists, and the amoralism of Post-Modernism shattered. There was no way around it – what happened that day was evil. We needed the categories of morality to describe the gravity of what we all experienced that day.

In the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio, Nico Jacobellis was charged with two counts of possessing and showing an obscene film at a theatre he managed and was ordered to pay fines according to State statutes. The Supreme Court, however, ruled that Mr. Jacobellis’ was Constitutionally protected under the First Amendment’s free speech clause. In Justice Potter Stewart’s concurrence to the ruling, he famously wrote of obscene material, “I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Though I may quibble over how well Justice Stewart knew obscene material when he saw it, his broader moral argument is an intriguing one. How do we know when something is obscene or not? How do we know when something is wrong or not? It is possible to make an argument that we just do. We just know it when we see it.

The apostle Paul identifies the source of this innate moral compass when he writes of people who are not believers in the true God:

When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. (Romans 2:14-15)

The reason we all have an innate moral compass that knows evil when it sees it is because we are hardwired that way by God.

On September 11, 2001, we saw evil – and we knew it. The question was: how would we react to the evil we saw? We chose to go after the terrorist organization that attacked us and, in the process, made many friends in Afghanistan. As we now bring our mission there to a close two decades later, we are seeing threats of evil from the Taliban and desperation among many innocent and threatened Afghanis – and we know it. The question is: how will we react to the evil that we see?

That’s a question that, politically and nationally, we have yet to figure out precisely how to answer. But it’s a question that demands an answer – for the sake of what’s right and for the sake of people’s lives.

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