Pow’r in the Blood

In the early 1950s, when I was barely in grammar school, my father got religion like a case of the flu. And not just any religion. He caught the Chattanooga-Tennessee-Born-Again-Christ-Crucified-for-Sinners-Washed-in-the-Blood-of-the-Lamb faith flu. Every Sunday morning, Dad and Mom hauled me to Sunday school and church. Then it was back for Sunday evening services. Wednesday nights we sang hymns like “There’s Power in the Blood” and heard—and gave—personal testimonies. Once the singing started I stood on the pew and pumped my little arms to imitate the song leader belting out, “There’s pow’r, pow’r, wonder workin’ pow’r…in the blood…of the Lamb!” You might assume foot washing and snake handling came next. Nope. We were just good ole Presbyterians of the Southern variety.

In early January 2006, a little over a half century later, that much-changed denomination’s seminary in Princeton, New Jersey hosted a conference accusing US forces of using torture in the War on Terror. In 2004, a delegation from the Presbyterian Church USA, after visiting with Hezbollah representatives in the Palestinian territories, noted that talking with terrorists (my characterization) was easier than communicating with Israeli officials. Shortly thereafter, the denomination’s general assembly voted to divest its stock in companies doing business with Israel as punishment for building the barrier which, now that Hamas terrorists dominate the Palestinian Authority, seems providential.

Presbyterian hymnals long ago discarded militant songs of the faith like “There’s Power in the Blood,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers” for more politically-correct ditties like “Kum by Ya.” Recently, one of the professors who organized the Princeton Seminary conference on torture referred to “the images of unforgettable horror in Abu Ghraib.” Professor, a guy tied to a bed wearing woman’s panties on his head or a pile of naked dudes with bags over their noggins and a female soldier draped over them are fraternity and sorority initiation pranks…not “unforgettable horror.” Airliners filled with innocent passengers slamming into the Twin Towers and Americans leaping to their deaths in preference to roasting by fires raging below…those are “images of unforgettable horror.” Nick Berg having his head severed is another “image of unforgettable horror.” Secularist intellectuals (and many mainline Protestant leaders qualify as such) cannot understand the faith driving our enemies because they have relegated religious faith to the dustbin of discarded superstitions.

Suicide bombers are the most deadly of precision guided munitions. It’s almost impossible to detect them, and nothing can deter fanatics seeking religious martyrdom. They can, unlike weapons guided by lasers or global positioning satellites, change direction and time of detonation to attain the greatest possible slaughter. They don’t care about the slaughter of innocents if it sends them to paradise. Unlike US soldiers who read their Rules of Engagement and seek the counsel of lawyers before picking targets, suicide bombers read the Koran and pray. Dying-to-kill fanatics have a faith as vivid as any held by worshipers in that Chattanooga church singing about the “wonder workin’ pow’r in the blood.”

To fully comprehend our enemies we have to understand the faith that drives them. Otherwise, we will continue ascribing to them motives congruent with our rationalist and secularist worldview rather than their worldview grounded in religious fanaticism. We will miss their faith-filled commitment to killing Westerners who hold to Judeo-Christian religious values along with post-modern secularists who denigrate religious faith altogether.

The Western educated elites, including many leaders of mainstream Christian denominations, shun the kind the “pow’r in the blood” faith that engulfed my father, compelled him to quit his job, spend six years completing college and seminary so he could preach in country churches and conclude his ministry as a missionary in the Caribbean. The secularized religious elites dominating mainline Christendom, having substituted their Utopian visions of social justice for the promise of heaven, cannot understand enemies with a faith that yearns to shed blood to gain paradise.

It is obligatory to state that fanatics dying to kill in the name of Allah are not representative of Islam. Nevertheless, there are enough Muslim fanatics to keep up the slaughter for a very long time. Since war ultimately is a test of wills, if we cannot understand the hatred, primordial passion and enmity driving their passion for slaughter, we will meander along the path to defeat.

The War on Terror comes down to a struggle between faiths: our faith in technologically superior weapons vs. their religious faith. If, in deference to sensitivities born of the gods of multi-culturalism and diversity we refuse to recognize the power of religious faith, then we will never understand an enemy who understands there is power in the shed blood of innocents.

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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