Articles From the May 1993 Unification News


Implications of Religious Belief

The letter was published in The New York Times on Tuesday, April 27, 1993.

Was the Justice Department's disastrous decision to bring down the Branch Davidian compound the result of poor advice? In the initial hand-wringing after the debacle at Waco, amidst pronouncements by FBI officials and so-called cult experts, I am struck by the absence of commentary by scholars of religion. We have heard authorities pronounce on David Koresh's state of mind, viewing him as a psychotic, a criminal, or a cult leader. But what if he were recognized to be driven primarily by a religious conviction? Then the tragic outcome would have been no surprise.

The Talmud tells the story of four hundred captive youths who were on a slave ship bound for Rome. Imagining what immoral purposes the Romans might put them to, they resolved to throw themselves into the sea and drown. Scripture taught them that if they drowned in the sea, they would attain to Paradise. Willingly they leaped to their deaths.

Religious suicide has a long history. When challenged by hostile secular authorities, many religious people have preferred death to surrendering their principles. At Masada, nine hundred Jewish defenders resisted the Roman siege for more than a year, and when the Roman legions finally broke through they found that all the defenders had committed suicide. In Rome, many Christians willingly went to the lions, confident of the heavenly reward of a martyr's death. Some Romans were puzzled by such "fanatic" behavior, but others understood and credited the believers for their nobility of spirit.

It does not require the mind of a cultist or a psychotic to believe that it is more noble to die in one's faith than to give in to the forces of evil. As Jesus taught, "Whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." A believer who takes this teaching seriously might very well find in the FBI's provocation an open invitation to martyrdom.

Dr. Andrew Wilson, NYC


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