When it’s okay to call your enemy an idiot

The July/August 2010 issue of The Atlantic carried an article that blew me away. “Why We Should Mock Terrorists” has as its alternate title “The Case for Calling Them Nitwits.”

I confess that something inside me likes this.

Finally, someone has struck the right note about these terrorists. They are truly fools. The author makes a case for such extreme behavior:

They blow each other up by mistake. They bungle even simple schemes. They get intimate with cows and donkeys. Our terrorist enemies trade on the perception that they’re well trained and religiously devout, but in fact, many are fools and perverts who are far less organized and sophisticated than we imagine. Can being more realistic about who our foes actually are help us stop the truly dangerous ones?

Something inside us insists that these jihadists are purists in their faith and disciplined in their devotion to their God. Not so, we are told. In fact, a great many terrorists can’t even read and write. All they know is what their wrong-headed leaders tell them. And like dunces, they believe all they hear and never turn a critical eye to anything.

Such people are not only our foes; they are their own worst enemies.

That brings us to my question: When is it all right to call your enemy an idiot and a nitwit?

Wrong answer: when it’s true.

Right answer: When your goal is not to win him over, but to destroy him.

If your goal is to convert him and turn him into a friend and fellow supporter, then gentler methods are called for. You will work to understand his position, sympathize with where he is coming from, deal with his objections, and reason with him. You’ll need to build a relationship with him.

But if the enemy needs to be sent into the nether-regions, all bets are off. Forget the nicer stuff and take the gloves off. Tell him the truth about himself.

Believe it or not, there is some Scriptural grounds for doing that.

–First, we have to identify our enemies.

The temptation here is to adopt some of the Psalms that lower the boom on the enemies of God’s people. However, the New Testament allows no such judgmentalism, outright hatred, and animosity. Love your enemies, Jesus said in Luke 6:27.

The two huge enemies that the New Testament allows us to hate–the kind we want to abolish forever–are death and the devil.

One. Take the matter of death. We can hate it. Jesus certainly did.

It helps to remember that Jesus hated death far more than we do. He broke up every funeral procession He came to by raising the corpse. Scripture calls death an enemy and promises, The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death (I Corinthians 15:26). In Revelation 1 when John sees the glorified Jesus, He holds in His hands the keys to death, hell, and the grave.  Second Timothy 1:10 assures us that our Savior Christ Jesus abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 

It’s a done deal.  Time to celebrate, Christian!

I love the image in Matthew 28:2 of the angel sitting on the stone which he has just rolled back from the door of Jesus’ tomb. I’m not sure why, but it just seems to me there’s something like gloating going on here. Like the football player who spikes the ball in the end zone and does a little dance or the basketball player who dunks the ball, then swings on the backboard.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (I Corinthians 15:55,57)

God does not want His children to fear death, but to spit in its face.

We hold Easter sunrise services in graveyards as our “in your face” statement to death, that ancient foe of mankind. We invade its territory to announce its fate as a result of the resurrection of Jesus. For good reason, Scripture calls Him “the firstfruits of them that sleep” (I Corinthians 15:20).

There is an expiration date on death.

Two. Or take Satan himself. It’s fine to hate him. He deserves our scorn.

Our Lord had little respect for the devil. He calls him Beelzebub (Matthew 12:24), an unclean spirit (Matthew 12:43), the evil one (Matthew 13:19), as well as a murderer, a liar, and the father of liars (John 8:44).

In the last book of the Bible, when John writes about this hated enemy, he ransacks language in search of names harsh enough. In the 12th chapter of Revelation alone, he calls him the dragon, that serpent of old, called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before God day and night, and he adds, Woe to the inhabitants of the earth and the sea! For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time.

The more of the Lord Jesus Christ we know, the more we learn about the devil. The closer we get to Jesus, the greater a target we become for his infernal majesty. Martin Luther certainly knew. Consider this from A Mighty Fortress...

And though this world with devils filled,

Should threaten to undo us,

We will not fear, for God hath willed

His truth to triumph through us;

The Prince of Darkness grim,

We tremble not for him;

His rage we can endure,

For lo, his doom is sure,

One little word shall fell him.

That word above all earthly powers,

No thanks to them, abideth;

The Spirit and the gifts are ours

Through him who with us sideth;

Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill;

God’s truth abideth still,

His kingdom is forever.

Thank you, Dr. Luther. As usual, you got it right.

Finally, I have a story for you, from an obscure little book in my library history students would love….

In 1940/41, Presbyterian Pastor John Sutherland Bonnell traveled to Scotland as a representative of his denomination in order to see how the churches of that region were holding up under Hitler’s onslaught and to bring encouragement from America. On his return, he wrote a thin volume, Britons Under Fire (1941).

In the town of Clydeside, Scotland, Bonnell observes the terrifying work of Nazi bombs. Occasionally one could see one side of a house still standing, the other half having been demolished. Furniture still sat in place and pictures were hanging undisturbed on the walls. It was almost eerie.

On the wall of one such bombed house was a photo of a British warship, the Ark Royal. Germans claimed they had destroyed that ship, and perhaps they had. For weeks, no one heard from her. Even the British radio would occasionally ask, “Where is the Ark Royal? Where is the Ark Royal?”

They found out.

The Ark Royal sunk the Bismarck.

The Bismarck–one of the largest battleships ever built by any European power and Hitler’s pride and joy–was commissioned in 1940 with grandiose plans to rule the seas and create havoc for the Allies.  It was sunk less than one year later by the British.

The British were delighted to hear that the Ark Royal was heavily involved in the pursuit and destruction of that massive warship.

The next day, a Glasgow newspaper ran a photo of the ruins of this house, showing that picture of the Ark Royal on the one remaining wall. The caption read:


The British loved it.  Hitler not so much.

There is a time to gloat. To rub it in.

There is a time to rejoice and celebrate. For the child of God, that celebration is best when done prior to the final gun announcing the end of the contest. To rejoice by faith is most God-honoring.

The gospel song promises that When we all get to Heaven, we’ll sing and shout the victory.  True enough.  But that’s not good enough.  Anyone can “sing and shout” there, but God wants us to celebrate now, today, in this life, while we’re still in the thick of battle.  That’s the kind of faith that honors Him and infuriates the enemy.

That’s the kind of faith that witnesses to the outside world and bolsters the confidence of fellow believers.  Celebrate now.

Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies. (Psalm 23:5)


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