The case of John Philip Walker, who was discovered to be a Taliban partisan fighting against his own country, baffles belief. It shouldn’t.
Walker was captured with other Taliban militia and revealed to be an American in the Mazar-e Sharif prison uprising that took the life of a CIA operative. The debate has centered on whether the young man should be treated as a traitor to his country or given leniency for his idealistic but misguided spirituality.
The political nature of all faith is the deeper and wider issue. The American commitment to church-state separation sometimes inadvertently masks the true political dimension of belief.
We wrongly think of faith as a purely private matter. Faith is personal or it is no faith at all, but faith is always public, too. Spiritual loyalties impose themselves on our ways of living in the world.
Faith involves practices as well as prayers, actions as well as opinions: things we will do and not do, gods or governments we will serve or not serve. Often these do no conflict; always they contest with one another.
I recently wrote an affidavit for a convert from Islam to Christianity. She was seeking political asylum in the United States because she feared personal danger in returning to her home country as a Christian. All countries do not share our view of the privileged sanctity of personal belief. Her religious sincerity was scrutinized, since one might feign faith for immigration advantage.
When Christians begin the public journey of faith, they declare in baptism (or it is declared for them and they later affirm it in “confirmation”) that Jesus is Lord. This claim to authority unites the spiritual and the ethical. One gives the heart wholly to God by pledging to follow the lead of Jesus in all things. Other faiths rightly call for similar whole-life commitments.
John Walker’s parents are surprised at the outcome of their son’s faith. “He must have been brainwashed,” his mother said. “When you are young and impressionable, it’s easy to be led by charismatic people.”
When he was young and impressionable, John’s mother did not form a particular faith in him, but instead introduced him to many faiths in order that he might make his own decision. He did, converting to Islam at 16. After studying in Arabic lands and reading Taliban scholars, John says his “heart became attached to these people.”
Once your heart is attached, your head and your hands follow. Which is good and right. Unless it’s bad and wrong.
Parents are the most charismatic people in the children’s lives. Forming faith in children – whether Jewish, Christian, Muslim, or otherwise – is morally responsible parenting.
Spiritually hygienic brain training inoculates against brainwashing.