What the Taliban Teach Us

By Dwight Longenecker Published on August 27, 2021

As we watch the chaos and collapse in Afghanistan it is worth pondering some sober truths that the resurgence of the Taliban can teach us.

The Grass is Green and the Sky is Blue

In the affluent Christian West we take certain things for granted. We take as a given that our society is built on a Christian foundation. While the United States and Europe are increasingly secular and atheistic in practice, our ideals, politics, and everyday expectations are still deeply Christian.

What I mean is that we expect honesty and fair play. We believe forgiveness, reconciliation, and peace are not only desirable, but possible. We believe in justice that is tempered by mercy. We believe it is a good thing, if not to love God, at least to love our neighbor, and the way we do this is by trying to be nice, tolerant, and understanding. We believe in supporting and defending the victim, the poor, the disabled, and the oppressed.

What is required at a fundamental level is the realization that other people are not as nice, tolerant, and liberal as we are and they don’t want to be.

The problem with a society that has Christian principles woven through it is that it is all too easy to assume that these values are universally accepted — that they are self evident — obviously true and eternal to everyone — that the principles are as rock solid, obvious, and undeniable as “the grass is green and the sky is blue.”

When these principles are watered down to nothing more than tolerance, false equity, and being “nice,” the consequence is a kind of naïveté in which by wanting everyone to be nice, we first of all convince ourselves that we are nice and then fool ourselves into thinking that if everyone else is not as nice as us and our friends, at least they want to be as nice as us.

The Taliban Teach Us …

The Taliban teach us that this is a fantasy. The Taliban teach us that there are plenty of people who do not think like we do. They have different values. They value revenge not forgiveness. They value an imposed religious system — not freedom. They value domination and tyranny, not tolerance and liberty. They have no time for ideologies of nice-ness.

The Taliban teach us the reality of human nature. The default setting is not Christian nice-ness but something called “original sin.” We are not wired for nice-ness. The unredeemed human instinct is to grasp at power, revel in pride, and indulge in prejudice. Human nature, without the light of Christianity, falls into resentment, rivalry, and revenge.

Therefore the debacle in Afghanistan is partially caused by America’s liberal elite being unrealistically optimistic about human nature. If the reports are true that we handed a list of names of Americans and Afghan colleagues to the Taliban for “safe passage,” then my point is made. Someone somewhere believed the terrorists were as nice, honest, trusting, and sincere as they were and that the list of names was a passport to safety when it may well turn out to be a hit list.

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The Taliban teach us not only that there are bad people in the world, but that they are evil because they have a fundamentally different world view. They believe treachery, revenge, murder, and theft are not only legitimate, but to be admired. And they perceive our values as weakness.

We Play By Different Rules

It is interesting that President Biden’s rhetoric was, “We will not forgive. We will not forget.” His attempt at tough talk was to try to play the same revenge game as our enemies. It won’t work. We play by different rules. While justice and retribution are required, the language of revenge and recrimination will fall flat. We cannot live as they do because we do not believe as they do.

What is required at a fundamental level is the realization that other people are not as nice, tolerant, and liberal as we are and they don’t want to be. In fact they despise our principles and values and wish to destroy them. If we were more realistic in our perceptions we would have been more effective in our responses.


Dwight Longenecker is a Catholic pastor in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is Beheading Hydra — A Radical Plan for Christians in an Atheistic Age. He blogs at dwightlongenecker.com 

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