This was written shortly after the November 2015 mass terror attacks in Paris
Following the recent attacks in Paris, France, in which at least 129 people are believed to have lost their lives, I’ve been forced to reflect upon a number of things. As is usually the case, certain themes are brought to the fore when such tragic things happen: why certain people have become “so evil” that they have given themselves to destructive causes like terrorism; what the proper response should be to such attacks; what the role of government is in safeguarding lives and property; and a myriad of other pertinent issues.
But the one which I’d like to look at here, is the nature of the emotions that are expressed following these events. Specifically sympathy and solidarity. I’ll try to probe into these outpourings, and examine them from the Christian perspective.
I sympathize with the friends and families of the victims involved in these attacks; whether they be in Paris, New York, London, Madrid, Beirut, Baghdad, Kabul, Maiduguri, or elsewhere in the world which has seen terror rear its devilish head. I’m moved by the accounts I hear of these events, by the shaking voices of people whose loved ones have been lost, recounting the times they shared together. Sometimes, I’ve had to fight back tears. Its only natural, it seems, that we should react sympathetically, giving support and “stand together united, determined to preserve our freedoms, saying no to the enemy of our collective peace”.
But I fear that we all too often get carried away by these floods of general “collectivism”. I ask a simple question here: what is the basis for this solidarity, this togetherness that crosses divisions, brings us all together, regardless of race or creed? Let me put it this way: are there such things as “values we all hold dear and cherish, regardless of faith”? Maybe there are; But are we really suggesting that there can be peace and safety in this world for all (even if only in theory),understanding and togetherness, which even conquers that which divides us (including the faith of those of us who are Christians; we’re “the called out ones”, aren’t we?) What are these values?
There are two things that bother me here:
1. There is a “uniting” of wills and of resolve, the basis of which is undefined. While we say we must stand together against terror, what is it really that unites us? Hatred for man-made pain? If that is the case, I think I can do what is considered sufficient in Christ likeness- the love and charity in action -without joining in on activism that is not based upon Christ.
2. Following from the above, there is the danger that we get sucked into the whole ‘this-worldly’ view of life’s events and themes. And this view doesn’t always rhyme with the view of Christ. In fact, I daresay that it rarely does.
It is this second point that I want to emphasize. For every worldview, there is an underlying presupposition. For every belief system, there is a foundational idea or set of ideas; and sometimes those who hold them are aware of what they are. But more often than not, they’re not. And that’s the dangerous part of it all. I do not see any possibility that we honestly arrive at a sweeping agreement about what the “universal human ideals” are with people who have a view of what man’s existence is all about which is worlds apart from ours. There might be apparent agreement on a few points, but to what extent must we all agree, and also, agree to disagree? and on what?
I also reject the implicit argument from “secular ideals” being offered up even by some Christians. Do secular ideals determine our response to issues? Shouldn’t it be Christ? Is Christ a secularist?
Forget the vague “values that unite us”. Forget the slippery slope which may eventually trap us in the cage of rampaging secularism, that wants cowardly, cow-towing faith for all (that is, if atheism or agnosticism is considered unaffordable), just so that we can unite. Surely, we can love, be sympathetic, help out, save, and share in others’ suffering- because Christ did. Not because some vague sense of “collective will to defend human rights” which has an obscure basis, enjoins us to do so. Christ is our example. He did not seek solidarity from or with “other ways”, for he was, and still is, the way.