Charlie Hebdo, Terrorism, etc.

terroristsI wrote several articles following the atrocity committed by three gunmen in Paris last 7th January. They claimed to belong to Al Qaeda, and later, that organisation confirmed that this was the case. They killed journalists and cartoon artists of a satirical French weekly magazine called Charlie Hebdo because they depicted Mohammed in satirical cartoons as they also did with Christian churches and secular political institutions and personalities. They also killed two police officers, and have themselves been killed by the police.

The subject burned me out somewhat, because I failed to anticipate reactions in the comments, some of which implied that Christians should “do something” about the large numbers of Muslim immigrants in Europe and North America. Other comments have been more constructive, reflecting the essentially cynical (in the ancient meaning of this word), anarchist and pacifist message of the Christian Gospel. Unfortunately, with the removal of the postings in question, the comments are also deleted, but not before my having saved them all to my hard disk.

I will resume my thought a little, with some hindsight into the issues of Je suis Charlie and the media coverage of all the events. Our first reaction is one of revolt on learning that unarmed men at a meeting, about their normal business, were massacred by three men in what looked to be a highly organised operation made to look sloppy (having difficulty finding their way to the right office, leaving an ID card in the car, etc.). The murdered men were working for a satirical weekly inspired by the old French revolutionary tendency against the Church and the aristocracy. We find anarchists and free thinkers in many countries, sometimes influenced by Trotsky and others. Quite frankly, when we trace the history of dissidence against the Establishment, often on account of some travesty of justice committed by the latter, we find some measure of sympathy. It happened again during the Russian Revolution, the reaction against the Church and bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century, and finally in the aftermath of World War II and the Occupation in France.

I am not Charlie, if you want to use this hackneyed expression, but I do have sympathy with the currents that flowed through society at about the time when I was a small boy and my brother was already a teenager – the late 1960’s. Apart from their hard-line atheism, I think I would have found points in common to discuss with these men who were shot to death the day after the Feast of the Epiphany.

I have read quite a few articles in this country between those who see this atrocity as an attack against freedom of expression, a restoration of the old blasphemy laws – or whether this killing was an “understandable” (though disapproved) reaction by Muslims against a terrible crime committed against their revered prophet. Some conservative Christians have expressed points of view with some similarities to the latter understanding. My own “feeling” (the degree of credence I give to some of the things I read) is to surmise that this attack may have had the intent of galvanising ordinary Muslim folk into terrorist and fanatical positions to justify an overt programme of persecution and warfare by certain western political tendencies. This would explain the cartoon at the head of this page depicting two terrorists killing the staff of Charlie Hebdo, and destroying a mosque with their gunfire as a consequence.

The question of freedom of expression is a difficult one, and is a matter of a great deal of controversy. French constitutional law upholds freedom of expression as a fundamental and absolute human right. At the same time, the exercise of this freedom is subject to the law in terms of its limits and public order. The main limits of this freedom are libel and insult, words and writings calling for hatred, suggestive of apologiae of crimes against humanity, anti-semitism, racism and homophobia (hatred or fear of homosexual people above and apart from a simple moral judgement of homosexual acts). All published writings – on the internet (including comments on a blog), in newspapers and in books – fall under these laws regulating the freedom of expression. Facebook and Twitter are also governed by these laws. We have to be careful of what we say, or better still purify our minds of hatred and prejudice. Laws limiting the freedom of the press go back a long way, and most refer to the Law of 29th July 1881. Social networks like Facebook and Twitter have been more difficult to govern, because they are American services, and American law is more flexible in matters of the freedom of expression than France. Many things condemned in France are legal in the USA. The social networks are tending to comply with the more restrictive codes of laws such as that of France.

Humour and satire are dealt with entirely differently. Freedom of expression does not allow racism or anti-semitism, but it does not forbid satire and humour. Satire of the absurd and parody are allowed by the law. If the representation is an exaggeration or an alteration of the personality in question, satire, parody and jokes are allowed. There is a right to insolence and lack of respect. Cases do come up before judges, who often have to make fine distinctions.

In 2007, Charlie Hebdo had to answer for caricatures of Mohammed before a court of law. The court decided that this weekly could legally publish these drawings. Even though caricatures provoke, they form part of legitimate freedom of expression. Even though the drawings were found to be shocking to Muslims, the context would indicate that there was no deliberate intention to offend all Muslims and that the limits had not been exceeded. The law does not forbid us from mocking a religion, since France is a secular country and there are no laws against blasphemy. However, it does forbid calling for hatred against the believers of a religion or to defend crimes against humanity (the Holocaust for example).

That is for the position of French law. For the question of morality, would it have been better for Charlie Hebdo to self-censure? These were atheists, freethinkers and anarchists. Their consciences are not bound in the way we Christians are, but the attitude was clearly – my job is to draw a satirical cartoon about a personality or institution that is already absurd. It seems to be the very definition of humour as illustrated in the famous book by Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose, in which the monks of the abbey sought to suppress a justification of humour and laughter in a book by Aristotle. The quote is resumed in these few words – We shall now discuss the way comedy stimulates our delight in the ridiculous by using vulgar persons and taking pleasure from their defects. I do not know whether this is indeed a quote of Aristotle, as I have not checked. It seems a most apposite definition. I have even read the notion saying that were humour and satire to be outlawed, we would truly be in a totalitarian society – and that is even when we see caricatures of Christ, the Pope, priests and the Church in general.

There is also a question of perspective. Before the atrocity, this was a fairly marginal weekly read by people of a similar philosophical outlook to that of the journalists and artists who produced it. Until 7th January last, I had hardly heard of the existence of Charlie Hebdo, let alone bought a copy and read it. Now I am waiting for my copy of the “survivors’ edition” which is selling at something like five million copies.

After the atrocity, there was a deeply moving phenomenon of popular solidarity between millions of French people in peaceful demonstrations in Paris and other cities. The slogan Je suis Charlie was coined, and the movement was supported by the French government and most mainstream politicians. The incredible thing was this support by mainstream politics for a group of anarchists who were not afraid to mock anything or anyone they found to be absurd, including President Hollande himself. I give credence to the idea that this large number of people were defending something they believe to be precious, namely the freedom not to be subjected to Shariah law or any other kind of totalitarianism – and that the means to this end was to be non-violent.

An issue has emerged in the comment boxes, and it may well indicate what will happen despite the wishes of any of us – the idea according to which terrorism and violence are intrinsic to the Islamic religion and that all Muslims are complicit. If this is so, it would justify outlawing Islam as a dangerous cult and deporting all those who profess Islam as their religion. This seems to express the idea of many people of right-wing opinions, especially European nationalists and American neo-conservatives. This may be exactly what the radicals of ISIS, Al Qaeda and other groups want: war against them so that they can wage war against us – and conquer the western world. Are we deluded if we deny this thesis, preferring to believe that most Muslims living in the western world are to some extent influenced by secularism and Enlightenment values?

Do we Christians want to be ruled by American neo-conservatives and European nationalists? Would those groups and parties, if elected into power, repeat the history of the early twentieth century (without committing the error of Godwin’s Law)? Is Christianity able, simply by moral influence, to stem the danger of a major change of culture in the western world to that of strict Islam? None of these questions can be clearly answered. Is the present democratic (materialist, corrupt, indebted, you name it) system, with its own serious problems, something to defend with our lives? I too abhor nearly all of what passes for politics in Europe and North America, the hypocrisy of the “caviar lefties” whose ideology is not true socialism but state capitalism which is just as cynical (modern meaning) as private capitalism. I dread the turn to the “extreme right”, and it may well happen – UKIP in England, Le Pen in France and more sinister in some other countries. Are we on the brink of war?

I have been struck by those comments coming from a type of person one might associate with stereotypes of “red-necks”, southern Confederates and the Klu Klux Klan. I have seen men with a fascination for firearms and the idea of being prepared for being attacked by forces in America opposed to the principles of the Constitution and its various Amendments. I am not an American. I have fired rifles and pistols with live ammunition – to make holes in paper targets. Many boys like that idea. When I was in the CCF at school, our Lee Enflield .303 rifles were kept in a strongly locked room, chained to their racks and the bolts were kept in a safe. The ammunition was stored in another strong safe. We Europeans are not used to having our own arms, at least for anything other than target practice or hunting. Even the Swiss only ever use their arms in a strictly military context. I will not enter into this uniquely American controversy, but I will say I find it quite unhealthy. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword. The saying of Christ applies also to any weapon used for killing another human being. My intuition is that pacifism is the way, though the possibility of having to kill may one day be something we cannot avoid. May I never have to kill for as long as I live!

How long would many of those men last in a real war? I ask myself the question.

One very legitimate question is how far ordinary Muslims who are not themselves terrorists would go to oppose the extremist organisations in the name of respecting the native values of the country into which they have immigrated. It is also legitimate to debate about the continuation of mass immigration of people who will never integrate into the host country or become financially independent. Many of us, outside extreme political tendencies, are concerned about these points. Immigration is incredibly expensive to the taxpayer, and security is a real issue. If nothing is done about these problems by the proper authorities, then we really do have something to worry about. Maybe the only thing to do is to hole up in some remote hamlet in the west of Brittany! What makes all this agonising is knowing that Christianity is impotent and mainstream European political and economic life is going through a crisis that suggests very hard times ahead for us all. I really have the impression that mass immigration of Muslims will have dire results.

On the specific subject of Islam, we need to do some learning about religious traditions that are not our own. I understand Islam to be essentially a mixture of Judaism, Nestorian Christianity and a few bits and bobs borrowed from the ancient Arabian mystery religions. There are different strands of Islam like there are in Christianity, from the mystical Sufism to the Sunnites and Shites. There have been priests who have consecrated themselves to a ministry of understanding Islam and seeking to bring about enlightenment and humanism. Benedict XVI himself worked in this perspective with the Regensburg speech.
I resolve this year to acquire a foundation of knowledge of Islam. There was a Muslim student at Fribourg University where I was, and he had very interesting insights into our belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. There I could discern the distant Nestorian roots of Islam and the contacts Muhammed had with Christians. I think this is an urgent task for us all to be free of prejudice and stereotypes. There is also a suggestion that the more terrorists kill and outrage decent humanity, the more ordinary Muslims will take the courageous step of converting to Christianity. Many have done just that.

I think we need to discern very carefully whether Europe is about to be taken over and made into a Muslim caliphate or whether this is the apocalyptic thinking and irrationality of the prejudiced and the bigoted. The big problem is processing the information, because we don’t know who to believe. Is there a collusion between mainstream left-wing politics and ISIS / Al Qaeda? Why would there be? Is it not simply a tidy conspiracy theory with no basis in fact? Our minds are polluted by conspiracy theories and the search for simplistic solutions. That is how famines and very cold winters in the seventeenth century were blamed on old women practising herbal medicine and alchemy! Many were burned at the stake as witches.

These are just a few reflections provoked by the news and controversies on this blog. It is not a question of being right or wrong, but of seeking to understand. Finally, I will accept comments if they are written in a constructive and Christian spirit. I will reject comments especially if they offend against the law or call for hatred or warfare, etc.

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21 Responses to Charlie Hebdo, Terrorism, etc.

  1. ed pacht says:

    Freedom of speech cannot be an absolute. The noted American Jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes, noted that the First Amendment (USA applicable provision) does not permit someone to shout, “Fire,” in a crowded theater. If one speaks offensively without considering the consequences he marks himself as a dangerous fool, and probably should not receive more than a minimum of protection — but if one speaks offensively having weighed the consequences, then one’s speech is indeed to be protected.

    There simply have to be sensible limitations on personal rights, because if we exercise a right, we inevitably restrict someone else’s right. However, too much restriction of rights results in repressiveness. It’s a difficult balance.

    Humor and satire are indeed a different sort of speech, but it remains so that one is obligated to consider the results of such speech and to decide if the price is worth it. Did the Charlie victims evaluate the threats that had been issued to cartoonists and had been acted on in other cases? Had they decided that the possibility of being killed was something they could live with? We’ll never really know, and I’m not proposing judgment of them, but I am urging us all to be very definite in counting the cost of our actions.

    There are few absolutes in such thorny questions, though, perhaps one is that the violent response was far from justified.

    • As an Englishman, I never accept uncritically what comes out of the French state. This article is interesting – France’s much vaunted secularism is not the neutral space it claims to be by Giles Fraser, a left-wing Church of England cleric. The French have abolished the guillotine, but there are other ways to wage war on religion, including both Roman Catholicism and Islam. I don’t like this country very much…

      That being said, you are right in that freedom of expression (both speech and writing) has to be limited by the law. That has been in Europe particularly since the end of the Nazi regime in 1945. There is no institution in France like Speakers’ Corner in London, where someone can mouth the most anti-social poisonous diatribes they can muster and fear only from the hecklers. It would seem that French judges have been kind with Charlie Hebdo because it was such a marginal paper and most Muslims didn’t read it. As Trotskyism and 1960’s anarchism are going the way of the dinosaurs to give place to the Corporate New Man, Charlie Hebdo was in a serious financial situation. Al Qaeda has given them new life!

      Satire has a unique place, even when the jokes are in the poorest and crassest taste. I agree with the idea that a state that outlaws satire and humour is already Orwell’s Big Brother – and the time has come for us to die…

      • Stephen K says:

        Dear Father, it seems to me that you are – worthily – trying to cover all bases in your summary of this complex issue. That it is a complex issue only a moron or bigot would deny (in my view). As ed says there are limits, although such limits reflect values of a particular civic philosophy and are themselves subject to dispute or debate. On the other hand, psychology plays a part too. How do we react, when endangered, when threatened, when loved, when secure? None of us may be immune from feeling pulled one way by fear and instinct (aka your KKK) and another way by spiritual yearning and high ideal.

        The conclusion I come to is that no actual society is perfect because people, individually and collectively, aren’t. No religion is perfect; no philosophy, no anything. We have to inform ourselves and try to do good or descend into the kingdom of fang and claw and might is right.

        It comes down to the hierarchy of goods or evils that we wish to achieve or avoid. Murder is worse than something else except when the something else is worse than murder. What I conclude from my observations is that none of know anything beyond our senses, but hope or wish for much. We ought therefore to be more humble and cease arguing about things we know precious little about, like God etc.

        Just some evening thoughts at the end of a long day and in contemplation of your attempts to be moderate, in the face of everyone’s passions and insecurities.

      • Stephen,

        I very much enjoy reading your comments, since I feel the same concerns about the way we are buffeted from pillar to post by information whose veracity or falsehood we cannot verify. There is something wrong when, for example, we are told that the French political institutions are persecuting Islam and at the same time are being “deluded” about the dangers of mass immigration. These are two diametrically opposed ideas, and it is possible that both are false. We live in a time of propaganda and irrational manipulation. I am as much a victim of it as anyone else.

        If there are “bad guys” in this turkey shoot, it is probably ourselves in our attempts to maintain our standard of life in the midst of rising prices and decreased spending power in the face of aggressive commercial advertising and the consumer culture. If I were called on to fight (and I am quickly approaching the point of life of being too old – phew!), I would not give my life for what passes for modern democracy, any more than for religious extremism. We might give our lives for Christ or to save the life of another person, but the morass we are living in … no.

        The only thing I can do is try to keep my soul and encourage others to do likewise by being peaceful and rational, seeking truth and being humble enough to recognize that truth escapes us. We need to become more knowledgeable, and this is why I have decided to read about the history and theology of Islam. Totalitarianism and terror are not proper to Islam or even to religion in general, but to the dark side of human nature. We all have it within us.

        We have our gardens to tend, lest seven more evil spirits take us over, that much more wicked than the one we sent away.

    • Alec Leamas says:

      Holmes’ formulation is that what amounts to verbal acts (e.g. words of conspiring, words of treason) may be prohibited and not protected “Free Speech.” This has nothing to do with the offense that a listener may take to speech, and it certainly has nothing to do with the unreasonable violent reactions to speech by those that hear it. Muslims are not the panicked stampede of people fleeing a fire that doesn’t exist – they have agency and are responsible for their own acts.

  2. J.D. says:

    It seems to me that even a cursory glance at the Koran and the history of islam shows that terror and totalitarianism are, at the very least pretty much common currency in that religion. I know that islam is complex and multifaceted with Sunnis and Shiites and all sorts of factions between them but at rock bottom the Koran they share in common does seem to call on violence and terror as a justified means of spreading and establishing itself. History has showed that this penchant for terror and violence and totalitarianism is indeed the default position of the Islamic world for the most part.

    I would agreed with you Father, that modern democracy as it is today is not worth dying for. The issue is, just what ought to be a proper response to all this muslim violence? Everytime I look it’s Muslims burning down churches, muslims flying planes into buildings, muslims stoning someone to death, Muslims beheading children,muslims slaughtering people by the thousands in Africa, Muslims selling women and girls on open markets as sex slaves and Muslims bombing churches at Christmas services. When is enough enough? What should be done about this in our own lands when these people come here and bring their violent religious ideology with them and try to terrorize me and my family? It’s not easy being a Christian!

    Of course the tension in being a Christian is that no matter how one wants to justify it Jesus Christ did not give a sanction for violence, the same cannot be said for the god of islam. So what should be done?

    I struggle because I am at the point where I do not want to be open to islam or Muslims, I see no evidence that anything positive could possibly come from it.

    And I apologize if what I say is offensive to you Father, it’s not my intention. Please don’t post this if it is not something you feel is appropriate. I’ve tried to be appropriate through my anger and frustration though.

    • I think an acceptable position at present is to challenge Muslims living in non-Muslim countries (ie: our countries) to condemn the acts of the terrorists and fanatics. They are being given a chance to show Islam to be a “religion of peace”. It is for them to prove themselves to us. There is a movement within Islam to introduce humanist and rational values, something like in Christian countries in the 18th century. Such a modernising movement needs to be allowed to spread.

      As I said, I am going to study Islam from books and material on the internet, and I will probably discover that the barrenness and inhumanity are intrinsic to the Koran. We also need to look into their theology of God (Allah), comparing it with the Gnostic notion of the Demiurge. We could make interesting discoveries. Sufist Islam, the contemplative and mystical tendency, also needs a look, to find out how that tendency reads and understands the “satanic verses”, whether they are capable of an allegorical interpretation like that of Origen for the Old Testament.

      I will not condone warfare, especially against those who have not actually committed terrorist acts. If we go to war, nothing good will come out of it. But, I am far from being convinced that Islam as a whole is much more than a dangerous sect like the Moonies and Jim Jones, just a lot older and bigger. You have said nothing offensive, and nothing that would interest those looking for illegal expressions on the internet.

      • Alec Leamas says:

        “Now a man preaching what he thinks is a platitude is far more intolerant than a man preaching what he admits is a paradox. It was exactly because it seemed self-evident, to Moslems as to Bolshevists, that their simple creed was suited to everybody, that they wished in that particular sweeping fashion to impose it on everybody. It was because Islam was broad that Moslems were narrow. And because it was not a hard religion it was a heavy rule. Because it was without a self-correcting complexity, it allowed of those simple and masculine but mostly rather dangerous appetites that show themselves in a chieftain or a lord. As it had the simplest sort of religion, monotheism, so it had the simplest sort of government, monarchy. There was exactly the same direct spirit in its despotism as in its deism. The Code, the Common Law, the give and take of charters and chivalric vows, did not grow in that golden desert. The great sun was in the sky and the great Saladin was in his tent, and he must be obeyed unless he were assassinated. Those who complain of our creeds as elaborate often forget that the elaborate Western creeds have produced the elaborate Western constitutions; and that they are elaborate because they are emancipated.” G.K. Chesterton.

        It would seem that one’s expression of his Islam is very dependent upon one’s appetites and temperament. The man who is at heart peaceful and generous can be a peaceful and generous Muslim. The man who seeks power and expresses violence can be a power hungry and violent Muslim. There is support for both in Islam; it is a coin with two sides. And that is perhaps the greatest problem to be solved. The peaceful Muslim recognizes the violent Muslim as an authentic Muslim.

        But all of this is to say that whether Islam is inherently violent or not is at this point irrelevant if Muslims are now committing violence in the name of Islam and making unreasonable demands contrary to the social and legal traditions of the nations to which they immigrate. An immigration moratorium would at least give some breathing room until the questions of Islam and assimilation could be sorted.

  3. I very much commend and applaud your concern about the extreme right, Father.

  4. Dale says:

    In today’s parlance, Winston Churchill would be considered far-right. And what would we have done without him? Have we already forgotten when Chamberlain assured us all of “Peace in our time”? And how well did that work out?

    • We will probably finish up with war, but I want to be able to look in the mirror and know that I didn’t wish for it. Churchill had some strange ideas about dealing with the German war criminals in 1945-46, for example killing them without trial. Understandable.

      The terms “left” and “right” in politics are artificial and not always understood in the same way by different people. I once read a book by Jean Madiran, but a long time ago. He presented the Monarchy as the ideal form of government. That may well be so at the level of nations. Perhaps small kingdoms at a level smaller than that…

      Left and right seem respectively to represent the interests of the people on one hand and the ruling classes on the other. There is also the notion of the state being everything and human life being cheap and disposable. This can happen in both conservatism and socialism.

      Frankly, the big problem is the notion of the state rather than communities in which people know each other and which are run like big families. There is the old Russian joke about the difference between Capitalism and Communism. In one, man exploits man, and in the other it is the other way round! 🙂

      In the case of Hitler and the Nazis, England had no choice other than go to war and “fight them in the trenches and never surrender”. It may come to that in the present situation, but do you know a king or leader who would inspire us and symbolise our national pride?

      • Dale says:

        I would, from historical studies, not be in favour of monarchy. One simply needs to study the demise of the Russian Imperial state to see just how bizarre a nation tied to a single individual can become. Of course, one reason that I could never become a Roman Catholic is because of their autocratic form of government, which I personally consider to be contrary to Christian principals; and church history as well.

        The form of government that I most prefer is that of a Federal Republic as represented by Switzerland. The United States pretends to be such a type of government, but that is perhaps only in fantasy. It has become Hobbes’s Leviathan with a demise of federal state’s rights and a every enlarging non-elected judiciary that more and more does not listen to the voice of the people and a growing and removed central bureaucracy that may become increasingly dictatorial.

      • I wrote a posting some time about “intentional communities”, often associated with the less ruly hippie communes of the 1960’s. Neo-tribalism needs a lot of thought as do various forms of Christian anarchism. If small communities can be held together with greater emphasis of humanity and friendship than on law and authority (though the latter is needed for the bene esse of the community because of human sin), we would seem to approach the ideal. Switzerland is not exactly that, but the Confederation is geographically small and you can drive across the average Canton is less than an hour. Small is beautiful. Switzerland is not paradise on earth. There is the old joke about God creating Switzerland, and when people in other countries expressed their jealousy on account of Switzerland’s natural beauty, God, to compensate, created – the Swiss people! 🙂 They can be heavy, humourless and cold.

        I appreciate this positive contribution. Indeed, in a Monarchy, there have to be constitutional checks and balances. England isn’t perfect, but it could be worse.

      • Dale says:

        Yes, Switzerland is a real peasant republic. It has also been very slow to accept change since the people themselves must approve of such changes. It also has an interesting religious toleration that was the envy of the world. Some Canton’s have the Catholic Church established as the state church whilst others have the Reformed, but religious toleration has always been advocated. It also had at one time a very strong presence of the Old Catholic movement, with several whole villages and city churches rejecting in 1870 the new dogmas of the Vatican; this itself seems typically Swiss, to allow the minority dissenters full freedom of action and representation.

        Its natural conservatism is represented by the fact that women were not permitted the right to vote until quite recently, and once again because of its strong confederation style of government, only by the popular vote Canton by Canton. But the positive of this rather slow popular system is that once a change has been approved by the majority, it is accepted without too much rancor by the opposition. Unlike the United States where most social change is forced upon a rather unwilling population from the elites and their control over the judiciary; and animosities are simply magnified and resentment simmers.

        The natural inclination of most people is mostly towards a more religious and social conservatism and to move into new social territories slowly. Switzerland has proven this to be correct. It has not embraced multiculturalism and is very worried about unfettered immigration and its accompanying social problems. But in the end, the conclusion will be given to the people, and not specific elites who may economically prosper because of immigration; it is hard to realise that many simply like cheap servants.

        But, you are also correct, according to Montesquieu, such democracies of the people can only work on a very small scale. The United States, as a large, multiracial and ethnic nation has really been unable to effect a true confederation, which was one of the main reasons for the American War Between the States, and the generations of hatred that such a confrontation over political systems entailed. Both on the part of the winners as well as the losers.

      • Alec Leamas says:

        Isn’t the lesson to be learned from contrasting Chamberlain and Churchill that in the realm of war and peace wishing has no beneficial effect and to the extent that it overrides reason it makes the eventual war longer, bloodier, and harder to fight?

  5. ed pacht says:

    I am not sure I agree with what I’m about to say. In fact, I’m pretty sure that in major ways I don’t, but I do believe a believing student of the Scriptures has to ask a number of hard questions and expect some distasteful answers.

    Much has been said about the ‘violent’ aspects of the Old Testament, about a militant conquering Hebrew people presented as having direct command from God to attack, invade, and even slaughter to gain control of territories they had been promised and to eliminate the worshipers of false gods. It has been pointed out that these passages are not much different from the harsher passages of the Quran. Yes, in many ways it is plausible to assert that in the hands of many Christians the scriptures do “seem to call on violence and terror as a justified means of spreading and establishing” the true faith. This has indeed at times and places (notably the Crusades and the Inquisition) been put into practice, and there has always been a significant amount of rhetoric promoting such ideas in full or modified form.

    I do tend to point out that Islam, indeed, does seem to have a default position tending toward this violence, and that Muslims of a more pacific view (who do abound) have to work very hard to change that direction; while the default position of Christianity is quite otherwise and those inclined to violence have to work very hard to justify that. Nonetheless both religions end up being filled with those inclined in such negative ways, humanity being so very flawed if left to itself.

    There is something I see in the Judeo-Christian heritage that I do not see in Islam. The apparent triumphalism of the Hebrew people was always being called back to a position of great humility. Much less space is given to the triumph of the nation than to its weakness, unworthiness, and even rebellion against God; and much space is given to God’s use of cruel enemies to bring correction. The prophets pretty nearly all speak from that background, yes, proclaiming glorious promise, but not until the message has been heard and the people have returned to their calling. Jesus was born in a stable, was exiled in Egypt, lived a far from triumphant life, and won His victory not by conquering, but by suffering death before his resurrection. Christians through the centuries, and even today, have conquered evil and death through martyrdom far more often than through conquest. The Church, when it sees itself with Scriptural eyes, knows itself to be still flawed, still disobedient, still deserving of punishment and correction. Humility is not only an individual virtue, but one required of churches, of the Church as a whole, and of any nation that calls itself Christian.

    Which brings me to the question we need to ask. (one I can’t really answer, but …) Might it be that a church, a Christian people, or a Christian nation could have strayed so far from God and His ways that the only way to bring them back to Him is for them to be conquered and overrun as Israel was by Babylon, by Assyria, and by Rome? Could the rise of Islam, perhaps, be exactly what the church needs to restore her to humility, obedience, and faith; to deliver her from the triumphalism, materialism, political orientation and general world-centeredness that some now see as the most prominent mark of contemporary Christianity? I wonder . . .

  6. Dale says:

    There is a very interesting article written by one of those “tolerant Muslims”; in it she has this to say about the collective guilt in regards to the Muslim community as a whole:

    “When Rupert Murdoch recently tweeted, ‘Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible,’ he was criticized for indelicately saying all Muslims were responsible for the acts of a few. But I do believe we bear collective responsibility for the problems in our communities.”

    What was interesting is how the far-left pillared Mr Murdoch for effectively stating the truth.

    In the past week dozens of churches have been torched in Africa and thousands of Christians attacked by a mass, and murderous, movement of Muslims. Our silence is deafening.

    • Here is our Prime Minister’s challenge to Muslim communities to show that they don’t condone terrorism – The ball in in their court. Give them time to come up with a satisfactory answer.

      • Is it not a “When did you stop beating your wife?” question, though?

        By responding to such a challenge, Muslims acknowledge the claim that the problem is with their religion and thus give ammunition to their critics.

      • ed pacht says:

        I think Matthew has a point. As a Christian with very many non-Christian friends, I am often called to answer for the terrible things that have been done by some Christians while claiming the name of Christ, including terrible things that kept on being done for centuries, both for big and obvious things like the excesses of the Inquisition or the support of slavery, and for the “lesser” things which have brought injury, psychological or otherwise, to individuals. This is, frankly, not easy to do. Whatever I say I am tarred with the same brush. The only answer that can be heard is one that both says and demonstrates that I am indeed a Christian in the here and now, and that those accusations do not fit me in the here and now. I ask that of myself, and I do ask that of Muslims. Neither I nor they is capable of much more than that. The past is past. We can learn to go on from there.

  7. Alec Leamas says:

    “How long would many of those men last in a real war? I ask myself the question.”

    Well, I reject the notion that they (we, I suppose) are all cryptic Ku Klux Klan members. But I will say that plenty of these folks grew up with rifles, learned marksmanship as very young men or boys, and then actually did serve in the U.S. military, and some of these have lasted in “real wars.”

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