Faith and religion, at there best, represent incredible forces towards healing, mercy, kindness … the better angels of our nature. And at times faith and religion represent the exact opposite as they did in Paris yesterday with the killing of 12 individuals who worked for the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, a killing carried out by Islamic terrorists.
Religiously fueled terrorism of this sort is especially depraved. It grows out of a mindset anchored in a view of God as wrathful, angry, vindictive … clothing God then in our depravities. The frightening nature of these attacks however may stem mostly from the fact that they can be perpetrated guilt free. A crazy, transparently false line of reasoning may go, “If God calls for, sanctions and blesses such an attack, who am I to feel guilty carrying it out?”
What then is the answer? What do we do when faith becomes a weapon?
For some, this attack yet again reinforces the dangers of religion as a whole, a thought which gives rise to much of the militant atheism in Western culture. And that is understandable in a sense if all one knows of religion are these attacks.
Important to note however that some of the worse of modern day demagogues clearly rejected religion. Hitler, Stalin and Mao …. all saw religion as weak. All worked to eliminate it from their nations. Each killed millions. Hitler repeatedly noted that Nazism was a secular ideology founded on science, which in the long run could not “co-exist with religion.” While he did reference Christianity, no doubt playing to political concerns, it is hard to imagine he held any sincere Christian beliefs given his virulent anti-semitism.
So what then is the answer?
To do what Christians are called to do.
To stand for peace. To “bind the wounds” of the broken. And importantly, to pray. And that prayer is for the healing of those hurt. For the grieving families of those who have lost loved ones. For the trauma of a nation. And that prayer is even for the terrorists themselves, as hard and as misaligned as that may appear.
Three prayers in Christianity – The Lord’s Prayer/ The Our Father – the Oneness prayer in John – and Christ’s Prayer of Forgiveness of the Cross. All call on us to pray for healing.
- “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
- “… that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”
- “Father forgive them for know not what they do.”
That does not erase the need for accountability. These attacks must be confronted and denounced, facing the darkness in the human heart, wherever it may reside.
And the spirit of that confrontation must return us yet again to the better angels of our nature.