I guess lots of us feel at a loss for how we respond to last week’s atrocities in Paris. Sound-bites are inadequate at a time like this, but as Christians we often face particular questions when there’s been a religious aspect to terrorism. So below are two thoughts for us as we seek to contribute graciously to honest and healthy discussions. They are only a starting place for our discussions, and we highly recommend this helpful, longer article by theologian Al Mohler.
1. Muslims are not the problem, but there is an issue with Islam's view of blasphemy
The 1st thing I’d say is that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful. Don’t forget, there was a Muslim policemen gunned down protecting the offices of Charlie Hebdo, and it was a Muslim at the Jewish supermarket who hid customers in the cold store. True churches preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but welcome people of all faiths. Muslims should feel safe and welcome among us, and the moment they don't is the moment we stop being a real church. The problem is not with Muslims.
But we can’t deny that there is a problem at present with the treatment of blasphemy within Islam.
The politicians have stressed again & again that Islam is a religion of peace, but you do have to explain why it is then that so many Muslims find a justification for violence in its teaching when Muhammed is insulted. What's more, it is not just nominal Muslims doing the killing. Frequently the terrorists see themselves as devout, quoting the Quran as they kill.
Our culture often groups all religions together, splitting the world generally into religious vs. non-religious people. But it is surely appropriate to ask why it is that Mormons are not murdering in response to the brutally offensive musical The Book of Mormon? Why is it that Charlie Hebdo’s journalists were not targeted by Jews when for decades they have produced offensive cartoons about Judaism?
There is an issue with responses to blasphemy within Islam, and peace-loving Muslims need to lead the way in a mature, sober discussion of what is to be done.
2. Secularism is not the answer, Jesus is.
It’s easy to think that the answer to all this is secularism – to relegate all religious belief to the private sphere. It must be kept out of public life and not be allowed to influence society. Only then will we be safe.
But present day North Korea is an ongoing reminder of what we saw in 20th century Communist Russia, China & Cambodia – namely that secular regimes can be just as murderously intolerant and oppressive as any religious group has ever been.
Let me ask a serious question: As a Christian, could I ever justify violence to people who insult Jesus? Now I must admit that I am no great fan of Charlie Hebdo. Many of their cartoons are disgustingly obscene, blasphemous mockery of the Jesus who died to save me from my sins. Could their cartoons ever be so offensive that a Christian should say that they justify violence against those who publish them? No. Never. Not in any circumstances. Why is that?
It is not because Christians care about Jesus less than Muslims care about Muhammad. It is not because western liberal values have diluted my Christian faith. Rather, it is because of these undiluted, core values of Jesus:
- Jesus commands his followers that we are to love our enemies. That is not some obscure marginal teaching, it is from the heart of the Sermon on the Mount – Jesus’ central manifesto for his followers.
- Jesus’ example was that when he was being nailed to a cross after his unjust trial and brutal torture, he prayed out loud, ‘Father, forgive them.’
Society would not be safe if only religious people took religion less seriously. Society would be safe if people took following Jesus more seriously.