“The tragedy in France is what it is, a tragedy, an act of terrorism. In no way can such violence be justified, regardless of religious convictions. We all mourn for the loss of life, and yet we are reminded of the sanctity of life. However, it ought to also be said that provocation can lead to such gruesome evils when we result to mocking other religious groups, knowing the dangers that exist with extremists and radicalists. When we substitute truth and it’s proclamation for mockery and satire, and waive under the banner of free speech, are we not abusing our right? I certainly condemn the violence, and likewise mourn the loss of life, but what happened to wisdom and discretion that could have prevented such a tragedy? There are certainly better and more appropriate ways to approach Islam, mockery certainly isn’t one of them.” – Rev. Steven Martins, Founder of E&AM
By J. Luis Dizon
“If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end.” (Mark 3:24-26, ESV)
The past few days have been dominated by the recent news about the Charlie Hebdo shooting by Islamist radicals for their offensive portrayals of Muhammad and Islam. It is interesting to see how this attack has fueled anti-Islamic sentiment, with many westerners expressing solidarity with the slain Charlie Hebdo journalists. This is exemplified by the fact that #JeSuisCharlie is now trending on Twitter. One of the more radical expressions of this anti-Islamic sentiment came when a kebab shop and mosque were shot at and bombed (most likely by French right-wingers), showing the polarized nature of the evolving situation.
For Christians who may be tempted to join the western Secularist chorus by identifying with Charlie Hebdo, it might be worth remembering that we are talking about a publication that produces cartoons about Jesus and Christianity that are every bit as offensive (if not more so) as anything they’ve produced about Islam. I won’t link to those cartoons for obvious reasons, but the reader is free to google them if they can stomach the offensiveness of the images. This just begs the question: How can we be allied to those who blaspheme our God and Saviour?
The answer, of course, is that we can’t. The Bible explicitly rules out such associations (Amos 3:3, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18). Christians have to get out of the mentality that this is a fight between good and evil. Now, I’m no relativist. Evil is a very real thing. But evil is not the monopoly of one side, but there is plenty of it to go around. Both the western liberal Secularists and the Muslims have it wrong. And while I would not call for vigilantes to bring death and violence to those who publish such cartoons about Jesus, neither am I going to lionize their journalism in the name of “freedom of speech.”
This brings me to another important theological truth that needs to be remembered, which is encapsulated in Saint Augustine’s The City of God. In this work, Augustine divides all of humanity into two cities: The Heavenly City (comprised of God and His elect) and the Earthly City (comprised of Satan and all the reprobate). The Earthly City is constantly at war with the Heavenly City, and we see this in the global persecution of Christians, both in its “soft” forms (ie. the abridgment of civil liberties through legislation) and its “hard” forms (ie. physical violence aimed at destroying Christian lives and property). However, the Earthly City is also in a state of civil war against itself. The various anti-Christian philosophies and worldviews are not just in competition against Christianity, but against each other! Consider what Augustine has to say:
But the earthly city, which shall not be everlasting (for it will no longer be a city when it has been committed to the extreme penalty), has its good in this world, and rejoices in it with such joy as such things can afford. But as this is not a good which can discharge its devotees of all distresses, this city is often divided against itself by litigations, wars, quarrels, and such victories as are either life-destroying or short-lived. For each part of it that arms against another part of it seeks to triumph over the nations through itself in bondage to vice. If, when it has conquered, it is inflated with pride, its victory is life-destroying; but if it turns its thoughts upon the common casualties of our mortal condition, and is rather anxious concerning the disasters that may befall it than elated with the successes already achieved, this victory, though of a higher kind, is still only short-lived; for it cannot abidingly rule over those whom it has victoriously subjugated. (Augustine, The City of God, XV:4)
Thus, Secularism and Islam reveal themselves in these recent incidents to be warring factions within the same Earthly City. For this reason, we cannot really be “allies” with one against the other.
But where does that leave those of us who are Christians? Obviously, this means we ultimately cannot identify with either side, as they are both in the wrong (albeit in different ways). I would like to suggest the following points, that must be remembered at all times when engaging these kinds of issues:
First of all, Christians’ ultimate allegiance is to the Kingdom of God. All other loyalties must reflect this allegiance. This means that we can defend Western Civilization insofar as it reflects the influence of the Christian Worldview in its social and political institutions, but not when it goes against that worldview (which is quite obviously the case with Charlie Hebdo’s blasphemous cartoons). This goes for many other conflicts where both sides can legitimately be blamed for committing evil and perpetuating conflict (The Syrian Civil War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, etc.). To give unconditional support to any culture or nation is to tie the Kingdom of God to a particular earthly institution and thus deny its transcendental nature.
Secondly, we do not fight with the weapons of this world, as Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 10:3. Although the worldly-minded seek to avenge themselves, Christians are called to a higher ethic. As it is written:
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honourable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21)
Of course, this passage does not rule out legitimate acts of self-defense. But when right-wing mobs retaliate against Muslim civilians who are in no way connected to the gunmen who shot at Charlie Hebdo, that is not self-defense, but vigilantism, which is nowhere condoned in Scripture. Christians must condemn these right-wing vigilantes in the same breath that they condemn the Islamist gunmen. When we condemn the evil of one while ignoring (or even lionizing) the evil of the other, we are in effect saying that we hate Islam more than we love Jesus.
Thirdly and finally, we must continue to disciple the nations, which is the only way that peace can come upon the earth. The Earthly City’s attempts to bring about peace only end up with more wars and oppression (whether at the hands of Radical Islamists, Secular Humanists, or anyone else). By contrast, the Heavenly City lives by a higher ethic: It lives by the Law of the one whom the Bible calls “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Furthermore, this city is empowered by the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Peace (Galatians 5:22). Those who desire peace must renounce the Earthly City and become part of the Heavenly City, and those who are already within the Heavenly City must call those who remain in the Earthly City to do likewise.
In the end, these wars will only come to an end when the Word of the Lord permeates every part of the earth (Isaiah 2:1-4). Let us hope and pray to see that day come upon us soon.