The past two weeks reminded us that the world is a very scary place. The bloodshed caused by Islamic State in Paris and the continuing real threat of terrorism in Belgium, Italy and yes, even in the U.S., should remind us, as we are urged in our liturgical readings with the start of a new liturgical year, that the world is passing away. This old world is groaning under the weight of human sinfulness; it is screaming out for a saviour, for one to come along and take away the pain, the uncertainty.
And yet, that saviour has already come; that saviour is Christ the Lord, and it is our responsibility as Christian people to let this good news be known – that even in the midst of the darkness and pain – that the new light, the light who is Christ, has come into the world.
What then should be the Christian response to terrorism? Perhaps we can look to the words of the past three popes. Remember the words of St John Paul II on that October night in 1978 when he was elected pope: “Be not afraid.” It is very scary. The U.S. State Department has issued a general warning to Americans living abroad to avoid places like St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the Duomo in Milan, as well as other churches and synagogues. And yet, we cannot be daunted. We must live our lives; being observant, yes; being cautious, perhaps; but we must live our lives. Whether in New York or overseas, if we cower in fear, these monsters have won. The name “terrorist” is coined because that is precisely what they want to do – to cause terror. Don’t let them win.
Second, we can remember the words of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 on the day before he was to be elected as pope. He warned those attending the conclave about the “dictatorship of relevance”. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger stated: “We are moving toward a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognise anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”
The dictatorship of relativism is more than simply in the secular realm; it is also very present in the religious realm. In his work, Without Roots, Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “In recent years I find myself noting how the more relativism becomes the generally accepted way of thinking, the more it tends toward intolerance. Political correctness … seeks to establish the domain of a single way of thinking and speaking … it is vital that we oppose this imposition of a new pseudo-enlightenment, which threatens freedom of thought as well as freedom of religion.”
Islamic State has taken the religion of Islam and used it for its own mad goals. In reaction to a secularised world gone wild, in its war against the Western world and Christianity, it has shown itself to be the agent of intolerance. Islamic State is an agent of hate and destruction and nothing more. Its view of God and religion is an abomination – a total distortion of Islam – and we urge more and more Muslim leaders to speak up against it.
Third, we can look to the words of Pope Francis in his Angelus address from Sunday, on 22 November. Reflecting on the Solemnity of Christ the King, he said: “The kingdoms of this world sometimes build themselves on arrogance, rivalry, oppression; the kingdom of Christ is ‘a kingdom of justice, love and peace.’”
If we want to defeat Islamic State, we can start by not being people of hate, but rather, be women and men of mercy, a concept that seems completely foreign to them. Not every Muslim is a terrorist; not every refugee is a walking time bomb. Recognise the evil in the world, but also see the goodness that is shining forth in a darkened world.
This column first appeared in The Tablet.