"At a time when deep rifts in the community threaten, it’s more important than ever that we come together and unite. That demands action."
Statement from Archbishop Mark Coleridge following the terrorist attacks in Paris
I’ve just attended a meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders, one of a series of regular meetings to help find peaceful ways forward for the whole community. It was clear at the meeting that the recent events in Paris have made a bad situation even worse for the Muslim community here and elsewhere. It’s as if Islam itself is being blamed for the savagery we saw in France. It’s also clear that, at a time when deep rifts in the community threaten, it’s more important than ever that we come together and unite. That demands action.
So what’s to be done? Prayer can seem a last desperate resort, a sign of impotence. Yet it’s surely the prime Christian response to what’s happened in Paris. Faced with such savagery, we can seem impotent; but prayer says that God is not. Prayer means we put our trust in a power not our own. Those responsible for the savagery claim the sanction of God; but Satan alone sanctions what they have done. God sanctions only the mercy which is the exact opposite of their savagery; and prayer implores that mercy.
First we pray, but then we ask questions. What is it about Western culture that provokes such savagery? How is it that young people come to see such savagery as some kind of ideal which gives purpose to their life and for which they are willing to die? These questions were posed by the Archbishop of Paris during last Sunday’s Mass in Notre Dame, and they’re just as pertinent for us in Brisbane. They aren’t easy to answer, but they can’t be ignored.
Another question is: What are we dealing with? Underlying the savagery is not religion but a totalitarian ideology that’s attached itself to religion like a cancer. The ideology feeds off urban alienation in those who commit the murders and a more general sense of historic grievance against the West found at times in Islam and fed by recent events in the Middle East. Like other totalitarian ideologies before it, this one uses the freedoms of the West to destroy those freedoms. It also uses the technologies of the West in an attempt to destroy the West.
Once again we see how fragile freedom really is. Yet there’s nothing more worth praying for and defending, if the Bible means what it says. At the end of his novel The Plague, the French writer Albert Camus reflects that “the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves”. Now we could add in football stadiums, restaurants and concert halls – places you’d least expect it. That’s the way it is with totalitarian ideology which is always fatal for freedom. Now we’re seeing a new waking of the lethal bacillus. We have to defend humanity against it. That’s why prayer, thought and action are needed now in about equal measure.