It’s been a week since the initial attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and I’m still not sure what to say. Along with everyone else the world over (including a great many Muslims) I condemn the violence, but I’ve been struggling to discern what I can learn from this incident as a Christian. I think I’ve found two things.
The first is that the answer to bad religion is not secularism, but good religion. Clearly, as a pastor, I believe that God’s will was most completely revealed in Jesus Christ. But I’m not saying that all our problems would be solved if everyone converted to Christianity. Christianity is perfectly capable of producing its own fanatics (e.g. the man who shot George Tiller in a church). What I’m saying is that the people best equipped to deal with religious extremists are religious moderates. (I don’t mean people who are lukewarm about their faith, but rather people who are not violent fanatics.) Who better to talk a fanatic down from the ledge than a fellow believer who shares a common faith and is capable of modeling the expression of that faith in non-violent ways? I do not mean to say that the religious moderate will always be successful, simply that they are more likely to be successful than anyone else.
The second thing I think we can learn is that censorship through intimidation doesn’t work. As a Christian, I can’t fully appreciate how offensive the portrayals of the prophet Muhammad in Charlie Hebdo were to Muslims. However, I feel that I can understand how they feel because I’m perfectly capable of being completely offended at the way Charlie Hebdo portrayed the Holy Trinity. I’m angry and offended, but, as Jesus taught us by both word and deed, violence is not the answer.
The violent attack on Charlie Hebdo has not closed down the magazine. Indeed they are experiencing a much higher demand and running millions of additional copies of the magazine’s current issue. A magazine previously considered offensive by just about everyone is now the receiving a great outpouring of sympathy. Turning the other cheek, blessing those who curse us and praying for those who persecute us are not easy things to do, but they are what Jesus instructed us to do. In the hands of the Holy Spirit, these acts of restraint and forgiveness can be a more effective response to ridicule than any act of violence. That’s just the nature of the world that God created.