The tragedy in Paris…the ongoing battle with those who find anathema in democracy and liberty…such a world. This morning I received permission from Tom to share his reflection, “Faced with terror, choose life.” He brings value, it seems to me, in how life can be lived…and should be lived. If you care to learn more of his writings, his new book, “Two Lane Theology” and his weekly commentary, Tom Ehrich firstname.lastname@example.org, are recommended highly.
In this all, we need to pray. And hopefully the negative of Paris’s horrific experience last night will do nothing less than encourage our efforts to be people who value and choose life. No matter what.
November 14, 2015
Faced with terror, choose life
By Tom Ehrich
I didn’t wake up Friday morning caring about France.
But I did wake up caring about violence in my homeland and the cementing of fear, hatred and religious extremism as the pillars of right-wing politicking.
I did care about the many ways we are driving people inside, out of unsafe places like their own towns and cities and campuses and workplaces, and into barricaded home lives where they know what they know by way of television news and social media, strange ways of seeing much and knowing little.
As I walked past a young girl waiting for her school bus, I wondered what kind of world we are preparing for her, and for my grandchildren, and for the millions entering life at a time when dispensing death seems a livelier desire for many.
Then the news from Paris arrived, and soon we read yet another account of people being massacred for – for what? for being alive? Religious extremists were jubilant, of course. Anything that sows terror, stirs anarchy and mobilizes troops works to their benefit.
Whether religious extremism caused the attacks remains to be seen. Whether a people who already felt under assault by Muslim immigrants can resist a counter-attack remains to be seen. And whether other nations now turn against their own Muslim immigrant minorities remains to be seen.
Given what we know about political leadership in most countries, including would-be leaders in our own, I’d say perspective, wisdom, bold leadership, and community-building are unlikely. Wedge politics doesn’t prepare citizens for anything other than more strife, more suspicion, more acting out.
As the French themselves learned during their revolution, storming the barricades unleashes more savagery than the wise and polite can restrain. Monsters such as those shouting “Kill the gays!” and, soon enough, “Kill the Muslims!” seize the moment. Freedom and civilization begin to seem indulgences, not necessities.
It is conceivable that people of good will on all sides of the religious, national and ethnic divides will look at mayhem in Paris and say, “Enough! Massacres aren’t what Islam is all about. Demanding death of all enemies, real and imagined, isn’t what Christianity is all about. Closing the borders isn’t what Europe is about.”
That could happen. I hope it will.
Terrorism is an attack on civilization itself. It wants to make people so afraid that they lose their normal confidence and turn away from normal activities. It wants to make public places seem dangerous, public authorities helpless, public institutions unreliable, and the codes and restraints of civilization dispensable. Terrorism is more than a bully braying at the weak. It is an assault on life itself.
The best response to terrorism, we know from too much experience, is to keep on living. It was essential that New York City rebuild after 9/11. It was essential that London not cave to Germany’s bombing. It was essential that France examine itself after its weak response to Nazi aggression and then go on living, and that Germany come to terms with its slaughter of a continent and then go on living. It was essential that wise heads prevail and a frightened populace not rush to arm and isolate themselves. The answer to death is life; the answer to threats of more death is courage in living.
The decision to go on living will confound not only those seeking to sow terror but those who hope to profit from fear and death. Many a gun merchant will open for business today with high hopes of brisk sales. Many a Christian pastor will mount the pulpit tomorrow brimming with rage and xenophobia. Many a politician will skip the compassion and go straight to blaming.
If indeed the Islamic State is declaring war on France and all those who resist its aggression in Syria, as France’s president charged, then we can expect more violence in other places, including our own American cities. An open society presents an abundance of soft targets. We can’t possibly detect and deter all of these assaults, especially when leaders and their benefactors conclude there is some political advantage of allowing them to proceed.
What we can do, though, is to exercise our individual freedom to remain free. We can exercise our religious conviction not to cast stones but to embrace the wounded.
We can lift our voices and speak into the storm, saying: faced as always with the choice of life or death, hope or despair, light or darkness, good or evil, I choose life.