All terrorists aim to terrorize and paralyze civilian life, creating a chaotic environment so they can seize power and take control. We cannot surrender. We cannot allow terrorists to turn us into terrorists.
Christians, especially, should be people who do not allow fear to rule their lives. We know and we believe: resurrection follows the way of the cross and death. Christians can and must be prophetic people who are clear-headed and courageous. It was Adolf Hitler who said: “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”
Terrorism can be defeated when terrorists see that their terrorism doesn’t work. It will take time and people have to work together and support one another. People can pick themselves up and move ahead. On March 22, 2016, terrorist bombs destroyed the departure hall, slaughtered dozens of people, and injured hundreds of others at the Brussels International Airport. In June I was a traveler at that same airport. In the very spot where it all happened. The departure hall has been rebuilt. It is now more attractive, more efficient, and very welcoming. This week end, more than 200,000 vacationers will pass through the Brussels airport.
I know first-hand what disaster and alarming uncertainty do to a person. People very close to me came close to being blown apart in the Brussels bombings. Watching the news on March 22 (five days before my 73rd birthday) I was frightened and anxious. I kept saying to myself: Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Then I recalled a line from C.S. Lewis in his book The Problem of Pain: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains….”
Christians need to fortify themselves with and in authentic faith and virtue. Too many people these days are reverting into a form of pseudo-Christianity, preaching self-serving pseudo-virtue. They look out for themselves while denigrating others. We see them succumbing to demagoguery and mindless populism. Malfunctioning democracies should be fixed not destroyed; and people should rely on facts not popular fantasies. The thought struck me last week, for example, that most of the terrorist activity in the United States in recent years has come not from Muslims, but from “Christian” religious fanatics and white supremacists. Hardly the way of Jesus.
Jesus of Nazareth, living and working in the socio-cultural context of his day, was a prophetic non-violent person. He was a threat of course to his contemporary vested interest people: authoritarian leaders for whom religion was more important than faith and politics more important than the men and women it should serve.
As we confront the perplexing political, economic, and social problems of our time, we need to practice and promote authentic Christian virtue. Yes of course, people who behave in a criminal and inhuman way need to be sanctioned and restrained; but crude militarism and violence alone will never resolve our contemporary national and international terrorism crises. They will only increase and promote a more savage kind of militarism.
The world’s wealth and resources must be used to promote human life and dignity everywhere. Why are young people drawn to zealous fanatics? Can we not promise and provide a better life for them? Many of them yearn for a sense of community not yet found. They seek and need an understanding and supportive group: people who can give them an anchor in a changing world. Can we not offer them a more humane community? Can we not enhance their sense of identity? Can we not promote their self-worth far better than political and religious fanatics?
We need to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and give shelter to the homeless. Races and cultures are shifting around the globe. Immigration is a fact of life. It is nothing new, but has now shifted into fast motion. So how do we deal with it in a rational and Christian way? Certainly we citizens of the United States should have a keen sensitivity to immigrants and the great migrations of people. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free….”
Jesus respected people and promoted their dignity and sense of self-worth. The key element in the narrative about the woman about to be stoned. He honored her self-worth. He restored her sense of self-worth. And, as I wrote in my reflection last week, the key element in the narrative of the Good Samaritan. These are not just old pious stories. They are exhortations about what should be part of our rule of life, if we really take Jesus seriously.
International dialogue and inter-religious dialogue must replace arrogant self-serving rhetoric. Our church communities should become centers of prayerful study and reflection. Centers of Christian excellence. What is the challenge of being a Jesus-person in our days of contemporary anxiety, change, and impending chaos? How can we be messengers of truth when all around us the media shout fabricated falsehoods; and exaggerated news stories so conveniently frighten and paralyze people?
Franklin Roosevelt said “You have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Jesus more importantly said “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”