In the wake of terrorist attacks in Paris, many people are wondering what to do--both personally and collectively. As Christians, we know that the powers of this world have already been defeated and that the kingdom of God is already among us, though it has clearly not yet been brought to completion. As Americans, we also know that radical Islamists consider us the enemy. So how ought we respond to calculating murderers who seem intent on trying to trigger World War III?
If we want to respond effectively to terrorism, here are four essential next steps:
- Pray for the terrorists. What if every Catholic in the world offered one Rosary per week for the conversion of radical Islam? If Christians around the world committed to saying the Lord's prayer once a day for someone in danger of being seduced by Islamist ideologies, wouldn't minds and hearts change?
After all, as difficult as it may sound, there is still only one way to break the cycle of violence: "love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you" (Lk 6:27-28).
- Expose the terrorists' ideologies. Wouldn't radical Islam be surprised to learn that their ideology has more in common with radical secularism than with true religion? Both the Islamist and the secular ideologies pledge total allegiance to their respective amoral visions of life. Both see themselves as the "end" of human history. Both are comfortable coercing the consciences of those who disagree with their truth claims, and both blithely justify using various forms of violence to achieve their goals and maintain their lifestyles.
Blind fideism and blind rationalism are two sides of the same proverbial coin, and neither can account for the fullness of human existence. Only a faith which is itself reasonable, or a human intellect which stands open to the transcendent, is worthy of reality itself.
- Refuse to resort to terror ourselves. Will we have the courage to recognize that using unjust means has never achieved the goal of lasting peace? If we have been complicit with evil in the past--trafficking in weapons sales, striking others "preemptively", rationalizing our own "collateral damage", etc.--then this is the time to repent. The desire to stand in solidarity with those who are suffering at the hands of the Islamic State, for example, should not lead us to act with an analogous barbarity.
- Welcome refugees from terror. Rather than allowing fear to drive us into a futile isolationism, what if we helped address the real needs of those who are really suffering? Christians have always looked for the face of Christ in those who are strangers, precisely when it seems to entail a risk. The reward for doing so will be great in the ultimate sense ("Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" [Mt 25:34]). But the benefits could be just as great in the proximate sense, since we would give witness to an alternative vision of life and we would help diffuse the very tensions created by escalating injustices.
All ideologies ultimately fall due to their own dead weight. Neither destruction nor deconstruction can ever create a civilization worthy of the human person.
Only the conversion of hearts and minds can offer a lasting alternative to terror, a flicker of light amid the darkness.