You could almost hear the collective groan throughout the Western World: "Oh no, here we go again," as reports came in of yet another massacre done in the name of militant Islam.
Without even reading the newspapers you know that the responses will be the same – people demonstrating in solidarity, governments and columnists telling us not to demonize all Muslims and a general sense of outrage being exploited by various right wing groups.
All understandable. However I have been surprised by another aspect that shows a more complex and worrying side to our society.
I am currently in Australia and my paper of choice is the Sydney Morning Herald. Today's letters page and several columnists make the same point. It's religion that's the problem. All religion. One woman wrote: "If only we were all humanists, what a wonderful world we would live in." Another man took the opportunity to call for all religious schooling (which effectively means all Christian schooling) to be banned. Because apparently there is a direct link between Islamic fundamentalists in Paris killing cartoonists and Anglicans teaching children in Sydney.
And it's not just in Australia's Herald. Scotland's version ran a similar comment piece that made a link between Charlie Hebdo, the execution of an atheist 500 years ago in Scotland, and those who are opposed to euthanasia today. Apparently our politicians are "brave" because they resist the Churches' stance on same sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia. And those of us who are 'religious' are all to be lumped together as a danger to society. The Herald (Scottish version) did not of course publish the cartoons that led to the massacre (now that would have been brave solidarity) – instead it played into the militants' hands by linking Methodists with Muslim fundamentalists. The atheistic secularists just cannot help themselves. They exploit every tragedy to push their ABC (Anything But Christianity) agenda.
Many times I have been presented with the mantra of the New Fundamentalist Atheists, "Atheists don't fly planes into buildings". To which the obvious response is "Neither do Presbyterians, Anglicans, Catholics or charismatics – not even the most extremist wacko charismatics. When did you last hear of Benny Hinn suicide squads?" But those who don't think about the consequences and harm of their prejudices far too often rush into this demonization of all religious people.
Meanwhile the Guardian was 'brave' as it published examples of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Yet they did not publish the cartoons that were the actual cause of the attacks – instead they published ones attacking the Pope. Doubtless they will also be 'brave' and publish numerous articles in the next few weeks on how we need to avoid Islamophobia and how at the same time we need to tar all religions with the same brush and marginalise them all.
I have noticed this tendency among many of the liberal intelligentsia to portray themselves as brave because they attack all religions in general (carefully avoiding any offence to the one that would actually have some consequences for them), or because they create meaningless awards that cost themselves nothing, for those who really are brave. The publishers and staff of Charlie Hebdo were indeed brave, knowing that what they did could endanger their lives. Those who salute their bravery and then refuse to imitate their actions, but instead use their memory to further their own agenda, are cowards.
And it is a cowardice that has consequences. Despite all the boasts about how "we will not be intimidated" the fact is that most of the mainstream media will be intimidated. The BBC and most newspapers in the UK would not dare to publish such cartoons. That is understandable, but it would be better if they did not boast about how brave they are and then take out their frustrations and sick sense of humour on other religions that won't kill them. Today I noticed that one secular society did not publish the cartoons but did publish a grossly sick and offensive sexual cartoon about all the major religious figures in the world – except, of course, Mohammed. Perversity, irrationality and cowardice combined.
I find it disturbing the way it has become standard practice for some people to use others' tragic stories in order to exploit and further their own agenda. Take for example the tragic story of Joshua Ryan Alcorn, the transgender teenager who committed suicide. I have lost count of the number of articles pontificating about this case, demonizing the parents and offering simplistic solutions. The argument is simplistic: if only if it were not for religion there would be no confused and messed up teenagers. If Stonewall and the British Humanists could just be in charge of educating us all then teenage angst, confusion and suicide would just disappear!
According to Richard Dawkins and his acolytes in the chattering classes, all religious upbringing is a form of child abuse. Teaching a child, 'Jesus loves me this I know' and 'All things bright and beautiful" is just the first step towards setting them on a career as a religious terrorist.
And those of us who are Christians need to be careful that we do not fall into this cynical trap as well. Yes – those who murdered the Paris 12 did so at least in part because they were motivated by a desire to protect Mohammed, but that does not mean that I have to start being concerned that my Muslim neighbours are building bombs in their backyard. I should be concerned about them coming to know the prophet that is greater than Mohammed and who is the real bringer of peace.
Equally, while it is true that there have been atheists who have killed or attacked Christians because of our faith, that does not mean that we are to regard every atheist as a potential Stalin. Instead every atheist needs to be seen as a potential Christian.
While some of our media and atheistic commentators may use the Charlie Hebdo tragedy to further their own prejudices and agenda, we must not respond in a similar fashion. As Christians we are concerned about truth, even when it is uncomfortable and we are to respond in love, even when it is difficult.
Meanwhile we mourn for the families and friends of those who have been murdered. We hope and pray that these tragic events will not be used to create even greater evil and we ask that God would intervene and not leave us to our own devices. Because right now we are not making too good a job of governing the world in truth, justice and peace.