How To Think About The Unthinkable

Yesterday evening, I left work and hurried to the subway station. As my train rumbled close, I bolted up the stairs  in a frantic attempt to catch it. As per usual, I missed it by about thirty seconds.

But even as I stood shivering on the windy platform, I wasn’t sad. A few minutes standing idle waiting for the next train would be perfect for catching up on news, social media, and non-work email. I opened up my phone.

Right away, headlines about Paris. Terror attacks, unfolding live. Coordinated violence targeting venues crowded with civilians, in the heart of a major city. Exactly what has been feared and predicted. Exactly what we have wanted to prevent.

Though the details were sketchy, it was very clear that these were acts of terrorism: survivors recounted the perpetrators shouting religious slogans.

Whether the motivation is religious, political, or personal, violence must be condemned. These acts must be denounced, and protective measures undertaken.

But from there, what? We, humanity, seem to be stuck in an endless spiral of hate.

One of the best articles I’ve read on how to approach violence and terrorism outlines some basic diplomatic steps that make a lot of sense. John Morehead wrote this piece for Christianity Today after a different terror event in 2014, and yes, it is based on Christian values.

I always hesitate to mention religion for fear of losing some of my readers. Many are doctors or other healthcare providers: scientists of the human body. I know very well that many of these colleagues are, at best, casually engaged with faith, if not frankly agnostic. And those that do practice religion may very well not be Christian. Start throwing around phrases like “Christian values” in your blog, and – click!- there goes a chunk of your audience.

But what is religion other than a moral framework to guide our thoughts and actions? Without a moral framework, humans are not much better than animals. And we need a moral framework to make sense of the horrors of yesterday in Paris,  to be able to move forward.

Many say that religion itself is at the heart of the violence, but that is a superficial view. People rationalize horrible acts in many ways: war in the name of democracy, execution in the name of just punishment, violence in the name of God. Per Morehead:

“….we should pause for some difficult self-reflection. Is it possible that we…. have been too quick to sanction the sword, often in the name of promoting freedom and democracy?”

He offers three steps: Promote peace, learn about other faiths, and create interfaith relationships. These peaceful, diplomatic steps may, indeed, be more powerful than military retaliation.

Think about it.


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