“The nation that makes too great a distinction between its scholars and its warriors will shortly find that it has its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools.”
The dust cloud from the terrorist attacks in Paris are still swirling, and remarkably little hard information has been forthcoming, which is not surprising given the chaos that must still be ensuing in the civil and military sectors in France. The social media and blogging worlds have been exploding, with political rants, calls for patience and compassion, calls for bloody vengeance, calls for everything from walls and nukes to peace and flowers. Everyone has ideas about what caused it (answer? Sin.) What could have prevented it (Answer? Virtue). How we can respond to it (Answer? Virtue).
I literally mean that, and before I continue on with this post looking at specifics, I want to pause to hammer home that sin is responsible for this. Not just the sins of the mullahs and their students (as of the last I heard, 22 minutes ago, ISIS has officially claimed responsibility and threatens further violence) but our sins. My sins. My sins of impatience, impurity, pride and anger contributed to the sum total of blackness in the world, and it is out of the maelstrom of evil that acts like these come. I am deadly serious about this. I have said it before and I continue to say it, if my first response is anything other than prayer, penance and renewal of commitment to personal virtue, then I am missing the point.
But there are a number of more specific factors involved. A host of people on social media have been saying, basically, “See? I told you so. Shouldn’t have let all those refugees inside your borders. Bet Donald Trump’s wall doesn’t sound so stupid now, does it?” They assume (without, as far as I can tell, a shred of evidence) that this catastrophe was caused by refugees.
On the other side people retort back “Um, guys, the folks who did this attack? Yeah, they are the ones the refugees are fleeing. Now do you understand why they were trying to make new lives elsewhere?” Again, they assume (also without a shred of proof) that the attack was not perpetrated or aided by former refugees.
Some of my conservative friends have jumped on the “Nuke Mecca” bandwagon (because mass murder will solve our problems). All of my liberal friends have been even faster to jump on the “Terrorism is not an Islamic issue” (Because we have so many examples of non-Islamic transnational terrorism). Some people want to close borders, build walls, and take the fight to the enemy. Others want to open dialogue, remove barriers to understanding and invite the enemy to come and express himself.
It occurred to me this morning that there are really only two possible Christian responses to this type of violence. I will call them the Knight and the Martyr, as a sort of shorthand. I saw further that the two polarized responses in vogue throughout the internet are nothing but caricatures of these two Christian responses.
First, the Knight. The knight is a warrior, first and foremost. He is not afraid to fight to protect the innocent, and he is not afraid to stand between the evil and the innocent. He is not afraid to kill evil men to stop them from doing evil things. The knight is a warrior, but also a pragmatist. He knows the limitations of warfare and is smart enough to observe that after 14 years of taking the fight to the enemy the problem still isn’t solved. He also knows that if you invite into your country massive numbers of people of the ethnic, geographic and religious origin that produced your most implacable foes, you run the risk of a few of those foes slipping in along with them. He therefore comes up with concrete ways to improve the security of the immigration process, and to limit the number of terrorists who slip through. He is well aware of the underlying causes of terrorism, such as poverty, religious extremism, indoctrination, violence against women and children and a culture of revenge, and he not only supports, but actively designs and implements long-term plans to mitigate these risk factors. However, being a warrior, he knows that when you are staring down the barrel of an AK-47, a plan to introduce irrigation and better agricultural techniques in the mountains of Afghanistan is not the correct response.
Second, the martyr. The martyr is the living face of love in the world. He is the one who looks at terrorist, serial killers, rapists, child molesters and drug dealers, and reminds us that they are human beings. They are people made in the image and likeness of God, souls for whom Jesus the Son of God lived, suffered, died and rose again. He is the one who reminds us that our lives may well be the price we have to pay for redeeming their souls, and that such a price is worth it, on the Eternal view of things. He seeks peace and reconciliation with enemies, but he has no illusions of safety. He knows that despite all the missionary efforts, humanitarian relief efforts, diplomatic outreach efforts and even prayer and sacrifice, there are no guarantees that the enemy will not continue to choose to hate. It is called free will. He also knows that when you are staring down the barrel of an AK-47, no amount of prayer and talking is likely to change your killer’s mind. He knows that in that situation, the Kinght has a better chance of surviving and of saving more lives.
It is here, at this moment, when faced with the threat of imminent violence, the only real difference between the Knight and the Martyr appears. The knight fights and kills the enemy to save the innocent. The Martyr prays and dies to redeem the guilty. Up until that point both work for peace, both work for security, both work for peaceful resolution and understanding. The Knight does so with a gun at his side to signify his readiness to stop evil acts in their tracks. The Marty does so unarmed and defenseless to signify his readiness to die for his enemy.
The beauty of this way of looking at things is the realization that these are not mutually exclusive options. The knight can choose not to fight if he thinks that it is only his life at stake and he is likely to have a greater impact by his sacrifice than by his victory. The martyr can support and pray for the warrior, and can even resist in defense of others even if he would not do so in his own defense.
The two approaches that we see in the media are bastardizations of these two. The conservative war monger idolizes security at the expense of charity, and the liberal peace and understanding guru elevates non-violence at the expense of common sense. Both make the same mistake, which is that they want to be safe.
There is no safety in this world. There never has been, there never will be. We are all dead men (except for the feminists who are dead women), and the only choice open to us is how we meet that end. The knight fights because he wishes to extend the lives of the innocent, the martyr dies because he wants to redeem the souls of the guilty, but neither is under any illusions. The knight knows that those he protects will one day die in their turn, and because of that he will not risk eternal damnation for the sake of a temporary good. He will engage only in just war. He is not surprised when he fails.
The martyr knows that once he chooses the path of non-violence, he has abandoned all right to ask for protection, or to seek safety. He further knows that it is not a choice he can make for anyone but himself. A government cannot choose the path of martyrdom for its people, nor a priest for his flock, nor a father for his family. The choice of martyrdom must always be an individual one. He has no right to be surprised, shocked or indignant when he is slaughtered.
By contrast the conservative and the liberal are both perpetually shocked, because neither has really come to terms with death. Both are trying to push it away, or make it disappear, one by building a wall and nuking bad guys, the other by handing out flowers and seeking mutual understanding. Both expect temporal success because without an eternal view that is all they have to work for, and when both inevitably fail (the terrorists sneak past the wall, or lo and behold they pop up at home) they both blame the other for hampering them.
“If only it weren’t for those damned bleeding heart liberals. Just let us loose and we’ll sort this out for once and all!”
“If only you bloody war-mongers would just shut up and stop antagonizing the poor ISIS people. You’re making us all look like rednecks and cowboys and now no one will listen to us.”
Buck the trend people. Look death in the eye and accept it as either a knight or a martyr, and go out and do good things. Live every day as if it was your last, because it might be. Build up your faith and let go of your fear. Exercise love towards those closest to you, as well as those farthest away.