January 8 is France’s 9/11: the day that two worldviews collided.
It happened in Paris. Islamic extremists killed 17 people, mostly in the offices of Charlie Hebdo (Charlie Weekly) because of a series of cartoons the newspaper had published mocking the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, hundreds of thousands of French protestors filled the streets of the major cities of France carrying signs stating, We Are Charlie. And we’ll come back to that.
On January 8, the world witnessed the head-on collision of the pronounced secularism of France and the Allah-centric worldview of radical Islam. Long ago, France adopted a secularist understanding of reality, so its civic life is based on reason as opposed to religion, on rationalism as opposed to revelation. Secular is the opposite of sacred. Since the end of the French Revolution, this country has attempted to build all of its institutions on the principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity without any reference to God. January 8 illustrated this approach won’t work.
First, what happened in the offices of Charlie Hebdo was not just an act of terror designed to garner maximum publicity and produce mass fear. The attack was a tragic demonstration of the clash between radical Islam and western secularism. Did you notice that as the shooting spree was taking place, the assailants were not shouting, We hate the free press? Instead they cried, repeatedly, the Arabic call Allahu Akbar, or God is great.
Second, what happened in Paris is of monumental importance. The New York Times featured an article entitled, ‘Dangerous Moment’ for Europe, as Fear and Resentment Grow. The essay quoted Olivier Roy, a scholar of Islam and Islamic radicalism, who recognizes the Paris assault as a quantitative and therefore qualitative turning point…This was a maximum-impact attack. They did this to shock the public, and in that sense they succeeded. The question, of course, is whether or not France and Europe will heed this significant salvo in what is increasingly becoming understood as a religious war.
But how do secularists understand and combat opponents driven by their theology? Perhaps you had hardly heard of Charlie Hebdo before January 8. I didn’t know much of the content of this far-left publication before the shootings took place, but a quick Google investigation shows why Charlie Hebdo is best described as pornographic satire. The cartoons featured in the publication are vulgar, salacious, and sacrilegious. Any religious conviction—anything other than pure secularism—is fair game. Read what George Weigel wrote for First Things:
I won’t describe its cover cartoon lampooning the doctrine of the Trinity after the Catholic bishops of France had opposed so-called “gay marriage”; if that cover was not pornographic, than the word pornographic has no meaning.
Weigel went on to say this:
If all that Europe can say in condemning the despicable murders of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonists and editors is “We are all Charlie Hebdo,” then what Europe is saying is, in effect, “We are all nihilists.”
“Liberty, equality, fraternity” can be a noble slogan, bespeaking noble aspirations. But freedom, justice, and human solidarity cannot be grounded in nihilism. If all Europe is Charlie Hebdo, then Europe is doomed.
Further commentary is found—interestingly enough—on the back of an American dollar bill. Under the pyramid are the words novus ordo seclorum (“a new order for the ages”). The phrase—from the framers of the U.S. Constitution—testifies to the uniqueness of what is often called the American Experiment. The framers tried to steer a middle course between the secularism simmering in Europe and the Puritan vision for life found in the colonies. These Puritans wanted their colonies to be heaven on earth with compulsory church attendance and mandatory Sabbath keeping, but the Enlightenment thinkers in Europe wanted emancipation from all things sacred. The framers of the Constitution settled for a mixture of the two: one part mushy Protestantism, two parts reason, one part deism. Stir these together and you get the American Experiment: we have been free to believe whatever we want to believe and practice any religion we choose or no religion at all. But we also believe that every man and woman has been endowed with certain inalienable rights given them by nature (reason) and by nature’s God (religion).
We Americans have lived fairly well with the tension between God and reason for over two hundred years, but in the past fifty years the balance has unquestionably tilted toward reason, toward the secular. We modern-day Americans are making every effort to live without God. Starting in the early 1960s, we outlawed prayer in public schools, neutered obscenity laws, accepted no-fault-divorce, and legalized abortion. Presently we are seeing religious freedoms curtailed and erotic freedom taking precedence. The new order for the ages increasingly looks like the ribald and perverted world of Charlie Hebdo. We are living in a society where everything is permitted except the conviction that God has something to say about what is permitted.
All this to say, we who love and serve Jesus cannot proclaim, We are Charlie, as the French protestors did. We believers steer a different course than that of radical secularism, which seeks to impose its tenets on everything and everyone in its path. We also repudiate religious extremism, which uses the sword to force submission to Allah. Consider, for instance, that Mohammed said, Whoever curses a Prophet, kill him. Whoever curses my Companions, beat him. In contrast, Jesus said, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5:44). Christians are concerned about blasphemy, but when we hear the secularist blaspheme the God of the universe, we will respond with prayer, persuasion, and the offer of God’s free grace rather than bombs and beheadings. Where we find those seeking to impose sharia law, we will impose the law of love (Romans 13:8-10). While our society increasingly slouches toward Gomorrah, we long for a better country, and we will live as if we are already there (Hebrews 11:16).
Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, weighed in shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. He urged Christians to understand both the times in which we live and the importance of our theological convictions:
We are living in a world growing more dangerous by the day. That world—the real world—is a world of clashing ideologies and conflicting worldviews. The real world is also a world in which theology always matters, and a world in which an empty secular worldview is no match for an Islamic theology set on conquest and driven by revenge.
We are, indeed, not Charlie. We are ambassadors of God’s kingdom, waiting for a better country and hopeful for his speedy return. We pray as the early church prayed: Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!