Yesterday, my mom told me about the report that French officials suppressed evidence that ISIS terrorists tortured victims during the Paris attacks. It was the first I’d heard of it (given my newfound commitment to disconnect from social media, I’m not up-to-the-minute on news!), and I’ve been shaken ever since.
The details are gory and horrific, and their suppression by government authorities and the media worrisome and disturbing. What else don’t we know?
On the one hand, I can understand the decision not to disclose such jubilant cruelty. Rather than stiffen the resolve of freedom-loving peoples to resist ISIS terrorism, triumphant evil like that might actually weaken our resolve. I think of the test that suggested 90 percent of 13-year-old Italians would readily cave to terrorist demands if an ISIS member showed up at the door and demanded conversion to Islam.
On the other hand, the publicization of the barbarism of these rampaging, murderous men might lead to the kind of soul-searching we need to arrive at a true and deep conviction to overwhelm their distorted worldview with an active avowal of truth, goodness and beauty!
Certainly, as I shivered last night at the thought of what those poor Parisian victims endured, I searched my own soul and prayed for the grace to cling to Christ no matter what threats to faith exist at home and abroad.
As tempting as it is to interpret the “signs of the times” in an alarmist, apocalyptic key, and as wise as it is to be prepared to die, we really needn’t and shouldn’t anguish or agonize over the possibility or probability of martyrdom, over whether we’re prepared to suffer and die for the faith. I was about to go down that road last night: “I’d die for Christ, but would I be tortured for Him? Would I maintain my peace and equilibrium to the last like Saint Agnes and Saint Agatha? Or would I cave?”
Then, I remembered, as I heard recently, “There is no hypothetical grace.” We receive grace in the present moment, which means we need only to be faithful in this moment to have hope that we will be faithful in the next, whatever it brings. For most American Christians, the present moment does not bring martyrdom, but it often brings tedious temptations to envy, sloth, gluttony, lust, irritability, impatience and other mundane vices — the resistance of which also trains the will to choose Christ in any and all circumstances. Choose Him now and don’t worry too much about the future!
That said, I’ve had the same two thoughts after every recent outbreak of violence, from the beheading right here in Oklahoma to the attacks in faraway Paris, San Bernardino, Orlando and Nice. Christians can begin right now a two-pronged, proactive and reactive approach to contend with ISIS (although, ultimately, contention with ISIS cannot and should not be the motivation to do either; the first must be motivated by love, the second by prudence):
- We can share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to “recruit” young people to transcendent beliefs that are true, good and beautiful and that yield peaceable rather than violent fruit.
- We can educate ourselves in the habits of “preparedness” so that we are not paralyzed by fear should we ever happen to find ourselves smack-dab in the midst of an outbreak of violence.
As William Kilpatrick summarizes so nicely in this Crisis article, “The ideological struggle with Islam is in large part a spiritual struggle. It will be won by those with the deepest faith and strongest convictions.” The best way to prepare for it, then, is to deepen our own faith and strengthen our own convictions — to recover, in other words, the inheritance of Western civilization that so many postmoderns have spurned and to keep it alive for future generations.
Again, we need to evangelize, evangelize, evangelize! If that word has too much of a connotation of “proselytism” for you, think of it as “recruiting,” as I wrote above, instead! That’s what ISIS does. (Have you seen the SNL skit about how quickly they’re growing? I don’t know what I think about it.) The members of ISIS are so successful at recruiting, directing and inspiring people to act because they really believe what they say they believe and they’re offering people the opportunity to live and die for something larger than themselves.
Even if I were an atheist, I’d be hoping to the God I didn’t believe in that every peaceable Christian denomination out there would begin to evangelize with evermore vim and vigor! As Christians who really do believe that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, we have no excuse for not sharing the Good News — with all its implications for temporal and eternal human flourishing — every single chance we get!
As to the question of preparedness: We need not even discuss guns (although I will very briefly below) to admit that most of us could and should be more mentally prepared to escape from or combat violence should the need to do so ever be thrust upon us. These attacks should no longer surprise us, and, to some sad, sorry extent, we should expect them.
Read up on the basics, as the littlest change in habits could save your life or the lives of others. I’m no expert and I’m not claiming to be, but, from what I’ve read so far, it seems like most experts recommend something along the lines of the following: When you enter a building, immediately scan for the exits. Resolve to run for an exit as quickly as you can at the first sound of any kind of commotion. If you’re not near an exit, hide. If you can’t hide, be courageous and do something crazy (in a shooting, for example, “something courageous” would be to charge the shooter). In other words, go down fighting.
Nice has shown us that the game will always change (charging a van would be next to useless unless you can leap like an action movie hero!), but we can still cultivate vigilance and awareness.
If you live in a gun-friendly state like Oklahoma, then educate yourself about guns and make an informed decision about whether you want to own one and/or carry one.
Even as you do these things, though, be at peace. None of us will get out of here alive. As Saint Teresa so profoundly reminds us, “Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God. God alone is sufficient.”