In response to the Islamist terrorist atrocity on Monday night in Manchester, in which 22 innocent people died and 59 have been injured, some severely, so many questions arise: why wasn’t the suicide bomber apprehended earlier (there had been several complaints to the police about his behaviour)? Are sporadic acts of Islamist terrorism now a fact of life in Europe in the future? Is the misplaced ideology of multiculturalism to blame for this act of outrage and others like it? Can we confidently make a distinction between Islam that is peaceful and Islamism that isn’t?
These are natural human questions. But as Christians we have to ask other, deeper and more personal ones. I have been reading the chapter “Blessed are the peacemakers” in Dietrich von Hildebrand’s book Transformation Christ as a way of moving beyond the highly disquieting news in the media with all the anxious questions that flow from it.
As the author says, to imitate Christ necessarily involves a love of peace and “a horror of all forms of discord, disunion and dissension”. But that in itself is not enough: to love peace is to act in a way that will help to bring it about. “Ignoring objective evils does not establish true peace”; nor does a “passive tolerance of evil”, through moral cowardice or sloth. At an individual level this means that we have” to draw [our enemy’s] attention to the wrong he has done us.” It also means engaging with the wider society and for the same purpose.
As von Hildebrand points out, “Cowardly acquiescence is not the love of peace”. True peace can only be found in close communion with Christ. This relationship alone will give us the strength to “possess, irradiate and spread peace.” We cannot always avoid suffering in this world but we can at least show others what the peace of Christ means in our lives. It calls for courage as well; in particular the courage to point out that what society calls “tolerance” is often the opposite. Christian values are not always the same as “British values” – as Christians have learned to their cost.
How does being a Christian translate into the public sphere? We have to show others that our faith is transformative; that it gives us the strength to oppose violence and to stand up for what we believe, such as fighting against injustice, especially the injustice done to the unborn, and in support of the dignity of women, for example their right not to undergo forced marriage, as can happen within the Muslim community.
As von Hildebrand reminds us, true peace cannot be achieved by turning a blind eye to what we, as Christians, know to be wrong.
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