Aftermath of the Paris Terrorist Attacks

Jesus turns to Pilate and says, “…for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18: 33-37) The words of Jesus are always a reference point for us particularly so when our life experience is difficult and when we struggle to find meaning and discern a way forward into the future. Jesus stands before Pilate and is himself to face a very violent and cruel death.

In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks and Friday’s attack in Bamako in Mali, we have in this past week all born witness to so many violent images. Pictures of carnage, of fear and anxiety from our screens and newspapers crowd our minds, leaving us all feeling shocked and numbed and even paralysed in such a way as it is difficult to think about anything else. Many religious leaders, including our own Bishops in this Diocese, have condemned these attacks as evil. Evil is a strong word used to describe that which triumphs in death and destruction. Evil is sadistic – something which deliberately sets out to harm – its intent is to diminish life – a perversity which derives status and even pleasure in victimising. It demonises what is good and innocent and glorifies what is essentially life denying. It tears down. It never builds up.

Amidst our own fears and anxieties around our own national and personal security, we have stood alongside the traumatised and the bereaved. Our thoughts have turned to prayer – to holding before God in empathy our brothers and sisters in France and in Belgium and in Mali. We stand shoulder to shoulder with those for whom evil has become an ever present threat to a way of life that is committed to freedom of expression and tolerance of diversity. This was perhaps most clearly symbolised for us this week when the High Altar in our own Cathedral was draped in the colours of the French flag – a symbol of our solidarity.

The threat of evil is a universal threat. It requires a constant vigilance if it is to be checked. As Christian people we have a very effective weapon with which to defend a vulnerable humanity – we have the words of Jesus, “I came into the world to testify to the truth.”

Truth is the ultimate tool with which to expose evil. Evil declares that some people are less equal than others. Truth declares that we are all made in the image of God and that every man and every woman is a child of God. Evil declares that vulnerable people, mentally ill people, should be used and abused and radicalised into becoming suicide bombers. Truth declares that each and every individual is to be equally respected and helped to achieve their full potential on the road to an ever growing maturity. Evil declares that difference in religious belief and practice should be used to divide and antagonise communities. Truth declares that we are better together and are enriched by different cultures and different traditions living alongside each other. Evil promotes segregation, narrow fundamentalist thinking and ultimately death. Truth promotes unity, open questioning and thinking. Truth enables life.

In the face of grotesque violence and loss of life, Jesus stood for truth. “Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.”

As we face these uncertain times, as we contemplate the possibility of more outrageous terrorist attacks, potentially here in our own country, we must hold to the virtue of truth as taught us by our Lord. We must hold ever fast to values that are not only good for ‘me’ but are good for ‘everyone’. Such values build relationships, builds communities, builds countries that are strong and safe and offers an environment for the flourishing of the whole of the human family.