We are all aware of the horror of the terrorist attacks in recent years and of the senseless attack outside the mosque in Finsbury Park, London. It is inspiring how brave those who work in the emergency services are and how strong the community support has been in all these cases. As Christians, though, there are some issues concerning Islamist terrorism that are rarely aired on the national media. The fanatical belief systems of these fundamentalists is characterised as ‘medieval’ (e.g. in https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/03/what-isis-really-wants/384980/) , used here in the sense of being centuries out of date and repressive, contrasted with the ‘liberated’ society in which we live in the West. However, this superficial characterisation fails to realise just how developed and stable the medieval West was, precisely because of a coherent, comprehensive theological vision in which humans had their true dignity under God’s providence.
Commentators seem to take the view that all religions, more properly all world views, can and should co-exist without confrontation, but this fails to address the contradictions between opposing world views. Practising moderate Muslims, for instance, are as appalled by the sexualization of the young as faithful Christians, yet that is a view that is intrinsically opposed to the laissez-faire sexual licence embraced by Western governments. The media hounded Tim Farron for his Christian views; they did not regard it as acceptable for him to hold views other than those of the political elite, or the majority, Similarly, our belief in the personhood of the unborn child and the sanctity of their lives enables us to see abortion as a sin crying to heaven for justice, not merely some privately held opinion; for us it is most definitely not “a woman’s choice”.
What most commentators fail to realise is that our sense of common humanity with rights, responsibilities and liberties, has its roots precisely in the Christian West whose theological history they so vilify. For us in the Faith movement, the Incarnation of Christ, God made Man, is precisely the specific concretization of the infinite wisdom through which God created the world from the beginning. Christ reveals God to us but also reveals humanity to us, hence this movement’s use so often of the biblical title “Son of Man”. The future of human civilization is in becoming more truly loving and ‘human’ in the sense in which Jesus Christ has revealed us to ourselves. This will include a strong sense of personal sin, not as the mere breaking of some arbitrary laws but as as a sort of self-mutilation in the disfigurement of our true, originally sinless humanity.
The Church speaks with Christ’s own authority on faith and morals and evils such as abortion, casual sex, the culture (or ‘anti-culture’) of recreational drugs, binge-drinking, and pornography. These matters are hugely important in our debate with those who see the West as decadent and arrogant in its declarations that modern Western culture is the only one permissible. What sets us apart in our analysis, however, is the Incarnation. The God whom Christ reveals is one to whom we can only gain access by love. That love is not some vague feeling or looking after people in our community, important though that is; it is by following Christ’s teaching, living out as closely as possible the manner of His perfect loving, that we attain heaven: “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” [Jn 14:21].
Of course it would be naïve to assume that sitting down with ISIS terrorists would produce a quick change of heart, but a fearless, coherent defence of orthodox Christian belief about the human person, human love and thus human society is essential and is, at present, generally lacking even among church leaders. We need to reclaim the Christian roots of what is good in Western civilisation and be much stronger in our own defence of sexual and social morality, especially when engaging in discussion in the public forum. A coherent philosophy of the human person, clearly expressed and debated, will yield much fruit, not least in a greater understanding with Muslims of good will and pure heart, of whom there are many- Peace be upon them!
May / June 2018
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