The outpouring around the world for the loss of life in Paris has been tremendous. Without trepidation, the people of Paris have defiantly returned to normalcy – eating at sidewalk cafes and mingling in the streets. They declare by their actions that their will to live is stronger than their enemies’ inclination to take life. I wonder what drives people to indiscriminately take life. America can feel no superior compunction since we lose 30,000 people annually to gun violence alone.
Still, what does Paris mean? I remember in the movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart tells his lost love Ingrid Bergman, “We’ll always have Paris.” In truth, we will. This murderous rampage has left an indelible scar on the souls of France, Europe and – yea – the world. Yet, while mourning the loss of 129 lives and injury to 352 people, we should be asking a deeper question: what drives men and women to kill and to bastardize the honest faith (Islam) of a billion people worldwide?
It is not Islam. People of faith everywhere should know better. People who willingly blame the religion for the distorted teachings of a few forget Christianity’s use as a tool of plunder, mayhem, enslavement and colonization that cost millions of lives. Any religious belief can be bent to the will of evil men. It is not God’s fault. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” So, whose fault is it?
It is ours because of the downfall of humanity into sin. James 4:1 says, “From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?” Each person who does not do his or her part to improve the world and teach our children good rather than evil bears a measure of blame. In the 21st Century, America has already fought two major wars to no effect. Where is the victory in Iraq or Afghanistan? Lives have been lost and the evil we sought to terminate has metastasized into a hatred that has splattered itself across the globe, making every nation a potential target.
In his Meditation XII, John Donne said, “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. Donne reminded us of our interconnectedness. Martin Luther King, Jr. mentioned in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail that, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” This is why we grieve for Paris and why the world grieved for Charleston South Carolina last summer. It is why the gun-driven rampages on college campuses unnerve us. Vaunted evil that expresses itself in violence impacts us all.
Paris – after the downing of the Russian airplane in the Egyptian desert and after the bombings in Lebanon and the recent hostage taking in Mali – is the latest manifestation of enduring sin. People are fleeing the Middle East who have known only war all these years. For people to be placed in the perpetual cauldron of war creates desperation. Violent outbursts have origins. They are symptoms of deeper problems. They are the result of frustrations that breed into hatred. For those who call for boots on the ground, my hope is that they, too, are willing to send more than the children of the middle and poor classes to war.
Jeffrey Dean Swain, Ph D., is Dean of Campus Ministry in the Susie C. Holley Religious Center at Florida Memorial University.