Thoughts on Paris

So every blogger worth his or her salt apparently has to chime on the Paris attacks. I’m more of a respectful silence type person (hence the delay in writing, I could never be a news reporter) but a lot of people have been asking me what I think about the attacks. So instead of answering them all, I thought I’d be lazy and write one answer and refer whoever asks me back to that one answer.

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As a disclaimer, this is going to be brutally honest, which is to say I don’t expect it to be very popular.

For starters, it’s such a tragedy. I imagine those would be some scary last moments to have if you were a victim. And terrorism of any kind is alarming to me because to make terror especially effective you must target the innocent and unsuspecting, making everyone feel vulnerable because most people fall into that category as they go about living their daily lives. And I honestly wonder about the type of evil that makes a person capable of desiring that, the total annihilation of others.

The outpouring of social media support was nice, but I also found it a bit upsetting, because so many innocent civilians in the middle east lose their lives at the hands of terrorist organizations and live with that daily threat,p but we (the Western world, where I broadcast from) have come to expect that from the middle east, and don’t pay much attention to it anymore. Yet that de-sensitization would never do for our fellow western countries such as France. And I was disappointed as I watched public feeling transition from genuine concern to jump-on-the-bandwagon status updates and Tweets, as it so often does in incidents that receive major news coverage. It just really rubs me the wrong way when people use their support of a tragedy or cause as a way to draw attention to themselves. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s in poor taste.

I also think it’s ironic how everyone writes pieces anticipating a hatred of Islam with that trite slogan: “terrorism has no religion.” I agree with that sentiment, and believing that all Muslims have terrorist sympathies is like believing that all Christians have problems with the Starbucks Red Cup (although the same bloggers who encouraged me to be open-minded with Islam I highly doubt will return the favor with my Christianity example, it’s just the way of the world). Because it is an injustice to scapegoat and demonize the Muslim community as a whole because of the actions of a more extreme sect. But when it comes to these “writers” I honestly imagine them opening their laptops and saying to themselves, “I’m going to preemptively respond to a massive stereotype that all Americans are ignorant and bigoted (especially those Christian ones) towards Muslims and encourage them not to indulge in stereotypes because that is bad and small minded. But I’m not small-minded for doing the exact same thing because I went to college where I learned that they key to engaging in stereotypes is to only indulge in the socially acceptable ones.”

It would be one thing if you saw prejudice happening in your community and wanted to respond, because I’m not naive enough to believe that it doesn’t happen, but I hope you could tell from the context that that was not the case in the articles I read. More to the point, this idea of tolerance, though well intentioned and important to keep in mind, is also dangerous because it often yields an opposite extreme where people refuse to acknowledge this radical interpretation of Islam as a problem out of fear of giving offense. The danger being that we prefer to see these incidents as the actions of a few random radicals who were marginalized by society and got swept up in a cause etc. (you know the narrative), which in my opinion completely underestimates these men and women and their movement. Because part of their passion and dedication comes from the fact that they are thinking eternally and seeking to glorify themselves and/or their God Allah by killing as many infidels as possible and cleansing the earth of it’s impurities. Their strategy is not purely military because they are not, like our opponents in the past, seeking the destruction of a specific, quantifiable end; the overarching goal is merely to kill any and all infidels, any time and any place, the more the better. In other words, with this strategy you don’t even have to win the war, so long as your battles kill infidels. And for this kind of strategy such dedication and strong networking is important, and I would argue has been very effective because new recruits keep refilling the shoes the shoes of the suicide bombers.

While I do think there is a persistent and calculated effort to amass power and influence in the hopes of eventually eradicating any and all dissenting parties, the greatest difficulty in combatting this effort will be its subtlety, in that the movement will not come galloping into the light to declare war but instead lurk in the shadows of fear and terror tactics, waiting as the wear and tear of disorientation takes its toll. And unfortunately I believe the Western world is guilty of almost poetical hubris in not taking these threats seriously by framing them through their own worldviews and failing to realize that to these terrorists an infidel is less than human and they will not abide by the old rules of military conduct, nor can they be so easily targeted and taken out in one massive display of strength and a conclusive sweeping victory. And I only pray that world leaders will use true wisdom as they determine an appropriate response to combat the new threat, rather than the old ones.

However, ultimately in any tragedy I see the worst of humanity and the best of humanity coexisting side by side. And I will always choose to look at the good. Because no matter what happens in the world, whatever darkness lingers on the horizon I am not afraid because the world has already been overcome and I will live to see the day when the darkness reigns no more. And so, my friends, will you.

The Religion Crisis

So this post is about the religion crisis.

And it’s not quite the same religion crisis the media or even the religious press gets all jazzed about, especially in light of recent events. No, the crisis I’m talking about is much more personal.

The crisis I’m talking about I actually first noticed in the comment section of some article I was reading, and the commentator was a sixteen-year-old girl who was raised Catholic and had a serious fear of going to hell. Now don’t you dare make fun of her, I think a lot of us have that insecurity and I think that also explains why most of us try to place death as far from our minds as possible.

The idea of eternal judgment can be a bit terrifying, and I think many a weak intellectual rejects it simply because they don’t like the idea at all (I say weak intellectuals not to imply that they are stupid, merely that they lack strong philosophical debating skills). Because it’s a very proud person who will assert a premise that boldly states something is not true merely because he doesn’t like it, as if I could will away Abercrombie and Fitch’s existence because it doesn’t fit my idea of what a clothing store should be (if only).

Anyway, this poor girl had herself in knots. And it made me really sad. Because even though she’s gone to Catholic schools and has some idea of God and hears the word God thrown around all over the internet and mainstream media outlets, she does not know God.

Now I am twenty-four years old. I still have much to learn about God, as He is infinite and I honestly believe you could spend all eternity getting to know God and that each second would be better than the last. But more to the point, it breaks my heart when people don’t think God loves them. In fact I’ve come across the following attitudes while blogging (and I’m still pretty new at it):

“God doesn’t love me because I’ve made so many mistakes and always break His rules”

“God doesn’t love me because I’m not religious”

“God doesn’t love me because God is not love He is wrath and what kind of moron believes that?” (This moron!)

You get the idea…

And the reason these attitudes are so particularly heartbreaking is because you must believe God loves you if you ever hope to have any sort of a relationship with Him. In the United States, I can’t speak for other countries, there is the prevailing notion of the self-made man. That success goes to the worthy, that we figure things out on our own, that we’re independent and don’t need anyone else. Not to insult the purple mountain majesties or amber waves of grain, but in our workaholic modern world this idea has evolved from owning your own land and having a roof over your head to include what I will call the Hollywood lifestyle. A succession of the ultimate luxuries where you are the center of the universe and have every worldly thing a human could possibly want. And they wave this dream over our heads as something so tantalizingly out of our reach, but could be ours if we dedicate enough to whatever dream will get us there. (I would encourage you to dream on, but that’s a separate article.)

But this worldview comes into a direct clash with Christian morality, the epitome of selfless love (as opposed to the world’s selfish indulgence). And every person really gets a choice on where they will seek their satisfaction, in love or in themselves. And to finally bring this back around before you think I’ve totally lost my topic, most people do not understand Christian morality in that way. They see Christian morality as a set of rules, a set of angrily shouted Bible verses of condemnation and woe, with God as their merciless final judge, and they proceed to reject it in some way.

Some people get anxious like the girl who wrote the comment. Some people get angry at God, for being that way when they can find it in them to forgive. Some people place barriers, thinking who is God to judge them anyway? Some people give up because they know they can’t follow these rules perfectly. Again you get the idea, they mistrust the nature of God (if He even exists) and place distance between themselves and God, which I know must break his Fatherly heart.

And yet though these responses to God are very different (and I’m sure it’s possible to feel any number of combinations) the overall result of these responses is strikingly similar. The moderns create a strange alternative. A formless, rule barren religion-ish movement based on a vague universal love where anything goes and everyone is free as a bird. It’s a religion-ish movement that believes in only general human decency and the accumulation of knowledge but is devoid of the most important thing actual religion has to offer: a relationship. And not just any relationship, a relationship with God Himself. And because of how misrepresented God is in today’s day and age people write that relationship off as if it were nothing when in fact, it is everything. Because whether you’ve realized it yet or not, God is everything you’ve been after, everything you’ve always wanted in your soul (and He even cares about your externals too, everything that matters to you matters to God because He loves you).

And I say this not just because I both love God and enjoy His company, but because this hazy universalism is a cheap substitute. It will not satisfy the girl who made the comment, nor will it calm her fears or make her feel whole, and it will not fully explain the mysterious connection she feels to her fellow human beings. Only God can do those things. And she’s too afraid to begin that conversation because of the lies that surround God and the people who choose to worship Him. That is the real religion crisis, and we are not blameless in it.

It’s not just the media’s fault that religion of any kind has a bad reputation, it also has to do with us and the compromises we make with the world: likening heaven to some happy suburbia and marriage to a big party where the bride acts like a princess for a very expensive day. Insisting that the primary purpose of religion should be the feelings you get from the sermon… In a word, blending when we were meant to stand out so that anyone feeling lost and afraid like the girl who made this comment would be able to look at us and see the light of the truth from the way that we live. The truth that we are joyful not because we are perfect, not because we have all the answers, but because we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and that He will always love us (even though we don’t deserve it) because that is who He truly is and that is what He died to prove to us. The God of the cosmos who became a baby so that His children would no longer be afraid of the dark, but bask in the light of redemption. That those looking from the outside might recognize this divine reality that makes us true brothers and sisters, our universally shared belief that God will be true to His every promise and bring us safely home to heaven, where we were always meant to be.

Because true evangelization, sharing of this good news, is not about merely winning over people’s minds, culture, or media (although I’m sure it helps). If we really want to solve the religion crisis we must first allow God to enter our own hearts and minds that we might be ready to extend His invitation to all to come and join our family. Because before anyone could accept such an invitation from us they would have to genuinely believe us when we tell them the only truth that can overcome the hardness of the human heart, the same thing that I attempted to tell this girl so that she would not be afraid anymore:

“God loves you, and so do I.”