For most of us, French was the first foreign language we learned and our history lessons were full of our – often robust – relations with the French, writes Rev Sydney Maitland. In our own lives, we have visited France and of course have met French people. In our own church life, we are honoured with the friendship of French people, both in All Saints and in the Jordanhill Parish Church.
It is therefore with horror and disgust that we learn of the brutality of the mass murders in Paris on 13 November, a day which should be honoured among Muslims, but has instead been wholly desecrated by them.
But this goes beyond an act of calculated barbarity, although it is certainly that. Rather it is the expression of a death cult of deep and abiding nihilism which has found a home within Islam. But this view is sadly not restricted to a handful of zealots with military training and a blood-lust, for social attitude surveys have shown a persistent level of tacit support for these emotions and loyalties. And more even than that, the same kind of nihilism – if not the same degree – also seems to inhabit certain forms of nationalism and indeed of socialism.
In short, our culture has a deep veneer of rejection of the rule of law and of freedom under the law, of the concept of personal responsibility and of freedom of expression and indeed of assembly. The culture of victimhood and of offense has served to strip our society of much of its vitality and of its creativity, while the expectation that the country is filled with multi-millionaires just waiting to be taxed and regulated so that all our expectations of the state may be fulfilled is frankly, fanciful.
Yet there is a Christian perspective, which starts with Jesus Christ. He who faced the full force of spiritual nihilism on the cross also said: “I came so that they may have life and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Indeed, in his Prologue, John said: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) For a Christian response, this must be our starting point rather than the spiral of darkness and hatred which inspires the nihilism of Friday’s massacres.
How to respond will depend much on where we are starting from and what we seek to defend and what values we seek to assert. This is not the place for armchair strategy or legalising. But just as the seeds of WWII lay in the settlement of WWI, we must ensure that the firmness of the response to this does not set off a new and even more vicious reaction. Firm actions followed by fair governance may offer the way through these dilemmas.