When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23, NIV)
Je suis Charlie has been the message of millions of posters across France — a statement of solidarity with the staff of the Parisian satirical magazine, murdered last week. It is an understandable reaction to an act of pure wickedness which was also an undisguised attempt to suppress free conversation.
Christians will almost want to echo those words. Freedom of speech — subject to due penalty for slander, fraud, racism or indecency — is surely good and right. We urgently need to be able to talk to each other, and state our views; suppression of free speech can easily mean suppression of the truth. Christians are nervous about laws banning speech which “causes offence” for exactly this reason. Moreover, satire can be very effective in helping us not to take ourselves too seriously, or to spot humbug and hypocrisy. We all need a sense of humour.
Charlie Hebdo has made it its business to lampoon religion — not just Islam, but Christianity. Some of this, no doubt, has been at the level of pricking balloons that needed pricking, but some has travelled beyond decency into the realm of the disgusting and deliberately hurtful (I have in mind, for instance, a cartoon they ran of the Holy Trinity). Perhaps this side of the story has not been fully told. In this sense, Nous ne sommes pas Charlie.
But if Christians can’t quite identify with Charlie, nor can they identify with those who took it in to their hands to attack the magazine like this, and never would be able to, however great the insults. Our Lord Jesus was Himself viciously mocked when He went to His death, but He prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV). How amazing that He should have reacted like this!
Does that sound weak? It would to some. But the real truth doesn’t need automatic weapons to defend it.
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