Saul was one of the official witnesses at the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem, and all the believers except the apostles fled into Judea and Samaria. … Saul was going everywhere to devastate the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into jail. —Acts 8:1-3, NLT
Long before there was such a thing as Islamic jihad, Saul and his Jewish peers waged their own war of purification against the “infidels” of their day, Christians. Assisted by the Romans, who viewed the wildfire spread of Christianity as a dire threat to the pax Romana, a terror was inflicted on the followers of Jesus, and they were killed by the thousands.
In more modern times, at the close of the 18th century, a jihad burned through France, this one devouring both the Christian Church and the ruling aristocracy. In this Terror, armed bands of zealous citizens purified France of every trace of Christianity, wealth and privilege. Churches were rededicated as Houses of Reason, and Dr. Guillotine’s killing machine permanently cut off all dissent.
In our day, there are still some living who survived Hitler’s murderous Fascism and Stalin’s purges. These, too, were acts of jihad, the application of terror to effect ideological purification and domination.
Jihad is just a new name for an old game.
Real ideological pluralism has never been easy. Few nations in history have been able to tolerate open disagreement and a genuine equality for all religious and political views. The United States and Great Britain have been successful, but not perfect. The temptation is always great among the most zealous of true-believers, secular and religious, left and right, to gag disagreeable speech, to marginalize dissent, and to suppress the rights of “heretics.”
Some would go even farther—a few left-wing internet discussions have recently suggested assassination as a just remedy for losses at the ballot box.
The American experiment reposes on Acton’s postulate, that freedom is the highest phase of civil society. But it also reposes on Acton’s further postulate, that the elevation of a people to this highest phase of social life supposes, as its condition, that they understand the ethical nature of political freedom. They must understand, in Acton’s phrase, that freedom is “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.” …
Political freedom is endangered in its foundations as soon as the universal moral values, upon whose shared possession the self-discipline of a free society depends, are no longer vigorous enough to restrain the passions and shatter the selfish inertia of men. —John Courtney Murray, The Civilization of the Pluralist Society, 1958
The opposite of jihad is love, and love has many cousins: respect, kindness, self-restraint and civility, to name a few.
Liberal pluralism cannot survive where there is no love. Universal human freedom is only possible when we agree to hold every human being in the highest regard, even when we disagree with his or her views.
For Christians, this sort of respect is rooted in the belief that God created us all, and because we are the product of a deliberate act of God, we each possess intrinsic, and equal, worth.
This standard for Christians was set by Jesus, who placed the bar of human respect very, very high.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. —Matthew 5:43-45, The Message (Jesus speaking)
“You have heard that the law of Moses says, ‘Do not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the high council. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. —Matthew 5:21,22, NLT (Jesus speaking)
This last passage is interesting because of the recent trend towards insulting and rancorous language in public debate. We have become increasingly comfortable demonizing those we disagree with; slurs and epithets are replacing respectful conversation.
This sort of verbal jihad diminishes us all, and weakens our commitment to pluralism.
There are laws of argument, the observance of which is imperative if discourse is to be civilized. Argument ceases to be civil when it is dominated by passion and prejudice; … when dialogue gives way to a series of monologues; when the parties to the conversation cease to listen to one another, or hear only what they want to hear, … When things like this happen, men cannot be locked together in argument. Conversation becomes merely quarrelsome or querulous. Civility dies with the death of the dialogue. —John Courtney Murray, The Civilization of the Pluralist Society, 1958
Suicide bombers are a serious threat to the security of open societies. But we’re kidding ourselves if we think for a minute that the west is immune to the sort of self-destructive anger that drives terrorism.
Jihad is driven by anger, by disregard for the sacredness of human life, and by a belief that freedom is dangerous.
Love is the only antidote to jihad. Love, in fact, is the cornerstone of a genuinely free and pluralistic society. Without love, the passions that inflame our hearts and minds will ignite spontaneously into jihad.
For you have been called to live in freedom—not freedom to satisfy your sinful nature, but freedom to serve one another in love. —Galatians 5:13, NLT