Earlier this month, a sadly familiar scene played itself out in front of the eyes of a disbelieving world. A man, pledging his allegiance to the Islamic State, carried out an act of terrorism that destroyed some 50 lives and irrevocably changed many more.
This time the target was Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. The ensuing carnage represented the worst example of domestic gun violence in American history.
Then, in the following days and weeks, another familiar scene began to play itself out.
On Facebook and Twitter, in the media, in demonstrations and marches throughout the world, people rose up to show their grief, their disgust with what had happened, and vowed to stand with the victims who had been so terribly affected.
As with previous incidents, hashtags and catchphrases were spawned, overlays of flags were adopted, and expressions of solidarity were readily handed out.
And, just as with #BringBackOurGirls, #JeSuisCharlie, and #JeSuisBruxelles, absolutely nothing was achieved to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.
Of course, all of these responses were motivated by noble desires. It is right to grieve such a terrible loss. It is right to support and stand with those who have suffered. It is right to be angry at the source of malice and hatred responsible for this act.
As so many have repeated, the solution to this problem is love—and we must not fall victim to hatred ourselves, thus betraying the tolerant societies that we have created over many generations.
The problem is, we have forgotten what love and tolerance mean—and we haven’t actually identified what it is we’re supposed to be angry about. As typified in the bizarre statement by US President Barack Obama, the target of our overpowering love has to be the vague concept of ‘hate’ itself.
The first definition which has slipped the grasp of our civilisation is that of tolerance. These days, the essence of tolerance appears to mean avoiding anything that can and may offend any group of people, at any time or place.
This is particularly relevant to the situation that occurred at Pulse on June 12. In this case, a Muslim man, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State, went there with the specific intent to kill homosexuals, presumably based on statements found in the Quran and particularly in Sharia law.
According to a 2013 Pew Research study, homosexuality as a practice is rejected by “overwhelming majorities” in the Muslim world.
This rejection is often taken to an extreme within Islam, where in 9 countries homosexual practice is punishable by death (and is illegal in many more): Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
ISIS have repeatedly called on Muslims to join their cause, in fighting a jihad against the countries that reject the authority of Islam and Sharia law.
These facts may bring an individual to conclude that the cause of the attack was not Omar Mateen’s mental instability, Republicans, or the NRA—but rather an ideological commitment to wage jihad against the enemies of Islam.
However, because these facts may cause offence or ill-feeling towards some Muslims, in the name of tolerance this conclusion must be disavowed.
This is of course a ludicrous definition of tolerance. Tolerance is defined by individuals and societies being able to get along with each other despite causing offence, not by removing it altogether.
This should not be news to Christians. Like Muslims, we believe in an extremely offensive religion. I mean this in the sense that Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, to the exclusion of all other paths. While anyone can be a Christian, Christians claim that theirs is the only true path to follow.
Without saying a word then, our mere identification as Christians is offensive to all other systems of belief, not least Islam.
Because of this faith, Christians are constantly being offended. However, this does not lead to them blowing up buildings or shooting up nightclubs.
True tolerance is shown by an ability to live with each other in peace, in spite of the offences that we may cause each other by our beliefs.
As with tolerance, the meaning of love appears to have also been lost by the current generation. Today, love appears to be equated solely with feelings and emotions. It is defined by a sort of sentimentality, and a complete avoidance of criticizing or hurting the feelings of anyone, anywhere.
Again, this is a completely watered-down and hollow understanding of the term. While of course there are emotional elements to love, that does not encompass its full meaning.
First and foremost, love is an act of will, looking towards the best interests of the individual or group whom love is directed.
Love also involves being truthful—which can often be a painful experience. While no-one should ever be motivated by the intent to hurt people’s feelings, sometimes it is a necessary by-product of an act of love.
As Christians, we are commanded to love our enemies, to do good to those who hate us. We need to put those commands into practice through both our words and our deeds.
All the hashtags in the world will not stop the continuation of Islamic terrorism, if we cannot be open and honest about the ideology that motivates ordinary people to perform awful deeds.
We must speak the truth, and speak the truth in love.
First published July 1, 2016
Tim Newman lives in Christchurch, New Zealand. He holds an MA in History (focussing on attitudes towards warfare in Islam and Christianity).
Tim Newman's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/tim-newman.html