DEAR FRIENDS, none of us can deny that this endless trail of deadly terrorist attacks throughout the world is sending shock waves into our daily lives. Behind these “barbarous acts against God and humanity” as Pope Francis calls them, the hand of Islamic State (also called ISIS or Daesh) is almost always present.

In this phenomenon of terrorism we are dealing with a strategy which aims to introduce fear, suspicion into our lives and to foster the temptation to retaliate with similar acts of violence.

I ask myself, however, if it is ever legitimate to kill for one’s own faith. Is it possible that some people not only feel that their religion drives them to massacre defenseless people, but even does so motivated by a transcendent conception of God?

From the point of view of the Jewish and Christian religions, not only is it prohibited to kill innocent human beings, but to do so is regarded as one of the worst sins anyone can commit against God. It is no accident that the fifth commandment clearly states: you shall not kill.

Naturally, this does not mean that Christians and Jews can never commit acts of violence. It simply means that to purposely kill an innocent human being cannot in any way be considered to be the will of God. To kill innocent lives is incompatible with the essence of religion and the personal faith professed by the believer.

“True,” you will say to me, “but when we are talking about terrorist attacks, we are not dealing with Christians and Jews but with Muslims. Is the Islamic faith different from Christianity and Judaism in this regard?”

Certainly not. First of all, in the Quran God is, as in the Christian and Jewish faiths, the creator of heaven and earth. God is the beginning and the end of all reality, and the creator of all humanity, unbelievers included. Therefore, a religious vision that upholds violence is also incompatible with the Quran. Moreover, as many imams have repeatedly emphasized, the gratuitous inhumanity of the terrorist attacks confers upon them an aura of diabolical evil that is incompatible with the nature of a true religious deed. Therefore, to believe in a God who commands you to kill other human beings means to be under the sway of a fanatical hallucination, and is far removed from the true nature of the three great monotheistic religions.

In its essence, religion has nothing to do with politics, but speaks of our ultimate, eternal destiny and how to get there. However, every religion must come to terms with the reality of daily life and our relationship with society at large, and must therefore become involved in politics in some way. Believers build up communities which must interact with other communities in various ways.

The problem with Islamic fundamentalism is not only that some groups give their religion an overtly political significance, but even go to the extent of transforming the nature of their faith into a political religion. When, as in the case of Al-Qaeda, people are encouraged to commit acts of violence and martyrdom against the West by sending kamikaze planes against skyscrapers, and when, as in the case of ISIS, a fundamentalist and cruel state is established which sends its emissaries around the world to sow hatred and terror, we are no longer dealing with a religion but with an atheistic, inhuman political faith against which special measures must absolutely be taken. But how?

It is at this point that the words of Jesus come to mind, “Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves” (Matthew 10:16). We are all called to be witnesses and missionaries of God’s love by being prudent and by avoiding unnecessary risks, but we ourselves cannot become wolves in the process; there are already too many of them in the world. In his letter to the Romans, St. Paul has the same message for us, “Do not be conquered by evil, but conquer evil with good.”

I know this isn’t easy; it is never easy to be a Christian. In John’s Gospel we read that at one point many of Jesus’ disciples left him because of a ‘hard teaching’ he had given them. Jesus then asked Peter if he and the rest of the Twelve also wanted to leave him. Peter replied, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). When life becomes difficult I often go back to this passage. Whatever the difficulties of the Christian life, I cannot imagine leaving it for a life without Jesus.

Updated on September 30 2016
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