As I record this commentary, the death toll in the horrific terrorist attack in New Zealand has risen to 50 souls.
Though New Zealand is 7,500 miles away from where I live, this one hit close to home for me. I’ve visited New Zealand many times over the last twenty years, and I have developed marvelous friendships with many folks there, particularly on the North Island, but also in the city of Christchurch, where the massacre took place.
That this murderer chose a beautiful and peaceful place like Christchurch, and that he chose to gun down people as they were particularly vulnerable during a time of worship, only adds to how sickening the whole event is.
I do not have the stomach to read the killer’s so-called manifesto, but I’ve read enough about it to know that for the New Zealand killer, what’s wrong with the world is “the other.” People not like him. People he saw as a threat to Western, or specifically “white,” civilization. The so-called invaders, as he called them, were even, in his mind, threats to the environment, because they were overpopulating the world (even as white European birthrates decline).
The Muslim worshippers became the targets of the killer’s hatred of the “other.” In his eyes, they were not individual, valuable human beings. They were a faceless group who represented foreign religion and lesser races. The elevation of himself and those “like him” as being somehow better, in tandem with the dehumanization of those not “like him” as the source of our world’s problems, led him to think his act of evil was somehow good, and that any chaos he succeeded in creating was somehow necessary to “fix” the world.
Like all worldviews, the killer’s addressed two fundamental questions: What’s wrong with the world? And, how do we fix it? His bad ideas had many, many victims.
Even so, in a sense, the killer’s actions were the extreme but logical consequence of an ideological pariah infecting Western culture right now: what Andrew Walker of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission called on yesterday’s BreakPoint Podcast “the decline of the concept of our shared humanity.”
Andrew reminded us that the human heart is bent towards “not seeing our neighbor as our fellow man and as a partaker of our fellow humanity. The heart apart from Christ is driven towards animus and resentment toward those who are not like us.”
He is exactly right. At the root of jihadism, and white supremacism, and most of the other odious “isms,” is that same tendency to demonize another as the source of evil in the world. The obvious irony too few in the media are discussing is that in the name of defending Western civilization, this terrorist struck at a foundational premise of Western civilization: that all men are created equal and therefore possess the same human rights.
Instead, to a much lesser and less-deadly degree, the tendency to demonize the “other” is reflected in the media’s persistent description of the murderer as “right-wing.” His denouncement of capitalism, admiration for Communist China and self-proclaimed “eco-fascism” (whatever that is) should be enough to prove otherwise. Labeling him as this or that only feeds a narrative that says, “Those people are what’s wrong with the world.”
Of course, that is the standard way humans have operated throughout history since the fall. But, as voices as disparate as Friedrich Nietzsche and Chuck Colson have pointed out, Christianity, with its rock-solid foundational conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God, brought the idea of a shared humanity to Western civilization, and subsequently to much of the rest of the world.
It took a long time for that idea of the image of God to take root and bear fruit in the world, and Christians have not always lived up to what it demands. Still, we should not be surprised that the more the Western world drifts away from, spurns and rejects the only solid foundational source for human value, the more we see the demonizing of “the other;” the more we will see our civic and political dialogue descend into the gutter; and the more we will see acts of extreme violence.
Lord, have mercy upon us.