I was recently sitting in on a lecture from a local university professor on the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. Whitworth University’s Dr. Van Inwegen explained that there are stories from history, “that help us understand the world we are in.” One of his stories did just that.
During the French Revolution, after the king was arrested, a group of radicals came to power. They had extreme ideas that very few Franks thought reasonable. But a lack of popular support, rather than sway them to new explanations and arguments for their skinny-branch plans, lurched them to terrorism. They were the government but, since their ideas were so novel—and so counterintuitive—they could only scare people into “going along to ‘get-along.”
Most of history’s terrorism has been perpetrated by governments. It helps governments control populations that despise their rulers. A minority position has two ways of influencing the majority: Fear or truth. If the majority becomes convinced of the truth of an idea then the belief will affect their actions. This was the way of William Wilberforce. He knew that ending the slave trade was an unpopular goal. He also knew that God wanted people free, and, therefore, William Wilberforce wanted people free.
Fear can make the unpopular position suddenly more influential. During the French Revolution, the majority of Frenchmen were traditionalist leaning. They wanted reform, freedom, brotherhood, but they were not hoping to radically rebuild the human race according to an ideal built of the Lincoln Logs of the fizzy mental wanderings of half-crazed ideologues. The radicals, therefore, resorted to terrorism. After arresting, torturing, and even killing the opposition, they suddenly found people less opposed to their positions–until, of course, the backlash into traditionalist and nationalistic Napoleonic warmongering and imperialism of the next generation.
There is an important lesson that we should learn from a parallel in our own day. The radical left, in its support of the new sexual-identity politics, has resorted to terrorism. Whether it is shout-downs and the destruction of property, the ‘punch a nazi’ movement, or the organized lawsuits of cake bakers, there has been terrorism. The use of fear to control a population that does not agree with them has taken the form of litigation, life destroying Twitter campaigns, business-closing slander mongering, neighborhood riots, police cars lit on fire, people from the opposition being beaten up, thrown down, or run over. These are acts of terrorism.
Unpopular positions—positions that go against a people’s traditions and assumptions—are hard to argue. But, when unable to convince people with truth, reason, and beauty, people will be tempted to resort to terrorism. Emotional terrorism—shaming, guilt-manipulation, and communal expulsion—is used to control people. Threat level terrorism—Lawsuits, false accusations, blackmail, destruction of property, and announcing that you hope someone is murdered—uses fear of reprisal to control people’s beliefs.
The newest example of such terrorism is, of course, the Crossfit debacle, in which a Crossfit Gym owner and high ranking employee was run out of the organization and his gym was trashed for holding a traditional position. Whether the terrorism is violent, economic, or simply emotional, fear of attack is the way that people are leaning society their way without having to actually win any arguments, engage facts, or deal with reality.
But as Christians, the way to respond to any terrorism, large, small, or indifferent, is to fear God alone and know that our first duty with enemies and attackers is love. We must always refuse to use the tactics of terror. Our tactics are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Reason, love, logic, kindness, facts, and the joyful embrace reality, while being immune to fear, will make Christians difficult to control and rhetorically effective. But effectiveness must not become our end. Being good neighbors is our end. Loving God and neighbor is the goal. Truth, patience, and peace are the means. And refusing to bend to the strategies of the scare-mongering is an important first step to standing for truth in a world more and more enamored with lies.