RECALLING the events of 2000 years ago is a painful spiritual exercise without modern-day reminders. The diligence with which jihadist terrorists follow the Christian calendar in Egypt means that preparations for the past two great feasts, at Christmas and now Easter, have been marred by bloody atrocities. It is bad enough that worshippers in Egypt have to pass through a metal detector on their way into church. It is worse when, in Tanta, the detector failed to prevent the suicide bomber’s entering Mari Girgis (St George’s), and, at the cathedral in Alexandria, it merely prompted the attacker to detonate his bomb earlier — perhaps killing fewer people than otherwise, but significant numbers none the less.
Tanta is 57 miles north of the Egyptian capital. In England, travelling the same distance and direction from London would place someone in Bedford. An equivalent attack, therefore, would be by a suicide bomber from the majority Christian population on a mosque in Bedford, where Muslims make up a slightly smaller proportion of the population than Copts do in Egypt. Such a laughable comparison serves to warn against too easy an acceptance of violence against Christians elsewhere. The frequency of attacks is no reason to regard them as any less shocking or any more justified just because they happen in a distant and unstable country. It is both offensive and absurd that the followers of a minority faith can pose such a threat to the majority that individuals are moved to react with violence.
This, though, was the approach to the incarnate Christ by the Jewish and Roman authorities, and it has been the response meted out to many of Christ’s followers through the ages. Estimates of martyrdom are notoriously unreliable, and the 100,000-a-year figure has been discredited. It is sobering, however, to reflect on what it is about Christianity that attracts such violence. Much is mere ignorance and fear of difference, of course — and these factors are not unknown in the UK. Indeed, it would be unwise to write complacently about tolerance and peace in the UK without taking account of the extreme nervousness felt by minorities here, although tensions tend to be ethnic rather than religious. Beyond this, however, there will always be people threatened when the message of the Christian faith — of unconditional love and freedom from coercion and fear — is preached and practised openly.
These themes are picked up in articles elsewhere in this issue: Christians who have suffered attacks by Islamic State; the need to eschew violence; approaching God after an atrocity; and the way that Easter joy breaks out even in the midst of grief. “And the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”