The Cure for Extremism

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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Blaise Pascal wrote something in his book Pensees that has always troubled me: “Men (humans) never delight in doing evil as much as if they can do it for religious reasons.” How chilling. Pascal had in mind the harmful extremism he saw around him, cruel people using a veneer of religion to advance personal goals, and involving good people in the process. But evil is evil regardless of how we justify it. This 16th century Christian called the bluff of the unrighteousness in religious masks. Pascal saw our need for salvation from bad religion as much as from our nonreligious badness. We need healing from our failures just as we need to discover that those who have harmed us can be healed too.

But what is the cure? C. S. Lewis said that the best cure for bad literature is a healthy diet of good literature. That is also the best and most realistic cure for the harm caused by all extremism: a healthy relationship with someone whose love leaves no room for our fears and hatreds. That person is Jesus Christ. He gives us that mixture of faithfulness to truth, and love generously able to forgive—the two marks of what the Bible calls salvation. Christ’s Gospel creates in us the quality of hope that we can live by and for. The only way cultures and people change is as they see for themselves the durability and inner power of goodness at work in practical human examples. These models of hope that ordinary people show in daily living situations prove the power of grace over hatred. God’s love and truth become, for real people in real places, the influence that changes lives and behavior. In this way, Christ’s salvation of ordinary people becomes the cure for the causes of interpersonal terror and interior despair.

Here is where Christian believers come in. Our person-to person, model-of-hope strategy really works in people’s disparate places of lost hope. The Gospel of Jesus Christ gives us an intrinsic modesty and mellowness that are the greatest marks of discipleship. St. Paul puts it this way: “Let all people see your moderation (gentleness); the Lord is nearby.” (Phil. 4:5) When people around us see stable and down-to-earth humility that comes from the Gospel, they themselves are quieted and slowed long enough to learn the source of hope. This is all possible because the Lord is nearby.

One scene in The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis that I love is the grand ride of Susan and Lucy on Aslan’s back, just after the great golden lion has defeated death and despair at the stone table. There is no need to fear or stay permanently afraid when we are on Aslan’s back. That safe place is the salvation and cure for every fear and every reason for lost hope.