A Lament for France, in Perspective

Today, two weeks before leaving for the COP-21 meetings in Paris, I am deeply troubled for the people of France. No, I’m not just troubled: I’m furious. I’m angry for those who are mourning the loss of 129 innocent victims, with many more barely clinging to life in French hospitals. I stand with our grieving friends on both sides of the Atlantic. And yet, let me try to set my fury aside for a moment, to offer what I hope may be a useful perspective – to some, at least.

First, on the day of this heinous massacre, there were many other things threatening God’s children around the world. 7,600 other people died prematurely of AIDS on Friday; more than 18,000 died of pulmonary disease and respiratory infections on that day; 3,500 of malaria and 3,266 from vehicle accidents. In fact, 164,000 people died that day prematurely from illness, accidents or violence around the world. The Paris murders are a horror; but there are many, many things to lament, and to fight against by giving and working.

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Solidarity: San Francisco City Hall awash with the lights of the tricolor

Second, I hope we’ll look with caution on those who offer easy fixes for France’s sorrow, and especially those who extol the vision of a gun in every French pocket. On the day France lost 129 souls, the US, with its enormous arsenal of privately-owned guns, suffered 25 gun homicides. The next day, France went back to its normal pace of one death every ten days. But the US suffered another 25 killings; and then another 25 … ad nauseum (the 5th highest killing rate in the world). Please, let’s not turn France’s sorrow into an ad for an even more gun-totin’ world.

Third, it’s almost certain that the leading cause of premature deaths last Friday (and all other days) was air pollution. Among the top ten global killers, five are linked to air pollution. The World Health Organization estimates that air pollution claims 7 million lives every year, or more than 19,000 souls every day, including last Friday. Invisible killers may be harder to hate, but the data suggest that air pollution kills 150 times more people every single day than ISIS did last Friday.

Finally, at moments like these, it’s important to consider the longer term consequences of impulsive and bellicose responses. We want to exact revenge or justice, and we want it to be swift. And surely, severe justice is due to those who have wrought this horror. But many of us have lived through the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (certainly bogus) which spawned the horror of the Vietnam War; and the WMD Scare (also bogus) that almost certainly gave us today’s chaos in Iraq and Syria. These are complex issues. but perhaps they tell us that you’re not weak just because you want to think twice before bombing somebody (and, inevitably, his innocent neighbors). Maybe you’re just wise.

May God look with mercy on his beloved France. And may He give us the wisdom to seek mercy in the face of every threat, whether hunger, disease or hatred and violence.

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