This genocidal campaign against Christians is now close to home
The murder on Tuesday of Fr Jacques Hamel was an attempt to "set the French people against each other, (to) attack religion in order to start a war of religions". So said the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls in the immediate aftermath of this terrorist atrocity.
But how likely is it is to start "a war of religions"? The answer is highly unlikely. A clash of civilisations is more probable, but not a war of religions. Hundreds of years ago, it might have been a different matter, but today Christianity is an almost entirely pacifist religion.
This is quite unlike Islam.
"Islam is a religion of peace," we are repeatedly told, but it is more accurate to say that Islam is a religion with a peaceful side and a violent side. No one can simply say "Islam is a religion of peace" and add no qualifier, when the two leading Islamic nations, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran, promote very militant and often violent forms of Islam. Neither of these theocratic states is remotely pacifist in its outlook.
Then there are the 'unofficial' versions of Islam, such as those promoted by Isil, al-Qa'ida or Boko Haram. These are the ultra-violent forms, and even if they are to be condemned as aberrations, they are still drawing on Islam in the same way that some of the millenarian, end-of-times violent sects of various other religions have drawn on versions of their own belief systems down the ages. (An aside: Marxism was a secular millenarian movement. It sought to bring about the end of history by creating a classless, utopian society, through extreme violence, if need be.)
No one can rule out an isolated, mentally disturbed individual carrying out an act of violence in the name of Christianity.
But this would be a very far cry from that act being endorsed by a Christian leader, a mainstream church, or a breakaway Christian sect with a large following.
There are no Christian theocracies today equivalent to Iran or Saudi Arabia, let alone one promoting a militant and violent version of Christianity.
There are no churches promoting a militant and violent version of Christianity. No leading clergy are doing so. There is no Christian equivalent of Isil.
Imagine for the sake of the argument that there was today, not centuries ago, a Christian or a Catholic version of Isil, that breakaway priests and clergy were leading members of it and that they were providing theological justifications for acts of terrorism.
Imagine that this group was creating bloody mayhem, not alone in the West, but also in the Muslim world, finding willing recruits among some of the Christian populations of the Muslim world, and furthermore, among newly arrived Christians in those countries, Christians who had just been accepted as refugees.
The pressure on the Pope and other Christian leaders to put a stop to it would be enormous.
Christianity would not be called a 'religion of peace'. Furthermore, Christianity would be critically analysed by leading academics, leading politicians and others in order to find out exactly what it was about Christianity that was fuelling this kind of violence and extremism.
Was it an intrinsic, ineradicable problem with its theology or 'merely' an historically conditioned aberration? Plenty of people would be found to advance both views.
And how would Muslims in say, Syria, react if, in some alternative universe, Syria was accepting refugees from the war-torn West and even a very small minority of those refugees were murdering Muslims, including their clerics, in their places of worship, on days of national celebration, in restaurants, in concert halls, in trains and so on?
They would be rightly horrified beyond belief and we would hope that their leaders, like our leaders, political and religious, would call for forbearance.
Twenty years ago in Algeria, seven French monks were kidnapped and beheaded by Islamist fanatics. The monks were Trappist monks. That is, they lived a particularly strict life of prayer, contemplation and silence.
The kind of fanaticism that killed those monks has now turned up on the streets of France itself.
Fr Jacques Hamel was as inoffensive as they were. He was killed entirely and completely because he was a priest.
They were killed out of a hatred for their faith - 'Odium Fidei' as it is called. There is no doubt that Fr Hamel is a martyr.
He joins the several million Christian martyrs, lay and religious alike, who have been killed for their faith in the last hundred years.
In the 20 centuries of Christianity, the last century has seen the biggest number of martyrs.
What Isil has been doing to Christians and other religious minorities in the territories it controls has been labelled 'genocide' in unanimous, or almost unanimous votes in the British House of Commons, the US House of Representatives and the European Parliament. US Secretary of State John Kerry has also called it genocide.
Our own Government has found a technical reason why it won't call it genocide. So far, there has been no move on the part of the Dáil to call it genocide and so emulate their US, British and European counterparts.
Perhaps the murder of Fr Jacques Hamel will bring home to them what is happening.
It certainly ought to bring home to the rest of us what is happening. Christians are being killed for their faith, and it is not only happening thousands of miles away, it is now happening close to home.