At its core this show of solidarity is about freedom of speech. People are eager to express that they too value the freedom of speech exercised by the cartoonists and writers of Charlie Hebdo.
But David Brooks, writing in the New York Times, shows convincingly I think why this is more than a little wrongheaded - not the sympathy but the solidarity. As he put it:
"The first thing to say, I suppose, is that whatever you might have put on your Facebook page yesterday, it is inaccurate for most of us to claim, Je Suis Charlie Hebdo, or I Am Charlie Hebdo. Most of us don’t actually engage in the sort of deliberately offensive humor that that newspaper specializes in."
Brooks' point is that the magazine Charlie Hebdo is a vulgar and provocative product of free speech making it a somewhatuncommon product of free speech.
One can not easily think of a publication in the United States similar to Charlie Hebdo, not because we are forbidden such freedoms here, but rather because in general we practice restraint in using them. There have, of course, been exceptions to restraint. In the last quarter century the National Endowment for the Arts has funded some vulgar art that caused quite an uproar - yet no one died over it.
As Brooks goes on to argue in his essay, the vast majority of us do not use our civic freedoms to be as vulgar and provoking as Charlie Hebdo almost always is. As foolish children we may have promoted filthy and disrespectful ideas on the playground, a safe distance from our teacher's ears, but we eventually learned that few in the adult world would laugh at such stupidity. By God's common grace, most adults living around us are now among them.
We are Charlie Hebdo after all and in a way so unseemly that those who exclusively follow higher moral ground type arguments cannot concede. If we only look at ourselves and the vulgar cartoonists and the murderous radicals through the lens of the lawconcluding "we are not as lawless and those people are," we will remain blind to the fact that we are Charlie Hebdo by nature.
When blind to the solidarity we have with the worst of men by having the same sinful nature, we cease to pray for the vulgar and for those who kill them. When we see sinners only by their sinful deeds, we quietly boast in our conduct and not in God's transformative grace at work in us. Love grows cold behind such blindness, love for the merciful God and love for sinners still languishing in the corruption of their nature.
In Titus 3:3 the apostle Paul says, "For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another." There is no way we can reply back to Paul and say, "Well you may have been like that but I was raised right!"
Paul is not simply talking about the lawless deeds you have done or have not done. He is talking about that corrupt nature of fallen man and its great want of original righteousness. This is why in the next verse he explains our transformation this way:
"But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Titus 3:4-6).
The Holy Spirit mercifully given to you through the sacrifice of Christ has sabotaged your corrupt nature by uniting you to Christ. Your nature was once so vulgar before God that the only way to expiate and propitiate your nature's vulgarity was for God to send forth His undefiled and altogether righteous Son to make an atonement with His own blood. Imagine the most well-mannered and civil people you could ever hope to live among. In their fallen nature they still remain so vulgar before God they God they could not live among Him unless Christ first suffered the ignominy of their vulgarity by being publicly crucified for them.
There is - praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! - another place besides hell and before hell that a man can see that his nature is just as bad as the baddest man's. The cross of Calvary.
With our back turned to the cross we think our nature is better than other men because our deeds are better. But when we face the cross and see the Lord of glory being put to death there for us we discover we are much worse than our deeds. We discover that our best deeds, our best cities, our best cultures, our best efforts still left us guilty in the corruption of our sinful nature. Christ never said, "Go to such and such a country, or such and such a city, or such and such a culture, they got it together, I will meet you there and we will live together forever." No. He said, "Meet me at the blood-stained cross and there and only there can we find a place where we can dwell together forevermore."