Charlie Hebdo: How a sea of unity in Paris reinforced our faith in humanity
It's enough sometimes just to nod in agreement. You don't necessarily need to go to war, enact laws or shout from a megaphone to defend freedom as we understand it. Despite what those who came from the Dark Ages last Wednesday would believe you don't need Faith, just faith in humanity.
Spirituality can be found on the streets and in living rooms as well as behind altars. No creed has a monopoly on that one. That is the most powerful of lessons from the last few days. Because the values we have developed, hard won over centuries and layered deep like the earth's crust, that debate and ideas and criticism and satire and progress and science and art are the cornerstones of our way of life have resoundingly triumphed since last week when incoherence and insanity held sway on the streets of Paris for a terrifying time.
And that win was made possible by our reaction this time. It wasn't to let fundamentalists of a different kind say they would protect us by waging "war on terror". No it was by donning face paint and linking arms. By saying something as silly as Je suis Charlie. What it reminded us is that we do have a choice. Whatever our religion or none we were proud, and must remain so, that our societies accept freedom of expression with all of its imperfections because there is no other way. That learning and questioning and poking with a stick, making nuisances of ourselves, arguing, doubting authority, refusing to blindly follow, is our way of gradually, step by step, improving our lives.
We are all the children of Enlightenment whether we know it or not. Secularism as proudly defined in France is not anti-religion. It simply says that how we are governed and express ourselves in public life and through the institutions that help us on our way will not be confined by the codes of any theism.
It is indeed égalité and it was heart-wrenching to watch the French rise almost as one to support it, to renew their faith in it, to reclaim it with a zeal that the even the black-hearted murderers within their midsts could not match.
There is indeed a lesson from the streets of Paris for everyone who would govern and that is surely that they must do so on behalf of everyone, Faith or none.
What was truly remarkable and will, I think, endure was the way we responded to this threat this time. It was not to turn on others, to look for revenge, to lash out wildly, fuelled by incomprehension.
No, it was simply to stand taller than those who would impose a bleak world view on us, to recognise what we must not lose with all of its imperfections. And last Sunday watching the millions fill the streets of beautiful-again Paris it was enough to nod in agreement.
Mike Gilson is Editor of the Belfast Telegraph