A noble act

Peter Hitchens highlights the sacrifice of a new Christian who became a martyr for the faith:

Last week saw one of the noblest acts of human courage in modern times. Yet it has been given far less attention than it should have been. We often hear it said of soldiers and others that they ‘gave their lives’ in battle. This is true in a way, though many actual soldiers will smile at the expression and mutter that they probably did not have much choice in the matter.

But the French police officer, Arnaud Beltrame, consciously and deliberately did give his life to save another. When the drug abuser, petty crook and jailbird Redouane Lakdim burst into the Super U supermarket at Trèbes, in southern France, he wasted no time in showing that he was capable of murder. He shot dead two people, and was said to have laughed as he killed them. Then he took several hostages.

He was persuaded to release all but one, a terrified woman.

Arnaud Beltrame calmly offered to change places with her. I believe that he knew as he did so that this might well cost him his life, and that by stepping forward he faced the strong possibility of a horrible and lonely death. Nobody ordered or asked him to do it. It would have been perfectly normal and acceptable for the police to have surrounded the mad killer and waited for him to give in, or kill himself, with the strong possibility that he would also kill his hostage.

Arnaud Beltrame went miles further than he was required to go by the normal rules of life, or even the normal rules of duty and bravery. The daily bargain, under which we behave decently to others and hope for the same in return, wasn’t enough for him. Most of us couldn’t have done what he did. Most of us will never be asked to.

But I very much doubt whether our civilisation would have reached the heights that it has reached if nobody had ever been ready to make such a sacrifice. I believe very deeply that Christian societies are different from non-Christian ones, precisely because all of us know that such selfless courage is the ideal of what we all should be. And I think that Lieutenant Colonel Beltrame did what he did because of the specifically Christian saying ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’. This Eastertide it is worth noting that these words are recorded as having been spoken by Christ, shortly before he (knowing what was coming) was dragged off to face a mocking show-trial, torture, beatings and a savage public death. For Arnaud Beltrame had come, quite recently, to embrace Christianity.

Beltrame’s noble sacrifice demonstrates once more that Christianity is a necessary, though not sufficient, condition of Western civilization.