Saturday, July 30, 2011

Faith: can be a component in acts of violence

By Ray Pennings, Globe and Mail, July 28, 2011
Mr. Breivik’s faith claim is destroyed by his own words. He admits that his Christianity is a “cultural, social identity and moral platform” but that he doesn’t “have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God.” A faith in Jesus Christ as the substitute for sin and a relationship with him is to Christianity what breathing is to life. Take it away and you have neither....
The crimes of which Anders Breivik stands accused don’t show how religion can inspire evil. Quite the contrary: They are proof positive that a Christ-less Christianity is a cultural construct that can’t bring the depth of relationship required to prevent the horrors that evil inspires. It doesn’t show how faith makes us evil – it shows only why we so badly need to be inspired by the social virtues propagated by its institutions.
Mr. Pennings thesis is "do not blame religion for the atrocities caused by Breivik."
And yet, we are prompted to push back:
Is it a kind of self-righteousness that drives people like Breivik to commit the kind of acts we all witnessed in Norway? And is that self-righteousness in part the consequence of a kind of religious purity of perception that has no room for greys and sees things only in black and white. The acts allegedly carried out by Breivik illustrate lengthy planning, scrupulously detailed and documented organizations, and clearly a pre-meditation that defies "temporary insanity".
It is not Breivik's psychopathology that we seek to uncover. That is above my pay-grade.
However, is there is "faith" component in the motivation that drives some to shoot and kill, for example, health care workers who work in clinics that perform therapeutic abortions?  I would have to say there is. It is because of their faith that some people shoot and kill, to "act on behalf of the innocent babies" as they put their defence.
Is there a faith component that compels otherwise worshipping 'christians' who even espouse their "born again, personal relationship with Jesus Christ," to break into the homes of  and to threaten, both physically and politically, those whose faith does not conform to their's and then proudly declare, "I was responsible for driving the last clergy from our church because he was not spiritual enough"?
I would have to say that there is.
Is there a faith component that fuels the gossip that fills the sanctuary in every church for the half-hour before and the hour immediately following the liturgy on Sunday morning? I would have to say there is.
Just yesterday, I listened, with my wife, as the Senior Planner in London, England toured a visiting journalist through the laneways of his city to the gathering spots "where the gossip takes place". "It is the gossip that fuels all business," the planner proudly asserted. And I sat, stunned, as the kaleidoscope turned into a new clarity, in my mind.
For decades, I had decried that very gossip, in schools, in families, in organizations and certainly in churches where it is most pronounced, and where it proceeds with immunity.
And to learn that "gossip fuels all business" as a dismissal of its venality was quite shocking.
And to hear it from a likely Anglican, in the heart of London.
Is there a faith component to the insatiable appetite that writes and purchases gossip that destroys reputations, careers and even families? There is certainly an ethical superiority behind both the writing and the consuming of such stories, and that certainly has a 'faith' component.
Perhaps my experience is not representative; however, I have witnessed and experienced acts of violence perpetrated by many who public espoused a fundamental christian faith. And, to deny any connection between the acts of Breivik and a fundamental christian faith is to bury one's head in the sand, for self-protective purposes.
"Social values propagated by (church) institutions" to use Pennings words, are deeply flawed by the acts of those, in many cases, who lead those institutions. And their acts, no matter how heinous, are motivated, in part, by their faith, whether it is personal or cultural or both.
There is a quality of "insider" versus "outsider" that attaches to faithful living, and to how we perceive both ourselves and our world, that cannot be denied. Those "inside" the purity of the faith often have contempt for those "outside" whom they consider apostates. Nothing annoys the purists more than apostasy, because they cannot control those "doubters" and they know it. And only doubters can see and live with ambiguity, one of the central attributes of any healthy faith.
As faith seeks literal, black-and-white answers to unanswerable questions, no matter which brand of faith, it risks both unsustainable answers and acts to support those answers.

It was Paul Simon whose song "My Little Town" captured the nature of such untenable faith:

In my little town

I grew up believing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall

Lord I recall my little town
Coming home after school
Riding my bike past the gates of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging out shirts in the dirty breeze

And after it rains there's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagination they lack
Everything's the same back in my little town

In my little town I never meant nothing
I was just my father's son
Saving my money
Dreamin of glory
Twitching like a finger on a trigger of a gun

Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying back in my little town

[ Lyrics from: ]

It is the black of the rainbow that captures so eloquently and poetically, the nature of a fundamental faith, which is part of all acts of reprehensible violence...even if we cannot ascertain the part faith plays. The dead and dying in Simon's song are not there from being shot; they are there by their own lack of imagination....also a lack of faith.
Let's reflect on the words of Chris Hedges, in "Fundamentalism Kills" on July 26, 2011
By Chris Hedges

The gravest threat we face from terrorism, as the killings in Norway by Anders Behring Breivik underscore, comes not from the Islamic world but the radical Christian right and the secular fundamentalists who propagate the bigoted, hateful caricatures of observant Muslims and those defined as our internal enemies. The caricature and fear are spread as diligently by the Christian right as they are by atheists such as Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. Our religious and secular fundamentalists all peddle the same racist filth and intolerance that infected Breivik. This filth has poisoned and degraded our civil discourse. The looming economic and environmental collapse will provide sparks and tinder to transform this coarse language of fundamentalist hatred into, I fear, the murderous rampages experienced by Norway. I worry more about the Anders Breiviks than the Mohammed Attas.

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