I’ve been busy boring dinner guests and other innocents, with the question ‘Why has our media not offered some well-informed religious commentary on the mosque murders and trial?’ Until, that is, the recent Press opinion piece ‘Is it time to change our attitude to faith?’ by Donna Miles-Mojab appeared – with its moving examples of the genuine forgiveness embraced and offered by some of the Muslim mosque victims.
I also admired Donna’s related claim that religion really does have a role as “a moral voice and challenging injustice” because our secular society is “evidently failing to deliver the sense of spirituality most of us need to bring resilience, solace and meaning to our lives.” How refreshing to read that challenge to a Kiwi culture seemingly determined to exclude any serious discussion of religious faith from the public square.
Alongside a deeply-felt appreciation of its pathos and vitality, the article also prompted other reactions. Several ironies emerged; for example, why has it taken an Iranian/Muslim voice to enable a religious dimension to be accepted into the opinion columns of the Press? And then we notice that one of the Crown Prosecutors – seeking justice for Muslim victims – is the son of Palestinian Christians. Let’s hope that was noted in the Islamic world where examples of hostility towards Muslims can too easily be attributed to ingrained and ubiquitous Christian or other antagonisms towards Islam.
Another irony is generated by the murderer himself in his demand for the forceful removal of foreigners; why not let one foreigner become the fulfillment of his own wish! As well, in an unhappy coincidence, a trial was also beginning in Paris of Muslims who provided material assistance in another mass murder. What else might we notice about these events?
1/ They offer poignant reminders of the common humanity shared by all people who, after all, are “made in the image” of God – Muslims included, of course. It’s reassuring that Donna has “no concerns about Kiwi Muslims reacting violently” because of the comfort of personal and communal faith (though we also noticed that other of the mosque victims remained forcefully unforgiving in their calls for a death sentence and the consigning of the murderer to hell).
2/ This understandable ambivalence prompts a related question: why does some religion, including Christian faith at times, continue to feed the tapeworm of violence in the body of humanity? It seems, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn concluded from his years in the Soviet gulag, that the line between good and evil runs not between persons, or religions or nations, but down the middle of every human heart. It’s also clear that adding coercive ideology (the quest for political power or material gain) is the main way by which religious faith can be poisoned.
3/ Thirdly, all the religions, one way and another, are sure that a transcendent justice and judgment is both needed and inevitable, alongside the possibility of redemption as well. Christians and Muslims certainly believe in coming justice and judgment rendered by an altogether impartial Judge.
4/ And then there is the example of Jesus, given his divine role and unique importance both to Christians and to Muslims (including his greatly esteemed place in the Qur’an). Jesus lived at a time when inter-religious violence, slander and well-rehearsed grudges were commonplace; he knew – as we also know – that religion can appeal to both the best and the worst of humanity. But the life and death and resurrection of Jesus went on vindicate his particularly relentless insistence on the divine power of the forgiving heart. May that truth transform our own divided hearts!
Rev Dr Bob Robinson