So an as-yet unidentified crazy bigot has put out a poorly-made video insulting Islam and the prophet Muhammad. The almost inevitable result has been outrage in the Muslim community, seemingly sparking riots, violence and (so far) the killings of four people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the film and probably entirely disagree with its message.
Now this blog doesn’t really have a readership among the wider community, or indeed anyone except a small handful of thoughtful people interested in issues of theology and spirituality. So any message I put out here isn’t likely to have any effect on the world at large. But I’m going to say it anyway, just in case.
My appeal to all people, of all faiths and none, is this – don’t let the crazies control the agenda. Don’t give the haters the attention and kudos they crave. And don’t give in to the temptation to respond to hate, insult or violence with more hate, insult and violence.
For people of faith, this kind of situation is an opportunity to demonstrate what kind of God we follow – one of goodness, love, peace and forgiveness, or one of vindictiveness, vengeance and violence. And please, please for all our sakes let it be the former. There is only one God, and he is good and loving and generous to all.
The unknown film-maker’s anti-Muslim message is abhorrent to all reasonable people of all faiths and none. But God does not need us to defend his name or his honour by responding with hate and violence. What honour does that bring him? Rather we defend God’s name and his honour by responding to hate and insult with his fathomless and unfathomable love, his peace beyond understanding, his limitless mercy and his compassionate kindness – a kindness which is extended even to his enemies and ours. And we let God deal in his own way with those who insult him; a way that is far more likely to end in their redemption than their destruction (as the prophet Jonah learnt to his cost).
Those who commit violence or preach hate in the name of God have failed entirely to understand the nature and character of the God they claim to serve. They represent and serve no-one except themselves and their own fears and prejudices. And those who blaspheme or who insult other faiths do not harm or damage God – for how could that be possible? They harm no-one but themselves. Such people are to be pitied and prayed for. They need God’s mercy, not a lynch mob – nor an audience.
I want to serve and follow the one who taught his followers not to resist (fight) an evil person, nor to repay evil with evil, but to love our enemies, turn the other cheek and to pray for those who persecute us. The one who prayed for his own killers, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do’.
Emulating Jesus is no coward’s way or soft option; his path of non-violence led him directly to death on a cross. For that of course is the only way evil can ever truly be fought and defeated – by the paradoxical triumph of self-sacrificing love and innocence over the power and might of violence and hate. Only love’s power can destroy evil, and though it be destroyed itself in the process it will surely rise again. For love can never truly die; light can never be truly put out.
Some words of Martin Luther King’s are worth quoting here:
“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal…
Through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder.
Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth.
Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate.
Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.”
In this evolutionary world, subject to the laws of entropy and natural selection, it may be that brute force and aggression will always win out; that’s to be expected. But we don’t have to follow this path. The kingdom that is coming is subject to a very different kind of rule and law – the Golden Rule, and the Law of Love.
We are all brothers and sisters, children of one Father, bearers together of God’s image. We all partake of a common humanity, with all its flaws and weaknesses as well as all its goodness and greatness. We all feel the same emotions, experience the same needs and desires, hopes and joys and fears. We are all made of the same stuff. We are all sharers together of the same planet, the same air, the same light. What we share is far greater than whatever divides us, whether that be creed or politics, race, gender or social status.
God have mercy on the haters, the blasphemers and the people of fear and violence. And God have mercy on us too, for we’re all in our own ways haters and even blasphemers. Blasphemy is far more than speaking ill against God or his prophets; it is failing to bear his image, to represent his likeness of love and mercy and goodness in the world. There is more blasphemy in a religious person who claims to love God yet hates and harms his or her neighbour (of whatever creed) than there is in an irreligious person who unwittingly profanes God’s name.
Kyrie Eleison. Lord, fill us with your undying love.