Everyone had an gut reaction to the news about Charlie Hebdo. I thought it was a mistake. It was the same feeling I had when I heard of the plane flying into the World Trade Center. It’s the same feeling I have when I watch Terms of Endearment and Emma dies. “That didn’t really happen, someone made a mistake. Rewind it and listen again.”
Because I live in a parallel universe – things like that don’t actually happen.
These things are horrific (yes, even Emma’s death). Two of them involve evil. My faith in humanity and the goodness of every person makes evil a terrifying topic that I still, to this day, cannot believe is real. My faith is strong and, I promise you, tolerant.
And, I am sick and tired of listening to people tear religion apart. Immediately after the attack on the offices of Charlie Hebdo, FB posts purported the trite and cliche statement, “I dislike religion.” So, on Saturday, I posted “I think people who say they dislike religion are silly.” It wasn’t the adjective I wanted to use. I wanted to say “ignorant.” Just as you are entitled to tell me you have a blanket dislike of religion, I am entitled to say your words are ignorant. As I asked someone, “how much do you know about Zoroastrianism, for example?” Attended two Bahai ceremonies and just didn’t like the buffet selections? That makes sense.
The same night of this FB exchange, I had dinner with a friend and her husband, who is Pakistani and comes from a Muslim household. Though he is now an atheist, he said, “who am I to say religion is bad or stupid? If someone has cancer and his faith helps him to get out of bed and keep going every day, well, that’s a good thing.” I thought that was one of the most profound things I’ve heard in a discussion about faith. A Catholic Buddhist and a former Muslim now atheist – totally different faith structures, parallel thinking.
And there is parallel thinking with all the terrorists groups. It’s not religion that unites them, it’s a desire, almost a thirst, to commit acts of terrorism. Sure, there are excuses about the men and women who join these terrorist organizations having felt like lepers in their pre-terrorist lives – cast out of society. They felt they didn’t belong and then someone came along and said, “you can have a family with us.” Oh, poor little terrorists didn’t get picked to play Four Square in 4th grade, so let’s kidnap, rape, murder, and humiliate others. How sad. This is age-old, mafioso stuff, but, again, it’s not religion that unites them. It’s a desire to destroy and to kill to attain power – that’s not “religious.” That’s a sickness in the soul.
What is the answer to combat the terrorist groups? Like many, the temptation to limit free speech seems plausible to me, until we remember that free speech really oughten have limitations because then it’s not exactly “free,” is it? Bit like a free ticket to the movies that you can only use to see bile-inducing Twilight movies. Also using violence to combat violence didn’t seem to work out well in most cases (“An eye for an eye will make the world go blind” Gandhi’s pointed that out a bit more eloquently). The truly important thing to remember about eradicating terrorism is…that we cannot.
There will always be nutjobs. Some of them are violent with weapons and some of them are violent with words. These people will always find each other (just look at Congress). I’ve found, there is one solution to this problem that will work. It will work if your life is in danger, it will work if someone you love is killed. It will work when your country is attacked, it will work when your country is attacking.
It goes like this:
Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease;
I shall profess, within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
It is the hidden verse of Amazing Grace. It says that we have done our best, we were committed to sucking the marrow out of life, and we used our lives to spread principles like tolerance, kindness, and acceptance. We take our lives not for granted, but for the gift that they were at birth and can be until we die. And there are those unique cases, like those who worked in the office at Charlie Hebdo in Paris, whose lives are gifts even after they die.
Amazing Grace – how sweet the sound.