It’s been a disturbing time for people of faith. Yes we value free speech as a foundational principle of modern open democracy. We do, however, also understand the pain of those who feel that they have been gratuitously insulted for the sake of cheap laughs. How do we ensure that this tension is creative and not destructive?
The violent attacks on Charlie Hebdo and the Parisian Jewish supermarket, along with the foiled attacks in Belgium, show one sort of unity; a unity that is built upon the abuse power and the hatred of anyone who does not conform. This unity is a bastardised version of the Islamic faith that it claims to proclaim; a faith that proclaims God/Allah as the most merciful is inherently a faith of peace. The most profound expression of unity, based upon love, was the young Muslim man working in the Jewish supermarket who, at personal risk, saved Jewish customers by hiding them in the cold storage facilities.
The potentially violent lust for certainty and power can infiltrate social structures; especially when religion and national identity collide. Pope Francis, looking back on Christian history, proclaimed, “We have been sinners too.” However, there is a Biblical tradition that eschews this passion for one correct answer. Our Bible is open to contradiction and this is what makes it such a rich collection of books; texts which no editor has sought to unify into one simple account. Is mankind the final pinnacle of God’s creation (Genesis 1) or does God start with the creation of man (Genesis 2)? Is the correct response to occupation and deportation to shore up national identity and separation (Ezra and Nehemiah) or to integrate and discover how the nations can bless us (Ruth and Jeremiah)? We also have four gospel accounts of Jesus’ life often with irreconcilable differences. A true unity has to accept that we can be united without being the same. This unity is at the heart of the Christian faith and our common human experience built upon love.
Je suis Charlie? Yes. But also I empathise with those who feel pain and insult when what they hold dear is degraded.
With love and prayers Paul