Vol 39 No 3
ENGAGING WITH CHANGE
STILL RELEVANT? Vatican II Forty Years On
ETHNIC MINISTRY IN AUSTRALIA: History, Present Realities and Future Options
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE HEART: The EJ Cuskelly Memorial Lecture 2005
GOD SHOUTS TO US IN OUR PAIN
Dr Lawrence Cross, Australian Catholic University
TOPICAL COMMENT - TERRORISTS, MARTYRS AND SUICIDES: Consulting the Early
STATS AND STONES: Vinnies’ report from the trenches on the poverty wars
MERTON: A Modern Perspective
REVIEW: Jane Anderson, Priests in Love: Australian Catholic Clergy and
Their Intimate Friendships.
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
Topical comment - Terrorists, martyrs and suicides: Consulting the Early Church
PAINFUL AS IT may be, twenty-first century terrorism forces us to ask
questions about the existence of resentments, dissonant thinking and religious
cultural alienations that are active deep within the fabric of our post-modern,
western democratic society. The murderous, cowardly random violence witnessed
in London from 7 July compels us to lift the stone to confront whatever
has been living and breeding beneath it. It is not a comfortable experience
even to admit to their existence, let alone confront the ideological demons
behind the smile and apparent affability of the lad next door. The phenomenon
of the ideologically motivated, covert activist, and his alienation, is
not exclusively modern. The Christian past has something to say about
how we name and treat such a thing.
In the religious and cultural world of Imperial Rome, Christians had every
reason to feel like outsiders. They were demonised and persecuted by the
state as alien subversives, enemies even of the human race. Roman society
emptied its own psychological garbage on them, in much the same way that
threatened power structures need moral scapegoats when their own certainties
seem to be tottering or challenged. No wonder some young Christians from
time to time vandalised the shrines of the Roman gods by way of protest.
However, these zealous religious vandals were never considered heroes.
The early Christians' most- admired figure was the martyr, not the zealot.
The genuine martyr never sought martyrdom. The early Christian world,
like the Jewish tradition before it, saw the martyr as one who surrendered
their life, even for the conversion of their enemies, once they had been
apprehended for their faith. The Judeo-Christian martyr is not violent.
Like Christ himself, the martyr of martyrs, they are God' witnesses precisely
because they are victims.
This view of the martyr suffered aberrations in western Christianity in
the Middle Ages at the time of the Crusades. Western Christianity's crusade
ideology was almost identical to Jihad. The warrior, killed fighting for
the faith, was admitted to a guaranteed heaven. The passing of time has
shown that this was an aberration in western Christianity (for the Christian
East war was always an evil, even if necessary). Jihad, crusade's twin
brother, has also had its critics and interpreters in Islam. For the Sufis
it was to be understood as signifying the interior, moral warfare to be
undertaken by all believers, not as 'holy war', which to modern ears is
the oxymoron that 'beats them all'. The suicide bomber and the Islamic
fundamentalist are a world away from the Sufi sages, with a mentality
to be located, to be precise, in the central Middle Ages.
Finally, in these times when Muslim extremists target Christians, Jews
and 'Westerners', and the suicide bomber is called a martyr, it might
be helpful to recall the decisions of the Council of Elvira (c.305) which
dealt with those young Christian hotheads who were engaged in vandalistic
acts against pagan shrines and idols, although they were rather more like
the modern street graffitist than the suicide bomber. Canon 60 of that
ancient Church Council declared that:
If anyone breaking idols is killed in the process, since this [kind
of act] is not written in the Gospel and would never be found occurring
in the time of the Apostles, he is not to be called or received into the
ranks of the martyrs.
Maybe world Islam needs something like Canon 60 of the Council of Elvira,
or something a good deal stronger?.
Pope Benedict XVI believes that presently we are not witnessing a clash
of civilizations. However, while there may be no clash of civilizations,
the social and cultural worlds involved are very different. One suspects
that both are also co-dependant in a paradoxical way. The young suicide
bomber, however much we believe him to be wrong, has a deep problem provoked
by his post-modern, secularist, western, and to his mind, godless environment.
Mixed with the personal angst which at some point is experienced by so
many youth, we have an explosive personal mixture in the making. Both
Islam and the post-modern West have serious questions to ask themselves.
Islam finally needs to ask itself about the meaning of this fundamentalism
occurring within its spiritual world, while post-modern society needs
to ask itself about its effect upon the moral life and development of
the citizen. Neither will be easy. Honesty never is.
Rev Dr Lawrence Cross teaches
at the Australian Catholic University