Thursday, January 15, 2015

(Archbishop Lazar Puhalo)

The assassination of staff members of the satirical journal "Charlie Hebdo" has shocked the civilized world. It makes no difference what one's opinion of this journal is -- it satirises and offends everyone equally --the incident horrifies the sensibilities of everyone who believes in democracy and basic freedoms.
We will not accuse Islam in general for the actions of groups of fundamentalists and fanatics, rather we need to address the constructs of these phenomena themselves. They occur in all religions and in many political ideologies.
Allow me to submit that fundamentalism and fanaticism are expressions of a brittle insecurity that is filled with fear. Certainly from an evolutionary perspective, anger and hate are products of fear. It is reasonable to assert that, aside from any psychiatric issues, these phenomena arise in individuals with a psychological need for absolutes. Democracy, freedom of speech and expression, and education are the natural enemies of absolutism, whether religious or political. This conflict can arise in any religion, and has certainly been manifested in Christianity throughout the centuries; corrupted religion can often motivate good people to do evil things.
A major challenge to us is how to react to such violence. We need to be diligent so that we do not over react in such a way that we curtail the very freedoms that we intend to protect. Moreover, we need to be careful that the actions of fundamentalists and fanatics do not lure us into a wholesale condemnation of a whole people, their religion and their holy book. One can find as many, if not more, unspeakable horrors in the Hebrew-Christian Bible as in the Quaran. The "Old Testament" contains some of the most horrific genocides, mass slaughter, rape and ethnic cleansing ever recorded. Fundamentalists in the Christian world have committed atrocious crimes against humanity, so much so that civil laws have had to be passed to curtail them.
The problems we are facing now cannot be assigned to one religion or another, but to that faction which exists in all religions in every time and place. If we learn anything from the current violence in France, allow me to suggest the following:
No religion has an historical monopoly on violence. We also have a legacy of violence and intolerance. All fundamentalisms are dangerous and inhumane. Religions in themselves have produced rich treasures of beauty, poetry, music and human values. Up until the capture of Islam by the fundamentalism of Al Gazali (c. 1058–1111), the Islamic world led all others in the development of the sciences and medicine. Science and medicine have also flourished in the Christian world in epochs and places in which fundamentalism has not perverted it. For people of sincere faith, science, democracy and education are not enemies. We can accept freedom of speech and expression even from those we disagree with or find repulsive. We also need to be firm enough in our faith to realize that advances in knowledge will challenge some of the concepts and ideas that we hold. Though it was once deemed to be doctrine, we no longer believe that the earth is the stationary centre of a universe that consists only in our solar system. With a sincere and living faith we can all learn to grow and develop in knowledge and understanding of the cosmos, the earth and the human condition without ever compromising the essentials of the faith we hold.
In my view, Orthodox Christianity has the most profound beauty and truth to offer to the world. Yet we, too, often find ourselves in bondage to fundamentalisms, and sometimes to sheer superstitions. We need to be wary of how we judge others.
Science, education, freedom of speech and expression, democratic values are our allies, not our enemies. It may be that much of the Islamic world has not yet discovered this, but as they do, those among them who are possessed by brittle insecurities and fear, will react as violently as we have seen. Our task is not to help them succeed by over-reacting and ourselves undermining these values and freedoms.