The plague of fundamentalist violence
We must not denigrate followers of an entire religion because of the misguided acts of a few
Protestors demonstrate against the showing of the controversial Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ" outside the Ziegfield theater in New York, 12 August 1988 (AFP Photo/Mark Caldwell)
Fundamentalist believers, who were enraged by what they decided was a blasphemous film, set off firebombs in a Paris movie theater.
Thirteen people were injured, four seriously. In other places, tear gas canisters and stink bombs were set off in theaters showing the movie.
The year was 1988, the film was Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ and the terrorists were Christians, Catholics among them.
They probably had not seen the film, and even if they had, they would not have realized that it is a profound meditation upon the temptation for Jesus to walk away from his cross-bound vocation, the temptation that underlies the three temptations recorded in the Gospels.
In the film, as in the Gospels, the temptation is powerful, and in the film, as in the Gospels, Jesus ultimately refuses the temptation and chooses the cross.
I have never been asked as a Christian to apologize for the vicious unconcern for the lives and safety of others on the part of those ignorant Christian terrorists. If asked, I would refuse, since I bear no responsibility for and abhor what they did in the name of Christ.
Neither would I accept any attacks upon Catholicism or any other form of Christianity because there are such crazed people among us believers.
People are rightly horrified by the actions of some Muslim fundamentalists. Such events as 9/11, the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the assassination of journalists in Paris, beheadings by Islamic State and the enslavement of children by Boko Haram in Central Africa all draw justly shocked reactions.
Less prominent in global media is the persecution of Christians and others by fundamentalist Muslims in the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of Asia.
It is clear that Islam has among its 1.5 billion or more adherents a large number of people who, ignorant of the actual teachings of their religion, frozen in ancient ways of expressing their faith, basically unconfident of Islam’s ability to survive in the modern world or unable to find other ways to deal with political, social or economic frustrations, perpetrate violence.
Most of that violence, in fact, is directed toward other Muslims whose faith is not considered sufficiently pure or orthodox.
The problem must ultimately be dealt with by the Muslim community around the world. That community is distressed by what is being done in its name. Their religion is being hijacked by evil.
Drone attacks, bombing raids and other violent responses from outside will not root out that evil. Only the united action of the overwhelming majority of Muslims who are not violent fundamentalists can do that.
Outsiders can and should challenge the Muslim world to deal with this poison that is ultimately of more harm to Islam than to the rest of us. We can and should support, and to the extent that outsiders can do so, join the efforts of Muslims to extirpate fanaticism in the name of their religion.
What we cannot and must not do is denigrate Islam or its adherents. We cannot and must not expect each and every Muslim to apologize for crazy and ignorant members of their faith. Christianity is not to blame for those fanatics who firebombed the Saint Michel theater in Paris.
Catholicism is not to blame for the terrorism of the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland and England. It is unjust and unfair to expect Muslims to accept a level of corporate responsibility that we would not accept for our own community of faith.
We are living in an age of fundamentalism. Many people, feeling threatened in a world that changes so quickly and seems to be beyond their understanding or control, hold more strongly than ever to old truths and old ways of expressing those truths.
Most fundamentalists, including Muslim or Christian fundamentalists, are not violent, just afraid of a bewildering world and unable to trust that God remains with them. They may be misguided, uneducated, unsophisticated, insecure or just plain stupid, but that does not inevitably lead to violence.
And fundamentalism is not limited to religion. It can be directed toward science, as in the case of those who deny climate change or evolution. It can be atheistic, as in the case of some of the most prominent and prolix atheists whose stridency and refusal to engage in discussion with intelligent and informed believers indicate insecurity.
As Islam struggles to overcome the problem presented by some of its fundamentalists, fostering new ways to live with their faith in a changing world, perhaps the best way that Christians can help is to provide an example of trust in God’s care by dealing with the same problem in the Church, particularly when Christian fundamentalism fosters indiscriminate anti-Muslim attitudes and actions.
Maryknoll Fr William Grimm is publisher of ucanews.com, based in Tokyo.