Yesterday we watched in horror as Norway was dealt not one, but two terrifying blows. For a country used to being the neutral diplomat, it was a cruel blow. The news stories began immediately as they always do, comparisons were made to 9/11, and to bombings by Islamic extremists in other parts of Europe and Asia. Al Qaeda’s name was mentioned immediately, with other Islamic extremist groups not far behind. The previous outrage among many Muslims over cartoons of the prophet Mohamed was brought up as a possible motivation for the attack, that seemed to be growing in seriousness and injury as the hours ticked by.
What we awoke to this morning was something quite different. The same news sources who had fanned the speculative flames of islamophobia reported now, in a rather quieter vein, that actually the perpetrator seemed to be white, not dark, and Christian, not Muslim.
It is easy to point out the log in another’s eye. So easy to chastise the Muslim community for not stamping out extremism within their own religion. It is far more difficult to face the extremism and violence within ones own faith.
Hatred, anger, fear and violence. They all twist about one another like a great poisonous serpent. Or as a fictional religious leader once put it: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” (That’s Yoda for those of you not fluent in Geek.) And what suffering fear and anger have wrought in Norway.
Fear of the other, the different, the strange; anger at those who do not share that same fear. Those were the seeds that fueled the death and terror far too many lived, or died, in the midst of this week. And it would be easy to once again refuse to see our own log. It would be easy to dismiss this madman as a member of the criminally insane, or a product of his particular country or denomination. But the truth is anger and fear reside in all our hearts, in all our pews, in all our homes. And no matter the scope, the suffering they wreak is just as real.
A church hates and fears gay and lesbian people so greatly they demonstrate at the funerals of soldiers who gave their lives in service to our country. A man burns down churches because of their “non Biblical” theologies. Teenagers who are different from their peers (in a multitude of ways) are bullied to the point of despair and suicide. Republicans and Democrats alike despise and vilify one another until rhetoric and exaggeration become accepted truth, and hatred of each other is expected. Hate fill speech from radio and television personalities under the guise of news is defended and protected, (or in a particular case, written off as “entertainment”). And it doesn’t stop.
We have a choice. But it requires the willingness to cease to blame the other for suffering and to be wiling to address our own hatred and fear. Yoda’s young apprentice discovers how difficult, and costly it can be to face the thing we fear and hate; but the redemption and strength he finds to end the suffering of so many comes only through that costly confrontation. Our own journeys can be no different. Christ himself paid the ultimate cost for speaking the truth of love against the hard edge of hatred and fear. And if we are willing to examine our own seeds we too will have to sacrifice much.
And yet, if we are not willing to honestly address the places where we are guilty of fearing the other, and where we have disguised hate as dislike, disagreement, or righteous anger, the suffering of this world will go on unabated. We must sacrifice our feelings of superiority over the other, or any claim to the absolute truth. As those who travel through the AA steps do, we may have to sacrifice our pride as we make amends to those we have harmed in our fear and anger. These things are not easy, they are not glamorous, they will not swell us with feelings of pride or superiority. They are more likely to bring us to tears of shame or sorrow and yet at the other side of that dark place of testing there is real light, real relationship, real hope for a better world.
Pray for Norway, for all her people. But pray also for ourselves that we might at last heed the call to end fear, anger and the violence they cause. Pray for the strength to truly change the world. And then in the words of that great fictional teaching. “Do or do not, there is no try.” Let us cease to hide behind the idea that we tried and failed or that the problem is another’s, and own our choice to do, or do not.
Thoughts on this article, or the events in Norway? Add them in the comments.