On this Friday early in the year I am in a wondering mood. Or should that be a wandering mood? I think I'd rather be just about anywhere but here with the images of murder and carnage in Paris, and the thoughts that shape themselves around those images. Two young men, full of certainty, steeped in self righteousness, awash with arrogance, and unbothered by pity, mercy or grace, stepped into a pool of savagery yesterday, and drowned more than a few illusions along with the twelve people they murdered.
Did they think their god would be pleased with them? Did they think their god would not be more than capable of defending his own good name? Did they think their god was so weak and ineffectual that they needed to step up and do his work for him? Did they think their creator wanted them to descend into bloody violence and be the angels of death?
Did they think that murder was a holy errand?
Apparently they did.
Well young men: As you are about to forfeit your lives, if you haven't already, I feel a need to respond to you. I doubt you will read this, but I need to write it nonetheless.
Your god is not mine. I do not bow down to or submit to you or your god. Your god is not worthy of worship and nor does he deserve a capital letter.
Your god has sucked on your blood just as surely as you sucked the lives out of your victims. Your god imprisons people with rules and obligations. He is not a god of mercy and love. He is evil if he needs his people to do what you did. So go with your god, where he has led you. I won't presume to say what awaits you but I'm afraid I can't wish you well.
I worship an entirely different God; for whom I use a capital letter. My God does not require me to slaughter those who think or believe differently; to fill my days with outward observance and arbitrary rules of conduct or fashion; to consider myself superior and that my religious beliefs trump those of others.
My God bends over backwards to help me understand that I matter to him. My God spares nothing in his quest for me. My God does not require blind obedience, despite what some say. My devotion is not about rules and outward observance. It is about my God coming to me; not me slavishly trying to impress him with how good I am or how closely I follow his law.
Don't worry, This is not going to turn into a sermon. I'll leave it there. It's just that it saddens me to read and hear people who are frightened and repulsed by these atrocities condemn all religion out of hand. What drives these young men is a perversion of religion and a blasphemy against the name of God. Their 'religion' and their god are manifestations of evil and I, for one, will never submit to them.
Keeping with the theme, but on a different note, you can learn a lot from a visit to a museum. Not only does a good museum offer an escape from cares and worries. You can usually find things that make you think about life and the narratives and truths we live by. The museums in central Berlin are outstanding. I love to visit them, and hope last month's visit won't be the last.
How can you look at the painting below and not be drawn into looking at the people pictured? The buildings? Yes, interesting. They all seem to have doors, windows and roofs, and tell you something about medieval life. The people however are the real give away. They're alive for a start. They're social. They smile, they talk, they do business, they flirt, and they look as if they'd be hard to control with city ordnances, laws and the like.
Just like us today, no? What I see here is that people are people and always have been. We have a subtle narrative today that tells us we are more advanced than people in earlier times. We respect human rights (do we really?); we are more highly evolved (you reckon?); and we must be cleverer because we live in a secular society where religion is dismissed as superstition for the week minded (I guess you will know where I stand on that). What I see in this picture is people, just like you and I; human beings living their lives with as much imperfection, disappointment, dreams, and worries as you or I still do. Bad things shook them up and made them nervous about the future. Bad things shake us up and make us nervous about the future.
The trouble is, when you walk through the museums of Berlin, or any museums, some of those things we tell ourselves about our self satisfied ideas of modern superiority start to look a bit shaky. Take the illuminated statues below for example:
I can't look at these figures without seeing humans exactly like you and I, even though they were crafted thousands of years ago. All right. I will admit I was never in as good a shape as that. Furthermore, I would argue that the median body shape in the western world has regressed rather than progressed since these statues were formed. Do we really want to persist with the idea that we are better and more sophisticated than they were? Are we so much cleverer with our smug dismissal of the spiritual dimension to life?
You see, this is my point and is the link with the earlier part of my article. We coccoon ourselves with certainties about our world that may not be certainties. Our world may not be the inherently good and safe place we would like it to be. The photo below from the Deutches Historisches Museum in Berlin is of a poster for a movie in post war Germany. “The Murderers are among us” is the message Berliners of that time didn't want to hear. Former high ranking Nazis were still living in their community in the thousands. Their safe, predictable post war world of economic miracles was at risk from this realisation that such people lived among them. Evil and danger could not be silenced then, and it can't be today in our world.
You can learn a lot about life from visiting a museum. You can learn that we humans have always had to do it tough and that there are no free rides, or easy answers for dealing with the evil that will slaughter in the name of a perverted view of religion. We can't reason it away. We can't legislate it away. It will always be with us, among us and in us. That is an insight from my Christian belief which serves well to explain the situation in which we find ourselves in these times of militant Islam. Humans will not ever create a fully safe and just society because they were not built that way. It doesn't mean we can't or shouldn't try though.
On the way out of the museum you can even discover a bit more about what is important in life. A man fishing in a canal. A heron standing nearby. Things like fishing, and simple communion between God's creatures bring a calmness to my soul that is sorely needed this afternoon.
Maybe I will choose to go fishing this weekend.