The fear of course is that Muslims are made scapegoats even though thousands of Muslims have been killed by so called Islamic State in the conflicts that are raging in the Middle East, to say nothing of parts of Africa. What is it that makes us so violent and perpetrate this is the name of religion? We all have the propensity for violence within us. if one human being can carry out murder then we all can. And if one human being can work for peace and achieve heroism then we all can. We are a small and beautiful planet in the midst of a gigantic universe and we are making such a mess of it.
It so happened that a theologian who has looked these issues straight in the face died earlier this month. Rene Girard believed that there was a connection between violence and the sacred.‘His work has been described as" a call, and a warning, to take seriously the dangerous proximity of religion and violence" He believes that human beings, as part of their evolutionary programming, "have a ‘fatal attraction’ to competition and rivalry, which, if unchecked, will lead to violence". I've often suspected this and thought that the belief found in all faiths that somehow they are superior to others, that they have the truth and offer a quicker way to enlightenment or salvation contains the seeds of competition and violence. Of cours exactly the same could be said about secular philosophies.
At the centre of Girard's thought is the idea of scapegoat - the victim who's marginalised, even killed so that the community can survive. The scapegoat is someone to blame. Scapegoating people or groups lets us off the hook, gives us a security which stops us looking at our own violence. It's the result of insecurity and fear, of refusing to take responsibility for our actions and looking to blame others. And we see it everywhere - ISIS scapegoats the west and many scapegoat Muslims. It creates a climate of fear - something we can see for ourselves on our television screens. And the response? An increase in violence. Already the French Government have bombed an ISIS stronghold. So it becomes a vicious circle with mindless violence and governments at a loss how to deal with it. As Tolstoy says "Men are so accustomed to maintaining external order by violence that they cannot conceive of life being possible without violence"
Religions do have the resources for peace-making - the way of love and compassion. Today the Pope said that love of neighbor is the only "victorious power" in the world. After 9/11 Tich Nhat Hanh reflected on the need for deep listening, to try to understand the suffering that leads to violence; the need to cool the heat of anger and hatred within ourselves so that we don't respond too quickly. it's so important for religious people to offer the world an alternative to hate and violence; to show the possibility of the non-violent transformative power of religious practice; to show that unity exists between religious communities.
Thanks to St Mary's Cathedral who gave us the opportunity to do this together earlier on today