After Christchurch

Last Friday dozens of innocent Moslims were killed while at prayer in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. The killer, an Australian citizen, said that he did it to defend “our lands” from “invaders.”

This past Monday a Turkish-born man attacked a streetcar in the Dutch city of Utrecht, killing three and injuring others. It came out on Tuesday that he left a note which indicates a “terrorist” motive. 

We edit The Anchor on Tuesday and hope that no other major killing sprees have happened by the time you read this newspaper (or ever again, for that matter).

The white nationalist murderer in New Zealand wrote that he hopes that “a civil war” will break out in the United States, due to “conflict over the second amendment and the attempted removal of firearms rights,” leading to a “Balkan[ization of] the U.S. along political, cultural and, most importantly, racial lines.” The Moslim murderer’s note in the Netherlands has not yet been made public.

One might think, “Why quote crazy people?” We do not want to give publicity to the Christchurch killer, which is why we (like the New Zealand prime minister) are not going to use his name or the other killer’s name. However, the killer was able to read about other mass killers, in particular the one who killed the parishioners at the Mother Emmanuel church in Charleston on June 17, 2015 and the one who hunted down and killed 77 progressive youth and adults in Norway in 2011. The Norwegian and the Australian in particular have offered a cogent, although hate-filled, rationale to their murders, as have some Islamic extremists. They are not just “crazy people,” but people who have chosen to use their intellect for evil (although supposedly doing this for some “greater good,” either for “the white race” or for a warped version of Islam).

There is a lot of division in our country and in our world. However, the vast majority of people of either side would not carry out such heinous acts. That does not mean that we don’t fall into the temptation of ascribing to our more moderate “opponents” the actions of the more extreme people from their “side.” For one exaggerated example, witness the blaming of Chelsea Clinton for the Christchurch massacre (because she had criticized anti-Jewish statements made by a Muslim congresswoman, she was now supposedly responsible for that killing spree). 

By coincidence, NPR aired this past weekend a show called “Hidden Brain” in which the topic was “malicious envy.” Towards the end of the hour-long broadcast, the announcer discussed studies of conservatives who were happy that the Iran hostage crisis ran long (so that President Jimmy Carter would be hurt politically) and of “some people [that] felt joy when American service members died in large numbers in the war in Iraq, because it made the other political party look bad.” 

Similarly, nowadays it seems that some conservatives feel vindicated by attacks like the one done in Utrecht, while some liberals can point to Christchurch or Charleston and say, “I told you so.” The days after 9/11, when we were all united as a country and the vast majority of the world felt a bond with us, seem so different from what we are living today.

Part of the difference between 2001 and 2019 is the continuing battle for the culture. Here in the U.S. we have the conflict over abortion, with some on the left this year wanting to make it legal even beyond birth (why not? What’s the real difference between a baby in the womb and a baby outside of it?), while some on the right speak about immigrants, documented and undocumented, as if they were some subhuman race come to destroy us. If we took some leading Democrats and Republicans from even just 1990 and could bring them in a time machine to now, they’d be astounded by how their parties had changed.

Amongst us Catholics we also are greatly divided. Unfortunately, we can look back all the way to the Acts of the Apostles to see conflicts between Jesus’ followers. At least back then we did not take up arms against each other. In the last few centuries, however, we have seen Catholics kill each other with abandon in the French Revolution in the 1700s, the Mexican Revolution in the early part of the 20th century, the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, the Rwandan genocide, etc. Who rejoices in that? The devil.

The Second Vatican Council in 1965 issued Nostra Aetate, a declaration on the Church’s relationship with non-Christian religions. In No. 3 it stated, “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of Heaven and earth, Who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting. Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this Sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

These words are good to ponder, to bring to our “thoughts and prayers,” both in regards to our relationship with our Moslem sisters and brothers, but also in regards to our fellow Christians. We do need to work for justice, but that work cannot be carried out (if we are to truly be Christians) by “demonizing” our opponents, because that will neither win them over nor is it real. People who support terrible policies are not demons. The real demons don’t want us to get to know our neighbors as human beings, to love them even though they may be misguided, to listen to them and find out why they think the way they do. Jesus hung out with the Samaritan woman, even though she was “the enemy” and a fairly “tough customer.” In the end His love won her over. With His help (and a lot of patience), we can do the same.

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts