Africana Plus

No48 January 2002.1

Religious Fanaticism
"God with us"


To kill in the name of God! What a blasphemy! Yet that is what fundamentalists of all kinds down the ages have regularly summoned us to do. We heard it again on 11 September.

"Gott mit uns, In God we trust, Allah Akbar…" History is punctuated with these slogans. To quote God as a partner helps to turn the adversary into a devil and to convert one’s own cause, whatever it may be, into a holy crusade. We learn too easily that the Good is obliged to fight against the Bad, but we forget about our own devils and the wider issues of equity, justice and forgiveness.

There are exceptions. The journalist Pierre Bourgault wrote in a chronicle in the Journal du Montreal on 16 September 2001: "How long are we going to raise up God against God in this way? You would think that we would have learned by now that God does not frequent battlefields and that one man’s God never succeeded in killing another’s. To try and enlist God on the side of our own selfish desires is odious.

There is something revolting about trying to recruit one set of gods against another. The terrorists in America died inspired with the hope of going to Heaven. Their victims had the same hope. If God exists, he will open his door to both parties and will impose his peace on them."

"God does not want people to kill for Him," wrote a child to the leaders of the United Nations.

The true believer can never be a fanatic. Fanaticism begins when one refuses the other the right to be different. It can be found in many areas of life: in personal relationships, in politics, in ideological conflicts, even in family life and the pastoral ministry.

The events in the United States were a demonstration of what can happen when men are not respected for their own sake. No doubt, intolerance is the fruit of fear. Sectarian groups flourish especially in times of widespread depression when people seek security by shutting themselves up in their own convictions, or by indulging in systematic violence. Properly understood, the severity and ruthlessness of the ideological persecutor are reflections of his own weakness and insecurity.

Of all fanaticism, the religious variety is the most scandalous because it pretends to be standing for the Absolute who is God. It is a perversion of religion. God is not a strong-armed fighter but a merciful lover of men. God does not seeks recruits for himself, he does not want to make man his slave. God is Freedom, and he calls to freedom. He does not want obedient subjects but partners, not slaves but sons. His authority is not used to crush but to help the other to grow.

This temptation to claim that God is on our side is not peculiar to any one religion, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. On 13 October 2001 Oliver McTernan, of Harvard University, wrote in The Tablet: "There are numerous religious conflicts between ethnic groups raging in different parts of the world today, and adherents of all the major world faiths can be found who justify atrocities on the grounds that the cause is righteous, and that those who die for it will immortalize themselves. From the Balkans to Sri Lanka, Indonesia to Northern Ireland, the Middle East to Kashmir, Nigeria to India, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs justify terror and indiscriminate acts of violence as a means of protecting their religious interests and resolving their ethnic grievances."

Intolerance, we believe, is the fruit of the fear and humiliation which both have their roots in poverty. On 15 October 2001 Archbishop Renato Martino, permanent observer at the United Nations, said to the General Assembly of that body: "A continuing unjust state of affairs is bound to nourish conflicts…Even if poverty is not itself the cause of terrorism, the latter cannot be successfully combated unless one seeks to eliminate the inequalities between the rich and the poor…Every serious campaign against terrorism must confront in the first place the social, economic and political issues on which it feeds."

The Secretary General of the World Council of Churches wrote in a similar vein to Kofi Annan, the Secretary General of the United Nations: "As long as the cry of humiliated peoples is ignored or neglected by popular indifference or through contempt on the part of the powerful, whether this involves a denial of justice or the trampling on human rights, terrorism will not be overcome. The response to terrorism must be found in putting a stop to the violence practiced by and between nations."

Work for a more just world demands the possibility of meeting and dialogue. Prejudices and superiority complexes are elements deeply ingrained in all cultures and all peoples. They make it impossible for men and women to appreciate the riches of other cultures. People become incapable of hearing what others have to teach them. Locked into their own vain self-complacency, they lose all interest in new knowledge. For us Christians, the Gospel can only be lived where there is respect for the other and a real desire to learn the inspiration of his life. We are only truly living by the Gospel when we are ready to perceive God already acting in the other.

It is in this spirit of mutual respect and appreciation that the Pope is inviting "the religions of the world" to Assisi on 24 January 2002. In 1986 he had already organized a similar meeting, a unique and historic "religious summit" during which the representatives of different religions prayed together for a better world.

The Pope is now renewing the effort to pray for overcoming oppositions and promoting genuine peace. "We wish to come together again, Christians and Muslims especially, in order to proclaim before the world that religion must never be a motive for conflict, hatred and violence. The one who truly welcomes in his heart the Word of God, the All-Good and All-Merciful, is bound by the same action to exclude all rancor and enmity. At this historic moment, mankind needs to see gestures of peace and to hear words of hope."

We missionaries believe that we have an important part to play in the current climate of fear. In the first place, we have to tell the whole world that it is not correct to make one particular religion the scapegoat for all acts of terror. The phenomenon of violence is much wider than that.

Secondly, even if we are not in a position to take political or military decisions, we can make a contribution towards the search for truth by going beyond the emotions of the moment and helping to build a society based on international justice and solidarity.

Thirdly, we recognize that certain countries labeled "terrorist states" are in fact poor countries, and it is poverty, often extreme, which nourishes discontent and anger in one part of the population. We realize too that many local conflicts, in Africa and in the countries of the South generally, may have their real source in the countries of the North.

Finally we become more conscious than ever of our prophetic role in bringing to reality the great dream of universal fraternity which unites North and South alike in a single Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.

The Missionaries of Africa (White Fathers) wrote in their Chapter Documents of 1992: "The love of each and every person pushes us beyond the boundaries and divisions of race, to refuse all exclusion, to be interested in the other’s culture and language, to listen, to recognize their uniqueness and their dignity." (n 115) We shall continue to proclaim this message in season and out of season, for that is our vocation.

Michel Fortin, M. Afr

Back to main menu