Death and Life
We seem to be living in the age of the suicide bomber. Hardly a day passes than some bloody atrocity is perpetrated by suicide bombers in Iraq or Israel-Palestine - the victims, more often than not, being innocent men, women and children. In some cases, suicide bombing is the malevolent work of the religious fanatic: in others, it is the last desperate gesture of the dispossessed. Be that as it may, it can never, never be justified.
People who have lost all fear of death, like suicide bombers, pose a huge threat to society because nothing intimidates them. If death does not deter them, then nothing else will either, and thus they have the power to do immeasurable harm. In the aftermath of 11 September 2001, when the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in America were struck by hi-jacked passenger planes, Richard Dawkins asserted in the Guardian newspaper that religion devalues life because it "teaches the dangerous nonsense that death is not the end!" The hi-jackers were Muslim martyrs who believed they would go straight to paradise.
Richard Dawkins is Professor of the Public Understanding of Science in Oxford, and a self-professed and very public enemy of religion. He says that, under the influence of religion, testosterone-sodden young men can be suckered into believing that, by flying a plane into a skyscraper, they will be put on a fast track to a Great Oasis in the Sky, where they will receive a special martyr's reward of 72 virgin brides. One young man from the Finsbury Park mosque in London, interviewed on the TV news, put it like this, "The more people we kill, the happier we will be in paradise".
There are others, however, who lose all fear of death, not primarily because they anticipate some nice reward in the afterlife, but because they are so discomfited by injustice and oppression that they are prepared even to die in the struggle for justice and human dignity. And if they die, they do so not only passionately, as suicide bombers do, but compassionately - suffering with others, rather than making others suffer.
Martin Luther King had received a number of threats to his life for his efforts to dismantle institutionalized racism and promote civil rights in the USA. In the last speech he ever made, he said this, "Like anybody I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But we as a people will get to the promised land". Martin Luther King was shot dead the next day.
What motivated Martin Luther King 40-odd years ago was religion. It was his Christian faith that motivated him to challenge the structures of injustice and oppression, jeopordising his life unto the death, but without spilling a single drop of blood except his own. Because not even death, or the fear of death, could deter him, he had the power to do immeasurable good. What motivates the suicide bomber today is also religion. However, in the case of the suicide bomber, what motivates him is a twisted and perverted understanding of what is truly a noble religion, namely, Islam. In the furtherance of his cause, the suicide bomber creates a bloodbath, leaving death, destruction and suffering in his wake. Because not even death, or the fear of death, can deter him, the suicide bomber has the power to do immeasurable harm. Martin Luther King was a harbinger of life. The suicide bomber is a harbinger of death.
I share these reflections with you as we enter that holy season when we remember One who set his face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem, there to lay down his life for the sins of the world - a death that brought, and still brings, LIFE!
For all Church or calendar related issues, please contact :