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Will we allow love or terror to rule our world?

By Colin Gibson

Terrorism is to compel another human being through fear to do what you want them to do. Terrorism fills our daily news. It preoccupies governments desperate to protect their citizens. It haunts the lives of millions of people.

Of course, we needn’t worry too much about terrorism. Terrorism has to do with politics, not religion. And if it does involve religion, it must be the fault of those murderous Muslims, or revengeful Israelis. To our minds, terrorism is something that other people do to populations far away overseas. Shocking but not us. Unthinkable here in peaceful Christian Aotearoa-New Zealand. Or is it?
In Matthew 5: 43-8 Christ speaks of the rejection of hatred, of quiet submission to injury, of unstinting love without discrimination; of doing good to all as generously as the sun rises daily over the earth, as rain descends on the just and the unjust. How could a religion created to honour such teachings turn to terror as an instrument of power and coercion? Yet the Christian Church stands as guilty of practising religious terrorism as does any other religion.

What are the instruments of Christian religious terrorism? One is a terrifying image of God as all-powerful, all-seeing strict judge of the living and the dead. The final guardian of moral purity; the one who intervenes in human history to strike down the wicked and guilty. A father capable of delivering his own son to a dreadful death to satisfy his own absolute moral demands.

This terror-ridden image portrays all human beings as guilty of sin from the moment of their conception. We are creatures who must strive to reach the perfect purity of God, without any hope of success under the threat of never-ending suffering in a specially created fiendish place of torture called Hell.

We are told that our 'sacred' scriptures may not be criticized or disputed because they have the absolute authority of God himself. Yet, under the protection of such authority, these scriptures describe terrible acts of divine destruction, authorise violence against sinners, and demonise whole groups of human beings.

Christians have used extreme physical violence, torture and even murder, to cow unbelievers into believing, or frighten believers into remaining loyal to doctrines or the authority of the Church. This includes such practices as the ritual burning of witches and heretics; the Inquisition; the destruction of victims’ way of life and property; in some cases ethnic cleansing.

Psychological terrorism has been used to induce fear and dread to the point where victims surrender all resistance and may be left spiritually and psychologically crippled for life. Think of the instances of child abuse in Church-run institutions now coming to light or attacks on gay and lesbian people from a Christian position.

How can we deal with such Christian terrorism? What can we do about it?

I suggest the first step is come to terms with the sad knowledge that throughout the life of the Christian Church there have been institutional and individual acts of terrorism. Let us learn never to be shocked into adopting the tactics of terrorists, even in the face of outrageous provocation.

The second step is to absolutely refuse to accept fear and dread as legitimate ways of bringing the kingdom of God into existence on earth. Christ is the Word of Love. If we are true followers of Christ there can be no justification for ‘putting the fear of God into someone’.

Do whatever you can to confront the image of Terror-God beliefs and replace them with saner and more life-affirming alternatives. I’m going to be provocative here and say we should consign to the rubbish bag of history talk of ‘acts of God’ (natural catastrophes), and expectations of a Last Judgement that will send the wicked (those others, never ourselves) to hell as a final place of punishment.

We can also stand tall as spiritual human beings and teach our children to stand tall, too. I have no obligation to accept St Augustine’s opinion that I was a sinner in God’s eyes from the moment of my conception, or John Wesley’s estimate of me as a ‘helpless worm’ before the face of God. I do not accept that simply because I am human, I must be either guilty or vile. Join me.

Get into modern biblical understandings: learn how to challenge the mindless belief in the literal truth and absolute authority of every word in the ancient texts that fuels fanatical attitudes and aggressive fundamentalism.

Resist and challenge every temptation to practice your own version of physical, psychological or economic terrorism to protect your beliefs or change beliefs of others. It is so easy in anger or resentment to turn into a little terrorist. Learn to identify and resist the terrorizing behaviour of others; stand up for their victims and be prepared to bind up their wounds. They will be deep.

Finally, and above all, actively practise love, love of a loving God and love of your neighbours, whoever they may be. Love freely all those with whom you come into contact; love like the warmth of the sun rising on a cold dawn; love like the fresh wetness of rain falling on a dry and dusty plain.