QUESTION : “In a frenzy of hatred, during the Second World War more than a hundred thousand Slovak Jews were killed,” Pope Francis said in his address. “In an effort to eradicate every trace of the community, the synagogue was demolished.. I repeat: let us unite in condemning all violence and every form of anti-Semitism, and in working to ensure that God’s image, present in the humanity he created, will never be profaned.” He practically repeated the same idea in Hungary where Orban won election by a hate campaign against Jews. What is the relevance of the stand of the Pope in India for the church? – Ribero Justin
ANSWER: Jacob Parappally MSFS
The frenzy of hatred blinds humans to recognize who they are and who others are and what it means to be human. In such a terrible self-induced blindness they would not hesitate to kill a few people or even an entire ethnic, religious or linguistic group of people as it happened during the Second World War. Pope Francis reminds the present generation about the holocaust in which millions of Jews were brutally murdered by those who were wedded to the terribly vicious ideology of fascism. It is a reminder to the entire world that if some nations and peoples harbour hatred towards others who do not share their ideology, religious beliefs, ethnic identity, culture and language, it can flare up at any time with the least provocation through false propaganda and unleash war and violence taking away millions of precious human lives and destroy properties including the cultural goods. Hatred begets violence and violence begets the destruction of life and property. What purpose does this senseless acts of humans achieve?
The votaries of such ideologies and fundamentalist religious beliefs devalue the human life of those whom they perceive as a threat to the spread of their ideologies or religions. When some people obsessed with the desire to dominate and control others by securing power, they use whatever means that are available to them. One of the easiest ways to enlist the support of a large majority of the people who are ignorant about the nefarious plans of the perpetrators of violence is to present to them highly emotive issues concerning threats to their religious, ethnic, national and linguistic identities. When one identifies the meaning of his or her life with the individual perception of his or her religious beliefs, ideologies, ethnic, national or linguistic belongings so passionately one is willing to do anything and even die to preserve those identities. For them, the motto is to do or die! Those who occupy positions of leadership in a society, nation or religious communities know very well how to manipulate the emotional attachment of each person. There are good leaders who bring out the best in their followers and challenge them to discover their true identity and grow in it. But there are a large number of leaders with criminal intent to manipulate the religious, ideological, national, ethnic, linguistic and other sentiments to achieve their selfish interests at the cost of human lives and harmony in a society.
Origin of Divisive Forces
How beautiful life in this world would have been, if people were to live in harmony and peace, cooperation and collaboration, care and concern for other humans! Though there are some in every society who live and strive for such state of affairs, there are others who cannot bear such a situation of peace and concord and so they create situations of divisions and disunity, hatred and violence through their provocative words and discriminatory actions. Some have exclusivist and supremacist attitudes that consider other humans who do not belong to their group or class or religion as lesser humans who are dispensable. Beverly Flanigan, a leading authority on forgiveness, says, “Countless individuals are satisfied to go on resenting and hating people….They stew in their own inner poisons and even contaminate those around them”. Why does this happen? Every religion has an answer for the origin of the divisive forces that revel in spreading hatred and reap the fruits of violence and destruction. The Hindu religious traditions explain it as originating from ignorance or avidya, the Semitic religions believe that it originates from the disobedience of humans to God’s command to live as God intended them to live. Other religious traditions have their own explanation for the cause of division and disunity within the human beings and within their societies.
The biblical revelation explains the cause of every alienation or separation that brings about disunity and disharmony as the abuse of God-given freedom. The cause of wars and violence among human beings is very clearly stated in the Letter of James. It says, “For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. What causes wars, and what causes fighting among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war” (James 3:16; 4:1-2). It is a very clear understanding of the source or violence and wars. Any selfish ambition at the cost of others and the unity in any society leads to strife, divisions and disharmony. The pity is that such selfishness is not only limited to the individuals but also to all groups, families, religions, societies, nations etc. Underlying this is also the individual and collective craving for power to dominate others and to establish one’s supremacy over others. What are its consequences? The loss of the real self of individual persons and the real collective self of religions and societies as well as enormous loss of life, property, peace and harmony in the world!
One must be aware of the fact that anyone or any group, any religion or ideology that promotes disunity, disharmony, strife, violence and wars in the world are not from the One real God whom all believers recognize as their own even if in their Sacred Scriptures they may find justification for war and violence as sanctioned by God! God is always the God of life and not of death and destruction. Not only in the past centuries but also in our own times humans with selfish ambition to secure power have no qualms of conscience to desecrate the name of God and what is godly in religion. The only difference is that in the course of evolution of religious beliefs, the violence that erupted from the hearts of humans and ended up in wars and destructions was attributed to a certain command of God and entered into the writing of the Scriptures or sacred writings of religions as such but at present it is justified in the name of their sacred writings. Religions that seek their identity by excluding others and make exclusivist claims about possessing truth have discrimination, demonization and violence inbuilt in them. The emotions of the believers in such religions can be flared up at the slightest provocation or any propaganda about a perceived threat to any aspect of their religious beliefs and practices. Such a volatile situation is a fertile ground for divisive forces especially in a pluralistic society like India.
Irreligious Fanaticism – A Threat to Unity
A question may come into your mind when I write about irreligious fanaticism as of whether it is the opposite of religious fanaticism. In fact, the so called religious fanaticism is an irreligious fanaticism. A person who follows any authentic religion seriously cannot be a fanatic. A person who is a fanatic about his or her religion cannot truly be a religious person. Because any authentic religion must help its adherents to transcend themselves and reach out to others as one’s own sisters and brothers and finally reach out to God. Fanaticism does not allow a person to be truly religious. The dictionary meaning of a fanatic is: “a person filled with excessive and single-minded zeal, especially for an extreme religious or political cause”. Any type of fanaticism is evil because the fanatics are not open to Truth or to God. An interesting question sometimes asked refers to this fact. What is the difference between fanatics and terrorists? The difference is that it is possible to negotiate with terrorists but it is next to impossible to negotiate with fanatics.
It is a sad fact that there are groups of fanatic persons in every religion. Their perverted passion for their religion is irreligious. Passionate commitment to the values of a religion is not fanaticism if such values are liberating, inclusive and communion-building. A deep passion and commitment to such religious values is a sign of a person’s character and self-understanding. But fanatic attitudes blinds a person to such an extent that he or she does not want to acknowledge that there are values that make a human being truly human like respect for one’s own life and life of others, freedom, love, care for one another and nature, respect for the views of others, equality, justice, peace, harmony, reconciliation etc. Indeed, fanatics are not born but they are made. They are made fanatics by themselves or by others. Some make themselves fanatics by strongly believing that they are the custodians of the god they believe in or the religion they belong to. They feel responsible to protect them from any perceived threats from others. Some are made fanatics by others who manipulate their minds and hearts by injecting into their minds religious or political ideas that make them believe that they are chosen to protect their god or ideology even with their lives and they would be adequately rewarded in this life or in the next. Certainly, even a few fanatic members of a religion can create divisions and destruction in their own religion and conflict with the members of other religion as well as cause violence, death and destruction in any society and nation.
Divisive Forces in India
Pope Francis’ exhortation to all people of good will all over the world to unite in condemning violence and hatred is particularly relevant for the people of India who live in a pluralistic society with many religions, cultures, languages, ethnicities etc. The Indian society is very vulnerable to false propaganda and fake news that spread hatred towards the people of other religions, ideologies, political affiliations, ethnic, linguistic groups etc. In a country with millions of illiterate or not sufficiently educated people, the religious sentiments of people are easily manipulated by leaders with criminal minds to fulfil their political ambitions and financial prospects. Many ordinary people fall prey to the provocative communications of criminal leaders about the possible threats to their life, religion, property and their multiple-identities from those do not belong to their religion or ideology. The communal clashes and violence that erupted in India throughout history and especially in the recent past and continues in some parts of the country even these days are caused by the hate-mongering by some criminal elements that seek to divide and rule.
Though India is known for tolerance and non-violence, in the known history of India there were always the rise of divisive forces and therefore rise of hatred, wars and violence. A society that is divided into dominating castes, dominated castes and outcastes for centuries, discrimination, hatred and violence etc., are built into the very system of the society. So it is easy to set one caste against another and in the ensuing violence so many lives are lost and properties are destroyed. So time to time we hear news about the caste-wars in some states of our country. Though there were sporadic incidents of violence due to clashes between people of different religions by spreading of hatred against one another, the number of such communal clashes has increased threatening the unity of our country. Demonizing other religions, other castes, ethnic groups and linguistic groups or labelling them for any of their religious practices, eating or dress habits etc., creates prejudices, ill-feeling and eventually violence against them. The Nazis followed a systematic demonizing of the Jews in Germany through false propaganda about their race and accusing them of their involvement in everything that stood against the national pride and economy. Eventually led to the murder of millions of Jews not only in Germany but also in all countries the fascist forces occupied. The fascist forces in our country and every other country in the world follow the same pattern of creating hatred and violence. Therefore, the call of Pope Francis for recognizing the value of humans as the images of God and condemning all forms of hatred and violence is very relevant for our Indian subcontinent.
Words kill – Words Build
Words have power! Words can create or destroy. Every human being is endowed with the power of words which can be used both orally and in writing either for good purpose or for evil. Words have power to kill when someone in a legitimate or self-appointed position commands others to follow his or her order to kill and destroy others. Mostly, words are used to kill others physically or psychologically by those who have no regard or respect for others. They use their tongue not for building relationships of communion but dividing people for their own selfish ends. Here again, what the Letter of James says is very relevant. It says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is an unrighteous world among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the cycle of nature, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by humankind, but no human being can tame the tongue — a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse people, who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing” (James 4:5-10). The words that spew out the venom of hatred and disunity come from those with selfish ambitions, racist, casteist and discriminatory mind-set. Some of the speeches that led to hatred and violence all over the world and particularly in India in the recent past were made by some political and religious leaders.
The exhortation of Pope Francis to condemn the frenzy of hatred and violence is relevant also for the Church in India which is divided in many ways and so is not able to give an effective witness to the gospel values of love, justice, equality, peace, reconciliation etc. Both the leaders and other members of the Church are sometimes prepared to sacrifice the values of the gospel for reasons best known to them. It is said that “if you don’t stand for something, you would fall for anything”. For a Christian believer that ‘something’ is Jesus and his values. A believer cannot compromise it for anything even the pressure from the external forces is strong and threatening. The prophetic words of the Church through its leaders and the other faithful reveal the values of the gospel. The words they use must be to build up communion among all the members of the Church and communion with the people of other religions and ideologies.
St Paul tells us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear”( Ephesians 4:29). Further he says, Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another 4:25) and do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption (4:31-32). Therefore, it is important for every disciple of Christ that she or he uses words that build up communion among the members of the Church as well as with the people of other religions and ideologies as they too are members of the larger body of Christ for a believer in Christ.
The exhortation of Pope Francis to condemn hatred and violence is also an invitation to every disciple of Christ to create situations in which all people of all diverse religions, ideologies, cultures, ethnicities and languages can live peacefully and unfold themselves as humans. The sisterhood and brotherhood all humans are founded on the belief that all humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Such communion among humans can be promoted through proper communication of words and actions that build up concord and solidarity. Overcoming prejudices and being open to one another with an inclusive attitude are necessary for such communion among people. However, openness without charity is brutality as stated by the author John Powell. Genuine openness in dialogue in order to give and receive, listen and share one’s life and experiences can bring about true communion among all people in a pluralistic society.