Thought for the Day - Canon Dr Alan Billings

For much of the twentieth century, if we heard about a terrorist outrage somewhere in Europe we tended to assume it was politically inspired with some far-left group responsible – like the Baader Meinhof gang of the 1970s. Then, following 9/11 and 7/7, our automatic first thought was that an atrocity was more likely to have a religious and, specifically, Islamic root.

The dreadful events in Norway have confounded all that. The motives of the man arrested seem to be a mix of both politics and religion - though the politics are of the extreme right and the religion is what the media have called Christian fundamentalism.

While our first reaction might have been to regard this violence as incomprehensible, we must brace ourselves today to hear the accused justifying and explaining his grotesque actions.

As far as the politics are concerned, we can speculate a little. By placing a bomb in the political heart of Oslo and killing young people at the Norwegian Labour Party’s summer camp – you strike at both the country’s present political establishment and its future political leadership, and declare how much you despise both.

This also takes us to the heart of the problem of the terrorist – it’s not that they don’t believe in anything, but that they believe too intensively – and come to think that their chosen goal somehow relieves them of any consideration of the human costs of achieving it.

There is a very revealing passage at the beginning of the Christian gospels where Jesus goes into the wilderness to reflect on his coming public career. In the account, the gospel writers tell us how the devil puts before him a series of temptations to achieve his objectives by inappropriate means. At one point the devil quotes scripture in justification. For this is how evil works. It uses something good – in this case a sacred text – to rationalise evil means.

We saw the same mechanism at work with Islamic terrorism where the concept of jihad - an inner struggle to overcome weakness - was hideously distorted to justify something evil – the casual disregard of human life.

If this savagery in Norway is alerting us to the possibility of another religion being hijacked in a similar way, then the religious response to it has to be as vigorous as the response to Islamic terror eventually became, namely, the bold assertion alike by religious leaders, ordinary believers and the institutions that guard the faith that there is no justification for such indiscriminate violence.

What stands in the way of those who seek to give a religious and moral justification for their violent actions, are the living convictions of others. And that may be all that stands in the way. But if we are to stop this repeating, those convictions may be the one thing that can make the difference.

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