Acts of Violence

I don’t know quite how we should approach the violence of ISIS.

ISIS feeds on violence.

Members are horribly violent to people who are identified as being against them: Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidi, Westerners…

We all know that there have been and are other such groups that act with terrible violence: Baader Meinhof in Europe, The Lord’s Resistance Army in Africa, FARC in Latin America…

I read quite a bit of literature that seeks to tie a belief in violence to faith, or to non-faith, or to some noun somewhere. If I can just call them fundamentalists or rightists or leftists I will know they are not like me. And when I listen to people who commit acts of violence on behalf of an ideology I hear them using their belief system, or rage against a belief-system, to justify their actions.

Yet I am sure that within each group there are some who are not as committed to violence as their leaders and other members.  They are culpable, as Albert Speer was culpable. They are ideologically linked by their use of symbolic black flags or by their silence whilst atrocities are committed, but one day there might be a book or film like The Railway Man that helps us see them as human because it tells their story rather than the story of their movement.

This leads me to think that it is the act that we must find abhorrent. The act of massacring a group of people is abhorrent. Cutting off a person’s head is abhorrent. Lining people up against a wall and shooting them is abhorrent. We call them ‘crimes against humanity’. We call them ‘sin’ or ‘acts of evil’. The permission a person gives their conscience to initiate violence is an act against God and society.

They are choices.  It could be the rape of a young woman. It could be a Mafia revenge act. It could be a Mexican drug execution. It could be a bomb dropped on a neighbourhood.

There must be many people in places where violence rules who are not making this choice. There must be peacemakers, who, like some of the citizens of Missouri, go out onto the streets to try to tell the police and the violent protesters not to fight. We need to honour them and give them the headlines.

Yet I don’t think this helps us with ISIS. Whatever is wrong with Missouri, acts of violence are still seen as shameful by both sides. ISIS, in contrast, glorifies the pain of others, makes it into a grotesque form of public relations.

ISIS has really declared war on us all. Told us all we must become like them or perish.

We therefore must do all we can to stop ISIS and to support the Assyrian Christians, ordinary Muslims and Yazidi people. They are us, but they are stuck where ISIS thrives.

Visit of Simon Conway Morris

Professor Conway-Morris visited PLC Sydney this week.

He described the evolutionary process: natural selection, survival of the fittest…

And he described convergence: the theory that the same characteristics have evolved again and again in species. Thus, the octopus and the human both have have camera eyes, though one is not the predecessor of the other.

The range of options is narrower than those who promote the randomness as the basis of everything suggest. Predictable.

And he said that the mind is not explained by the chemistry or actions of the brain. In one of his books he calls the brain an antenna: a link to The Other. Science, he states, cannot prove God. But there are hints that there is an underlying order and intent behind the curtain: Fibonacci numbers in the organic world, for example, in the shell of the Nautilus.

He actually gave our students permission to wonder. To have faith and reason. To see that reason does not emerge from Nothing. There was a spark ignited in the playground.

Rather than the dull oppression that results from reading Dawkins, there was a real spirit of enquiry. A hegemony was dispelled.

It helped that his science is superb. Rigorous. Exemplified with numerous cases and telling images. Challenging to my interpretation of my faith. Challenging to all of us.

Yet he helped us see that science needs theology and philosophy. No discipline is an island, so to speak.

He showed an image of a man bending over and dragging up a curtain-like visage of the landscape in front of him. In quite a Platonic fashion there was another landscape underneath. ‘God,’ said Les Murray, ‘is the poetry caught in religion. Caught. Not imprisoned.’ ‘Christ,’ said the apostle Paul, ‘is the sum of all spiritual things.’

He will travel to a remote site soon to find fossils. And will seek to further develop the taxonomy of the history of life.

Yet our students will be left with an understanding that the taxonomy has value – that, to use a title of the professor’s, evolution in some strange way might sing the song of creation.

He spoke of a time in the future when there might be a different metaphysics to the study of evolution. One not so tied to the old doctrine that God is dead, but one that seeks God again.

It made me realise that so many materialist answers describe extant human qualities inadequately. Forgiveness, grace, kindness, generosity and altruism are all extant qualities. Describing them only as the result of blind forces connected to survival alters them beyond recognition. The explanations alter these things utterly in order to explain them using a materialist paradigm.

I hope this short comment does justice to the professor.