A matter of life or death

Some myths of course we haven’t believed for a long time. Few of us really thought that Britain was somehow exempt from terrorist attack. Nor did we seriously expect that on each and every occasion security forces would be able to prevent an atrocity before it happened. But the myth that many of us held until this week, and which we have now painfully had to relinquish, was that terrorists are radically different from you and me. As I write, the backgrounds of the four suicide bombers are beginning to become clear. From what we can tell at this stage these were ordinary young British men. Born and brought up in this country, educated here, from unremarkable law abiding families. Outwardly at least their interests were the same as those of many of their age and sex.

Chillingly, that closeness is not defined to their backgrounds. For those of us of religious conviction it is equally present in their motivations. Christianity is founded on the story of a man who gave up his life for the sake of others. Faith relativises death in two ways. Most religions declare it neither to be the end nor the most important factor to be considered. I guess that the bombers were like us too in wanting (and this is rightly especially prevalent among young adults) to feel that they were part of something huge – even the outworking of God’s plan itself. The motivations of the original crusaders (who detonated the first suicide bomb a thousand years ago) are not so different from those of these young men.

It’s only after having recognised our similarities that we should go on to focus on the differences. I am helped enormously by the comment of a brother bishop some years ago. He drew an illuminating distinction between “theologies of life” and “theologies of death”. Both are present in Christianity. Both have their place. And in any one of us both will be operating at the same time. One or other however will be the dominant.

Theologies of death focus on temptation, sin, the battle between the divine and the demonic. The central symbol is the cross with Jesus hanging bleeding on it. The world is the entity that nails him there.

Theologies of life by comparison focus on love, forgiveness, the rich abundance of God’s creation. The cross remains the central symbol but here it is empty. Christ is risen, gone before, leading his people. The world, and the rich diversity in it, is itself a pointer to God’s glory.

Those who detonate bombs killing themselves and innocent travellers are operating from within a theology of death. We are closer to them than is comfortable whenever we allow our faith to be more rooted or expressed in what we oppose than in what we affirm. As the scriptures reiterate again and again the mission of Jesus was to bring not death but life. If we are to seriously distinguish ourselves from terrorism it is a theology of life that must predominate, whatever the particular matters being debated.

Faith leaders are rarely to be found with rucksacks full of explosives strapped to their backs but when we propound theologies that place God’s creation under the control of the devil or we declare humanity to be utterly depraved and make that the lynchpin of our position we are ultimately providing the ideological underpinning for actions that in themselves we rightly abhor.

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Steven
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Steven

The simpering simplicity of the reference to the Crusaders is typical and, as usual, fails to place this belated counterattack in the context of more than 1000 years of more-or-less continuous and vicious Islamic agression (including the prior conquest of the Holy Land, North Africa, etc. by Mohammed’s “suicide bombers”). However, this is not the article’s worst fault. The pejorative references to what is called the “theology of death” is far more simple-minded and damaging. Christianity is and harmoniously unites (God be praised!) both a “Theology of Judgment” and a “Theology of Life”–to try and separate these two or to… Read more »

AMNicklin
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AMNicklin

I think the balance between the two is already unbalanced and that is why we have people willing to die or at least face whatever punishment for the crime. Maybe it’s idealistic and maybe it’s simplistic but sometimes we need those things. Believe it or not we can get weighted down in theology and complicated thought. I was talking to someone the other day who mentioned a book or a talk that they had heard the hypothesized what the world would be like if our religions did not have an after life component to them – that we live our… Read more »

Dave
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Dave

“… we are ultimately providing the ideological underpinning for actions that in themselves we rightly abhor.”

Oh groan! More liberal guff about how it is wrong to disapprove of anything that they approve of.

How come they always think that “conservative” disapproval will lead to violence and persecution, but that “liberal” disapproval won’t ?

J. C. Fisher
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I find your comment tremendously depressing, Steven. If there’s any “Theology of Life” (or any Christ-likeness) in it, I can’t see it. 🙁

DGus
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DGus

This article creates a category (“theologies of death”) into which one can place both a Christian who emphasizes Jesus’ crucifixion and a Muslim who is a suicide bomber. This is only slightly more meaningful and useful than creating the category of words that have a “ci” in them (i.e., “suiCIde” and “cruCIfixion”). Either device equates things that have no actual similarity.

A suicide bomber is nothing like someone who resolves to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; who takes up his cross daily and follows Jesus; who deems himself crucified with Christ yet alive.

steven
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steven

Dear J.C.- My comment was probably too heated. After all, the author does, at least, give lip service to the idea of balance. However, it is obvious that he does not believe in it to any great degree. Otherwise, he would place just as much emphasis on the dangers inherent in overemphasizing what he calls the “theology of life” to the exclusion of what he (pejoratively) calls the “theology of death”. Still, there are elements that can be worked on there. As to your opinion of my response, why seek to be insulting? Wouldn’t it be easier and more productive… Read more »

J. C. Fisher
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It wasn’t meant to be an insult: it was grief, talking. The world is in *profound trouble*, and Mr. Walker is, in my estimation, looking for a way *through*. Instead of offering other perspectives of *hope*, respondents (like yourself) have chosen to attack him. To Christians: everyone is NOT going to become Christian. To Muslims: everyone is NOT going to become Muslim. (Plenty want nothing to do with either of us) We’re going to HAVE TO LEARN TO LIVE TOGETHER. How? Please, folks, in the name of the too-many dead (Christians, Muslims, not to mention Jews and others) already, let’s… Read more »

steven
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steven

Dear J.C.- OK, I see where you’re coming from. However, my response was not so much motivated by the author’s desire to make Islam “a religion of peace”, but by the way in which the author seeks to tar Christianity with the same brush and destroy the balance of our faith. Actually, as my last post indicated, I believe the author is on the right track vis-a-vis Islam. It is a human “religion” created without the balance innate in the divine revelation of and in Jesus Christ. It is true that Christians often destroy this balance, but that is our… Read more »

John Henry
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John Henry

Wrote Steven: “(Islam) is a human ‘religion’ created without the balance innate in the divine revelation of and in Jesus Christ. It is true that Christians often destroy this balance, but that is our fault–not God’s fault. Islam on the other hand, is a man-made creation and is, therefore, naturally and fundamentally lacking in balance.” I couldn’t disagree more with Steven, as an Anglican who values the Catholic tradition. Read Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (28 Oct. 1965), para. #3: “The Church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and… Read more »

steven
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steven

Dear John Henry: Ironically, I find very little to disagree with in your paragraph beginning “I couldn’t disagree more with Steven . . .” Frankly, others have said what I have said and far better. However, the fact that Islam reflects many of the truths of God, and the fact that the Holy Spirit works in the wider world outside of the Christian Church does not negate the special revelation and accomplishment of Jesus Christ in his teaching, life, death, resurrection and ascension. Islam denies Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, denies many of his teachings, denies his death,… Read more »

John Henry
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John Henry

Steven, Obviously, yours is the Barthian view that denies that non-Christian religions are paths to salvation, although Karl Barth was not fully consistent in that he held that members of other faiths and human beings in general can be saved by Christ, even though they do not realize it. The position which Anglicans and Roman Catholics (since Vatican II) have held, which is my own view, is open to the idea that non-Christian religions are paths of salvation, though they may contain beliefs which give inadequate or incorrect views about the nature of God and the way God is working… Read more »

steven
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steven

Dear John Henry: Thanks for the clarification. I think you may have missed my point. I was not arguing whether salvation might be possible outside of the church. That has little to do with the propositions in the article at issue or what is being discussed. (Even though it is a very interesting subject for discussion in its own right). In response to the problem of terrorism, the author of the article seems to argue that–for want of a better word–the “gentler” aspects of Christianity should be promoted and the “harder” aspects of the faith should be avoided and/or ignored.… Read more »