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Faith Meets Life: Connecting the past with the present

Michael Veenema | Interrobang | Opinion | February 11th, 2008

Editorial opinions or comments expressed in this online edition of Interrobang newspaper reflect the views of the writer and are not those of the Interrobang or the Fanshawe Student Union. The Interrobang is published weekly by the Fanshawe Student Union at 1001 Fanshawe College Blvd., P.O. Box 7005, London, Ontario, N5Y 5R6 and distributed through the Fanshawe College community. Letters to the editor are welcome. All letters are subject to editing and should be emailed. All letters must be accompanied by contact information. Letters can also be submitted online by clicking here.
Some Protestant and Catholic Christians are calling for a boycott of the film, the Golden Compass. Based on the books by Philip Pullman, the movie version offends some Christians who are uncomfortable with his anti-religious message. Readers sensitive to Pullman's inverted use of Christian terms will know that he believes that organized religion, and likely God, are dangerous.

Like many others, Pullman seems to see religion, Christianity in particular, as a source of judgement and violence. And like others, he is not incorrect in recalling that violence has been done in the name of Christianity.

In the church community, of which I am a part, one couple founded the local soup kitchen, while another couple runs a furniture bank for the poor. The youth group here is preparing to spend March Break helping victims of Hurricane Katrina. Even this evening I met with several to begin an “In from the Cold” program. We'll provide nightime shelter for homeless people in our area, starting this coming Sunday night.

This is typical for Christian communities around the world. Still, there have been times when Christians have committed acts of violence in the name of “truth” as they saw it.

A key question is, then, does violence follow when one is true to the life and teaching of the “founder” of the Christian faith, Jesus Christ?

One way to approach this question is to ask how Jesus responded to the followers of his who were predisposed to violence. Some of them clearly were. One of his “Twelve Disciples” was named Simon the Zealot. A zealot in Jesus' time (the first century according to the Western calendar) belonged to a band advocating a violent, holy and righteous overthrow of the pagan Roman occupiers of Israel. They regarded the Romans as defilers of the Holy Land of the Jewish people or Israelites. Another disciple, Peter, is recorded as having gotten hold of a sword and using it. He cut off the ear of member of the party that arrested Jesus.

Jesus himself, however, taught and practiced non-violence. For one thing, he rebuffed Peter for using a weapon. His repudiation of religiously inspired violence emerges more clearly in another part of the account of his activities.

Once he was asked about the varied responses to his teaching. Many were beginning to follow him. Some developed mature commitments, while others were half-hearted and then there we others who were plotting to murder him.

Since Jesus' disciples were living in a time when religiously inspired violence was a live option. They wondered if the movement of his followers and indeed the world, should not be purified by religious judgement and terror. It would have made sense to them.

In the Bible, Jesus makes it clear that violent, judgemental cleansing is not the business of people. He places action of that kind in a time not of the choosing of his followers. He takes it out of their hands by teaching that if and when there is purifying to be done, they won't be doing it. God will.

He doesn't even identify the offending persons — although he does warn the oppressive religious authorities of the time that they are in trouble with God. Pullman, it turns out, may have more in common with the founder of the movement he seems to reject than he thinks.

Jesus repudiated the use of violence. It is true that some have behaved as if he wanted his followers to purify the world by terror. However, his teaching shows that he did not set out to create a religion of judgement. Rather, I would say, he initiated a community of generosity and compassion.
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