Grief and Atonement

There are so many reasons to be filled with grief: the four diplomats whose lives were cut short and the families devastated by the amputation of a beloved person from their midst. The loss of trust between partners in the US and Libya working for peace and freedom. Our national sense of violation and vulnerability from an attack by extremist Muslims on our most tender, damaged day.

But more than that, for me there is the grief that once again the violence inherent in narrow-minded, domination-centered, triumphalist forms of religion has bubbled to the surface once again. I do not forgive the Libyans who turned offense and outrage into murder. I also do not forgive the America-Israeli filmmaker who set out to cause offense and incite mayhem. Yes, killing people is worse—far worse—than hateful, bigoted language. But the inciter and the rioters came from the same place: a belief that their religion is right, that everyone else is wrong, and that their religious supremacy deserves to be accepted and honored.

I do not forgive. But as we approach the Days of Turning, the time between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur when Jews are called atone for offenses they have given and forgive offenses committed against them, I wonder if maybe we aren’t all called to atone. I know that the person who created the offensive film is no more representative of Christianity than the murderers in Libya are representative of Islam. But I suspect that all of us, whatever our faith, are in some way complicit in this tragedy.

I don’t suppose that anyone reading this message has vilified another religion, let alone physically harmed another in a religiously-fueled rage. But I wonder if all of us might not have moments when we treat the religious convictions of others with contempt, or let ignorance lead us into saying things that are offensive. I wonder if all of us haven’t fallen into some easy assumptions about who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is bad. I wonder which of us is free, not from violence, but from the underpinnings of violence that assume that we can make others conform to our view of the world.

There is plenty to grieve for today and in the days to come. May our grief lead us toward the deep sources of peace rather than the temptations of violence.

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