Saturday, July 23, 2011

Spirituality 12: Massacre in Norway

When Evil is Unleashed

Utoya island - idyllic spot - scene of the horrific massacre in Norway
How does spirituality cope with evil, I ask myself, as I now read the on-line reports of the horrific massacre of innocents in Oslo, Norway and on the small and beautiful island of Utoya?  I don't know at all.  From this distance, it is perhaps difficult to understand the feelings of the relatives of the vctims, now 92 according to the 4 p.m. news on R.T.E., Radio one, who have perished at the unfeeling and indifferent hand of a deluded madman.  It is almost a sin to write the suspect's name here.  The ancient Jews deemed the name of God so sacred that they dared not write it.  Perhaps we should deem the name of this mass murderer too demonic to be named.  And yet as a rationalist and agnostic, I realise that after reading the heart-rending reports of some of the survivors from the idyllic island location, that my rationalism and agnosticism find it hard to get words of significance to carry the depth of the tragedy.  Religious language in the foregoing lines are, of course, should it be needed to be stated here at all, mere metaphor.

I shan't name the young perpetrator whose name and frighteningly handsome picture can be found on-line should the reader wish to find them.  However, that he described himself as a fundamentalist Christian only goes to show that religion has long been used as a cover for the horrific crimes of deluded souls.  Some scholar once remarked that there is nothing as bad as a bad religion.  How true.  How true!

The words of the great and wonderful philosopher Hannah Arendt come to my mind here.   She once proclaimed in the wake of the Nuremberg Trials of Hitler's henchmen, mass-murderers all, that essentially what we had there was an example of the banality of evil.  Take a look at the gaunt faces of those who stood trial and what one is faced with is an array of weak and pitiful faces who were eerily the authors and actors involved in perhaps the greatest genocide in the history of humankind.   Theirs are truly the banal and weak faces of evil. Arendt's work deals with the nature of power, and the subjects of politics, authority, and totalitarianism.  That individuals can come to believe that they should have power over others, and arrogate to themselves such power over the lives of others without the democratic authority of anyone, save their own deluded will, is in itself one of the greatest wrongs any of us can commit.  That a lone gunman and bomber can decide that he has the right to exercise the power of life and death through bomb and bullet over anyone is delusion in the extreme.

I have defined spirituality in these pages as the power to connect,  the power to forge connections with others and with the source of all life and being, whether that be a personal God or an objective impersonal scientific energy behind the universe.  What happened in Norway is the absolute opposite to spirituality, whatever that may be.  I have to avoid the temptation to use religious metaphor here in order to come up with some word to describe this opposition.  Here at the hands of this all too human and all too deluded gunman and bomber, we have all experienced the power or drive of the human will towards destruction, towards the lack of order, towards the break-down of all possible connections between humans, towards Chaos.  What one might call this phenomenon defies my imagination.  Religious imagination would speak of demonic possession which is metaphor and personification at best. 

Anonyminity of death - human blood in wake of bomb in Oslo

With Dr Sigmund Freud, one might say that here we have the Death Instinct gone mad.  I can understand the Death Instinct being in us as individuals and to its being directed towards the self and in so being directed ending up in suicide.  Indeed, I have often heard friends of mine remark after these, alarmingly all too common, mass-murder attacks by lone gunmen on innocent bystanders:  "Why did he (always he as far as I know, though I might be wrong here!) not turn the gun on himself in the first place and that would have be the end of it?"  Indeed, I even say this to myself now.  That this individual, that this mass-murderer, wishes to explain his actions to the police is an insult, a grave insult to humanity, to the humanity we humans have created over thousands of years of civilization which has resulted in that brilliant, wonderful and noble aspect we have adorned our animality with - our very own human culture.  All I can do is write these all too lame words which I pen in your honour now:

Millions upon millions of souls are with you, you the survivors of this lone gunman and bomber.  The writer of these words is just one lone voice among those millions upon millions.  We can never know your pain, can never experience your fear, your personal encounter with extinction.  The pictures we have viewed have said it all.  Youngsters, young adults, men and women, at a political camp sharing their dreams for the betterment of humankind.  It's well we all remember such feelings of youthful camaraderie, that we could be the shapers of a better future for all, that we are the sharers in a precious communion which could make a difference not alone to our own lives, but to that of others.  We feel for you, younger brothers and sisters in the shared dreams of humanity that is reaching out to forge connections on this small planet in the infinity of space.  We feel for you, younger brothers and sisters in our dreams for the betterment not alone of humankind but of all life, human, animal, vegetable and mineral in this small world of ours.  That your dreams could be so painfully shattered is a travesty, the work of a deluded soul.  Worse still must be the righteous anger that dwells in your hearts that  this deluded soul, this evil gunman grew up amongst you.  Worse still that such evil can wear such a human and handsome face.  Worse again that he brought to a halt the young lives of your friends who had such a promising future ahead of them. 

The great Dean of St Paul's Cathedral London John Donne (1572 - 1631) wrote in one of his famous sermons that "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

We the citizens of the world are diminished by you loss, by your understandable anger and indeed our own.  All we can say is that we stand in solidarity with you in your pain.  The gunman may have murdered your friends, but he will never ever murder your ideas, your hopes and your dreams.  May the goodness that is at the base of the human heart inspire you to believe in your dreams again and to believe that Good will truly conquer all Evil.  You must believe this, as we all must, to give hope to future generations.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with you.  We carry you in our hearts.


Christopher Dos Santos said...

It boggles the mind. Excellent series of posts, well written.

In Lak' ech, prosper in love....

TQ said...

Many thanks. I return your good wishes!