Democracy, freedom of religion and speech are gifts that help define what it means to be fully human. But within any democracy there must exist a level of respectful restraint when challenging or debating treasured religious values of the "other."
The Islamic admonition of not depicting the Prophet Mohammed
in any human image is a sacred element of Islam. For anyone, Muslim or non-Muslim to do so is to disrespect and demean a basic tenant of the faith.
What has happened tragically in France has provided other terrorists -- using religion as their selfish and feckless calling card -- with a motive to kill in the name of God. The end result of this latest slaughter is the construction of a global arena pitting freedom of speech against a time honored understanding of how to acknowledge the presence of the Prophet Mohammed in the world.
Those who bully, abuse, imprison, and kill using religion as the rationale for their actions are neither religious nor faithful to their Abrahamic roots.
Theirs is a desire to pit Muslims, Christians and Jews against one another in a religious war that will terminate years of hard won respectful, interreligious dialogue between the three great Abrahamic faiths; dialogue that has a place in creating a more peaceable and forgiving world.
Theirs is a desire to demean the genius of democracy, freedom of speech and religion to create a false image of Islam as a violent, vengeful religion. Nothing could be further from the truth!
It is important to honor the lives lost in France and to remember that those murdered were Jews, Christians and a Muslim. Terrorists kill not only for their own sick, selfish motives but to create an environment where violence and hate will overwhelm peace and reconciliation between the faiths. They endeavor to show that democracy and freedom of speech have no place in their warped understanding of the Islamic world.
"Je suis Charlie" is a phrase shared by millions, yet we all must understand that with freedom of speech must also come a sense of respectful restraint in criticizing or demeaning the personhood or values of another, especially their religion during these tension filled times where sectarian violence is trying to rule the day.
My Anglican colleague and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa reminded me that the essence of being human is contained in the African word "ubuntu,"meaning a person can only be a person through engagement with another -- "I am because you are!" We can only be fully human when we are bound by trust, mutual respect and valuing the human dignity of another person.
It is only by experiencing and embracing the "other" that we can be touched by the very hand of God, made whole and made a new creation. It is only then that we can extend our reach beyond our grasp and begin to change the future of humanity in a culture of peace.
At this moment in time Christianity, Islam and Judaism have a great opportunity to work together effectively with governments and civil societies currently in turmoil. The Abrahamic faiths have the opportunity to re-shape the world into a culture of peace rather than a world torn asunder by violence, extremism and political pilfering. Christianity, Islam and Judaism must become the bridge builders of this century to span the raging waters of human conflict
It is pure heresy that has given birth to human behavior sustained by fear and hate rather than by love of God, love of self and love of neighbor. It is this heresy that takes the unconditional love of God for all human beings, hijacks it and shreds it into pieces of human interpretation that bear no resemblance to the core teachings of the One God of Christianity, Islam and Judaism as we know them.
No person has the right to take the life of another person in the name of God. Human beings who claim to represent the true teachings of Christianity, Islam and Judaism and who indiscriminately slaughter those who are the "other" have lost the most fundamental principle of their religious tradition's theology. They have lost the core of a compassionate and loving God.
Christians find direction in the New Testament from 1st John 4:18; "there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment. And whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. Those who say; I love God and hate their brothers and sisters who they have seen cannot love God who they have not seen. The Commandment that we have from Him is this; those who love God must love their brothers and sisters."
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote; "I believe that we are being summoned by God to see in the human 'other' a face of the divine 'other.' The test so lamentably failed by the great powers of the 20th century is to see the Divine presence in the face of the stranger. To heed the cry of those who are disempowered in the age of unprecedented powers; who are hungry and poor and ignorant and uneducated, whose human potential is being denied the chance to be expressed. That is the faith of Abraham and Sarah who, with the great faiths Judaism, Christianity and Islam, trace their spiritual or actual ancestry."
War, sectarian violence and terrorism are definitions of human failure. For all who follow the teachings of the Prophets, Jesus and Mohammed, who will now stand firm and commit themselves to end all acts of violence and extremism done in the name of God? If not us, then who?