I am writing this just a few days after the terror attacks in Paris have shocked the world. Less than a month earlier a similar sense of outrage was felt as news unfolded of hostages being held in Sydney, Australia. In both cases the gunmen were identified as Islamic extremists. Man Haron Moris in Australia seems to have acted alone, whilst the gunmen in Paris clearly had accomplices and were part of a more organised terror initiative.

In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris 2 million people participated in a rally for national unity to honour the dead and express their solidarity against the attacks under the slogan “Je suis Charlie”. In Australia there was a spontaneous outpouring of public solidarity with peaceful Muslims using the hashtag #illridewithyou to express a willingness to ride on public transport with anyone feeling threatened. These different responses capture the heartfelt desire of most people that there should be an end to hatred and killing.

In the 1970’s John Lennon released Imagine; the bestselling song of his solo career. It includes the lines: “Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too.” This echoes a belief that I hear from time to time that ‘religion’ is to blame for all kinds of atrocities, wars and persecution. There is no denying that leaders have often sought to bolster their position by manipulating religious beliefs to their advantage; even using it to justify acts of genocide and oppression. Terrorist organisations too have found religion a useful tool in extracting loyalty and unconditional commitment from their activists. However, despite this association with religion, is it really fair to lay the blame for these present outrages at that door? Mainstream religious leaders of all kinds would emphatically say no.

I can’t speak on behalf of other faiths but am able to invite you to look more closely at the teachings of Christ which clearly oppose violence and hatred towards others. Jesus taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves. When asked ‘who is my neighbour?’ he told a story that struck right at the heart of his listeners’ religious and racial prejudices. The neighbour who cared for the Jewish victim of violence in Jesus’ story was a Samaritan – the most despised and hated people group for Jews of that day. Elsewhere Jesus told us to pray for our enemies, and to bless those who persecute us. Imagine that! A world where evil acts are met, not with revenge, but forgiveness and mercy, a world where love is shown, not just to people we like, but also to people who might seek to harm us.

The ultimate example of forgiveness towards perpetrators of violence is Jesus himself who prayed as he hung on the cross ‘Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.’ John Lennon dreamt of an idyllic world where everyone lived together as one, yet he never really offered a means to get there. Jesus however offers each of us personal forgiveness and then commands us to forgive as we have been forgiven. Imagine a world where everyone were to live like that; then there truly would be an end to hatred and killing.

This blog post featured in the February 2015 edition of Hook Focus