“This is not who we are,” she said. “This act was not a reflection of who we are as a nation.”
How many times have you heard that? The speaker changes, the message is the same. This time it was New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern
“They (the victims) are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand. There is no place in New Zealand for such acts of extreme and unprecedented violence, which it is clear this act was.”
Friday it was killings of worshippers at mosques in New Zealand. There was shock, outrage and horror. (Considerably more than for attacks on churches in the Middle East, but I guess no-one gets excited about violence in the Middle East any more.) There was that phrase about how this is not a reflection of who we are.
I’ve heard those words used so many times before. They come after mass shootings of school children in the US, by politicians who can’t see the cracks in the American psyche. The words are spoken by Muslims, insisting Islam is a religion of peace as ISIS uses the Koran to justify beheading those of different faiths. The fanatics of ISIS are not Islam, they say. That Mohammed liked to behead others is something they prefer not to talk about. They don’t want to believe that, like it or not, such violence against “infidels” is very much a part of who they are.
We all have constructed a mental image of what we look like. We don’t check that image in the mirror. We are kind, we are caring, we help others, we are good people. When something bad happens, it shocks us. Even when the bad things happen time and time again. Each time there is shock. We don’t want to face the truth, which is that we are deluding ourselves as to who we are.
When unthinkable violence happens, we shouldn’t be surprised. We are rooted in violence and disobedience, though we may not want to admit it. They are in our spiritual DNA, going back to the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve disobeyed, Cain killed Abel. From the beginning of our race we have been less than perfect. All of us. What differentiates us from the killers is that we have not given in to those sin impulses.
It is who we are – we just don’t want to face that fact. We tell ourselves that terrorists and mass murderers are an aberration when the truth is, they are the norm.
If this is indeed who we are, do we have to stay that way? Can we learn from past mistakes? Can we turn things around? Or are we doomed to stay on the treadmill of violence?
When I was reading about Friday’s events in New Zealand, I had a portion of the New Testament book of James running through my mind, especially the fourth chapter with its words about both inner and outer conflict. I won’t quote it all, but I thought these verses were especially applicable, a guide for those who want the violence to stop.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
For most people, those words, and the rest of The Bible, are not taken seriously. Which is sad, because Jesus offers hope for this broken world. Admitting we are all fallen people changes the narrative. Authentic Christianity brings new life, and as individuals change, so too will nations.
Friday’s terror attack in New Zealand was very much a reflection of the nation. But it wasn’t a reflection on the nation. The attack could have taken place anywhere. I doubt there is more evil in New Zealand than any other place.
We don’t want to see ourselves that way. Terrorists and criminals try to justify their actions. Cain, the first murderer, asked “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
How can we stop the cycle of violence? Only through changes in the hearts of individuals. Is that really possible? The Bible says it is.
But are people willing to go that route that would bring about an end to terrorism and mass murder? Are you? Do we really want to change? If not, there will be more attacks like the ones in New Zealand Friday, because this really is who we are.