2004—Twenty-fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time—C
September 11. Need I say more? The date conjures memories and feeling of loss, grief and horror. It also evokes the disturbing question, why do people do such atrocious actions in the name of God. Why is religion so often the front for human actions that are violent and deadly?
Of course human history is written in a way that dares to justify violence in the name of God. The earliest biblical stories betray a warring people who have God on their side, when God is not frustrated with them as we hear in today's first reading. Like father like son. The people of Israel often act in a way that God himself does; "Let me alone then, that my wrath may blaze up against them to consume them."
This image of God as one who condones violent actions of one against another, coupled with the horrors that human being inflict in God's name is one of the principal reasons for Atheism. How can one possibly believe in a supreme being who is supposed to be the Creator of this world and who allows the kind of suffering, who doesn't intervene in human events like the genocides that have been going on through the centuries and continue in our own time?
In a recent NY Times book review on a new book on Religious belief, Natalie Angier agrees with the author's scathing critique of those of us who consider ourselves to be believers. She says, " In "The End of Faith", Sam Harris presents major religious systems like Judaism, Christianity and Islam as forms of socially sanctioned lunacy, their fundamental tenets and rituals irrational, archaic and mutually incompatible." At the core of Harris' reasoning is the "irrationality" involved in believing in a being whom you don't see. For his part, all religions that subscribe to a belief in a personal supreme being have proven themselves to be bankrupt in the content of their belief systems as well as in their actions toward the "other". "The danger of religious faith, he says, "is that it allows otherwise normal human beings to reap the fruit of madness and consider them holy."
Yes, there is "irrationality" about our faith in God. It doesn't make sense. In a world where people continue to justify violence and terror as sanctioned by God, it becomes harder and harder to believe that there is Someone who has the "whole world in his hands". That's why the stories of Jesus about God are so compelling. The logical reaction of the father in the story of the prodigal son is to chastise his son for his sins. We expect to hear a lecture " after all I've done for you and this is how you treat me" "Well I hope you've learned your lesson! " The Father does not respond in the way that we would expect a human father to. He actively searches for him and when he sees him embraces him and throws a party for him.
No there is no human logic there. There is no human logic in the eternal God so loving the world to become one of us to experience our pain and be in solidarity with us. No logic at all.
The September 11ths of our lives challenge us to believe, not so much to believe "in" God but to believe God. To believe that God is with us in the darkness, in the incomprehensibility of life lived in love and trust.