Monday, August 28, 2006

The consequences of a binary ethos.



Fr William Johnston SJ is based at Sophia University in Tokyo.

"For this uncompromising attitude which is basically religious – common to traditional Judaism, Christianity and Islam – extends to the whole of Western thinking; and it played its part in the annihilation of Hiroshima. Think of the Second World War. The stance of the Allied powers could be summed up as: "We want unconditional surrender. We are good and our enemies are evil. We will have no truck with evil. We will have no negotiation, no dialogue, no talking, no mercy." The result was the carpet bombing of the German cities and the terrible destruction of Japan. Men, women, children and animals died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even the mosquitoes were wiped out. In the fire bombing of Tokyo 100,000 people, almost all civilians, died.

No one in any official position apologised for Hiroshima and Nagasaki; and it would be idle to deny the existence of the same uncompromising mentality today. "No negotiation with terrorists" is the slogan. "We are good: terrorists are evil. Anyone who harbours a terrorist or shows any understanding will pay the price. Shoot to kill! Show no mercy!" And (horror of horrors!) this attitude often has the blessing of religious authorities.

Now the frightening thing is that the Islamic fundamentalists who destroyed the Twin Towers have the same way of thinking. They, too, believe they are pitted against evil. They want to destroy the corrupt Western civilisation. They want no negotiation and they will consider no dialogue. They will show no mercy. They will die rather than compromise. It is no secret that they are working might and main to get weapons of mass destruction. For them the attacks in New York and Washington were only the first step.

And so we are faced with a very terrible confrontation. Is there any answer?

I find it difficult to see an answer for the immediate future; but for the distant future there is surely an answer.

The answer, the only answer, is dialogue and friendship between the religions, a dialogue in which the religions will challenge one another, lead one another to conversion of heart and help one another get away from fanatical fundamentalism. Through these means we will all find our authentic roots in love and compassion. Bernard Lonergan rightly says that all true religion is based on love; and he maintains that religious conversion is conversion to love. "

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