Flat White

Christchurch: a time for tears

18 March 2019

6:09 PM

18 March 2019

6:09 PM

I attended the funeral service of a Christian minister last year. In the eulogy, his son told us how gentle a man he had been. In fact, often while watching the evening news he would get tears in his eyes, his heart breaking at the brokenness in the world. He was a man for whom love was an entrenched habit.

The tribute stayed with me, and frequently rebukes me when I compare my own reactions to the news. I have many reactions. I’ll tut-tut. I’ll contemplate. Often as not I just don’t react at all, waiting for the next news item. The news is abstract; it happened to someone, somewhere; no-one I knew.

When I heard of last week’s Christchurch attack, for instance, I was astonished at the numbers. I searched out the details. I sought someone to talk to about it. I couldn’t help but think of the potential flow-on effects, the significance to the culture wars, and the political football it could be. But the rebuke of that eulogy came swiftly. Surely this was a time for tears.

So many dreadful things are done by people. War and oppression, hate-mail and rioting, ignorance and arrogance. Many have been justified with religion. But more and more are not done in the name of religion but in the cause of godless ideologies. We fight over our money more often than our Gods.

Some have wondered what the roots of morality are. Richard Dawkins asked in his book The God Delusion, “Why are we good?” Coming, as it did, after recounting a litany of the horrors committed by religious men, this seemed like the wrong question to ask. The obvious question is “are we good?”

To think that people are ‘basically good’ is axiomatic for today’s society. We all have an idea of goodness. We have a notion of purity, innocence, light, happiness and joy. But what about the daily news?

What about last week?

We dig into the pasts of broken people to try and find the reasons of their bad behaviour. They were neglected. Their parents were harsh. They were bullied. If the world wasn’t so crappy, they would have been… good?

Do people need all the right external conditions, to achieve the right internal condition? How is that really goodness? Surely true goodness is demonstrated in how we respond to things that don’t go our way, a world that doesn’t revolve around us.

The alleged murder who attacked the Mosques last week provided some idea of his reasoning. This world of ours certainly hasn’t been going the way he’d like it to! He raged at all these “problems” of the world—immigrants, Muslims, multiculturalism, conservatives, lefties, you name it. It wasn’t very coherent. I wonder if he has realised yet that if he wants to know the real problem with the world, he needs only to look in the mirror.

Could he honestly look about at the gory carnage and think that this was the solution for making the world a better place? Au contraire, by his actions he’s merely forfeited his place in it.

In contrast, true goodness is found in 1 Corinthians, 13: love. Love that doesn’t seek its own. Is not puffed up. Doesn’t envy. Suffers long. Is kind. Alters not when it alteration finds (ok, that last bit was Shakespeare). Love that weeps over the evening news.

The ravings of last week’s murderer were so complicated, but goodness is so simple. It’s all there in the Sermon on the Mount, including “love your enemies”, which is so obviously the only solution to deescalate conflict, when you think about it. We can discuss the problems of the world, and we should. We should even seek to solve them. Step one is not to be one of the world’s problems.

The West’s Christian heritage is a system that sees all people first as individuals. We don’t see people by their ethnicity, their religion, their status or wealth or any category until we have first seen them as humans with sanctity.

Tribalism has been eroding this in recent times—we are often told to judge ourselves on our colour, gender, privilege, and similar things. There have been calls to believe people in some categories against people in others, regardless of conventional notions of burden of proof. Last week’s event could be used by all sides to make this worse.

But today the goodness of blind justice must be on display. While you are on this soil we will defend you, irrespective of who you are, and we will hold you accountable, irrespective of who you are. One’s views about Islam and immigration are irrelevant, justice is demanded for the defenceless who were senselessly murdered last week.

So there’s no place for responses like Fraser Anning’s. There’s no place for more ‘identity politics’. And I don’t care for half the other ‘cautions’ coming from conservative sites either. We know there’s an ideological war. We know that organised Islam has also done bad things. There will probably be flow-on effects to deal with. That’s for tomorrow.

The only people responsible for this atrocity were those holding the guns. These murderers were wrong, they did wrong. Those who should have been loved by them, they hated. This should not have happened.

Today is the time for tears.

Nick Kastelein is a Christian and a conservative who grew up and lives in Adelaide where he works for an engineering consultancy.

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