The Only Answer

The Only Answer
On the morning of January 7, 2015, much of the world was shocked and saddened by the murder of 12 people and the injuring of many others at Paris, France offices of the satrical publisher, Charlie Hebdo.  A terrorist group, who describe themselves as Islamist, claimed responsibility for the attack.  It is reported that millions of people rallied in protest of the attacks.  The slogan “Je suis Charlie” (French for “I am Charlie”) was used at the gatherings and in social media.  In protest, numerous media outlets reprinted the offending material.

One part of the message of the protesters resonates:  Physical violence is never an acceptable response, no matter how egregious a verbal assault.  Since these attacks, I have had a chance to visit with several Muslim leaders about the murders to understand their feelings.  Unsurprising to me, they were unanimously opposed to the attacks and very sad that their religion, which is a religion that preaches peace and harmony, is being used to justify this and other violence.  However, they said that they also had feelings of profound sorrow when their religion and their revered Prophet Mohamed are treated with great disrespect.  They understand the anger, but do not approve of the violence.  This event is just one example of what seems to be a continuing struggle to balance religious sensitivities and freedom of speech.

A Jewish friend asked me if I thought there was an answer to this ongoing hatred and violence.  With some hopelessness, he despaired that the tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere had been going on for centuries and no one had been able to stop it.  I told him that I think there is an answer found in the word of God and, although it may be difficult to implement, it is the only answer.

The answer is found in Moses's words in Leviticus 19:18.  “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”  Then later in Jesus's words in Matthew 7:12.  “All things whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.”  And in the Quran 13:22, “Prevent evil with good.”  These thoughts are the principle of love often referred to as “The Golden Rule.”  It may seem as if this advice is too simple for these deep-rooted problems, but the Golden Rule does work and will work because it comes from God.
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It is said that in trying to determine solutions to perplexing world affairs, it can be helpful to make comparisons to something we can understand, such as the relationships between individuals and families.

Let me share an example:  Two cousins, both less than two years old were playing together, when little Eldon bit little Beth.  Beth cried and the parents came in to help.  After some questions and further observation, it was discovered that little Beth, who had a few more verbal skills, had been saying things that made little Eldon unhappy.  As a result of feeling frustrated and lacking the verbal skills, he bit her.  The respective parents used this occasion to teach both children.  To Eldon, “You don't bite or hit, even if you are mad at Beth.”  To Beth, “Be nice to your cousin; don't say things to hurt his feelings.”  I could see this same advice being given in any household, no matter what their religious affiliation.  In this case, the children both went off to play nicely together and today are still the best of friends many decades later.  This problem was solved at a very early stage by teaching the Golden Rule, but we have all seen similar clashes escalate into lifelong hostilities.

So, how can everyday common sense, combined with the wisdom of God, be applied to what may seem like complex worldly affairs?  To those who feel offended, I would say that violence is not the answer, no matter how hateful the speech.  It has been said that offence cannot be given, only received.  To take offence is a decision.  Humans, who have self-control, can decide whether to let something offend them.  Some people appear to enjoy taking offence and look for an excuse to be angry and lash out.  It gives them satisfaction to be angry; they like to be angry, it gives them an adrenalin rush that they crave.
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To those saying hurtful comments that are meant to inflame, I would say, self-consorship is part of the development of a healthy society.  I agree we should not feel a need to self-censor out fear, nevertheless, we should do it because it is right and good.  We all need to learn to be kind.  Both sides need to find ways to show understanding.  If we have the self-discipline to self-censor for the right reasons, miracles can happen.  More than not being enemies, we can actually become friends with those with whom we may disagree.  The Golden Rule points us towards a higher level:  “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. (Matthew 5:44)

There are bright spots, or examples that we can follow:
1. Corrie ten Boom
2. Mormons' response to satire and
3. Louis Zamperini (Unbroken)

Freedom of speech is an essential part of a free society.  But this freedom comes with a responsibility to show kindness and respect, self-imposed, in order to have a respectful and peaceful society.  A free society is a lofty and whorthwhile aspiration, but an even higher aspiration is a free society where its citizens use that freedom to lift others.  Satire can be funny and may seem to be instructive, but it can also be used to be hateful and destructive.  We have all heard someone say something mean or unkind, and then say, “Just kidding” or “Can't you take a joke?” when they sould say “I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that.”  When does satire cross the line from being instructive to destructive?  That line is crossed when it is meant or received in hate instead of love.  Something can be both funny and hateful.  Satire is frequently hate couched in humour.

Most of the religions in the world teach this love and respect mentioned here.  I believe religion can lift individuals and even an entire society to a higher plane, especially when the people have the freedom to choose.  A free society allows people to choose to be their best...or their worst.  A free society with freedom of speech and freedom of religion gives the opportunity for people to choose to love and respect each other or to choose to freely hate.  Those who choose to hate will be protected in saying pretty well anything they want, but the laws will attempt to prevent them from doing or receiving physical violence.  However, a person who only limits what he says by what the law allows is giving in to hate and not allowing himself to rise to a higher plane.  Would it be possible to have stricter hate laws that try to control everything?  Probably, but a society that is overly controlled, even by well-meaning people, for example, by one dominant religious sect or political dogma, will limit its people's ability to choose freely what to say or how to act.  A free society is much better because people are free to develop into the kind of people who choose to live the Golden Rule.

We may think that choosing to live the Golden Rule is difficult and may even seem unrealistic, but this demonstration of love is the only answer.  As Christ said about the Golden Rule in Matthew 7:12, “For this is the law and the prophets,” or in other words, “All things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them,” is a summation of all that God has taught.