Today I wrote to the Dundee Courier, my local newspaper, in these terms:
In the wake of the Manchester atrocity, all sorts of opinions and analyses have been offered to the public, but as Mr. K Marx has said, the real deal is not so much to understand the world as to change it. If we want to unify the different communities in our society and make it harder for terrorists to conceal themselves among us, we have to be active in forging friendships among different religious communities; not just toleration but real person -to -person relationships, and mutual engagement for the benefit of society. This is happening in Dundee.
Dundee has always fostered good relationships between faith communities, as open days at the Mosque and at Churches testify; and all the communities have been active in this process. There is a great deal of human warmth, humour and wisdom already invested in creating a secure, inclusive city.
As a retired minister, I find myself by good fortune ministering to the Sidlaw Churches – Monikie, Newbigging, Murroes, Tealing and Auchterhouse – where the congregations have formed a partnership with the Taught by Mohammed Foodbank, a splendid Muslim organisation which delivers food parcels to the neediest citizens of Dundee. It acts on referrals from Social Work, Citizens Advice, and other caring agencies, and offers help regardless of ethnic or religious identity. Although we all think it’s a disgrace that Foodbanks exist, Church people are delighted to gather food and to volunteer for other tasks along with our Muslim friends. Recently our united congregations welcomed Amna, the foodbank coordinator, at Sunday worship, and listened to her presentation. Sometime soon we hope to visit the Mosque. We continue to hold our respective faiths dear but we hope that Jesus Christ and the Prophet Muhammed, peace upon them, approve of what we are doing.
This is a small step, but it is a step towards changing our conflicted world rather than just talking about it. I hope that by celebrating all the small steps already taken in Dundee, other people here and elsewhere may be encouraged to take their own. “Do not ask for the way to peace; peace is the way.”
The theologian Hans Kung expressed the veiw that until there is peace amonsgt the world’s religions, there will not be peace amngst its nations. Given that religion attracts at least as many as and perhaps more nutters than politics, this may be a tall order. Religions that claim a monopoly of truth should especially be urged to look at themselves, and those who claim to possess in inerrant source of truth in their sacred book should be urged to look even harder.
One of the great barriers to peace is the existence of different versions of reality. People who can disregard facts or only interpret them one way are dangerous to any commonality on the earth. Even if they were quarantined in separate enclaves of the Sahara desert they might still cause significant damage to the planet.
Christianity is one of these. It has managed to package the revolutionary and peaceful story of its founder so successfully that it has been responsible for war, imperialism and persecution throughout most of its history. When its modern believers look at the Manchester bombing, they should remember, as IS does, the Crusades, not to mention the Christian (and Muslim) slave trade, the wars of religion, the partnerships of missionaries and imperialism, right wing religion and the KKK. Any community that fails to respect facts will be manipulated by unscrupulous power-seekers and loopy prophets with an appetite for blood.
We cannot oppose IS in the name of our own magic book and our own divinely revealed certainties, but must rather in humility show the way, by recognising the value of facts, by being honest about our Bible and its errors, and affirming that our commitment to the way of Jesus is a choice, which we believe to be fruitful for all people, but which requires us to respect their choices. I would welcome the day when Christian faith is freed from the all the trappings of religion.
In a multiracial, multifaith world, while we strip our faith of religious certainty, we should take small whatever small steps we can, to build the human friendships and shared endeavours, that serve peace.