woensdag 27 april 2016

Spiritual violence

It recently was twenty years ago that seven monks were kidnapped from their monastery in Tibhirine by Algerian Islamists. Two months later, on May 30, 1996, only their heads were found.

They had let it happen. The monks knew of the advancing Islamist violence in the region. They did consider to leave, but decided to remain in their monastery in solidarity with the local population and to refuse protection by the military.

And time and again at every commemoration, most recently by Stefan Waanders in Trouw, there are those gushy comments which extol the monks’ behavior as a sign of ultimate sacrifice readiness. This time Waanders adds to his article Brother Christian’s ‘testament’, in which he sums up the essence of his life. “This is a testament of the great spiritual texts of the last century”, says Waanders.

In the text, Brother Christian de Chergé, the prior of the monastery, speaks of his willingness to die out of solidarity with the Algerian Muslims who for more then a century were humiliated by the French. The respect that he thus shows to victims of French colonialism is certainly sympathetic, although I do not see how an Islamist massacre can benefit the image of Islam.

What stings me, and what makes questionable the whole gesture of the monks for me, is the following passage in Christian’s testament.

“Of course my death will seem to confirm all those who derided me as naive or idealistic: ‘Tell me, what do you think about it now!’ But people need to know that what torments and makes me curious most, will finally get a liberating answer. Because I will, if it pleases God, I will be allowed to let my sight be united with that of the Father to look with him to his Muslim children. I will see them as he sees them, bathed in the light of the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion and coated with the gift of the Spirit, who always with hidden joy will create community and, playing with all the differences, will restore the similarities.”

This text strikes me as a mark of spiritual imperialism, one of the most unsympathetic kind, and, I fear, exemplary of Christianity. When reading such a passage I ask myself in despair: Is there no one who will see how here, from under a blanket of fluffy piety, in one blow every deviating, differently defined identity is assimilated to what for this monk rises over everyone and everything? Gone all otherness, away with plurality. Doesn’t anybody – this monk, or the author of the article, or the public – feel that there is coarse mental violence, pure imperialism at stake?

I know, irenic souls like Erasmus and others had exactly the same view. To me that only confirms what I tend to consider as the blind spot in our civilization, namely that mental pressure is not perceived as violence, and therewith as condemable as physical violence. Mental pressure is not innocent, if only because frustrated mental pressure can still lead to physical violence. As Luther’s dealings with the Jews can illustrate: when his preaching could not convince the Jews, he towards the end of his life turned to hate speech against the Jews.

This has got much to do with Thinking for someone else. Also see Reversal of values.