Terrorism – More logical than loving the enemy?

Some, perhaps many, Muslims hate the West. The dislike varies according to what question is asked, when it is asked and where. Generally speaking, what is detested is sexual freedom being exported around the rest of humankind. And there is anger about the West’s political support for Jewish occupation of Palestine.

What is controversial is the degree of minority support for terrorism: terrorismthe extremist Islamists who turn themselves into suicide bombers killing people at random in busy streets in the West in revenge for what is seen as the dropping of bombs on innocent Iraqi and Afghani citizens.

I would suggest that to try to begin to understand Islamic terrorism, one needs to consider a similar attitude towards violence, for religious ends, centuries ago in Christendom, when atrocious actions were justified by religious authority: the cruel methods used in the Inquisition: the Crusades seen as holy wars: and the burnings and beheadings of heretics during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Terrorism and Christ’s message

Down through the ages, both the Quran and the Old Testament, appear to support the violence inherent in terrorism. One notion of jihad in Islam is the idea of armed struggle against what is seen as persecution and oppression.

The threat of retaliation is the norm in world politics; not surprising, given the extent of violence in human history.  An instinct for getting our own back seems to be a natural knee-jerk reaction when a great injury is suffered.

“It is easy to hate and it is difficult to love. This is how the whole scheme of things works.” (Confucius)

The violence present in Islamic and Christian reprisals, contrasts dramatically with Christ’s message about goodwill towards those who we count as the enemy.

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Jesus Christ)

Many Palestinian Christians in the intifada, resisting Israeli occupation, are frustrated by Christ’s unique teaching about turning the other cheek and loving the enemy: it stops many from engaging in terrorism.

So what logic is there is in loving one’s enemy, a teaching that even if it were possible to fulfil would seem to amount to appeasement?

Violence of terrorism provokes violence

Were we to follow the old idea of revenge embodied in the teaching of `an eye for an eye’, would we not have a more fractured and divided world? With escalation of retaliation, people would be provoked into more feelings of hate. Conflict and social disorder would be more likely to emerge. Soon everyone would be blind.

In response to Apartheid in South Africa many commentators had thought that bloodshed and violence were inevitable because a people can take only so much injustice and despair. But they were wrong. There were outbreaks of violence by black people but the overwhelming response to the violence of oppression was peaceful protest.

“Everybody’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s a really easy way: stop participating in it.” (Noam Chomsky)

Despite the great anger felt, the struggle was to be based, not on hatred, but on the hope of freedom and reconciliation. Not only was this in line with Christ’s teaching but it actually prevented civil war and dismantled segregation.  What makes more good sense than something that works?

Spirit of forgiveness contrasts with terrorism

It is hard to stop resenting someone who has done you wrong, and who lacks any remorse. The trouble is that bitter resentment eats away at us. It is possible to harbour anger for years especially if we continually avoid someone or allow ourselves to slip into the habit of not conversing with them when we do have an opportunity.

However many have discovered that if they allow a spirit of forgiveness to enter into their hearts then their anger subsides. I believe that the regular practice of forgiveness can reduce anger, depression and stress, leading to greater feelings of hope, and confidence as well as better relationships and physical health.

Pacifism and terrorism

I do not believe ‘turning the other cheek’ is about masochism which would be the case if it were to be taken in a literal way. Actually, I don’t even think it is about pacifism. The trouble with pacifism is that peaceful protest doesn’t stand much of a chance of working when the perpetrators of injustice are in too powerful a position to be bothered by critical popular opinion. Sadly, it seems that there are some evil people who only understand the language of force. And so many Christians fought for their country in the last world war believing it to be a just war against the tyranny of fascism.

No, I see ‘turning the other cheek’ as a picture of not mindlessly retaliating when we are injured. I see Christ’s message about love as a basic principle of goodwill to be applied as appropriate according to the demands and needs of circumstances. The spirit of loving the enemy ideally is to look for ways of resisting those who are an enemy to what is good: fighting the foe and using force where necessary but not feeling hate. You could even say practising tough love.

Hate of terrorism versus love of God

The command “Love your enemies,” certainly appears as a hard saying to the naturally minded person. It certainly is a problem how can we actually love those who we know hate us, and would, if they had the power, destroy us.

One important strand of religious teaching is if in our hearts we genuinely open ourselves to the power of a Divine Spirit of mercy and compassion, then our character can be transformed into a non-hating one.

This assumes a God with an unconditional love to all people who wants the best even for those who have fallen into wicked ways. A God, who as Jesus Christ, whilst even suffering the agony of crucifixion himself prayed for his enemies.

“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Copyright 2014 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of  Heart, Head & Hands  Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems

Memorial for the Victims of Terrorism


Sept. 16, 2001

Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. (PSA 37:1-2)

As we think about the tragedies of the past week, we cannot help but also think that this is the worst thing that’s every happened to America, the most innocent bystanders killed, the most destruction, the greatest sorrow ever suffered. But how do we measure grief? How can you compare the sorrow of one to that of another? Certainly our sorrow is great because it has reached out and affected everyone in our nation – and indeed, everyone in the world.

Not only are we challenged by the sheer size of the tragedy, but we are compelled to face the idea that there is simply nothing in our experience that we can compare this too, that would allow us to have some kind of perspective. The last time an enemy was able to attack the continental United States was during the War of 1812 – almost 200 years ago. Even the attack on Pearl Harbor was long enough ago that few today have a personal remembrance of it. And, both those attacks were made by an armed force acting on the official policy of another nation. Even if we don’t agree with those policies, they at least exist in some context that can be understood.

When people have some illness that threatens to change their way of life, there are support groups to help them through it. It really helps to talk to someone who has been down a frightening, dangerous road before you, and it is reassuring to see that the difficulty can be overcome. We have endured wars between nations before, but who has been down this road before?

So, we gather together in the presence of the Lord to try to make sense of insanity, to try to see what the future holds for us all, and to pray for the victims of terrorism and the devastated families that have survived them. Reading from the 37th Psalm, we hear the Lord telling us that if we can only be patient and trust in Him, He can take away the pain of this tragedy, and heal us: {7} Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. {8} Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it only causes harm. {9} For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth.

There’s another aspect of this where we have no previous experience to draw on. Usually, when we go to church to remember one who has passed into the spiritual world, it’s only one person, and that person is know to us in some degree. But that is not the case today. We are mourning for a country more than a family or an individual, we are mourning for the loss of an entire way of life. And, there are thousands of people who, without warning, passed suddenly and violently into the other world. The Word teaches us that life is not our own, but that it is a continuous gift flowing in from the source of all life, God the Creator. He has created us from the dust of the earth in such a way that our bodies are vessels that can hold and contain the gift of life. And when that vessel is no longer able to do its job, whether the cause is disease, accident, or deliberate violence, then earthly life comes to an end.

HH 445. When the body is no longer able to perform the bodily functions in the natural world that correspond to the spirit’s thoughts and affections, which the spirit has from the spiritual world, man is said to die. This takes place when the respiration of the lungs and the beatings of the heart cease. But the man does not die; he is merely separated from the bodily part that was of use to him in the world, while the man himself continues to live. It is said that the man himself continues to live since man is not a man because of his body but because of his spirit, for it is the spirit that thinks in man, and thought with affection is what constitutes man. Evidently, then, the death of man is merely his passing from one world into another. And this is why in the Word in its internal sense “death” signifies resurrection and continuation of life.

HH 447. After the separation the spirit of man continues in the body for a short time, but only until the heart’s action has wholly ceased, which happens variously in accord with the diseased condition that causes death, with some the motion of the heart continuing for some time, with others not so long. As soon as this motion ceases the man is resuscitated; but this is done by the Lord alone. Resuscitation means the drawing forth of the spirit from the body, and its introduction into the spiritual world; this is commonly called the resurrection.

We know that some of the passengers on the airliners were children. It can comfort us to know that they are well cared for and happy, and that in spite of the circumstances of their passing, their life will become one of innocence where they gladly receive the goods and truths taught to them by their angel companions.

HH 332. As soon as little children are resuscitated, which takes place immediately after death, they are taken into heaven and confided to angel women who in the life of the body tenderly loved little children and at the same time loved God. Because these during their life in the world loved all children with a kind of motherly tenderness, they receive them as their own; while the children, from an implanted instinct, love them as their own mothers. There are as many children in each one’s care as she desires from a spiritual parental affection. This heaven appears in front before the forehead, directly in the line or radius in which the angels look to the Lord. It is so situated because all little children are under the immediate auspices of the Lord; and the heaven of innocence, which is the third heaven, flows into them.

And what of the adults who were working quietly at their desks one moment, and in the world of spirits with their companions the next?

HH 461 In a word, when a man passes from one life into the other, or from one world into the other, it is like passing from one place into another, carrying with him all things that he had possessed in himself as a man; so that by death, which is only the death of the earthly body, man cannot be said to have lost anything really his own. Furthermore, he carries with him his natural memory, retaining everything that he has heard, seen, read, learned, or thought, in the world from earliest infancy even to the end of life.

HH 493. The first state of man after death resembles his state in the world, for he is then likewise in externals, having a like face, like speech, and a like disposition, thus a like moral and civil life; and in consequence he is made aware that he is not still in the world only by giving attention to what he encounters, and from his having been told by the angels when he was resuscitated that he had become a spirit. Thus is one life continued into the other, and death is merely transition.

HH 494. The state of man’s spirit that immediately follows his life in the world being such, he is then recognized by his friends and by those he had known in the world; for this is something that spirits perceive not only from one’s face and speech but also from the sphere of his life when they draw near… So all, as soon as they enter the other life, are recognized by their friends, their relatives, and those in any way known to them; and they talk with one another, and afterward associate in accordance with their friendships in the world. I have often heard that those that have come from the world were rejoiced at seeing their friends again, and that their friends in turn were rejoiced that they had come.

Again, we read from the 37th Psalm, reflecting on the fact that in trying to cause harm, the wicked actually have done these people a favor by moving them our of this world of sorrow, and into a kingdom ruled by the Lord. {12} The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. {13} The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is coming. {14} The wicked have drawn the sword And have bent their bow, To cast down the poor and needy, To slay those who are of upright conduct. {15} Their sword shall enter their own heart, And their bows shall be broken.

But what about those of us who have been left behind, who yet live in a world where evil seems to be unrestrained, and where the possibility exists that terrorists may strike again? How can we cope with our grief and our fear? Dr. Kubler-Ross was the first psychologist who sat down and talked to people who were dying, and to the families who had just experienced a personal loss. Later, her studies on death and dying led her to an investigation of Swedenborgian teachings which she reviewed favorably in her books. Her observations led her to identify five stages of grief. They are:

1. Denial – This can’t really be happening. I’ll soon wake up and discover it was all a bad dream.

2. Anger – Why did this happen to me?

3. Bargaining – If You will only make this go away, I’ll never do anything bad again.

4. Depression – Not just sadness, but detachment.

5. Acceptance – Eventually we heal, and are able to move on.

Although almost everyone will go through all five steps when grieving, each step does not get equal attention. Some may be passed quickly and easily, while other linger. They do not necessarily come in this particular order. Once a particular state is passed, it may come again in a different form. But by being aware of these states, we can cooperate in our own healing, assisting the Lord who is working in secret internal ways by keeping our external situation in order.

What do we do now? Continue to trust in the Lord and His Providence. Both today, and in the days to come. We can look backwards in our own lives and see His strong hand guiding us, leading us out of trouble. We can look back at the events of last Tuesday, and even though we still know very few details, patterns are beginning to emerge that indicate that in fact the hand of God was at work preventing an even worse disaster. Looking back and seeing the operation of the Divine Providence, we need to look forward with confidence, knowing that He is at work, in even the least particulars, turning the evil to lesser evils and milder hells, protecting the innocent, and gently welcoming newcomers into His heavenly kingdom.

In closing, we read again from the 37th Psalm: {34} Wait on the LORD, And keep His way, And He shall exalt you to inherit the land; When the wicked are cut off, you shall see it. {35} I have seen the wicked in great power, And spreading himself like a native green tree. {36} Yet he passed away, and behold, he was no more; Indeed I sought him, but he could not be found. Amen.

First Lesson: PSA 37:1-15, 39-40

(PSA 37) Do not fret because of evildoers, Nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. {2} For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, And wither as the green herb. {3} Trust in the LORD, and do good; Dwell in the land, and feed on His faithfulness. {4} Delight yourself also in the LORD, And He shall give you the desires of your heart. {5} Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. {6} He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday. {7} Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. {8} Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret; it only causes harm. {9} For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the LORD, They shall inherit the earth. {10} For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. {11} But the meek shall inherit the earth, And shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. {12} The wicked plots against the just, And gnashes at him with his teeth. {13} The Lord laughs at him, For He sees that his day is coming. {14} The wicked have drawn the sword And have bent their bow, To cast down the poor and needy, To slay those who are of upright conduct. {15} Their sword shall enter their own heart, And their bows shall be broken. {39} But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in the time of trouble. {40} And the LORD shall help them and deliver them; He shall deliver them from the wicked, And save them, Because they trust in Him. Amen.

Second Lesson: Luke 12:22-32

Then He said to His disciples, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; nor about the body, what you will put on. {23} “Life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. {24} “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse nor barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds? {25} “And which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? {26} “If you then are not able to do the least, why are you anxious for the rest? {27} “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. {28} “If then God so clothes the grass, which today is in the field and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will He clothe you, O you of little faith? {29} “And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. {30} “For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. {31} “But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you. {32} “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Amen.

Third Lesson: DP 251 (port.)

The worshipper of himself and of nature confirms himself against the Divine Providence when he reflects that wars are permitted and in them the slaughter of so many men, and the plundering of their wealth. It is not from the Divine Providence that wars occur, because they involve murders, plunderings, violence, cruelties and other terrible evils which are diametrically opposed to Christian charity. Still they cannot but be permitted because, since the time of the most ancient people, meant by Adam and his wife, treated of above (n. 241), men’s life’s love has become such that it wills to rule over others, and finally over all; and also to possess the wealth of the world, and finally all wealth. These two loves cannot be kept in fetters, for it is according to the Divine Providence that everyone is allowed to act from freedom in accordance with reason, as may be seen above (n. 71-99); and without permissions man cannot be led from evil by the Lord, and consequently cannot be reformed and saved. For unless evils were allowed to break out, man would not see them and therefore would not acknowledge them, and thus could not be induced to resist them. Hence it is that evils cannot be repressed by any act of Providence; for if they were they would remain shut in, and like a disease, such as cancer and gangrene, they would spread and consume everything vital in man.

[2] For man from birth is like a little hell, between which and heaven there is perpetual discord. No man can be withdrawn from his hell by the Lord unless he sees that he is in hell and wishes to be led out; and this cannot be done without permissions, the causes of which are laws of the Divine Providence. This is why there are lesser and greater wars, the lesser between owners of estates and their neighbors, and the greater between the sovereigns of kingdoms and their neighbors. The lesser and the greater differ only in this, that the lesser are kept within certain bounds by national law, and the greater by international law; and that, while both the lesser and the greater are willing to transgress their own laws, the lesser cannot, and the greater can, yet still within the limits of possibility.

[3] There are many other reasons stored up in the treasury of Divine Wisdom why the greater wars with kings and rulers, involving as they do murders, plunderings, violence and cruelties, are not prevented by the Lord, either in their beginning or in their progress, until in the end the power of one or the other has been so reduced that he is in danger of destruction. Some of these reasons have been revealed to me, and among them is this: that all wars, although they may be civil in character, represent in heaven states of the Church and are correspondences. Such were all the wars described in the Word, and such also are all wars at this day. The wars described in the Word are those which the Children of Israel waged with various nations….

[4] Similar things are represented by the wars of the present day, wherever they occur; for all things which take place in the natural world correspond to spiritual things in the spiritual world, and all spiritual things have relation to the Church. It is not known in this world which kingdoms in Christendom represent the Moabites and the Ammonites, which the Syrians and the Philistines, and which the Chaldeans and the Assyrians, and the others with whom the Children of Israel waged war; and yet there are peoples who represent them. Moreover, the quality of the Church on earth and what the evils are into which it falls, and for which it is punished by wars, cannot be seen at all in the natural world; because in this world externals only are manifest, and these do not constitute the Church. However, this is seen in the spiritual world where internal things appear, and in these is the Church itself; and there all are conjoined according to their various states. The conflicts of these in the spiritual world correspond to wars which on both sides are governed according to correspondence by the Lord in accordance with His Divine Providence…. Amen.

Sentence of Scripture

(John 14:1-2) “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. {2} “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.

Opening Prayer

O Lord Jesus Christ, our Heavenly Father, we sad and afraid because we have seen too well what can happen when people choose to disobey you, and when they love evil more than good. O Lord, help us to be strong and to do the things that we must do to come together as a people and to bring heavenly order into our world. Amen.

Children’s Prayer

Heavenly Father, it saddens us to know that there are people who choose to disobey Your Law, for when they stop doing things the right way, it hurts them, and it can hurt other people too. We thank You for the story of Noah and the Ark, for it reminds us that even when things in the world are unhappy and frightening, that You will keep our souls safe. Amen.

Closing Prayer

O Lord, we feel great sorrow. We are filled with grief. Our minds and hearts reach out the families and friends of those who have been taken from this world so suddenly and violently. Lord, open our eyes so that we can seek out ways to help these people, for it is Your hand that reaches out to them through us. O Lord, show us the way to end the pain and restore the peace. Amen.