True religion


It probably was  too much, back to back dramas, one by SOULPEPPER’S great troupe—the Arthur Miller classic The Crucible and then the next day, a film I have longed to see, Of Gods and Men.

What tied the two together was the use of Pascal’s great pensée uttered in the movie: “”Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.”

In one instance it was the “true believers” called Puritans in Arthur Miller’s play. With all the rectitude their warped faith could summon, several women were sent to the  gallows, accused of witchery. The tight assed fundamentalists in Salem were absolutely convinced of their adamantine stance. Caught in the grip of a perverted mania, much like the McCarthyites Miller was targetting in his 1953 classic, these pillars of the church  stand triumphantly in  a place where God and state are fused. And so they  happily bring the hammer down on the innocent women. As the presiding judge Danforth says, “A person is either with this court or he must be counted against us.” God or the Devil, baby.

All too redolent of GW Bush after 9/11” You are either with us or against us.”

Remember poor Bush then traipsed over to the National Cathedral on September 10 and spoke as if God was on his side.Then he went out, the poor deluded man, and visited holy war on Iraq.God was on his side.

In the movie Of Gods and Men  the sick mujahideen, Muslim fundamentalists  targetted the Cistercian monastery of Our Lady of Mount Atlas in the Algerian hills in 1996.With their twisted view of the Koran they wreak havoc on both locals and innocent Croatian workers.

The movie is a powerful meditation on the monastic life. What do these beautiful servants of the poor do? Do they leave the monastery and go back to France or do they remain and face the dire consequencea?

They chant : Let us turn to the Man of Sorrows who summons us from the Cross”. Fidelity to their vocation.This would have even sent a chill down Christopher Hitchen’s back.The slow pace of the film allows the Gospel of accompaniment to sink in.The understated theology is to the point:’For you (God) do have eyes—shown through the tears of the oppressed.”

The humility of the Cistercians was a powerful antidote to both the rancid memory of the Bush years and the Puritans’ convinced smugness.

The monks simple statement that they were there as sImple “freres de tous” shone out as true belief.

The following letter was written by Christian  de Cherge, the abbot between December 1, 1993 and January 1, 1994. It was opened by his mother in France on May 26, 1996, five days after he, along with the other monks from the Monastery, had been beheaded.


If it should happen one day—and it could be today—that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to encompass all the foreigners in Algeria, I would like my community, my Church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to this country. To accept that the One Master of all life was not a stranger to this brutal departure. I would like them to pray for me: how worthy would I be found of such an offering?


I would like them to be able to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones allowed to fall into the indifference of anonymity. My life has no more value than any other. Nor any less value. In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood. I have lived long enough to know that I share in the evil which seems, alas, to prevail in the world, and even in that which would strike me blindly. I should like, when the time comes, to have a space of lucidity which would enable me to beg forgiveness of God and of my fellow human beings, and at the same time to forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.


I could not desire such a death. It seems to me important to state this. I don’t see, in fact, how I could rejoice if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder. It would be too high a price to pay for what will be called, perhaps, the “grace of martyrdom” to owe this to an Algerian, whoever he may be, especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.


My death, obviously, will appear to confirm those who hastily judged me naive or idealistic: “Let him tell us now what he thinks of it!” But these must know that my insistent curiosity will then be set free. This is what I shall be able to do, if God wills: Immerse my gaze in that of the Father, to contemplate with Him His children of Islam as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ, fruit of His Passion.


This life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God who seems to have wished it entirely for the sake of that JOY in and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU which is said for everything in my life, from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, O my friends of this place, besides my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families, a hundredfold as was promised!


And you too, my last minute friend, who will not know what you are doing, Yes, for you too I say this THANK YOU AND THIS “A-DIEU”-—to commend you to this God in whose face I see yours. And may we find each other, happy “good thieves” in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. . . AMEN! In sha’ Allah.



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