Saturday, August 29, 2009

...With Passion

One of my favorite debates over the years has been with those who try to claim

the United States is a Christian nation founded upon Christian principles and those

principles motivate or should motivate how we conduct ourselves as a nation. No better

example of the nature of this debate occurred recently with he decision by Scotland to

release the man convicted of engineering the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie,

Scotland. In all, 270 people were killed in this heinous act of terrorism against innocent

men, women, and children. The man convicted of being the mastermind, Ali Mohmed al-

Megrahi, was an intelligence officer for the Libyan government at the time of the bombing.

He is dying of prostate cancer and has less than three months to live. The Minister of

Justice in Scotland decided to let him go home and die in Libya among his family. He

called it a "compassionate release".

The dictionary defines compassion as an emotion in which one has sympathy

or empathy for someone else or someone else's circumstances. The Scotch have built

compassion into their justice system. They are now being excoriated for that supposed

lack of judgement.

Upon announcement of al-Megrahi's release, the response was quick and

predictable. Regressives attacked the outrage of his release. The corporate media

punditocracy expressed disdain and disgust that such a person, a murderer and a

terrorist, could be treated with compassion. The families of the victims were beyond

consolation that this man will get to say goodbye to his family, when he did not grant

such an opportunity to any of his victims.

Al-Megrahi was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Tripoli. A large

crowd greeted him with cheers. Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi greeted him with a

hug. Al-Megrahi's reception kicked the outrage into high gear. President Obama

condemned the decision to release him, as did Secretary of State Clinton. The head of

the FBI, Robert Mueller, sent a letter to the Scottish Justice Ministry expressing his

complete outrage at their decision. All in all, it is safe to say that the vast majority of

Americans disagree with his compassionate release. In Britain and Scotland, the reaction

was less strident. A British commission, tasked with looking into the Lockerbie bombing,

came to the conclusion that al-Megrahi may not have been responsible; or at least there

were a lot of questions that have never been answered. Many of the public believe he was

the wrong man or doubt the real story has ever come out. There was far less outrage,

although Tony Blair made sure everyone knew he was aghast at the decision. (He wanted

to show al-Megrhi the same compassion he showed the million or so Iraqi's killed in a war

he supported and perpetrated, I suppose.)

The gist of the anger over Mr. al-Megrahi's release seems to be that as a terrorist

and a murderer he did not care about his innocent victims nor their families. He did not

show them any compassion. He did not grant them any mercy. His was an action of total

evil in which he showed utter disdain for the victims of his actions. Therefore, no mercy,

empathy, sympathy, or compassion should be directed his way. He should die a miserable

death in prison, and his family denied any chance to be with him in his final days. I don't

believe I have overstated the position of those opposed to his release. Do you? The

delicious irony lost in this outrage is that they want to treat al-Megrahi exactly the way

he treated his victims. They want to emulate him and his emotionless evil action by

treating him with the same contempt and lack of compassion he showed to the passengers

of that Pan Am flight.

This brings us back to one of my favorite debates. I am willing to wager that

the majority, if not 90% of those who have flooded radio and television with emails and

tweets and messages of anger and outrage, consider themselves to be card-carrying,

gum-chewing Christians. I have no doubt. High percentages of the most angry go to

church and read scriptures and believe that this country was founded upon and should be

proselytizing these virtues to the entire world, particularly the Muslim world. They are

the ones who refuse to believe Islam is a religion of peace because how could anyone who

follows a religion of peace commit so many horrific actions against other human beings?

I spoke with Sister Helen Prejean once ( the subject of the movie Dead Man

Walking). She is an opponent of the death penalty because it robs the victim's family of

any closure or reconciliation. She says the families that are able to forgive can also

experience reconciliation and move on with their lives. The family members who want

to "pull the switch or drop the pellet" are left with nothing but hatred for the rest of

their lives, and many are ruined by it.

A priest friend of mine told me that forgiveness is the key to reconciliation,

even when the "offended" is not ready to forgive the person. Hatred and vengeance

do not belong in our Christian vocabulary; and the Gospel is a Gospel of love and

forgiveness which eventually leads to reconciliation-healing the broken, the fractured,

the disenfranchised, the poor, the outcast. He says it is about SHALOM in the larger

sense of the word, to bring everything back into harmony with God.

So, I am puzzled. The anger at allowing al-Megrahi to go home, the vitriol

being directed at the Scottish Minister of Justice, the demand that this man suffer an

ignoble death separated from his family and loved ones; where in scripture, where in

Jesus's words, where did he tell us to return evil with evil, anger with anger, hatred with

hatred? Is there a fifth Gospel that I missed?

Gilbert K. Chesterson is supposed to have said, "...the problem with Christianity

isn't that it was tried and found wanting, but rather that it has never been tried at all".

My grandmother once said, "...the proof of the pudding is in the tasting". So let

me ask you, which is it? All of those Christians screaming for "an eye for an eye". What

part of Jesus's message are they hearing? If the man who proclaimed the end of an eye

for an eye, who said the greatest commandment is to love, who called on his followers

to turn the other cheek, forgive an infinite number of times, and to love their neighbors

as themselves; if this man was asked about the release of al-Megrahi, what do you think

he would say? Do you think he would feel compassion? No one has to be a Christian;

but if you call yourself one, what do you do when you totally repudiate the man you say

you follow? ... a Christian nation? What do you think? I welcome your comments and

rebuttals. Please send them to

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