Rant Number 439 10 May 2011
No, this is not a joke. Because the Archbishop of Canterbury is the priest, the Dalai Lama the monk and the late Osama Bin Laden the sheikh. A pretty interfaith gathering, huh!
Rowan Williams, the ABC, has drawn some flak for admitting to an ‘uncomfortable feeling’ over Bin Laden’s killing. Tough-minded commentators have mocked him over that. Another liberal cop-out, what!? But this priest, normally rather rude about Rowan, must dissent. By the grace of God, this time ABC got it right.
First, it would be unwise and even dangerous for an Archbishop to applaud the death of a man who, right or wrong, meant a lot to many Muslims. Innocent Christians in Islamic lands might suffer as a result. Second, and speaking not prudentially but theologically, Rowan is a priest. Now, a priest is ordained to represent Christ sacramentally at the altar – that same Christ who refused to spill other men’s blood but allowed his own blood to be shed for men’s salvation. Hence, as St Thomas Aquinas teaches in the Summa Theologiae, not only is it illicit for a priest to fight and kill – it is also unfitting that he should gloat over the killing of another human being, never mind how bad.
Third, Bin Laden was a staunch enemy of Christians. That is clear because his organisation was specifically directed ‘against Jews and Crusaders’ - ‘Crusaders’ being a euphemism for Christians. And in his acts of terror many innocent Christians indeed perished. But that is exactly why the ABC could never express satisfaction in Osama’s death. Because Christian lives should never, as such, be avenged with acts of killing. That would be impious. The same applied to martyrs. Christian martyrs die in imitation of Christ, as explained above. The Christian concept of a martyr is, in this respect, opposed to the Islamic understanding, which allows for the shahid to fight and kill. If Blessed Charles de Foucauld had shot the Tuareg tribesmen intent of murdering him, he would have acted in self-defence and been justified in the world’s eyes. But, in the Christian view, he would have shown himself unworthy of the crown of martyrdom.
The Monk is the Dalai Lama. The spiritual head in exile of millions of Tibetan Buddhists. Peculiarly, many Western liberals and trendies have become his fans. All the more shocking, therefore, that he has appeared to condone, if not quite approve, the Yanks’ lethal disposing of the Al Qaeda chief. He has spoken, in his funny, often murky English, of necessary ‘counter-measures’.
I must admit to liking the Dalai Lama a lot. He looks, and is, a true spiritual athlete, which is what a genuine monk is. His lecture was given under the slightly boring heading of ‘Secular Ethics and Human Values’ – I guess he has to pander a little to wishy-washy Californian audiences - but, if you want to did deeper, you should consider what Tibetan Buddhism teaches. And that is, inter alia, the doctrine of reincarnation. People’s lives and acts are determined by the iron law of karma, cause and effect, by acts committed in their previous lives. So, if I am nasty to old ladies, it is because I am nasty man. And I am a nasty man because I have done selfish, offensive and nasty deeds in a previous existence. And so on.
Karma and reincarnation, like all religious ideas, are open to question and criticism. Where does free-will come in, for example? If my present status and acts are determined before I was born, how can I ever break out of the wheel of samsara, birth and death? How can you hold me responsible for my evil actions now, if they are determined before I was born? Is there an outside, supernatural agency who could help with that? Buddhism is not said to believe in anything like God but itsMahayana form allegedly does – something like God, anyway. (Bodhisattvas and Arhats – holy men – also are there to assist you on the way to Nirvana.) And do human beings really get reincarnated into hyenas and insects? Queries can be multiplied. But that would be unfair. Millions of Buddhists believe and live by such teachings, just as much as Christians believe and live by Christ, and that is a fact.
What the Dalai Lama might have meant, I suppose, is that Osama Bin Laden’s life, full of strife, murder and mayhem, was itself a kind of punishment. A punishment brought on by the way he had behaved in a previous existence. One presumably full of blood and iniquities. I wonder, by the way, what the Dalai Lama imagines Bin Laden might be like in his next life. Another Stalin or Pol Pot? A Tony Blair? A cobra? A hawk? An alligator? Tricky.
Lastly, the dead Sheikh. Bin Laden would of course have rejected these negative opinions. He saw himself as a sword of Islam, fought for Islam and...died the death he would probably have chosen for himself – except he might have wished to have his trademark Kalashnikov to hand. I myself cannot agree with all the objurgations the Western media have been pouring out. Some comments, frankly, have been silly. All right, he led a shabby existence in his Abbotabad house. But suppose he had been living in high luxury in some posh mansion. He would now be pilloried for that, he, the Saudi millionaire. Or take his several wives. So what? Islam allows for polygamy – is the Islamic religion then all wrong? What a cheap journalistic nonsense!
Still, even many Muslims believe that Bin Laden was a chief of assassins – not unlike perhaps the medieval Rashid al-Din Sinan, the terrible Sheikh al Jabal - the Old Man of the Mountain - a man who had made himself into an outlaw by his terrorist actions aimed largely against the innocent, and one who, in the end, brought only troubles and disgrace to Islam. He certainly failed to defeat America and also failed to overthrow the Saudi regime. So, politically and, worse, spiritually, the Sheikh was unsuccessful – something very un-Islamic.
It is difficult to disagree with that judgment.