The Tsarnaevs’ uncle exclaimed in an interview that someone radicalized his nephews. It is now common to describe ratcheting up the depth of personal convictions influenced by another as radicalization. I fear that a good word, radical, suffers the weight of the tragedies in its name. One wonders. Is radicalization the problem or is it something else? Something deeper? Or is it correct to say that something sinister is harbored in what is termed radical?
Like you, I wonder what happened? Especially, what happened to the younger brother? By early accounts he does not fit the script, the pattern, of those generally found to carry out an act resulting in death and injury such as the Boston Marathon bombing. He has been described as gregarious, respectful, compassionate, and even playful. We have come to expect to hear tales of reclusive, socially awkward, and angry young people easily taken in by extreme responses to some catalyzing event.
What caught my attention was the reference, “Someone got their ear.” In other words, these two adult aged males could not will a different decision because someone got their ear? Would that someone would remind us of John 10:27!
Jesus responds to his opposition by referencing his followers – his sheep – who listen and follow. Too many comments post Boston Marathon bombing indicate we have a long way to go to listen to Jesus. It calls into question any privilege Christians have to condemn another’s religious commitments. Add in the fact that Christian history contains illustrations of the same sort of dehumanizing actions and it seems more warranted to respond with humility than hubris.
Reading through the John 10 passage for this past Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, I could not help but notice how pervasive the desire for things to change was and, of course, still is. For instance, when John notes the celebration of the Feast of Dedication we witness the inclusion of an event intended to annually commemorate the desire for a radical change in the way the world works. To Jesus, “Rome is now Antiochus Epiphanes, will you be the new Judas Maccabaeus?”
Daily we witness decisions and actions, good and bad, that at their core insinuate into our realities that human beings desire something different in the way things work in their world. I do not intend to excuse or make an excuse for devilish behavior that cheapens life by taking it to make a point. What I do intend is to draw out the almost universal desire for something new, something different, something better.
It seems the frustration with Jesus in John 10 was more about hearing words versus hearing actions. Leon Morris points out that in lesser crowds Jesus could be read to self-identify as the One promised. (NICNT, John) He simply did not make those sorts of declarative statements when surrounded by his opposition. So, they wanted to know. Are you the one we may pin our hopes on that the restoration we believe God has promised and is to come will be fulfilled in you?
Not a bad question. John sent his disciples to Jesus asking the same question. In both instances Jesus points to what has been done as events that speak louder than words. Reconsider the testimony of Jesus’ actions. They do not appear to offer a way to be radicalized in the same manner we find that word used today, or even in the sinister ways the Name has been used to perpetrate other horrors.
Instead, it seems that when Jesus points to his actions he intimates, if not outright makes explicit, that to follow his way is to radicalize the existing givens in such a way they become the holy norms. Or, to put it more clearly, when following Jesus our first move in the face of tragedies like this is not to impugn ethnicities or religions but instead to pray for those who have chosen us as enemies. The givens include a human response, normally a retaliative one. Jesus alters the given and suggests a restorative mood. A Facebook friend re-posted the following,
Pray for your enemies. Now you know what to do.
Radicalizing the givens of our normal patterns means rather than retaliating with enmity, Christians react with prayer. Who knows, it may be they know not what they do.
Underneath our response reveals we are potentially no different than that which we reject in words. Just today, David Fitch offered a quote from Zizek. No one would construe Zizek as a Christian. He would refuse the self-description. But, in the trajectory of radical theologians he calls into question the very way our actions expose our motives and show us to be more like our enemies than we are willing to admit.
David E Fitch7:23am (7 hours ago)
Zizek on the pseudo-fundamentalist (paraphrase of p. 85 Violence).
In the case of both Muslim and Christian fundamentalists, the question must be asked, do they really believe? If they really believed, would they feel so threatened by non-believers? why should they envy them? In contrast to true fundamentalists, the terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued, fascinated by the sinful life of the non-believers. One can feel that, in fighting the sinful Other, they are fighting their own temptation. These so-called Christian or Muslim fundamentalists are a disgrace to true fundamentalists (who truly believe).
Here Zizek teases out the source of violence and antagonism towards those who are “not us” as a “lack of true belief.” The outsider has something that tempts us, we really want, but can’t because it would destroy our belief systems. So we demonize it.
Christians should be so at home in their “way of life” that they live at peace with all witnessing to the integrity of the gospel in their own lives.
So, when we designate another as having been radicalized, aren’t we ourselves admitting that something else has radicalized us? When we persist in our ways that fail to comport to the ways of Jesus is it not easier to point out the fault of others than to admit to our own? Our first retort is to play up the difference in degree. What they did is worse than what I do. Hardly an argument for the way of new creation, correct?
I have been left wondering if these instances don’t somehow declare the death of the Church. I mean this in the radical theology sense – the death of this form of Church. In other words if our responses to the Boston Marathon bombing tend to be markedly different than the works of Jesus, then is it not safe to say the Church that intends to bring the realities into the world in the present by the Spirit is itself dead and in need of a new instantiation?
There are a number of movements that may be currently influencing this new “to come” of the Church. Maybe we will live to see the day when we ourselves have been radicalized by the voice of the Good Shepherd such that our actions bear testimony to his very own – and all the world gains by our following.
The question remains. Who radicalizes you? Who has your ear?