by Neil Hudson
(originally aired on BBC GMR, February 2006)
The last seven days has been another example of the news being dominated by religion. The beginning of the week saw strange alliances coming together to fight for what was seen to be free speech linked to the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill. Many Christians feared that if the government had been successful in their original ideas, then they would not be allowed to publicly declare their faith. The pressure groups feel they won the day, the government changed the wording of the bill and it was decided that it is illegal to use threatening language, but not to insult another faith or group.
It was ironic then that by the end of the week, we saw what happens when the most central elements of a faith are insulted. Around the world, Muslims were angry, hurt and in some cases ready to act in civil protest because of a cartoon of their prophet, Mohammad.
What does this week’s events tell us about where we are today? The obvious issues are that faith still really matters to people. It was in the 1960s that some suggested that the western world would become thoroughly secular, that religion would die. How wrong they were.
The other thing that has become obvious is that people of faith are refusing to keep quiet about it. They will petition MPs when they see things that they feel are wrong, and at times they may step outside of the law to make their voice heard.
How will we manage in days like these? How can we learn to live together?
Jesus spoke at a time and to a people when an empire was not prepared to take the faith of the people seriously. In the first century, Romans looked down on Jews and Christians as being uneducated, uncultured – in general not where it was at. It was in this context that Jesus spoke of doing good to those who would not do good to you, that instead of loving just family and friends, we should love our neighbour – whoever our neighbour might be, and even more that we should love our enemies, doing good to those who would curse you, praying for those who ill treat you. It all seems a long way from debating the extent that we should be able to insult each other in a new Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.
But let’s imagine for a moment: Wouldn’t it be amazing if the government had proposed introducing a Loving Bill – where we would have to love one another – even those we don’t understand, or those we differ from, or even those we see as our enemies. Far too radical of course, it would never work, the problem is that no one told Jesus that. I wonder what today would look like if we decided to act out Jesus’ words, to go out of our way not to hurt one another, but on the contrary to love one another, to do good to each other, to cross the street to speak to those we ever have spoken to, to be agents of kindness in what is sometimes not a very kind world.
Too radical? Maybe – that has always been the problem with Jesus – he just never seemed to accept the normal world, did he?