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Easter massacre

26 April 2019

RESPONSIBILITY for the Easter Day bombings in Sri Lanka remained in question as the Church Times went to press, but the involvement of an international Islamist organisation seems likely, be it Islamic State or some other shadowy group. The Sri Lankan government states that the attacks were carried out by members of the National Thowheed Jamath, but since their MO to date has amounted to the defacing of Buddhist statues, it is fair to suppose foreign involvement. Discovering whom to blame is, naturally, an important step in preventing further attacks, but, as a move towards understanding the atrocities, it will prove to have limited value.

It is inevitable that people want to know the reason for terrorist attacks, but such a quest is ultimately pointless. Even were the perpetrators to be identified for certain, and gave a more articulate explanation than is usually obtained, the warped world-view that justifies the bombing of innocent men, women, and children has no bearing on reality. At the root of most attacks, we suspect, is ignorance of the world and its people, but a terrible consciousness of how to hurt them. This combination of both innocence and the wrong sort of knowledge opens the door to forgiveness. At the same time, it is as good a definition of evil as any.

It is hard to think of a more dreadfully apposite illustration for the Churches’ submission to the Foreign Office review of Christian persecution, produced on Maundy Thursday. A little time must now pass before following their direction: “It is important to not only focus on the most egregious manifestations of persecution or discrimination.” There is no time like the present, however, to heed their desire to widen the review to include all religious persecution. If Muslims are found to have perpetrated the bombings, it will increase the pressure on their co-religionists, still feeling vulnerable after the Christchurch shootings in March. We trust that the review will lead to a greater awareness of the importance of religion in the world, that it can attract such violent responses.


IN THIS light, it is salutary to revisit the BBC local-radio poll released just before Easter, in which only two-thirds of regular churchgoers agreed with the statement: “Jesus died on the cross and was resurrected at Easter so that you can be forgiven for your sins.” (Of all the respondents, only 26 per cent agreed.) Churchgoers are well used to bold, bald statements of faith, repeated every Sunday, without even the provisos typical of a survey questionnaire: “To what extent, if at all, do you agree or disagree that. . .” Perhaps it was a problem caused by the English language, in which the second person singular and plural are the same, but the question invited a peculiarly solipsistic interpretation of cosmic events. If the attacks in Sri Lanka hold any sort of message, it is that Christ’s death and resurrection have a deep seriousness and a universal application well beyond the pollsters’ grasp.

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