London on fire

London on fire: The challenge of Prime Minister Cameron to religious leaders

On Thursday 11 August 2011, Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a statement to the House of Commons on the recent disorder and looting that has taken place in London and other cities. In his statements he identified the deeper problems lying under the events: “a culture that glorifies violence”. We remember that the 2nd African Synod spoke of “cultures where warriors are considered heroes” (Instrumentum Laboris, 11). D. Cameron said: “let me turn to the deeper problems. Responsibility for crime always lies with the criminal. But crime has a context. And we must not shy away from it. I have said before that there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is not about poverty, it’s about culture. A culture that glorifies violence, shows disrespect to authority, and says everything about rights but nothing about responsibilities.”

Who is responsible for such a culture? Parents: “In too many cases, the parents of these children – if they are still around – don’t care where their children are or who they are with, let alone what they are doing. The potential consequences of neglect and immorality on this scale have been clear for too long, without proper action being taken.” And gangs: “At the heart of all the violence sits the issue of the street gangs. Territorial, hierarchical and incredibly violent, they are mostly composed of young boys, mainly from dysfunctional homes. They earn money through crime, particularly drugs and are bound together by an imposed loyalty to an authoritarian gang leader.” The Prime Minister sees “dysfunctional homes” at the roots of the gang culture. In sum for the Prime Minister the real question lies in our families where there is “neglect and immorality”.

Are “dysfunctional homes” the sole responsible of such a culture? The Prime Minister did not mention the role of communities of faith. But it seems to me that he challenged them implicitly in saying: “there is a major problem in our society with children growing up not knowing the difference between right and wrong. This is not about poverty, it’s about culture.” Religious communities failed in teaching to differentiate right from wrong. Religious communities are quick to blame poverty or oppressive political and social system while the truth is that they have failed in building up a culture of peace and love, a culture of respect and dialogue. The root of such a culture is to be found also in “dysfunctional communities of faith” where there is also “neglect and immorality”. D. Cameron is implicitly challenging us. What went wrong? What is going wrong in our religious education?

We must consider seriously our responsibility in the development of such a culture of violence. I suggest that our real weakness lies in the fact that we are too scattered and vague in our religious education. We do not have a clear straight and simple message. Since we speak of everything in our religious education people are not moulded in Jesus’ way of living. Worse, they don’t even remember our teachings. There is no more the transmission of the faith from master to disciples. We do not have disciples anymore. We have listeners.

The disciples of Buddha will go through all kind of spiritual experiences to live according to the four noble truths. The followers of Gandhi know that by meditating his teachings they will “fight evil without violence”. What does it mean to be a Christian in few words? At the birth of Jesus the message was clear: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!” (Luke2, 14). Unfortunately it seems that still “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God” (Romans8, 19). There is something “dysfunctional” in our religious communities and teachings.

D. Cameron proposed some solutions: “we need a benefit system that rewards work and that is on the side of families. We need more discipline in our schools. We need action to deal with the most disruptive families. And we need a criminal justice system that scores a clear, heavy line between right and wrong. In short, all the action necessary to help mend our broken society.” What could we propose as a “religious” response to that culture of violence?

Are we to preach the 4 pillars of peace of Pope John XXIII: “It (Peace) is an order that is founded on truth, built up on justice, nurtured and animated by charity, and brought into effect under the auspices of freedom.” (Pacem in Terris, 167). Justice and Peace Promoters will love that solution. I prefer the solution of the 2nd African Synod: “the Church-Family of God in Africa holds that the only solution is one Person: Jesus Christ!” (Lineamenta, 31). The Synod Fathers got it right and simple: the person of Jesus Christ. I understand that we have to be Christlike, and teach people to be like Jesus, to have the mind and heart of Jesus, “Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus” (Ph2, 5).

St Theresa of Avila is right: “The world is on fire…are we to waste our time upon things which, if God were to grant them, would perhaps bring one soul less to Heaven? No, my sisters, this is no time to treat with God for things of little importance.” (The Way of Perfection, Chapter1) London is on fire. The world is on fire. Let us rediscover the person of Christ and his way. By our way of living and our clear teachings, we should propose the person of Jesus to the world. It’s time to contribute actively to the rise of a new culture of peace, by simply daring to love that other, the utterly different from me, as Jesus did.

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