August 4, 2011
The French film "Des Hommes et Des Dieux" (Of Gods and Men), is the best film of the year.
It thoroughly examines religion and fanaticism, and it is especially timely in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Oslo committed by a professed Christian.
It is the true story of French monks who were murdered in Algeria in the 1990s during a period of civil unrest. The brothers decided to stay in their small town, even at great personal risk. Pressures to leave the little town surrounded the monks.
Their love for the Muslim people around them and their unwillingness to fear the tyranny of death were the chief motivations to stay. And stay they did. The film is a beautiful meditation on love and hope, brotherhood and fidelity. It also demonstrates the potential closeness between Muslims and Christians.
In the film, the Catholic brothers and priests are invited to Muslim religious celebrations and consulted in times of trial. One of the brothers is a doctor for impoverished Muslims in the community, and young people from the town help the monks with their gardens.
In the village of Tibhirine, between Muslim citizen and Catholic monk, there is mutual love. The Quran is quoted in the film to the same effect: “The nearest to the faithful are those who say ‘We are Christians.’ That is because there are priests and monks among them and because they are free of pride.”
The identity of the brothers’ killers is still a mystery. Some speculate they died at the hands of Muslim religious fanatics. Others argue the monks were murdered by the state. I would have to side with the second suggestion.
Local military leaders hate the monks for their willingness to treat wounded terrorists and for their unwillingness to allow military protection in their monastery. However, Muslim terrorists who broke into the monastery for medical supplies left the monks in a spirit of fellowship and respect. Muslims and Christians are not enemies. Muslims and Christians are together enemies of violence and hatred.
They are both the enemies of secularism. When the French Abbot was threatened by a Muslim terrorist, he quoted the passage above from the Quran.
In other words, he was not dismissing Islam as violent, but calling this Muslim man to live his own religion more faithfully. The two parted unharmed.
The terrorists in the film were responsible for violence, certainly. They did so because they did not live up to their own creed: that of the state.
Whenever secular military leaders committed violence, they did live up to their creed. Anders Behring Breivik recently murdered people in the name of Christianity in Oslo. He did not behave as a Christian in the same way that Muslim terrorists in Tibhirine did not behave as Muslims.
Rather, these violent actions committed in the name of two great faiths are perversions of their teachings. Instead of dismissing all religious people as fanatics — or religion as breeding fanaticism — it is better to recognize that some fanatics happen to consider themselves to be religious.
This remains true whether you’re in Norway or Algeria, or whether you call yourself a Muslim or a Christian. What is more powerful than any violence is the love these religions have brought to the world.