Among the terror and warfare that seem to increasingly claim the world’s attention, we often lose sight of the deep religious values and sense of humanity shared by the three religions of The Book–Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. These values are also shared by other religions.
It is this sense of shared humanity, the value expressed in the sentiment, “I am my brother’s keeper,” that joins all human beings in one shared experience, one shared existence, on this speck of matter, the Earth, which may appear as but a tiny point of light in one remote corner of an expanding Universe of over 170 billion galaxies, in the portion that is “visible” to humans and their telescopes. Our own Galaxy, the Milky Way, has some 200-400 billion stars.
Men and women of all major religions believe that there are powerful spiritual forces (or a powerful spiritual force) and a spiritual dimension in the Universe. After the shattering experience of World War II, the representatives of the world’s nations came together to articulate the values and aspirations of mankind, which found expression in the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948).
As war rages in the Gaza strip, in Iraq and Syria, in Afghanistan, in the eastern Ukraine, and elsewhere, we are reminded of the spiritual dimension of our lives, of our shared humanity, by a news story describing how a Christian church in Gaza has taken in Muslims fleeing the current violence there.
See AFP, “Muslims pray in Christian Church as bombs fall in Gaza, Dawn, July 26, 2014.
In Gaza City, one Muslim resident named Mahmud reported that it was a bizarre new experience to be saying his daily prayers in a church “beneath the gaze of an icon of Jesus Christ.”
But since the war in Gaza began, he has had no choice but to worship in a Christian house of God, where he took refuge after Israeli air strikes pummelled his neighbourhood in the north of the Palestinian territory.
“They let us pray. It’s changed my view of Christians — I didn’t really know any before, but they’ve become our brothers,” said (Mahmud), 27, who admitted he never expected to perform his evening prayers in a church.
“We (Muslims) prayed all together last night,” he said. “Here, the love between Muslims and Christians has grown.”
There is something special about this moment. The humanity of individual human beings shines through the bombs and destruction from which Muslims and Christians together seek refuge in a Christan Orthodox church, in Gaza.
Gaza’s Christians have dwindled in number to around 1,500 out of a predominantly Sunni Muslim population of 1.7 million.
The Christian community, like elsewhere in the Middle East, has been shrinking due to both conflict and unemployment.
But the sheer terror of this shared experience appears to have fostered the feeling of brotherhood.
“Jesus said, love your neighbour, not just your family but your colleague, your classmate — Muslim, Shiite, Hindu, Jewish,” said Christian volunteer Tawfiq Khader.
“We open our doors to all people.“
One recalls the same sense of shared humanity expressed in Jean Renoir’s classic film, “La Grande Illusion”.
As we prepare to remember the 100th anniversary of the onset of World War I in 1914, the setting for Renoir’s film (one of the 10 greatest films ever made), we need to connect the dots.
The deepest obligations of all governments are to protect the fundamental human rights of their citizens–and all human beings, to avoid recourse to war to secure national objectives, and to act forcefully to maintain, or re-establish, international peace and security.
That is our common human enterprise, informed by the spiritual forces represented by all religions, in this vast universe.
Nations must act, forcefully, to halt wars of aggression.
Nations must act, forcefully, to halt and prevent the commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
We, as individual human beings, can contribute to the achievement of these goals by drawing on the spiritual power that resides within each of us, and which links us to others through religions and the spiritual dimension of the Universe, and which calls on us to act in this world to defend humanity’s deepest values.
The Trenchant Observer