Coming to terms with the faith

PUBLISHED: 15:00 21 September 2001 | UPDATED: 10:33 03 March 2010

WITH thousands of people feared dead, millions of loved ones suffering, and the nation talking of war – is humanity more inclined to turn to God, or to run from him in dismay?

The American tragedy has urged huge numbers of us to seek comfort in our faith, but others to turn their backs on it in terrified hurt.

WITH thousands of people feared dead, millions of loved ones suffering, and the nation talking of war – is humanity more inclined to turn to God, or to run from him in dismay?

The American tragedy has urged huge numbers of us to seek comfort in our faith, but others to turn their backs on it in terrified hurt.

IN the silent confines of our region's churches, hundreds of people have sought religious solace this week.

Touched by America's terrifying ordeal, they have turned to the house of God for support. They have asked for faith to guide them, and they have shared with the nation in that overwhelming need to worship.

In fact, most faiths say that their church attendance has soared in a way only before experienced after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales.

And yet, by contrast, others have never felt more betrayed, more disillusioned, more uncertain about the purpose and the power of religion.

Surely it is an understandable conflict of thought.

Given such a huge atrocity, apparently so deliberately and at such human cost, it is little wonder that even the most devout believers might begin to wonder how any conceivable God could possibly let this happen.

They want answers, reasons, and a way of understanding – and yet, these are the very queries which are seldom forthcoming in the face of such unprecedented horror.

"I think, in the main, people are drawing on the religion they already have. Faith is very important at times like this," commented Canon David Cutts, of St Margaret's Church, Ipswich.

"But of course, in such times, when something of this nature happens, there will be a lot of people asking questions and wondering why.

"It is understandable, and I think those sort of questions have always existed in the minds of people.

"They have looked around the world at such a degree of suffering, and for some, it will make them query the reasons far more than they may ever have done."

To make matters worse, especially for those in search of some genuine security at this time, we are now left wondering whether the nation's latest tragedy has in fact been fuelled by religion itself.

Has the religious belief of a minority helped to place our world at the brink of war?

Has New York's devastation followed the other international atrocities which have historically stemmed from religious conflict?

"Truly religious people simply do not do the kinds of thing that we saw happen in America," said Father David Smith, of St Mary's Catholic Church in Ipswich.

"Whatever faith you are, you would condemn it, and you would see it for what it is – an evil act."

He added: "Unfortunately, religion has very often been used as a peg, on which to hang political extremism."

Canon Cutts shares a similar view, regarding the issue of religion within conflict.

He said: "In recent days I have been talking about this very thing – and specifically about the troubles in Ireland.

"Obviously people are affected by something like this in very different ways, but I believe that, while there may be a religious aspect to a conflict, it is very rarely the sole reason.

"Other historical circumstances are very often involved."

He said: "In my experience, religion is mostly being seen as a support at this time, and that has certainly been reflected in our service turn-out.

"Prayer is helping people to come to terms, and is a great comfort to many."

Such impassioned and sincere prayer has notably taken place all over the world, and with a great sense of united grief.

To the surprise of many, it was Jerry Hall who publicly addressed one such vigil at Westminster Abbey. It was there in this religious setting that she called on Britain and America to continue to 'stand together'.

Suffolk itself, has also been desperate to grieve, and to pray, in its respective religious settings.

In solace, in families, and in far wider religious communities, the county has shown that it cares.

Buddhists led their own prayer-based tribute in Ipswich, just as Catholics, Christians, Muslims and Sikhs had also held theirs.

"Religion is now more important than ever," said one leading member of the Ipswich Sikh community.

"Whenever there is a problem or a tragedy, people turn to their faith – and that was certainly obvious in the service we held within days of the tragedy."

This man's insistence on anonymity, is a sickening example of how religious traditions are still tearing apart the nation – even after such an atrocity.

He, his family, and his friends, say they are now going about their lives in fear, predominantly due to their faith.

They grieve, sympathise and mourn with the nation, but they have wrongly been associated with those who terrorised the United States of America on Tuesday 11 September.

"A lot of my community is now in fear. They are being stared at and treated unkindly. We feel that people assume we are Muslim because of how we look," said the anonymous Ipswich man.

"Most of us have lived in Ipswich for over 40 years and we really are a peaceful community.

He added: "The whole of the Sikh population fully condemns this act of terrorism, but we are concerned about the attacks on innocent Asians, both in America and in Britain.

"We urge people not to confuse us with members of the Taliban."

Equally, the Muslim community of Ipswich has spoken of its own fears.

They also feel threatened by those who wrongly associate them with the acts of terrorism in the USA.

Their fear has compounded in their desire to remain anonymous, even though they share the self same feelings of revulsion at the Manhattan and Washington tragedies.

Sadly, it is this kind of religious misunderstanding and intolerance which will make it that much harder for the nation to unite and to grieve sincerely for the true victims of America's disaster.

Father David Smith believes it should not be so much a matter of which faith someone follows, more that they are able to express their grief in order to take part in that united grieving process.

"I have noticed in these recent days that people just want to do something, and say something – even if it is not in a religious language."

He said: "People want to come together in solidarity. They want to share their true spiritual feelings, even if they themselves would not express it in those terms."

"The only real answer," he added, "is that people should be true to their own religion. They need to appreciate that no matter what else you believe, peace and harmony should always come first.

"That way, even with our religious, cultural or general differences, we should be able to find the best possible way to live together within our own faiths."


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