There is a courageous lady called Nadia Murad Basee Taha who is making the rounds of all the world leaders, asking for help for her people, the Yezidi (see Devil) a tribe inhabiting an area in what is now Syria and Iraq. The Muslim extremist group calling itself 'Islamic State' has been systematically murdering the Yezidi men and boys and taking away the women and girls to be sold as slaves or used by the troops. The soldiers of Islamic State justify this by saying that the Yezidi are not 'people of the Book' and therefore infidels. Long ago, in Jerusalem, the victorious Crusaders massacred the inhabitants of the Holy City, spitting babies on their lances and to quote one contemporary account, '...waded in blood up to their ankles.' Their justification would likely have been much the same, but does it matter?
Many years ago I was in a strange city at about this time of year. For the sake of curiosity, I wandered into a Polish Catholic church in a working class neighborhood, where a huge plaster statue of the crucified Christ lay supine in the centre aisle. He was depicted as about thirty with a look of uncomprehending pain on his face. While I watched, an old man knelt down and reverently kissed the plaster feet. Intrigued I returned on Sunday to sit through the service. The crucifix was back in its place hung on the wall, and the officiating priest was young, much the same age as the plaster image of the god. I remember little of what he said in his sermon , only that it was not about original sin or salvation. He described the events of the crucifixion simply, without hyperbole, and then he paused and surveyed the congregation. Coldly and with absolute sincerity he said, 'There us something in us that is terrible.'
I went away, mulling over his words, as you do, and now some four decades later I still recall them as I hear on the news a report of some new atrocity. And I think, no, it is not a matter of belief in an ideology, religious or otherwise. It is not even a matter of being male, for women, too, have done unimaginably terrible things. I think of the Queen in Disney's 'Snow White', of Edward Hyde in Stevenson's novel of evil and transfiguration and I wonder at the way the monster, revealed, always laughs; In exultation, one would say, in release from the bonds of morality and accountability, perhaps. Then I think that there is something in the laughter of Hyde and the evil Queen and the words of the young priest of which we all should take note.