July 21, 2005
The 7/7 terrorist attack that ripped through London’s commuters’ network awakened the world again to the insidious presence of those bent on killing innocent people to advance their ideology. Madrid. Casablanca. New York. Washington. Pennsylvania. Riyadh. Bali. Iraq. Israel. Palestine. The list tragically grows. No amount of blood can wash away the anger of the terrorists. The common denominator in all these merciless attacks is hatred. It is a hatred that goes deeper than any religious conviction. “This is a hate that transcends any one people or region. It is a hatred of humanity itself. This hatred kills even the one who hates”(Cardinal Martino to the 56
th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations, October 13, 2001).
Acts of terrorism take their source in a fundamentalism that refuses to see any truth other than one’s own vision. When any individual or group attempts to force their vision of the truth on others, they mar the dignity of the human person. For each person is gifted with freedom. Even God respects our freedom to choose. Terrorist cells and organizations enlist their own followers to force others to cower in fear. The leaders remain as new recruits become weapons in their war to curtail the ordinary freedoms of civilized society.
Suicide bombers determined to bring down the freedom of others masqueraded their hatred of others and, ultimately, their hatred of self in the guise of religious motives. As terrorists resort to violence to promote their beliefs, defenseless non-combatants are made victims of their hatred. “Terrorism is built on contempt for human life. For this reason, not only does it commit intolerable crimes, but also because it resorts to terror as a political and military means it is itself a true crime against humanity” (Pope John Paul II,(Message for World Day of Peace 2002, n. 6). When terrorists place their acts under the banner of a holy war, they exploit God. And their acts become idolatry. Only when God’s image found within each person is respected and every individual’s life is valued is the Creator truly worshipped.
Analysts try to locate the factors that foster terrorism. Inequality. The lack of political freedom. Fanatic idealism. Radical fundamentalism. Injustice. The growing gap between the world’s rich and poor. A fifth of the world population controls 80 percent of world’s wealth and resources. No doubt each factor plays a part. But, at its deepest level, terrorism shares in the
mysterium iniquitatis unveiling itself in our day. And its ultimate cause can never be anything other than the human heart closed in on itself.
On the stage of world history, we are witnessing the replay of Genesis 4:1-26. In these verses of Genesis, a descendant of Cain moves center stage. Between the Fall and the Flood looms the figure of Lamech. His rude prowess towers over his contemporaries. He appears in the genealogy of Genesis 4 that traces the family of Cain, the exiled murderer. The violence of his ancestor is seething within the family bloodline. It reaches a boiling point in this biblical character.
Lamech is the first in the bible to have had two wives. Lamech has three sons: Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain. Their names deliberately sound alike. They are word plays on the Hebrew root
yabal—a word that means ‘productive’. Adah bears Lamech two sons. Jabal, the first, is “the ancestor of the tent-dwellers and owners of livestock” (Gen 4:20). He is the father of nomadic shepherds. The second son is Jubal. He is “the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the flute” (Gen 4:21). These two instruments are the oldest and the simplest. Thus the second son is canonized as the Old Testament patron of musicians before the Flood. Each of Lamech’s sons produces a major advance for humankind. God’s creature, man, is leading the way of invention and progress. Civilization is making an advance. And this is good.
Yet, at the same time, there is introduced into the history of the world a newness that is not good. Lamech’s second wife, Zillah, has two children. Her son Tubal-Cain is “the ancestor of all metalworkers, in bronze or iron” (Gen 4:22). The text is suggesting that this son is the inventor of weapons. His sister is simply named Naamah (‘pleasant’or ‘beautiful’). Some have read into her name the hint of man’s fascination with
les liaisons dangereux.
At this point in the biblical text, violence is accelerating its force and destruction as each new generation devises greater and greater tools. What can be used for good is turned to evil. The implacable anger smoldering in the tribe of Cain now flares up in Lamech. He has the weapons to do greater violence than his ancestors. Lamech boasts:
Adah and Zillah, hear my voice.
Lamech’s wives, listen to what I say:
I killed a man for wounding me,
A boy for striking me.
Sevenfold vengeance is taken for Cain,
But seventy-sevenfold for Lamech. (Gen 4:23-24)
Even the names of Lamech’s wives give a clue of what the text is teaching. Adah means ‘Dawn’. Her children usher into human history two occupations that brighten civilization. Zillah means ‘Shadow’. Her children reflect the darker side of humankind’s response to the gifts the Creator has given them.
In the family of the man who murdered his brother is found both good and bad, but blessing and curse for human society. Because of Jabal and Jubal, the harshness and monotony of life are lessened. But because of Tubal-Cain and his sisters, the passionate side of humankind finds ways to express its anger and lust with greater force. The four names heaped together provide a window on humanity in every age—a mixture of blessing and curse, good and evil, an advance in civilization and a collapse into barbarity.
As civilization progresses, it develops greater skill and inventiveness, with greater capacity for good and a greater capacity for evil. Today’s terrorists are sons of Lamech wielding their father’s sword with a fearsome power for destruction. Only the heart open to the good in the other -- and thus turned to God -- can move beyond the violence. Lamech took vengeance seventy times sevenfold. The heart truly open to God forgives, as Jesus tells Peter, “Not seven times but seventy times seven times” (Mt 18:22).
In the struggle for civilization, can we afford to let those sons of Lamech win?