The increase in the number of so-called racially-motivated massacres of innocent people (Christ-church) or massacres perpetrated by deranged people influenced by websites promoting violence (Columbine, Sandy Hook) has gone hand in hand with a growing call for gun-control legislation. 

I have purposely used the term so-called racially-motivated because Muslims (like Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists etc.) are not a race.

Therefore, attacks against Muslims or members of any religion do not fall under the heading of ‘racist attacks’ but under the heading of hatred toward a particular religion. The same applies to attacks against Christian minorities elsewhere throughout the world. The difference is that, in the first case, the motivation is secularist prejudice whereas in the second the prejudice is religious in outlook.

We cannot apply secular language to a religion. If we do so, then we are ignoring the real problems. 

Among the more important of these is the fact that one cannot, on the one hand, condone and even uphold the ridicule and vilification of a religion (any religion) as ‘freedom of expression’ and then express horror at one of its consequences. 

Nor can one express solidarity with religious communities in times of tragedy and then malign their beliefs and customs as if it were an absolute right.

Back to my first sentence. Gun-control legislation has become the talk of the day. 

However, although very useful, such a measure will not solve the problem because governments and politicians are not addressing the ultimate causes. 

Gun-control legislation simply removes the cobwebs but it does not destroy the spider. The real problem we are reluctant to address is the fact that our societies are sick.

For decades we have been clamouring for every right that we could think of or imagine. But the acquisition of these rights has not been accompanied by a cultivation of responsibilities inspired by moral principles. 

The real problem we are reluctant to address is the fact that our societies are sick

Back in 1990, Lord Sacks (the former chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth) in his BBC Reith Lectures had already given this timely warning: “We know that not all choices are wise. But we are reluctant to let that fact serve as a basis for a moral conclusion. Instead, we make a distinction between acts and consequences. Acts are freely chosen; consequences are dealt with by the state. So, governments are there to treat AIDS, child abuse, homelessness and addiction but not to disseminate a morality that might reduce them in the first place.”

Today, unfortunately, morality has become identified with religious bigotry, with the ‘imposition’ of a system of values upon society. Speaking of a dissemination of morality or embracing moral principles carries with it the accusation of attempting to create a society along the lines of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

And, yet, we would be well-advised to heed the wise words of that great 18th-century British statesman Edmund Burke when he affirmed that “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites – in proportion as their love of justice is above their rapacity – in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption – in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves.”

As long as we continue to equate morality with religious bigotry and religion with primitive society, we will continue to witness human tragedies such as the one in Christchurch and others that might have no religious context whatsoever.

The ball is now in our court. 

Facing reality and addressing the right issues would go a long way towards preventing the spread of similar dark stains upon humanity. Sidelining the problems would simply continue to provide us with more of the same, if not worse.

Fr Joseph Ellul is chairman of the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue of the Archdiocese of Malta.

This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece

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