It may be the most chilling and disturbing line in the film “Of Gods And Men.”

Brother Luc is writing a letter. He begins with a quote:

I recently read this pensee of Pascal’s:
“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully
as when they do it from religious conviction.”

This quote does originate from a virulently ant-religious critic. It comes from the deeply devout Roman Catholic French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and theologian Blaise Pascal. It is quoted in the film by a Trappist monk for whom every aspect of life is shaped by and conformed to “religious conviction.”

Pascal and the monks of Tibhirine demonstrate that the egregious abuse to which religion is frequently put does not mean that the practice of religion is necessarily inherently evil in itself. They testify to the possibility that, when put to its proper use, religion can stir in the human heart that which is most noble, most true and most beautiful.

The monks of Tibhrine used their religious observance to strengthen them for the journey of love. Their lives of sacrifice led, not to a life of violence against those with whom they might have differences, but to a life of deep respect and reverence for all forms of life.

But, Pacal’s critique remains. It stands at the centre of this film about religious violence as a stunning rebuke to the abuse of the religious enterprise.

It is for me one of the enduring and deeply troubling enigmas of the film “Of Gods And Men”, how human beings can resort so readily to vicious attacks on other human beings. What transaction needs to take place in the human heart to allow a person to so dehumanize the other that it becomes possible to contemplate beheading a group of peaceful brothers?

Earlier in the film, Brother Christian explained to the Muslim extremist Ali Fayattia, that the night on which he invaded the Tibhirine monastery is different from other nights because,

It’s Christmas. We celebrate the birth of the prince of peace.

There is no legitimacy to any religious enterprise that leads away from peace. Christianity, at its core, is the practice of peace, the discipline of love, the sacrifice of self for the good of the other. Such a “religious conviction” will never lead to evil and violence.

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