Virtue, not extremism, is the golden way

HUMANITY: We should stand with New Zealanders and Muslims in this time of misery. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas
HUMANITY: We should stand with New Zealanders and Muslims in this time of misery. Picture: AAP Image/Mick Tsikas

It was the English literary critic and moralist Samuel Johnson who said "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel". I think that Johnson's words apply well to the unexplainable and indefensible massacre that took place at two mosques in Christchurch last Friday.

Again, I would like to see more of the beautiful words that often are spoken after a tragedy. The simple but loving reminder that every man is our brother and that every woman is our sister. It's inspiring and reminds us of our humanity again.

Some human decisions and actions are so evil that they cannot be defended, no matter what moral compass is applied.

And yet, somehow the perpetrators of these evils and their supporters still attempt to justify their actions.

The problem of evil has always been a bit of a mystery to the good people of the world, and I think it always will be.

There is certainly a lot we can understand about evil — that's why we have laws and police and a court system.

Yet trying to explain why an evil event occurred is something that always takes time and investigation. When we jump in too quickly, we invariably end up playing a horrible game of blame.

In the reporting and discussion of last week's tragedy in Christchurch, I got the impression that more than some in the media were using this tragedy — perhaps unknowingly — to promote their political views.

I don't think it helps to turn this into a left versus right wing argument.

No fair person agrees with this massacre. Everybody with love in their heart feels for every Muslim who is afraid to go to their mosque now.

I think this tragedy is an opportunity to teach us of the dangers of holding extremist views and at the same time an opportunity to learn the importance of tolerance.

No matter how great we are or think we are and therefore, in turn, how great our views are, these things should always be lived out passionately according to virtue, not extremism.

What's the difference? Extremism is taking an idea or action, good or bad, and pushing it so far that it becomes, dangerous, harmful or even fatal.

Virtue, on the other hand, is having views and actions that stretch us towards our ideals, yet always remaining within a limit that is productive and never to the point that endangers ourselves and others.

Ancient Greek philosophers — the great Aristotle in particular — saw virtue as a "golden middle way" that is, the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency.

Aristotle viewed courage as a virtue, but if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness, and, in deficiency, cowardice.

Discussions about Christchurch would be better off teaching us of the vice of extremism compared to the virtues of moderation in all things, rather than debating in black or white about left/right wing and liberal/conservative views.

Especially since massacring innocent people is neither a liberal nor conservative position and goes way beyond either.

Again, I would like to see more of the beautiful words that often are spoken after a tragedy.

The simple but loving reminder that every man is our brother and that every woman is our sister.

It's inspiring and reminds us of our humanity again when we see words and photos and drawings that express our love for New Zealanders and Muslims and that we stand in solidarity with them in this time of misery.

To assure them of our prayers, remembering that those who died were in prayer at the hour of their death, and that we thoroughly condemn the massacre on every level.

This tragedy is also a stark reminder of the importance of being able to accept people who do not share your world view or belief system.

The only way to the future is together. Let us be allowed to be different from each other. Let us even be allowed to argue with each other, but only for the mutual building up and improvement of each other.

Life would be intolerably boring if we all agreed with each other on everything.

The more beautiful garden is the garden with different and contrasting trees and flowers; not the garden where all the trees are exactly the same.

Twitter: @fatherbrendanelee