It has been all over the news the last few weeks. Jake Bilardi, an 18 year old boy, born and raised in Melbourne, recently blew himself up in an attempted suicide attack after joining the terrorist organization ISIS. His attack failed in that nobody else was killed other than himself, but nevertheless people around the country and the world are wondering, “How could this happen? How could one of our own turn into such an extremist?”
Good questions. In a blog titled “Jihadis fill atheist void,” by Miranda Devine, she offers her explanation as to why. She writes:
“[Jake was the] youngest of six children in suburban Melbourne, Bilardi lost his father to divorce when he was nine, and his mother to cancer when he was 15. Brought up an atheist, highly intelligent, he had no anchors in his life at a time when he was seeking spiritual nourishment. He converted to Islam shortly after his mother died, before dropping out of school in August to run off to Syria and join Islamic State.”
She goes on to state that Jake’s atheist upbringing, compounded with the unstable family life, left his soul as “easy prey” to the ISIS people who were wanting to exploit it. I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t sound too far fetched to me. As teens we are all vulnerable. We do dumb things. We tend to see the world in black and white terms because we haven’t developed the ability to really see and understand the nuances of life.
What was also lacking for Jake, and for many people in the world, is a right idea of God. My experience with some atheists is that their disbelief in God is rooted in being unable to reconcile the world as they see it and the idea that there is a higher being orchestrating all of this. After all, if God’s so powerful and so loving, how come there is so much suffering? That’s usually the line I hear. Others reject God because of what they’re taught about Him. The mainstream Christian view of God is really pretty insane. God the Father, who is all love, needs His people to be punished so He can look upon them favorably. So to appease His anger for what people have done, He sends His Son to be murdered. Then God will be happy. Really? Somehow I don’t think I would be happier with a bunch of people because they murdered my only son.
Beyond making God out to be some sort of a vengeful maniac, this line of thinking attributes earthly ways and thoughts to God. Just because us Earthlings are so messed up in the head doesn’t mean that God is. At one point Swedenborg begs his readers, absolutely implores them, to think of their highest concept of goodness, justice and mercy, and apply those to their idea of God. Stop thinking that just because you’re vengeful and angry that God is too. He goes on to state in a few places that ultimately our concept of God is the single greatest determinant of where we end up in the next life. At first pass this seems a bit of an exaggeration. Surely what we do in our life has a greater bearing on our eternal destination that our view of God, right?
Well, I think what we are being taught is that one follows the other. If you think God is jerk, then we can be jerks too. So maybe instead of asking why Jake blew himself up and ask, “What was Jake’s idea of God?” We know that up to age 15 he was raised atheist, but after his mother passed away he was converted to Islam. We don’t know how his atheist upbringing effected him specifically, but we are taught that one of the effects of atheism is that it will close our minds to higher ways of thinking. Instead of thinking from higher principles we think from our own prudence. Perhaps this means we start to pursue our own priorities, ideas of justice, and mercy… or maybe we just forget about mercy altogether.
It does seem that mercy wasn’t a key component of Jake’s world view. He said, “After I became the ‘radical, terrorist’ I am today though, I woke up to the reality of these pigs and monkeys and accepted that there is nothing between us and them but the sword.” In some ways, we can relate to this line of thinking. As I alluded to earlier, if somebody kills my son there’s going to be a strong pull for retaliation on my part. When we see or hear about people who are truly and deeply evil, most of us are would not be too upset if their life was taken from this earth.
However, that is not what Jesus modeled for us. That is not the New Church view of God. We believe that God loves everybody, including evil people. He doesn’t want or wish for them to be evil, but He loves them nevertheless. If He didn’t love them, they would cease to exist. We would cease to love them and they would cease to exist, but that’s not what God would do. As Jesus walked the earth and the local population stopped loving Him, He still loved them. Even as they put Him on the cross and murdered Him, He still loved them. He loved them so that they, and well as you and me, could continue to exist. Mercy ruled. Mercy had priority over justice.
This isn’t how ISIS or any of the terrorists including Jake prioritize mercy. After beheading 21 Christian Egyptians an ISIS leader came out to say, “And we will conquer Rome, by Allah’s permission, the promise of our Prophet, peace be upon him.” Right there we see their idea of God: a God that wants to conquer. A God that wants the death of those who do not love Him and Him alone. There’s no mercy in that. That’s not the New Church view, and certainly not all Muslims see God in this way, but it is clear that Jake Bilardi did.