Jihad: Filling a Vacuum? (Rodney Eivers)

  (24 March 15)

Jihad*: Filling a vacuum?


by Rodney Eivers


Some reflections on Jihad: when a Knight wins his spurs.



Three things, somewhat related, have occupied my mind over the past few days.


I have been nominated, without any well-defined instructions, to facilitate a workshop on “Faith formation in the home”, at the Sea of Faith in Australia Conference to be held on the Gold Coast in May this year.

Then in The Sunday Mail of March 15th 2015 I was struck by a news item which reported on the distress of John Bilardi, the father of Jake Bilardi who had joined ISIS in Iraq. Jake blew himself up while attacking an Iraqi army outpost in the city of Ramadi.

John Bilardi exclaimed when learning that his son had decided to become a Muslim, “Being an atheist myself, and his mother was a pure atheist, that shocked me to hear that.”

I am sure that there is more to the story than this but what caught my attention was that Mr Bilardi seemed to feel that if his son had no religious faith there was little risk of his being led astray in undesirable directions.

Of course, the majority of those of us in the “progressive” religious movement might class ourselves technically as a-theists but this is different from not having a place in one’s brain for processing the experiences and traditions of life. Ideological traditions passed on and imbibed by us can have a role in keeping us on a safe path.

Guidelines are valuable. The issue, for me, certainly is not whether such guidelines are worthwhile or not, but which particular set of guidelines we follow. Such guidelines can take, conveniently, the form of an ideology of which religious faith may well be a part. Such ideologies as German National Socialism, or Communism as practised in Stalin’s Soviet Union, or Pol Pot’s Cambodia have not much of virtue going for them. Others, such as Buddhism, and Christianity in its many forms have provided a satisfying focus for millions down through the ages.

Other “ideologies” such as patriotism can be a mixed blessing (“My country right or wrong”).

A growing religious orientation may be found today in those developing a passion for the nurturing the future of planet earth.

History has shown that young people can respond to a challenge. If we do not provide challenges which are satisfying and beneficial to society there can be tragic consequences when their enthusiasm and energy are channelled in destructive directions.

Other commentators have noted that, in this current period of commemoration of the centenary of the Great War, the response of young Muslims to the conflict in the Middle East is a reminder of the way our Australian young men (my father among them) flocked to the armed forces to “defend the empire” 100 years ago. It gives me the horrors nowadays to read of their enthusiasm to be signed up, unaware of the slaughter that was in due course to engulf them.

So on to the third linked observation. My wife and I routinely enjoy a cup of coffee late on Sunday mornings when we switch on the television and watch the BBC’s “Songs of Praise”. On this occasion it featured the Songs of Praise School Choirs Competition.

One of the songs the young people sang caught my attention. I had never heard it before. Some Google research produced the following:

When a knight won his spurs, in the stories of old,

He was gentle and brave, he was gallant and bold;

With a shield on his arm and a lance in his hand,

For God and for valour he rode through the land.

No charger have I, and no sword by my side,

Yet still to adventure and battle I ride,

Though back into storyland giants have fled,

And the knights are no more and the dragons are dead.

Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed

'gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;

And let me set free with the sword of my youth,

From the castle of darkness, the power of the truth.

Now, being in the process of reading Karen Armstrong’s latest book, Fields of Blood, I am well aware that in practice the real knights of the Middle Ages were far from being valiant but gentle bearers of good will. It is worth noting, however, that by using such imagery it was possible to promote an ideal for good society through the development of challenging scenarios such this. I understand that this is a song directed at and sung by children rather than adults.

It seems to me that this is the task of parents and teachers, especially those of us of “progressive” bent, if we want our future generations to work towards making the world a better place.

That is to develop and pass on stories which can provide an outlet for the young people to be inspired to use their skills and their passions. In this way developing a mindset which will see them rising to strive for the good life for all people, everywhere.

We can then hope that the clamour of the killing fields will have lesser priority as an activity that makes life exciting. Let us make love not war.


Let faith be my shield and let joy be my steed

'gainst the dragons of anger, the ogres of greed;

And let me set free with the sword of my youth,

From the castle of darkness, the power of the truth.



*Jihad.  Various translations from the Arabic but “struggle” or “challenge” seems close to it. This is not necessarily in military terms but is most commonly used that way. 


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