Monday, 19 March 2012

"Of Gods and Men" : the way religion and democracy could still be.

For a long time now religion and democracy have not enjoyed a good press.  I am certain arguments may justifiably be made in favour of exceptions to my assessment, but in some measure I think the opprobrium has been deserved. Religious movements have proved intolerant and "democratic" politics have in the main proved useful only in preserving the status quo : a status quo typified by our obeisance to the will - as well as to the rule -  of the wealthy and powerful. By wealthy and powerful I mean those who, in the final analysis, can afford and are prepared to use the most deadly weapons of destruction to coerce the end they desire. Perhaps it is sad to note that the exercise of this oppressive influence has often been supported by religious movements.

It seems strange to be writing this as if it were a paradox but the potential for good in humankind is almost invariably a founding principle of most religious and democratic movements. This potential would be manifested by a society in which everyone is sincerely and uncynically trying to lead a better life in the service of others ; in which each listens to, and values  the views and decisions of others at the same time as sharing -  on an equal basis - the natural riches provided by our planet and our universe.

Seeking potential for good in religion and democracy in our present oppressive social weather  may seem a quixotic quest promising little fruit.  Occasionally however contrary signals can appear from unexpected places and I believe such a one may be found in the  film  Of Gods and Men  which is  based on the true story of 8 French Cistercian monks who in the mid-1990s were living and working in a monastery situated in the Atlas Mountains in North Africa. As the film begins the quiet, modest lives of reflection and useful activity led by the monks is disrupted by a series of events which puts them in danger.  How the monks respond to these situations stirred in me feelings -  which I had thought lost in the labyrinth of my cynicism  -  about the  possibilities for good in humankind.  Watching Of Gods and Men I could begin to rediscover religion symbolised by a quiet life of service and by pure democracy. To be sure each of the monks is a real human being with strengths and flaws yet I could not help but be moved by the patience they as a group devote in calmly proceeding to a gently achieved consensus about the decisions they take.  In what for others might seem an impossible predicament, the monks sustain love and regard for each other, for the people they serve and for those who are intent on harming them.

The film seemed to ask me to weigh the value of a satisfaction gained by listening to, and serving others without demanding or expecting greater material reward against a satisfaction gained by the accumulation of wealth and by the undue wielding of intellectual, political, physical and military power.  The end of the film which is both tragic and noble left me to wonder if the kind of satisfaction embodied in the lives the monks through their beliefs and their activities is the only source of power that is worth our faith, that is truly democratic and so may be used for the good of all. I don't know, but the story of these monks has persuaded me that in future when I am writing this blog I will attempt to express my views in a more considered way and so, I hope, in a more considerate way.


Of Gods and Men (2010)  Director : Xavier Beauvois 
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