Gratitude

In which we ponder religious motives


As it’s Sunday, let’s think about religion for a moment. More specifically, let’s think about Norman Kember, the peace activist rescued last week after spending several months as a hostage in Iraq.

The big news story since his release, of course, is that he didn’t seem particularly happy to be freed. His gratitude to the SAS seemed rather forced, and he repeated his anti-war position. And that, in itself, is an admirable thing – I’d respect him much less if he had switched to say: “actually, now, I think the SAS are doing a damn fine job out there.”

Whether he was right or wrong to go out there is something that can be debated for hours, but it isn’t what I want to talk about. I’m more interested in whether he wanted to be rescued or not, and how that might be down to his religion.

There’s no doubt that Kember was deeply religious.* His behaviour, it seems, is classic for deeply religious people – it’s a case of self-martyrdom. Since the earliest days of Christianity – well, since the days of St Anthony, at least – the devout have flocked to non-deadly varients of martyrdom. St Anthony himself favoured hermeticism, but not all of us, particularly today, could cope with living on our own in the depths of the desert. So, people have found other ways to suffer in the name of Christ,** particularly by self-denial and “mortification”. Kember accidentally found an excellent modern way to suffer and mortify himself, and serve his favourite political cause along the way: be a hostage. No wonder he didn’t particularly want to be rescued.

* And the two Canadians who were captives along with Kember look, in the pictures shown on the BBC site, to have a bit of a fanatical gleam in their eyes.

** The best-known being the Stylites, probably because they sound rather silly.

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