The headlines and news bulletins sounded out the same message (ABC PM 16 August 2017):
Peter Dutton says nobody will mourn death of Australian Islamic State militant Khaled Sharrouf
I understood the sentiment, but I was troubled by it. I don’t like what this person has done. It is appalling to think of his taking his family into a war zone, effectively as symbolic combatants and probably as real participants in warfare. And one can hardly lament the ending of the things that he did.
But surely a life is a life and a life has value. As such, the ending of a life is a sadness. The end of a life lived (in my view) poorly is lamentable both in terms of the ghastly things done and the great things that a person of such passion might have done.
Christian thought values people for their intrinsic worth, as part of the world made by God and particularly as part of that cohort described as “made in God’s image”. We are connected by our humanity. With Khaled Sharrouf and his family, I am also connected by being born in Australia and having Australian citizenship. Sharrouf lost his this year-the first dual citizen to have his Australian citizenship revoked. But the connection is not removed that easily.
We may not have met, we may not be joined in any other fashion but our humanity, yet there is a loss in the death of an activist, of someone who wanted to change the world, of someone strong enough to act on his convictions.
Their humanity is not denied to a person because of their circumstances, actions or disposition. What they say and how they live may separate us from each other but it cannot deny the fundamental connection we have to each other as humans.
The poet and Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral in London, John Donne (1572-1631), put this perspective. He wrote two oft-quoted lines but the whole poem is worth noting for what sits between them:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
(Adapted from the prose Meditation 17, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 1624)
The death of another diminishes me. Whether or not they are of my race or religion, gender or class, their death is my loss. This is the frame that supports Christians and many others as they stand up for the oppressed, oppose prolonged incarceration, defend the rights of offenders and yes, mourn the loss of “bad people” — that is, the people who do bad things.
The view also rests on the conviction, held by Christians, that the child refugee, the low-class outcast tradie, the wandering preacher and sage, Jesus of Nazareth, united humankind not only in life but in death. Donne again:
Death be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe (Death be not proud, publ. 1633)
Donne was not merely a reflective soul, as the title “metaphysical poet” might suggest. He was an activist. He served as a member of parliament in 1601 and 1614.
May our parliamentarians of faith maintain solidarity with their fellow humans, and may we maintain solidarity with them in their own struggles. We would, truly, be diminished by their loss. It just may not feel that way.