tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS May 8, 2011 10:00am-10:30am PDT
coming up, in the wake of osama bin laden's death -- religious reactions and debates about moral issues. also, at gethsemani abbey in kentucky, the trappist monastery made famous by thomas merton, we talk with brother paul, another monk and poet. and holy relics and their elaborate containers, reliquaries. major funding for "religion and ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lilly endowment, an indianapolis based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education.
additional funding by mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and the corporation for public broadcasting. welcome. i'm bob abernethy. it's good to have you with us. it's been an emotional week since the dramatic u.s. operation that killed osama bin laden in pakistan. on thursday president obama laid a wreath at ground zero. he met with loved ones of some of those killed on 9/11 and told them he hoped bin laden's death brought them a small measure of comfort. the president repeatedly cited the 9/11 attacks when he announced the operation on sunday. >> justice has been done. >> when the news broke, spontaneous celebrations began in front of the white house and across the country. that prompted vigorous debate about whether jubilation was appropriate.
in some parts of the muslim world, there were anti-american protests and vows of retaliation. obama made a distinction between islam and al qaeda. >> our war is not against islam. bin laden was not a muslim leader. he was a mass murderer of muslims. >> meanwhile, as details othe raid emerged so did moral questions about the bin laden mission. joining me with more on all of this is our managing editor kim lawton and ambassador akbar ahmed, a former pakistani diplomat, now the chair of islamic studies at the american university in washington. akbar, welcome. kim, welcome. akbar, let's start with the popular reaction in the muslim world. >> bob, the reaction to bin laden's death tells us a lot about what's going on in the muslim world. there have been threats, there have been some explosions, peop were killed in pakistan. there have been processions being taken out by the religious
parties mainly, but what it's telling us is that over this decade from 9/11 the leadership model of bin laden has become almost irrelevant. you're seeing this revolution sweeping the arab world. it's being led by young people wearing jeans, and facebook, twitter. they want an inclusive society, a democratic society. they want to be part of the world order. they don't want to blow up america or israel or whatever. >> but are you saying that osama bin laden was kind of sterdas ader? >> conceptually, yes. bin laden is suddenly to me, as an analyst writing about the muslim world for the last several decades, overnight he seems almost like a dinosaur. his methods failed, his vision still resonates. muslims would still like to have justice and dignity and so on. but his method of achieving these means seems to be dated and irrelevant in today's muslim world. >> but in this country he was a very, very much an important
figure. >> e dominant symboof 9/11. because rightly he was linked to this terrible event and then the chain of events that followed which resulted in, over this decade, the deaths of literally millions of people, displacement of millions of people. >> and kim, in this country? >> well, i was going to say that i've been hearing from a lot of american muslims who were saying that for them he had so much hijacked islam and hijacked the perception from non-muslims about what islam was that there is a certain sense of relief that maybe that is now finished. >> t what about the street? the popular reaction here, the kids cheering. >> the celebrations. >> and everything like that. a lot of people were very upset about that. >> there's been a really lively debate within the religious community about whether or not those celebrations were appropriate, and both sides have been using scripture passages to sort of bolster their arguments. some people saying that scripture says that one should never rejoice when one's enemy
falls. but then others saying scripture says that you should rejoice when good wins over evil, and so there's been a little bit of debate. the vatican issued a statement saying while osama bin laden certainly was responsible for sowing hatred and division, one should never rejoice over another human being's death. >> and is there any agreement about where justice ends and revenge begins? >> well, that's been another big topic of discussion. where are those lines? and a lot of people saying, as president obama said, justice has been done. but then other people questioning, was this revenge? or when you see the celebrations does it appear that ilook more le revenge than justice? >> akbar, there are a lot of other people watching this besides pakistanis and afghanis and americans and all. what does this open up in the way of imitation? do you hear anything about that? >> i do, bob.
in fact, a lot of people in pakistan are commenting on this. they're saying that if america just flies in, kills someone, takes the body out, then this is a precedent for other people in the neighborhood. and pakistan and ind have had a ve tense relationship for the last half centy, three wars between them. india's been wanting the people behind the attacks in mumbai, former city of bombay. they want them. they want to try them for terrorism. and a lot of pakistanis saying, suppose india does the same thing, just flies in, kills these people, takes their bodies out. what is there to prevent people from doing this kind of copycat imitation of what the americans did? >> well, it has been a debate about the means that were used in this and whether they were ethical or legal. and that's a hard thinto s because for a lot of people this is obviously a very emotional thing. >> it's a war. >> and that's what people are saying. that he was an enemy combatant in a field. but the fact that it happened, this war on terrorism has very
unclear lines. there are some questions about that. and, in fact, the united nations has asked for more details about exactly what happened and was it legal, was it ethical. so that's a conversation that's going to continue, i think. >> and it also opened up the question of whether torture is worth it, akbar? >> i would say, bob, go back to the founding fathers. read george washington on torture when he refused to torture british soldiers who had been torturing american soldiers because, he said, america must always take the high moral ground, and that is critical for this new country that we are founding, the united states of america. >> it's unclear exactly how much information that led to all of this was obtained through these enhanced interrogations. >> kim, that whole thesis collapses if we discover, it's all conjecture and debate right now, if we discover that pakistani intelligence and american intelligence were in fact working together. then this thesis --
>> but we didn't know that. >> we don't know. so, therefore you can't build up the argument that the information came through torture. >> but, let me ask you quickly. what good can come of this in terms of better relations, not worse relations, but better relations between pakistan and the united states? do you see some kind of opening there? >> not only these two countries. i would say the united states and the muslim world. because the war on terror, whether you like it or not, bob, was driven by the symbolism of bin laden who towered over the horizon. he's dead. it's closure. both the leaders of the muslim world and the untied states should really pause, reflect, take this moment and say it's been a decade of death and destruction, so much pain and misery throughout the world, let us now move towards a different direction. a world of peace and harmony and challenging the global problems that we face. there's so many global problems facing us right now, and the united states can and must take the lead. this is the superpower, it has a moral vision, it must now lead us in that direction. >> and i heard that a lot this week from the religious community.
a lot of people,hether they thought this was a good thing or they were celebrating or not, just the idea that indeed this is closure for one era and a lot of hope that we are beginning a new era. >> well, let's hope so. kim lawton, many thanks. ambassador akbar ahmed, nice to see you again. >> thank you, bob. thank you, kim. in other news, there were also moral concerns this week about the situation in libya. crowds of gadhafi supporters protested in tripoli after a nato air strike killed one of gadhafi's sons and three of the leader's young grandchildren. the catholic bishop of tripoli was among those allowed to view the bodies. he reiterated his call for a ceasefire, saying airstrikes are killing civilians. nato leaders denied they are specifically targeting gadhafi and his family members. as anti-government protests
continued in syria, human rights groups say thousands of people have been detained by the government there. the widespread crackdown follows seven-weeks of violent unrest. more than 500 people have been killed. in turkey, the red crescent society has put up temporary shelters for refugees along the syrian border. there are new questions about the future of the middle east peace process after the two rival palestinian governments signed a reconciliation deal. the palestinian authority, based in the west bank, agreed to share power with hamas, the militant group that controls the gaza strip. the two have governed separately since 2007. observers say a united government may help the palestinian push for an independent state. several jewish organizations say the new deal could be an obstacle to peace. they renewed calls for hamas to renounce violence and recognize
israel's right to exist. as congress returned to washington this week, vice president biden began meetings with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss the national debt and spending cuts. the talks are deribeas an effort to reach common groud between both sides. a coalition of religious leaders has objected to any cuts to anti-poverty programs. they say they hope to draw what they call a "circle of protection" around funding for medicaid, food assistance, and international aid. events were held across the country thursday for the annual national day of prayer. participants prayed for america on capitol hill where popular evangelical writer and speaker joni earecksotada gave the keynote address. conservative christian leader james dobson and u.s. senate chaplain barry black also spoke. as is the custom every year, the
president proclaimed the day of prayer, but many advocates of church/state separation object. they say it's a government endorsement of religion. faith-based relief groups continue to aid those affected by the deadly tornados that struck several southern states. volunteers are delivering meals and helping to clear debris. some churches are providing shelter. an estimated 350 people were killed and many remain missing. a southern baptist leader in mississippi called for a day of prayer on sunday. faith-based groups have also mobilized to respond to severe flooding as the mississippi river reaches dangerously high levels. we have a special report today from gethsemani abbey in kentucky, once the home of the late monk and writer thomas merton. our correspondent judy valente talked with another gethsemani monk and poet, brother paul
quenon, who knew merton and, like him, is a part-time hermit seeking the holy in silence. >> the lumber shed at the abbey of gethsemani in northern kentucky. it's late february. each night at 8:00, brother paul quenon walks to the shed, as he has every night for 20 years. he goes around back, where he finds his mattress. this is where he will sleep -- outdoors, no matter the weather. >> i can't be a full-time hermit, but i can be a nighttime hermit, and there's something about waking up in the middle of the night, and there's nobody around. there's a kind of an edge of solitude that you cannot experience in any other way. >> here, a monk seeks to live every moment in the presence of god, in unity with god. brother paul came to gethsemani
52 years ago. he was 17, inspired by reading the autobiography of the famous trappist monk thomas merton, who introduced many americans to the contemplative life. merton would eventually become his spiritual director and would encourage brother paul to write. thomas merton said monks and poets are people who live on the margins of society. brother paul decided to become both. he says monks and poets remind us to pay attention to the world around us, to focus on what's essential. >> poetry is the language of the heart, and it's the language of the imagination, and so the mind abides in silence. contemplation is an abiding in silence, and what comes out of silence are words of the heart, words of love.
when the heart is really full, the mouth goes silent. >> indeed, many contemplatives say the transcendent is beyond words. brother paul has published three books of his poetry and is working on a fourth. >> the hood -- a hiding place for the head a portable anonymity a refuge from artificial light a cover to make dimness dimmer to make time slow down. >> ideas for his poems usually come to him on long,olitary walks across the monastery's vast stretches of woods and fields. during each walk he writes a haiku, a japanese form of poetry usually three lines, seventeen syllables and set in nature. >> the monastery is a poetic context to begin with, and we
live in a beautiful environment, and nature is so present day in and day out. i discovered the haiku, and the haiku is such a short form i started combining it with my meditation acti. above dim snow fields lone light of venus, lone wail of goose pleading for spring. you're in god's beauty, and it's physical. it's almost like a symphony flowing by me as i walk along, relaxed, and it's a beautiful experience. >> occasionally over the years, he would climb to the top of this water tower until finally the abbot closed it off. brother paul quips, "this used to be a fun place." it was this little cottage, the hermitage, where thomas merton spent years in isolation, praying and writing. retreatants visit the abbey year
round, seeking to slow down at a place where prayer is the main form of activity. >> i think they come here seeking for quiet and, you know, an atmosphere of prayer, and maybe some seeds of wisdom, and just to see what it is to live this kind of life. >>what purpose do you see in living the trappist's life in the modern world? >> well, i think the purpose of the monastic life in the modern world is to show that we don't need a purpose. the purpose of life is life, and you are to be just to be. everybody measures their importance by how useful they are, so you need to shatter that. you know, somebody has to come along now and then just say listen, you know, that's not it. that's not what life is. >> 48 monks now live at the abbey. once, there were more than 200.
brother paul says many people are still attracted to the regular prayer and quiet rhythms of monastic life, but few are willing to stay. >> i wish they would perceive the genuineness of the life. a man has to have, you know, a home and a career, and these are ways of achieving identity. well, what we do is in a sense forsake our identity. we give up our identity to get a new identity, which really god formulates for us. >> and yet brother paul says you don't have to live in a monastery to seek what is important. >> if you just sort of rest with what you have, be grateful for it, there again the chemistry of gratitude can transform what you have. contemplation is simply maybe a big fat word for gratitude.
to sense the presence of god in life and around me and in other people gives me a very deep gratitude. >> today the average age of the monks here is 70. funerals are a regular part of life. >> a monk lives in the presence of death, and you come here to die. you're going to give up your whole life. if you decide to give up your whole life to christ, well, it's in christ's hand. curved walkway. the burial ground fills with practical sounds from tierce bell, drenching the dumb unheeding crosses. alone i skirt around this rim of destiny, stirred by the bell, till some day i'm left un-busied
in that ground's silent keep. >> brother paul says that to be a monk is to live at the heart of a mystery, to live in a perpetual state of becoming. to him, that is both the power and poetry of monastic life. >> we never get there. as merton said, you know, if you think you have arrived, you're lost. people in the world come, you know, they come here on retreat. they ask me, "how long have you been here?" i answer as, what, another elsewhere, 52 years. but it is a fiction. how long have i been here? excuse me, i haven't gott here yet. >> for "religion and ethics newsweekly," this is judy valente at the abbey of gethsemani. >> we wish brother paul great fulfillment in his perpetual state of becoming.
we have another story today about worship, this one about christian relics. in medieval times, relics were greatly prized, a fragment of a body of a disciple of christ or another holy person. there's aexhit of these relics and their elaborate containers, reliquaries, at the walters art museum in baltimore. it's a joint project of the walters, the cleveland museum of art, and the british museum in london. we got a guided tour from the walters' curator, martina bagnoli. >> a relic is usually a remains of the body of a holy person, could also be something that this holy person had touched. the saints were not touched by sin, and, therefore, their remains were imbued with the grace and the power of god. therefore, if you prayed to a
relic, that is a kind of way of channeling your prayer to heaven. you don't worship the relics or the saint. you venerate them, and that distinction is precisely in order to avoid falling into idolatry. from the beginning of christianity, artists were enlisted to create precious containers that would speak of the spiritual power of the nten according to doctrine, christ and mary ascended bodily to heaven, so we do not have bodily relics of these two very important figures of christianity. however, we have reliquaries of the hair of mary or the milk of mary. mostly for christ you would have relics of the true cross or other instrument of his passions. mary magdalene and john the baptist, of course, as well as, you know, peter and paul are very precious relics.
here we have two very important reliquaries containing these teeth. in the case of john the baptist, it's encased in a very elaborate, beautiful container made of gold and rock crystal. the church throughout christianity was worried about fraudulent use of relics and commerce of relics, and of course to attract pilgrims you needed the relics, so there was a lot of strgle sometimes to get imrtanreli to ur church, and sometimes they were even stolen, of course. throughout christianity already from the fourth century onwards we have a lively debate within the church on the orthodoxy of relics veneration. so you have periodically this outcry against the abuses and the point of it all. after all, christian religion is about achieving something spiritual, not praying to
something material. i love the arm of st. luke. the gesture of the hands really reflect the personality of the apostles in question, st. luke being the writer of the gospel. the hand is shown holding a pen, and also, of course, you have to remember that st. luke was also an artist. baudime is one of my all time favorite. i think that the way that the saint gazes at you is uncanny and quite unsettling. in the 12th century onwards you see bust a heads that are shaped and made with gleaming material, gold or gilded copper, and decorated with precious stones to portray the saint as a dweller of paradise. in the later middle ages and the early renaissance, the beauty of the material is here substituted with the actual natural beauty of the women. it's beautiful in that paradox between the beauty of the girls
and the lusciousness of their hair, and at the same time the idea that you can lift the top portion of the head and see the skull in it. the relationship between the horror of the relics anthe beauty of the exterior, i think, is what fascinates me. >> that exhibit closes in baltimore the end of this coming week. it's next stop is the british museum in london. >> that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. happy mother's day. there's much more on our website, including commentary about some of the moral issues surrounding osama bin laden's death and more poems by brother paul quenon. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are so available. you can follow us on facebook and twitter, find us on youtube, and watch us anytime, anywhere on smartphones and iphones with our mobile web app. join us at pbs.org.
as we leave you, scenes from last weekend's beatification ceremony for pope john paul ii. ♪ major funding for "religion and ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lilly endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to its founders' interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding by mutual of america, designing customized individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. and the corporation for public broadcasting.