My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
It was a more innocent day when I ran the Boston Marathon on April 20, 1998. The biggest security issue back then was dealing with the "bandits" who would run the race without qualifying, without registering, and without paying the entrance fee. They would not get a medal at the finish line and their time was not officially counted, but every year a few thousand bandits would sneak in to run the 26.2 mile course from Hopkinton, Mass., into downtown Boston.
Running and training for marathons has also been a diversion for me from the stresses and worries of everyday life. Whether training with friends or running alone with my thoughts or while praying Hail Marys on my finger rosary, the experience of long-distance running would always transport me far away not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually.
All of that was shaken profoundly last month on April 15 with the jihadist bombings at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Although I officially qualified and ran the Boston Marathon just once, over the years I have run stretches of the course with my friends who live in Boston. I have also watched the Boston Marathon as a spectator several times, most recently two years ago. Thankfully I did not go to Boston this year and my friends who live in Boston were not hurt, but a friend of mine from the Chicago area who was in Boston to watch her daughter run the marathon was not so fortunate. Beth was at the finish line cheering her daughter Becky who had just crossed the finish line when the explosion occurred. Her left knee was fractured by a projectile and she underwent surgery and hospitalization. Two people that were standing in front of her were killed.
The running community is a close-knit group of people, so I feel a personal connection with those who were affected by this tragedy. They are very much in my prayers. Being familiar with the course and the area around the finish line also brought this all too close to home. But that will not deter my commitment to running. If anything, I am strengthened in my resolve not to let terrorists change my lifestyle or my outlook on life. But that does not mean that we should be oblivious to threats or to their causes.
Identifying the threats and their causes, however, has been obfuscated by the curious way that some of the media have been reporting the motives of the alleged bombers. For example, the front page headline in the April 22 issue of The Wall Street Journal, which stated, "Turn to Religion Split Bomb Suspects' Home," mistakenly identified "religion" as the problem that led to the senseless violence at the Boston Marathon. The reporters who wrote the story under the headline got it right when they wrote, "Law-enforcement officials trying to understand what happened in Boston are looking into whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev had taken a turn toward radical Islam." But then the reporters fudged too by writing, "The upheaval in the household was driven, at least in part, by a growing interest in religion by both Tamerlan and his mother." The former attorney general of the United States, Michael Mukasey, got it right in his opinion piece in that same issue of The Wall Street Journal, which was entitled, "Make No Mistake, It Was Jihad."
Generically blaming "religion" for terrorist bombings misunderstands the true nature of religion. Authentic religion binds people together in peace and harmony with each other and their Creator. The problem is not religion, but radical Islamist jihadism. It is highly unlikely that a "growing interest" in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity or any other major world religion would have resulted in the Boston Marathon bombings. Blaming "religion" appears to offer a non-offensive euphemism for those who do not want to insult Muslims, but doing so has the effect of defaming all religions and provides an easy but mistaken scapegoat for those seeking to justify their secularist views.
Identifying radical Islamist jihadism as the motivation for so much brutal terrorism will undoubtedly bring outcries from those who will complain that this unfairly labels all Muslims, but those energies would be better spent if peaceful Muslims would very vocally disavow the radical Islamist jihadists and publicly denounce their violent version of Islam. Perhaps then we could have a real conversation about how people of all religious faiths could live together peacefully in a pluralistic world.
May God give us this grace. Amen.