Just came from the cinema, having seen Of Gods and Men, a French production based on a true story. The film portrays a group of French Trappist monks living in the monastery of Tibhirine, located in Algeria. Initially we follow the monks peacefully going about their daily lives – prayer, manual labour, and other monastic activities. Of significance is the way in which the monks interact with and assist the local, largely Muslim, community in a village which has sprung up around the existence of the monastery. It is understood that the village, despite religious differences, depends on the monastery and the monks in virtue of physical medical care, emotional stability, and spiritual guidance.
The tranquil existence is violently disrupted as a group of people described as Muslim extremists starts to cause unrest in the region, killing civilians for reasons which the movie doesn’t highlight. Instead it accentuates the intense emotional distress of the monastic community, as the monks realize they're becoming pawns in a political/religious conflict with the Muslim extremists on one side, and an unstable Algerian regime and army on the other.
The film’s core lies in the one difficult decision the monks are faced with: either they leave the country and return to France, thereby risking to deprive the local villagers of what hope they have left; or they stay, risking death and martyrdom. It is incredibly moving to witness the monks' ambivalence, their fear, their doubts, their courage, their honest fraternal love for one another, and their deep spiritual devotion in which they all find the strength to finally decide to stay.
Here one can read about how, on the 31th of May, 1996, the Algerian government announced they had found the decapitated heads of seven French monks in the countryside.
There are many things this film gave me, and on many levels. Apart from the beautiful depiction of monastic life and its gifts, it also inspired me to realize how incredibly grateful I am to be living in a modern, stable, and peaceful society; a society where one is not forced to deal with a worldly existence permeated by perpetual fear, repression, violence. I hope I will never for a moment forget how lucky I am to have been born in this country (Sweden), and at this point in time!
Finally, the film manages to highlight the monastery’s abbot Dom Christian’s intriguing insistence that even though the armed men reigning terror in the region were motivated by Islam, it is principally not the faith in and of itself that is the main inducement for violence. Instead, he touches upon the integral point which states that a person’s way of perceiving the world is the primary motivator of action, not necessarily any particular phenomenon or content such as a religious teaching. While that is not to say that particular content like scriptural dogma does not at all play into justifying certain actions, I do agree with Dom Christian that it is not the chief behavioural causal force. This evidenced by the countless examples of two different people reading one text, but interpreting it in two very different ways.
Not only for those interested in monasticism and spirituality, but for everyone, Of Gods and Men is a film I highly recommend.
"Love endures everything."