In the apocalyptic vision found in the biblical Book of Daniel, mention is made of a “contemptible person” who arises through deceit and intrigue to take power. In the exercise of his power he persecutes and afflicts the faithful, armed forces occupy and profane the holy temple, and they perform a “desolating sacrilege” that renders the sacred space unfit for worship.

This passage and the rest of such passages in Daniel likely refer to the persecution and oppression of the Jewish people by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who forbade the studying of the Torah, forcibly tried to Hellenize the Jews, and committed the abominable act of sacrificing a pig upon the holy altar of the Temple, desolating it through an act of idolatrous sacrilege.

The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

While this passage is about a struggle nearly 2200 years ago, it is hard not to think of these words in light of the horrific killing of eleven people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh this past weekend. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a more descriptive term than sacrilege to characterize the murder of innocent worshipers in a house of prayer. This violent act profanes a space meant for community, safety, and comfort. Indeed, the taking of a life is itself a sacrilege—defiling with the idols of violence and hate the temple of flesh that houses the spirit of God.

Those who hate have made an idol of their hate. They worship at its altar and at that of violence for the purported deliverance from trouble they claim to offer. They worship idols of hate and violence that are no less desolating of the sanctity of our common life than the sacrifice of a pig on the altar of the temple was.

Later in the passage from the Book of Daniel mentioned above, the text reveals that the idolatrous oppressor king shall seduce with intrigue “those who violate the covenant.”  “But,” it continues, “the people who are loyal to their God shall stand firm and take action.” (Dan. 11:32)

It can be easy to get overwhelmed by acts of violence and to witness so many people seemingly surrendering to the idols of hate and violence. But we who would be “the people who are loyal”—to justice, to peace, and to love—cannot allow the idols of hate and violence to go unchallenged. We cannot allow the desolating sacrilege to have the last word. Indeed, in the words of Daniel, it falls to us to “stand firm and take action.”

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