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Schadenfreude is a disagreeable trait in human nature. But most of us will at some time have fallen victim to the spiteful little voice which ricochets around the outer edges of our consciences, whispering gleefully, “Good. Serves them right.”
Religious schadenfreude is even more to be deplored because it is so contrary to the transformative love which should always be our lodestar. To wish for or to take pleasure in others' pain or discomfiture, however opposed to their ideas and behaviour I might be, is to increase the amount of hostility in the world and to do nothing for reconciliation or an increase of understanding.
The small campaign group Christian Voice has claimed that Tesco's poor Christmas trading figures and the consequent drop in its share value was the result of "divine intervention". This attribution of malign intent to the divine is apparently the result of Christian Voice's prayer for “confusion in the Tesco boardroom”. Fortunately, this tells us more about the attitude of those who believe God endorses their views, however narrow those may be, than about the love that moves the stars and which found personification in a radical Palestinian preacher.
There are many reasons to be uneasy about the power exercised by Tesco. For many of us, their financial support for a family area at Gay Pride is not one of them. Christian Voice take a different view and provided they do not encourage prejudice or foment hatred, they are at liberty to do so. But to pray deliberately for difficulties and to exult in a situation which may lead to redundancies and hardship for employees who are not highly paid, is not just vindictive, it is to abdicate responsibility for working as agents of respectful communication and possible change.
Tesco's increasing monopoly in so many retail areas, its capacity to impose harsh conditions on small suppliers, the deleterious effect on local communities of its land bank holdings and out of town expansion are in many ways a microcosm of an economic system increasingly perceived as profoundly unjust. This is where Christian voices should – and are – being raised. But to focus on a particular view of sexuality to the apparent exclusion of social and economic justice, and to pray for destruction instead of campaigning for change from a standpoint which seeks healing and solutions, is surely to have parted from the spirit.
That spirit has no part with vengefulness and takes no delight in punishment or misfortune. It was wonderfully displayed in the words of James Nayler, spoken as he lay dying in 1660 after being beaten and robbed: “There is a spirit which I feel that delights to do no evil, nor to revenge any wrong, but delights to endure all things, in hope to enjoy its own in the end. Its hope is to outlive all wrath and contention, and to weary out all exaltation and cruelty, or whatever is of a nature contrary to itself. It sees to the end of all temptations. As it bears no evil in itself, so it conceives none in thought to any other.”
Those words are treasured by Quakers and, I believe, are at the heart of so much that is good in the thinking and action of all people of good faith. We all need to guard ourselves from any temptation to mistake conviction for infallibility, retribution for justice or undiscerning satisfaction for righteousness.
© Jill Segger is an Associate Director of Ekklesia with particular involvement in editorial issues. She is a freelance writer who contributes to the Church Times, Catholic Herald, Tribune, Reform and The Friend, among other publications. Jill is an active Quaker. See: http://www.journalistdirectory.com/journalist/TQig/Jill-Segger You can follow Jill on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/quakerpenTweet