Cold-blooded murder: are you afraid of the truth?

The Truth is not afraid of discovery, because it helps us inform us more about God.

Last Friday you find out from watching the news that Hany Shenouda, prominent steward of the Service (amin el khidma) at your church, is found guilty of the murder of Hermonia Grangeria in an alley near his house. To most people in the church, he has only been an image of piety. He’s at every church service, he’s the go-to deacon for mid-week anything, and he’s at every tasbeha/psalmody every week. He taught you how to make korban. He taught the kids Sunday School. Everything about him points to, “this guy is clergy material.”


Last Friday you find out from watching the news that Hany Shenouda, prominent steward of the Service (amin el khidma) at your church, is found guilty of the murder of Hermonia Grangeria in an alley near his house. To most people in the church, he has only been an image of piety. He’s at every church service, he’s the go-to deacon for mid-week anything, and he’s at every tasbeha/psalmody every week. He taught you how to make korban. He taught the kids Sunday School. Everything about him points to, “this guy is clergy material.”

The immediate response of the community is varied. Tunt Demiana says, “There’s no way! Only Pope Shenouda is holier than him! There must be a mistake!”

Uncle Ishaq, who everyone knows wanted to be the steward himself, responds, “Well, they must have good reason to believe that he murdered someone!”, to which young Abanoub, a disciple of Hany says, “You’re saying that because you’re jealous and wanted what he had. We know he didn’t do anything like that at all!”

Then, suddenly, comes Uncle Philopater, and he says, “Let me tell you the story of how Hany saved my life and taught me the meaning of true love…” He goes into a long rhetoric about how Hany is the pinnacle of virtue and gives a bunch of proofs of this, so much so that 80% of the people standing around react by bursting into tears.

Meanwhile, on the investigative team studying the murder case, is a certain Donot Likebrowns. Donot went into the force in reaction to a terrible tragedy in his life. His little brother was sexually abused by a clergyman but didn’t start talking about it until a few months before he killed himself. He also lost a really good buddy of his. His friend was killed on a mission in the Middle East. A suicide bomber from a jihadi group blew himself up right next to the tank that Donot’s friend was driving. He was only 23. The incidents had him resentful of religion. How could people who claim to love a God be so hateful of other human beings? How could a God want people to do something like that or turn a blind eye to it? What he took from the scenario: sometimes life sucks, and people who may appear to be holy and such, well they’re just as capable of evil as the rest of them. He admits to himself privately that yes, he does have a thing for cracking down on religionists.

While investigators are collecting more information, Pistavros Salib from the church recognises Donot, they had gone to college together. Pistavros knows Donot’s history, and is outraged that someone so biased is part of the team at all. “How,” he asks, “is there going to be a fair investigation when someone already hates religion so much?” Moved by zeal, he begins a letter-writing campaign to have Donot removed from the investigation.

The priest of the Church is in a tough position, he’s not sure what to say or do or how to placate the people, so he remains silent. He doesn’t speak for Hany nor does he speak against him. He just keeps repeating with painful resignation, “I don’t know. I don’t know. I know that he was good and I trusted him, I don’t know what to say.”

The case goes to trial, and the prosecution is able to prove that Hany held the gun that killed the victim, and the victim died as a result of that shot, and thus, Hany is guilty of murder. Donot is ecstatic. The congregation is ripped apart. Hany is silent. He’s condemned. Parish participation begins to decline after a couple of years. The public continues to have a distaste towards religion, getting another proof that we could do better without religion.

That’s the case to the public. That’s the public reaction. Life goes on. Case closed.

Where is this going?

I want to meditate on seeking the Truth. It’s been a theme on this blog, I know, but it’s because it’s of utmost importance.

In spite of all the ‘noise’ surrounding the case, and all the emotions, there is a simple fact – the truth. There is an answer to the question of whether or not Hany killed Ms. Grangeria. Before we get to judging him as guilty or not guilty, let’s look at the various players on the stage.

Tunt Demiana:
This sweet and very elderly tunt is in denial that Hany could possibly have done anything wrong. Why? Because only Pope Shenouda is holier than him. The basis of her decision that he is innocent is based on her personal experience with him has only been positive, and that his outward behaviour has been exemplary. Tunt Demiana has only ever known him, though, externally. She’s never had dinner at his house or vice versa, she’s never had a long conversation with him and discussed outlooks on life. She’s never had a disagreement with him and seen how he reacts. So her immediate gut reaction is based on a relationship that did not have depth. She recognizes all of this, but she is confident “in her heart”, that the truth is that Hany is a saint.

Uncle Ishaq:
Without doubt, Uncle Ishaq has his personal struggles, and part of him is happy and vindicated to find out that someone who he viewed as his rival, was publicly shown to be deficient. The news confirmed what he was trying to tell people, that this guy seems to be really good, but that there’s still something not right about him. He is, to be sure, surprised at how big the crime was, but, he accuses himself, I guess I was too nice. Right away he is dreaming of how he can help fix the service, how he can outreach the devastated families who would now receive him as the natural replacement for Hany. He dismisses Abanoub’s accusation against him, because he knows that Abanoub was just attached to Hany and can’t handle hearing the news. “After all”, uncle says to himself, “it’s not my fault the man murdered and got himself into this mess.” Uncle’s relationship with Hany has always had the rivalry in the background; always there was an internal tension that Hany had the position that he coveted. Consequently, Uncle Ishaq has always had a critical eye on Hany, his decisions, his character, his preferences, his sermons…everything. He perpetually is seeking confirmation that Hany be exposed. When the possible truth was available, that Hany could be wrong, it’s a truth that Uncle Ishaq embraces. Besides, the courts couldn’t be wrong. The truth, even if it sucks for the church, is that the man is guilty.

Uncle Philopater:
Unlike Uncle Ishaq and Tunt Demiana, Uncle Philapater has know Hany intimately for years. He trusts Hany with his life, and found himself able to expose to him the most intimate details of his life. Always, Hany has been able to alleviate fear, worries and concerns. Always their conversations were a source of joy and comfort. He has observed Hany in very stressful situations and in the middle of arguments, and seen that Hany has always had remarkable self-control. When there were youth struggling with drugs, he brought them to Hany because he just had this way of helping them care about getting their lives together again. When kids got into angry fights with their parents, they would go spend the night at Hany’s house. So the idea that this man could kill someone is totally unacceptable, it’s not even a possibility to be the truth of the matter. Surely there’s a mistake. Surely the gun was passed to him and that’s how his prints were on the gun. If not that, then probably he picked up the gun with curiosity and that’s how he was accused. Maybe Donot has a personal vendetta against Hany through some weird coincidence and just wants him to be arrested. Any of them are more likely possibilities than Hany actually shooting someone to death. Uncle Philopater is not the only person who has felt that way about Hany, because when he gave his testimony about his character, the vast majority agreed and cried publicly to show their belief. He really wants the world to know the truth about Hany, that he’s a true man of God.

As discussed, Donot has his bitterness. He has “a thing” against religious people. It’s not the religion per se, but the fanatic in the religion. They act all righteous but they do crazy things. In fact, he’s so disgusted that the people in the church can be in such strong denial about the guilt of this man, when the evidence is insurmountably against Hany! His prints are on the gun, what more do these people want?! Sure, there were no witnesses, but Hany was at the scene. He held the gun. The girl was dead. This was not even a challenging case. “Yes,” he admits to himself only, “I did want that scum off the streets more because he was religious than any other reason, but that’s not so bad. I don’t want people hurting other people the way that my brother was hurt, my friend was hurt, and me by extension.” He’s also baffled that people can use emotion to fight against fact. No matter how much they love this guy, the facts simply say that he committed a crime. This makes him wonder about the validity of religion as a whole. How many aspects of religion are more to do with blind faith and emotionalism? If something so small is dismissed, then how much more would they do that kind of thing with the ‘big stuff’? Donot is happy when Hany is convicted, partially because he wanted to make a point, but also partially because he hopes that it will make the people in religious communities start to think more deeply about what they cling to for comfort. He wants them to know the truth.

Pistavros does not have strong opinions about the person of Hany, but he loves his church. He knows how this is going to rip them apart, shake the faith, and get people worked up. Worse than that, is that he knows the biases of Donot. He cares that the case be investigated, but he wants to be sure that the people who are investigating are not doing lip service to the investigation when they truly have another agenda. How can the truth be served if the people researching it already want a particular conclusion?

The Priest:
The priest is in a real quandary. On the one hand, he feels responsible because he put Hany in his present position of steward. This was a clear proof of the confidence of the church in him as a teacher and a sound, morally upright man. How can he say anything without being accused or held responsible? There are other complications, and his congregation is split on what they are upset about. He doesn’t know how to deal with the ones who are sure of Hany’s innocence, or the ones who don’t care but are simply angry that Donot is in the investigation. Still others want to know, “if Hany is guilty and he was such a good Christian, who else is a closet murderer in the Church?” The faith of the people in the institution is clearly shaken. Indeed, he himself is troubled by what happened. Hany was a son of his in confession, and nothing got said that ever strongly concerned him. As far as he could see, Hany really was a pious person, that he could have done this crime is unfathomable. “I don’t know what the truth is,” thinks the priest, “I guess time will tell, or God will reveal.”

What actually happened:
Hany was walking home from the bus stop. He was making his way toward his street, when a young lady caught his attention. She was crying so hard that she was convulsing. He walks over to her, and finds that she is holding a gun and saying, “I have to do this, I have to do this.” Gently, Hany starts trying to console her, to reason with her, to convince her that she does not need to take her own life.

It’s not working.

She gets more agitated, Hany tries to take the gun from her, they wrestle with it, a shot is fired. The young lady is dead. The cops are notified.

Hany is in shock. He doesn’t know whose finger hit the trigger, but he’s aware that it may have been his own. The possibility that it might have been, added to his guilt that he couldn’t convince this girl that her life was worth living and that she has meaning to others and to God, is enough to send him out of his mind. He doesn’t care what the courts say, he’s already pronounced himself guilty, and will not contest anything.

Is Hany guilty? Of the physical crime, possibly, but is he guilty of murder? I don’t think so. But this is not the point. The point that I want to discuss is the mindset of each of the characters, and the fact that we all think we know the truth about something, but we might not be right. Sometimes the truth is in front of us, but we are not understanding the full picture. Sometimes the truth is in front of us, but not obvious.

To be dismissive of the arguments of any of the characters in the story would be wrong. Collectively they are saying things that are meaningful. Each one of them has valid convictions that stem from a reality that they have experienced. Each and every one of them has an emotional side that influences their biases. For any one person to point at the other and say “You’re saying this because of [insert reason]” would be redundant. Everyone is saying things for a reason. The reasons may be good, bad, intelligent or uninformed, but they stem from a person’s experience nonetheless.

Each person was going to bed with the conviction that they were speaking what is right, but whether or not they were seeking the truth is questionable. Whether or not those who definitely were seeking the truth were doing it honestly, is also questionable. It is too easy for people to get emotional about their arguments, to be dismissive, to label entire categories of people as ignorant, or to ridicule those who think differently than themselves. It’s easy to assume that someone else is entirely unjustified in a particular belief. We have the tunt who knows characters well enough to be sure that someone is morally upright, we have the uncles who just yell random things that might not be fair or honest, we have someone who is more attached to the building and organisation of the Church than the God of the Church, we have those who have real experience of pain and that are hurting and that are offended by religion, and we have people within who have real experience with God and with faith. All of them can be shaken; some of them may be right and some may be wrong. The question that one always has to ask is, “What is the truth?” These characters may be helpful in the journey toward the truth, but none of them are singularly complete and whole in their knowledge. Only ONE exists Who is complete Himself.

We live in a secular world. I’ve heard/said that expression so many times that it’s becoming cliché. But we live in an era that acts like it wants to know the truth. Christians are accused of being overly emotional and not cognisant of facts. Is this true? Yes, sometimes. Is the converse also true? Yes, sometimes. Christians seem to dismiss science and ‘science’ seem to dismiss religion. The solution, however, is not to debate conclusions, the solution is to seek the Truth.

We talk about the Pharisees dismissing Christ right away because it made them uncomfortable and seemed contradictory to their world. There was a good Pharisee, Nicodemus, who said, “I don’t get it. What is He saying?” He wanted to know, and he found out.

We don’t need to go back to the time of Christ, Abouna Lazarus – an atheist, a professor of philosophy with a particular agenda against Christian religion in particular, sought the truth, and now lives in a cave. There are answers.

A good Christian doesn’t fear science, and a good scientist shouldn’t fear Christ. Science is about knowledge. If someone claims to have experienced a miracle, the reaction shouldn’t be “that fool!” it should be “well, did he?” If scientists say, we’ve found conclusive proof of such and such, “Christians shouldn’t be, that’s a lie”, they should ask “Is it conclusive?” Everyone should be asking, “Okay, what does that mean?”

In the case above, for example, almost everyone was “right” about something, but they didn’t know why! Sometimes we may observe facts, but our interpretations of them are wrong. We should not fear this, we need to be honest about things. Honesty brings with it peace, because if one lies to himself or tries to have a particular conclusion for the sake of having a particular conclusion, he will later on be troubled. None of us likes to be lied to, even when it’s us lying to ourselves.

We need also, however, to be honest with our questions as well. With debates about science, for example, we should not enter a debate with a preformed decision that the other person must be wrong. We must not assume that the other person has absolutely no basis for a theory. Is it possible that someone is coming up with a theory with the sole intent of wanting to discredit religion? Of course it is. If he’s wrong, time will tell so long as there are still other scientists that are seeking the truth. If he’s right about the conclusion, why am I worked up? It may mean that I need to learn more so that I can understand God better!

If someone is a reductionist and reduces our faith to something that sounds so bizarre and obviously wrong, find out if he’s right! Use it to understand better – but it doesn’t affect the truth, no matter how sarcastic or confident he sounds in his accusation!

Emotionalism breeds emotionalism. If I angrily attack someone as being a liar, he will angrily attack me back. If I pull random proofs to justify my point, someone else is going to point at the fingerprints on the gun.

The Truth is not afraid of discovery, because it helps us inform us more about God.

The question, yet again, is what is the truth?

There is a reason why our Lord Christ is referred to as the Logos. Logos doesn’t just mean the “word” of the Father – it means the intellect, the mind, the very reasoning of God. That’s why He’s the Truth. He is the Truth enfleshed. That’s why He says “ask me, and things will be revealed to you”. He doesn’t want us to pretend we don’t have questions. He doesn’t want us to act like everything is simply as is and not permitted to be discussed. He wants us to ask Him and to seek Him.

Ponder on this: He is the Truth.

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