Yesterday morning, I woke up, saw the picture from the Libya beheadings, it was surreal. Here are a group of burly, kindly-faced men, kneeling in the sand with their hands bound behind them. Their faces look beautiful and good. Behind them, are what appear to be faceless orcs, black-clad figures swathed from head-to-toe like the henchmen of a low-budget fantasy villain. They kill the men. If I’d seen this in a movie, I would have told you it was cheesy good vs. evil campy amateur film, tackily done– “because no one looks that evil”, etc etc.
But they do, and they are real. And the henchmen are bragging about this, to the world, and apparently their supporters eat it up.
Then I read this NY Times article where USA General Nagata explains why we have no idea what is going on:”To Defang Isis US targets its Psychology”
I laughed though I felt like crying. This is the fruit of the nice-nice-current-American mindset, that thinks we can defeat evil by pretending to not understand it. The kids we are raising now who won’t even try to understand what they are standing against. They have their little signs and buttons, and loudly announcing their righteous indignation, blankly staring at walls and saying ‘It’s intolerant and you are a hater’ and dismiss it without serious consideration. The monoculture of diversity that insists on blanket censorship. They just brand it with a handy “ism”, dismiss it without scrutiny, without every trying to understand what one is truly standing against–because that involves figuring out what one is standing for, and somehow that is a no-go.
Then I read this article by Susan Jacoby about “medieval religion” and then I cried. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/15/opinion/sunday/the-first-victims-of-the-first-crusade.html
If the answer is Voltaire, then it’s a bitter bitter water we must drink. If the answer is to believe no thing too dearly, and the only defense a knowing smirk and a casual pessimism towards all things, it is an emptiness. If the answer is that it is evil to love too dearly the stars and the gods, then what is left? A sneer and a shrug and an amusing joke? If it is wrong to stand for anything too dearly, what is there left to live for?
On one side death and fire and blood, on the other side, death and ashes and formaldehyde.
In the Atlantic’s article “What ISIS Really Wants”, Mr. Wood seems to be much more honest than General Nagata. The followers of ISIS are thirsting for sacrifice, for the stars.
The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.
Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls… “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.
—- from The Atlantic’s Post What Isis Really Wants
Mr. Wood goes on to quote George Orwell on the appeal of Fascism:
[Fascism is] psychologically far sounder than any hedonistic conception of life … Whereas Socialism, and even capitalism in a more grudging way, have said to people “I offer you a good time,” Hitler has said to them, “I offer you struggle, danger, and death,” and as a result a whole nation flings itself at his feet … We ought not to underrate its emotional appeal.
I can understand the desire to recklessly sacrifice everything for the stars, in the fear that that blase void of formaldehyde and dust will swallow up all. Blase ‘modernity’ and fanatic ‘medieval’ are neither old or new, but roil round and round eachother, each a serpent biting the other’s tail. They very much feed off eachother.
I can understand the desire to blame all this on politics and money, to say that it isn’t about religion—because we don’t want just the ashes and the formaldehyde. We want the stars. But we have alot to sort through too.
On one side, desparate people want the stars so badly they are willing to pay for it in blood. On the other side, what? Ashes and formaldehyde…it isn’t the most cheerful outlook or even (arguably) liveable–there is a reason that the secular nations of the west have plummeting birth rates, and their populations will fade away into history within a century or two. There is a reason all the indignant outrage of the feminists will never lead to the obliteration of (often oppressive/brutal) traditionalist patriarchy, and it is the same reason that “medieval religion” can give something that progressive secularism can’t. Both sides are wrong of course, and both sides have been deeply pained. They cycle off eachother, polarizing eachother, one side discards faith in the face of medieval fanaticism, the other side clinging mroe fiercely to fanaticism in the face of despairing modernism and its void.
But if there is any answer at all, it must be a love fiercer and deeper than fanaticism, and yet gives life and not death. That believes, with all the dogged intensity of a fanatic, that the human person is dearest to the stars and gods. Our only hope is faith, is the stars–but where we don’t pay for it with another’s blood.
Come Jesus, come and forgive us, come and save all of us.