The recent terrorist attacks in Paris laid bare a disturbing reality – the globalization of irrationality which is a corollary of the loss of the Christian worldview.
Paris generated the peculiar modern default to sympathy with an abstract – free speech – rather than identification with the victims and, perhaps more importantly in this case, a promise of justice. “Je suis Charlie” makes a catchy Twitter hashtag, but it betrays the circumstances and the victims with its blithe collectivization. The same dynamic appears in the, “Hands up don’t shoot” and “I can’t breathe” memes.
Worldwide uptake of “Je suis Charlie” amounts to an emotional “selfie” – a means for people to mark territory; to claim a thing or a place as personal when it is impersonal. To be sure, that was not the intention for most since it is human nature to seek expressions of solidarity in these situations. However, Western democracies seem to have lost the ability to discern sympathy, commiseration, and mourning.
The church traditionally provided the guard rails and safety nets in these situations, but when a society abandons the faith of its fathers, the secular substitute is vacuous irresolution that is inflammatory rather than reassuring.
Reflexive adoption of “Je suis Charlie” is troubling since Charlie Hebdo is little more than a high production value analogue of a sixth grade bathroom stall. When we attach ourselves to its identity we are necessarily saying that our appreciation of free speech requires acceptance of vile speech. Just as there is no reason to tolerate opposing cartoons with terrorism, there is also no reason to regard the pornographic hectoring that Charlie Hebdo specializes in as the apotheosis of art and free expression in a modern society.
If Penthouse magazine is bombed by terrorists, are we going to assert “I am Penthouse”, and start freely sharing its most exploitive images in resolute defense of liberty? Hardly.
Consequently, the outpouring of sympathy was largely misdirected and certainly inappropriate as Charlie Hebdo’s most vulgar creations were distributed with little restraint. Worse yet, some influential authors suggested that safety could be achieved by making everyone guilty of gratuitous obscenity. As long as everyone publishes the cartoons, there will be too many targets. C’est la vie.
All Satire is Not Equal
Part of the problem is that satire has secured an unjustified place in our society. All things have become permissible as long as they are labeled satire or “art”. Yet, a cursory examination of the genre, especially in the West, shows that it is primarily defined by its political views and penchant for offending soft targets.
The truth is that speech has seldom been more regulated than it is today. If your output is crass and offensive, then it is celebrated, distributed, and awarded. If your viewpoint is traditional, then you are to be admonished and suppressed for fear of “triggering” some delicate flower. Woe betide you if any Christian content makes a showing.
The value of free speech has been entirely inverted to the point where harmless expression is declared hateful, and harmful expression is embraced as liberating. The First Amendment has been reduced to a hostage contest between the narrowest interest groups with the best grievances, which is why our universities have descended into parodic speech codes and cautionary statements about “microaggressions”.
This same vanity is at work when then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could straightfacedly denounce a video for inciting a deadly terrorist attack on the Benghazi Consulate, but offer a standing ovation when attending “The Book of Mormon” on Broadway. The same impulse encouraged the President of the United States, in a speech before the United Nations, to single out only one religion as deserving of special consideration and protection when he said, “The future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam”. That sounds like a permission slip for fanatics.
Steadfast in Society
Moral clarity has given way to moral obtuseness. It is now considered impolite and offensive to lay the blame for the Paris attacks where they belong – with the Salafi-Takfiri ideology that was birthed by Wahhabist theology and propagated worldwide with Saudi money. The attacks on Nairobi, New York, London, Paris, Madrid and other cities have nothing to do with radicalization via poverty, climate change, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, the Crusades or whatever the latest pet theory is. Paris is the natural outworking of Salafism in the same way that genocide was the inevitable product of Stalinism.
We have become reticent to treat the perpetrators of the attacks as the enemies they are. Enemies are to be destroyed until they relent, but our society desires to make every enemy a victim in need of restorative justice. Every problem, whether local or global, ends up being psychoanalyzed as a general failure of Western civilization and a specific failure of American culture and policy. In short, the ills of the world are because America is always doing too much and too little, even as it becomes more like the world and less like itself.
For fear of asserting the superiority of one culture over another, we have fallen into the abyss of multiculturalism where everything is equivalent. Underlying this confusion is an ignorant hostility to the Christian worldview; fundamentally a rejection of sin as an objective reality and, therefore, a denial of the need for a Savior who is not ourselves and our good works. In despising that worldview the value of Christian liberty has been lost, which is that you don’t need to be Christian to flourish under it.
As Confessional Christians we must be forthright in asserting the exclusivity and superiority of our formal and material principles. Then we must uphold the salutary benefits that flow to a society ordered on the foundations of the doctrine of the Two Kingdoms and of the doctrine of vocation, neither of which require a theocracy. The world will hate you for it, but that was foretold two millennia ago.