Thursday, January 08, 2015

Charlie Hebdo

Apparently Charlie Hebdo, the French satire publication, whose offices were attacked by Muslim terrorists yesterday resulting in the savage death of 12, had once published a cartoon depicting Jesus Christ wearing a crown of thorns, sodomizing God the Father, and being sodomized in turn by the Holy Spirit. Other cartoons have depicted nuns masturbating, or the Pope wearing a condom.

This is completely vile and absolutely disgusting.

The thing is, I'd never heard of this, or any of the other anti-Christian and anti-Catholic cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo. At least not until Charlie Hebdo tragically entered the breaking news cycle.

However, I did know they were one of those who had republished the Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed.

A French publication printing something thoroughly vile and anti-Christian is hardly something that makes much of a splash. It does not provoke violent outbursts and demands for vengeance, nor does it create global news.

Let's be clear. There is nothing at all that justifies the murder of human beings, and certainly not perceived insults to any religion. Murder in God's name is an absurdity, as all our recent Popes have taught. And Bill Donohue is completely wrong: Charlie Hebdo did not have it coming. His remarks blame the victim of a horrendous act of barbaric terrorist violence. I am ashamed that he is making these remarks as a Catholic whose organization works to protect the reputation of the Church. This is a time that all Catholics must stand with all people of good will in prayer and solidarity with the victims, their loved ones, and the French people. We must work to be peacemakers, and never give in to the temptation of violence. We must pray for peace, tirelessly. Especially as the temptation rises in France, and Europe, to retaliate violently and vengefully against innocent Muslims, Catholics must show a different way, in support and solidarity with all victims of violence.

However, the questions about the limits of free speech and secularism and its relationship with Islam will once again be raised and already the debate has begun again anew.

This article I came across nails the issues at stake brilliantly: secularism is basically an epiphenomenon of Christianity. It is parasitical on Christian ideas, and Islam is really the greatest threat that it faces. Europe, with its vibrant, religious (more mosque-goers on Friday in England, that churchgoers on Sunday!), often ghettoized and marginalized Islamic minority, is at the frontlines of this clash.
But secularism is a political, legal, and cultural project that goes back centuries, with roots in the "two swords" doctrine of medieval Christianity. The target of modern secularism was (and still is, really) the Christian Church, which it sees as the instigator and vehicle of majoritarian prejudice. Secularism aims to prevent Europe's wars of religion from ever happening again, and to contain the power of Europe's churches when it comes to politics and culture.
[This project has, I would argue, been successful. Christianity as a religious force is on life-support in Western Europe. As a political force it is practically non-existent: the Church's credibility has been shattered in Ireland; in Italy, the Christian Democrats are indistinguishable from other center-left parties; Poland, perhaps, is the lone remaining country in the EU where Christianity has some political influence. As a cultural and social force, it is simply part of the background, and its tenets are often ignored: the birth rates of all Catholic countries, even Poland, are abysmally low.]
Modern secularism creates a taboo against distinguishing between religions. To judge one in any way superior to another is a step away from enlightenment and civilization, and a step toward the Thirty Years War. You are allowed to mock and hate Islam, but must make a show of doing it "equally" to other religions. You are also allowed to respect religion, but the same principle applies. This brigade of pieties exists to prevent acts of hatred and to stifle prejudice, but it inadvertently guards against any intelligent conversation about religion.
The taboos of secularism interlock in other odd ways. Modern Western secularists feel no anxiety whatsoever when they encounter harsh criticism and satire of Christianity. But if you offer a particularly barbed remark about Islam among the enlightened, someone will ask you to politely agree that Christianity is just as bad. And ironically, this instinct to protect the powerless is a leftover instinct of Christian civilization, which put sayings like "the last shall be first, and the first shall be last" at the heart of its worship and moral imagination.
And so ...
The great irony of Islam's continued clashes with the Western way of life — whether its widespread riots over a YouTube video or the murderous actions of a crazed minority— is that it has revealed, to the surprise of everyone but Pope Emeritus Benedict, that modern secularism is a kind of epiphenomenon of Christendom.
I think Dougherty has absolutely nailed it. There are others who have recognized the relationship of secularism and Christianity, and the need for religion, for that matter -- Jürgen Habermas comes to mind (his dialogue with Joseph Ratzinger is worth a read, btw).

A couple of other pieces worth reading:

Thomas Macdonald at Patheos, makes a similar point:
The other thing we will need is faith. A pallid secularism can’t defend against a diseased religiosity. Only a healthy faith can drive out a sick one.
I don’t have any illusions that we’ll see a huge turning to Christ in France. Anti-clericalism has been part of that nation’s very flesh and blood for too long. But there is something deeper in there, down in the bone and sinew: the Christianity that made France great. 
All Europe and the secular west has been feeding like a vampire from that Christian heritage for two centuries without acknowledging that Christ is the wellspring of all our values and freedoms. Since that wellspring is the very living water Himself, it will never run dry, but the walls of the well are crumbling. Even the great cathedrals, built as living prayers in stone to last for centuries, are just piles of rock without faith, as the prayers that made them live fade into a distant echo. Europe is hollowed out, cherishing abstract notions and values without any transcendence or roots. It can’t survive long in this state without something breaking. 
It’s rather poignant that the #JeSuisCharlie (I am Charlie) slogan looks so much like “Jesus is Charlie.” As much as the people of Charlie Hebdo disdained Christ, they found themselves at the foot of the cross nonetheless, as we all do. Their deaths are tragic, grotesque, and enraging, but they needn’t be futile. There is meaning even in tragedy.
A more provocative piece by the same author: Mohammed in Hell.

And finally, a beautiful piece by Fr. Longenecker on the violent backlash that may engulf Europe.
And this is where the Christian story intersects with the cycle of violence and vengeance in the world. The crucified one stands on trial and says in his silence, “You want someone to blame? Blame me.”
As they scream he regards them with compassion and says, “This is what it comes to: that you would crucify the Lord of Glory.”
And then in that sacrifice he turns the tables. In taking the blame he extinguishes the flame of hatred, fear and violence. In becoming the victim he abolished the violence and vengeance.
In this sacrifice and subsequent victory over death he defeats the cycle of violence and vengeance from the inside out.
Blessed are the peacemakers, He said. Pray for France, pray for Europe. Pray that the Holy Spirit raises up peacemakers.

1 comment:

Ollllddude said...

I am not sure what you're trying to say here.

You begin: "Let's be clear [we can't justify murder]."

Then it seems there is a big Buuuuut, if we weren't such wussified secularists.... Well, I don't know what. In context, it sounds a little like we should do a little butt kicking of our own, and I hope that's not what you mean. But I am pretty sure that is what Mr. Dougherty means. It's difficult for me to see the connection of secularism with Charlie Hebdo unless that is the point.