At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
Burnt Norton (1935)
A few hours ago I was sitting in a pew near the rear of the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel of the Sister Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration (we know them as the “Pink Sisters”), listening to them sing Midday Prayers before the presence of the exposed Blessed Sacrament. I come every Friday…to pray, to think, or to simply sit in silence. Today I came for the silence, seeking a respite from the angry, hurting and confused voices we all have heard over the past week since the terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere last Saturday. We’ve heard them again soon after as the debate about whether or not to accept Syrian refugees into the United States rages on.
[As to that specific question I have decided not to enter into the fray here. If I were, however, I would surely quote extensively from what I consider to be the best response yet to the question by Dr. Taylor Marshall, who takes the most clear-eyed and pragmatic approach that I’ve found so far. You may read it here: Islamic Refugee Crisis: Good Samaritan or Maccabean Response? Or both, and in fact I encourage you to do so. As Dr. Marshall writes in the introduction: This article is politically incorrect and says things that might shock you. Please read the entire article until the very last two paragraphs before making a judgment or writing incendiary comments. This might be one of the clearest things you’ve read on the topic, because it draws on virtue ethics of Thomas Aquinas – something generally ignored in our day and age.]
I’ve found it difficult to even begin to write something to make sense of it all. The need to place blame. Or offer solutions. As if I could do any of that. What I sought at the chapel today was peace with a side order of clarity. I found some today.
Without getting into specifics I will say that some of the fog that has lifted is the quick-trigger response I often have to blame Islam. Before you think I’ve gone off the deep end please hear me out. While Islam is a heresy, and often a dangerous ideology, I do not lay the blame for the terrorist actions or the growth of ISIS solely on Islam. For the conclusion I’ve arrived at is simply this: Islam is one of many ideologies competing to fill the void left by the West’s abandonment of its Judeo-Christian heritage. And before we lose our minds over Islam we need to recognize that we’ve got an even bigger problem to confront at home.
I’ve read that great civilizations held their course and their prosperity as long as its people knew its story. That story is what provided them with common purpose. Vision. It gave them their song.
We in the West have long ago abandoned our story and have lost our conviction. We have forgotten our song.
They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
They look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.
G.K. Chesterton, The Secret People
I began to connect the dots as I watched the BlackLivesMatter movement spread like wildfire across the campuses of our nation’s universities. Watching the videos, reading about their demands, and marveling at the speed in which they are filling a vacuum left by the lack of purpose felt by the youth in our country has led me to this theory. Our nation abandoned its traditions and began to tear down the institutions that made it strong long ago, but especially after World War II.
The sexual revolution begat the pill, unlimited abortion, the desecration of the sanctity of marriage by way of adultery and no-fault divorce, the destruction of the family, multitudes of single parent homes, the feminization of men and the epidemic of fatherless children, not to mention the rampant glorification of porn and unfettered access thereof. Pornography itself leading to the objectification of others, an inability to connect and maintain personal relationships and the constant pursuit of the orgasm over everything else (not to mention sex-trafficking and prostitution). All of which creates the majority of the ills we face as a society today; the ills we tells ourselves we must find solutions to at the costs of millions upon millions of dollars and social programs. We throw buckets of money at the problem but never dare address the solution that would cost us nothing. I’ve often thought that a great subject for a book would be about what the consequences are of doing the exact opposite of each of the Ten Commandments.
Our nation is increasingly becoming a citizenry without purpose. Men and women seek adventure. We yearn for a deeper purpose and contribute something during our time on this earth to help bring order and clarity. But we have removed that sense of belonging by way of Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory. We are committing suicide while wandering through a fog of our own choosing. And while we stumble aimlessly, threats to our existence and our civilization are growing stronger inside (Cultural Marxism) and outside (Islamic extremism) our culture because they are helping many to find a purpose, nihilistic though it may be.
Writing in The American Conservative, Rod Dreher brought to my attention an interview between Sophie Shevardnadze of Russia Today and Scott Atran, an anthropologist who studies terrorism that was an eye opener. Among the more interesting parts of the interview was this exchange:
SS: Dr. Atran, I know that you’ve mentioned that even if ISIS is destroyed in Iraq and Syria, it will spring up elsewhere and you’ve said, Africa, for instance, and Asia. Is the potential of this movement limitless? How many people can there be who want to live in a blood-thirsty, genocidal state run by psychopaths? I mean, I know, you’re saying it’s a repetition of history…
DR.SA: Well, first, I don’t think they’re psychopaths…
SS: …and you know, it’s like French Revolution or Bolshevik revolution – but you’d think that we’ve learned something from history, no? I mean, I don’t want to be back in Bolshevik revolution times…
DR.SA: No, I don’t think so. Look, George Orwell in his review of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” back in 1939 have described the essence of the problem. He said: “Mr. Hitler has discovered that human beings don’t only want peace and security and comfort and free from want. They want adventure, glory and self-sacrifice, and Mr. Hitler’s appealed to that – and while the Oxford student union at that time vowed to never fight again, Mr. Hitler has 80 million people fall down to his feet, in one of the most advanced countries in the world.” How did that happen? Again, ISIS is appealing to the same sort of sentiments, that have been appealed to throughout human history… and no, I don’t think we’ve learned much from history about that.
SS: But, you know, we’re used to think that young people, teen in transition, like you say, they want freedom. They want to have fun, they want to have sex and drugs and drink. What we see with ISIS is forbidding this, for young people and for everyone – yet, there is this flock towards ISIS. I still don’t understand why, because whatever they’re trying to convince young people of, it’s pretty obvious there is no freedom where they are going. And young people usually strive for freedom…
DR.SA: Yeah, but I believe they do think they’re getting freedom. Instead of freedom-to-do-things, it’s freedom-from-having-to-do-things, where a life well-ordered and promising. I mean, again, they appeal to people from all over the world. I got a call from head of Medical School telling me that her best students have just left to set up field hospital for ISIS in Syria, and she was asking me why would they do this; and I said, “because it’s a glorious and adventurous mission, where they are creating a Brand New World, and they do it under constraints.” I mean, people want to be creative under constraints. A lot of young people just don’t want the kind of absolute freedom you’re talking about. The choices are too great, there’s too much ambiguity and ambivalence. There are too many degrees of freedom and so one can’t chart a life path that’s at all meaningful, and so these young people are in search of significance, and ISIS is trying to show them a way towards significance. Again, we have to take it very seriously, that’s why I think it’s the most dynamic counter-cultural movement since WWII, and it’s something I don’t think people are taking seriously, just dismissing them as psychopaths and criminals and… this, of course, is something that we have to destroy. I think, we’re on the wrong path in terms of the way we’re going to destroy it.
The West became bored and complacent with its story and wandered from the path. A new siren song has been whispered into the ears of the culture and is having an affect. Need proof outside of the headlines of the day? Easy. Wade into the comboxes. Engage someone in a simple back and forth. It is nary impossible as everyone has dug their collective heels deep into the fatty flesh of their malaise. Forgive me for sounding arrogant, but it’s like trying to talk reason to a room full of pre-Kindergarten toddlers. It’s pointless.
Now before I get accused of comparing college students to ISIS terrorists, read the boldfaced print in that portion of the interview again, but do by thinking not of ISIS, but of those college student movements. I don’t know how much of the video or accounts of the confrontations at the University of Missouri, Yale or Dartmouth that you’ve read, but I saw most of them. And when I read of the storming of the library at Dartmouth in which protesting students yelled at their peers who were only there to do what college students usually do—study—and demanded that their peers stand and chant along I got an ill feeling. And when those same protesters then got in the faces and screamed horrible things and threats at those students who refused to stand I did get ill. Because anyone who has studied the history of fascist countries has seen that behavior before. It started with students in Nazi Germany. It evolved into much worse. The Taliban took it even further, putting a gun to the back of the heads of those who did not stand in solidarity with Islam or renounce Christianity. Then they pulled the trigger.
People, we have seen this before. Too many times to count. Don’t tell me I’m going down a slippery slope. We’ve already skidded far below that slope’s bottom.
The West is a body that is sick, if not approaching its deathbed. ISIS, the worst sort of Islamic extremism, is simply filling the void.
There is a new book out called The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, written by Michael Walsh. It is currently the #1 in Education Reform & Policy on Amazon. I used to read Walsh for years when he wrote for the National Review under the pseudonym David Kahane, but I’d lost track of him. Earlier I referred to Cultural Marxism and Critical Theory. So what is that exactly?
The Cultural Marxists of the Frankfurt School believed economic Marxism would fail because of the resistance of the working classes. They believed Marxism could only ever be achieved by undermining the institutions, all of them. They began what they called the long march through the institutions. Who would have thought even a few years ago that the Boy Scouts would go gay? The Frankfurt School would have.
Critical Theory is central to their plan. More than likely, whether you knew it or not, this is what you got in college and probably even in high school. This will sound familiar to you, as familiar as the bromides you now hear from the students at the University of Missouri. Critical Theory seeks societal transformation through the emancipation of mankind from all forms of slavery. The slavers happen to be the Church, the family, and the free market.
When you hear someone badmouthing American history that is Critical Theory. The incessant intonations against the Crusades? Critical Theory. The patriarchal family, rape culture, multiculturalism, political correctness, speech codes; all Critical Theory. The idea is to make you question everything and in the questioning institutions fall.
It was after I spent some time thinking more about the book’s subject, the protests at universities and the Islamic terrorism/Syrian refugee issues that I read this soon after the Pink Sisters finished their Midday Prayers:
It seems that there is an almost ubiquitous denial of anything sacred in our contemporary world. In our day, a very false opinion is popularized which holds that the sense of religion implanted in men by nature is to be regarded as something adventitious or imaginary, and hence, is to be rooted completely from the mind as altogether inconsistent with the spirit of our age and the progress of civilization. How striking it is to note that the propagators of these ideas, who claim to be themselves so highly cultured, receive with such credulity the prognostications of computer programming. Everybody believes that there is ‘Someone’ ruling the universe, ‘Someone’ who is not bound by human knowledge or technology. They have no faith, but they do have superstitions.
 Pope St. John XXIII, Encyclical, Mater et Magistra, 15 May 1961, 214
 St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 587
From In Conversation with God, Vol. 5, by Francis Fernandez, page 517
I believe with all my heart that unless man returns to God, the faith and the traditions of the earliest Christians that all will be lost. The modern citizen of the West lacks that ability because it is no longer taught or revealed to him or her. No longer do we live in a society where it can be taken for granted that the person you’re talking to has any inkling of the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments or what the Beatitudes involve. There is no common or agreed-upon foundation upon which to build consensus or understanding. Our house is literally built on sand. We suffer from poverty, but not of a solely economic nature. We suffer from a poverty of spirit and attempt to fill that emptiness by singing that most inane and vapid of post-modern anthems, “Imagine” by John Lennon.
But Western man still wants to believe in something. He has retained his capacity for superstition and myth, misguided though they may be. But his stories are nothing more than comic books and his songs pop ditties compared to the incredible legacy and canon of thought and song bequeathed to him. He has laughed at, scoffed at, and disowned the heritage left to him, brushing it aside as mere foolishness and folly.
Will Western men and women drink once more from the one true stream of life? Or will they return to comic books and refuse to have their thirst for life, purpose and meaning quenched because of stubborn pride?
The future of our nation, and in turn the world itself, will be determined by their answer.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I—could I—would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience.
The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to—do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis. Chapter 2.