Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Enemy Within, Part I

The Little Wicked Wicket Gate

During the weeks following the events of September 11th, 2001, the lines of the following poem by Edwin Muir ran repeatedly through my mind:

    The Castle

All through that summer at ease we lay,
And daily from the turret wall
We watched the mowers in the hay
And the enemy half a mile away --
They seemed no threat to us at all.

For what, we thought, had we to fear
With our arms and provender, load on load,
Our towering battlements, tier on tier,
And friendly allies drawing near
On every leafy summer road?

Our gates were strong, our walls were thick,
So smooth and high, no man could win
A foothold there, no clever trick
Could take us, have us dead or quick.
Only a bird could have got in.

What could they offer us for bait?
Our captain was brave and we were true...
There was a little private gate,
A little wicked wicket gate.
The wizened warder let them through.

Oh then our maze of tunneled stone
Grew thin and treacherous as air.
The cause was lost without a groan,
The famous citadel overthrown,
And all its secret galleries bare.

How can this shameful tale be told?
I will maintain until my death
We could do nothing, being sold;
Our only enemy was gold,
And we had no arms to fight it with.

We had indeed been at ease that summer, with our arms and provender (and aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines) protecting us from our enemies, the ones who seemed no threat to us at all. But a bird did get in, and the famous citadel was overthrown...

To make the analogy complete, what would stand in for our only enemy, gold? The easy answer is "black gold"; that is, we allowed our security to breached by the Visa Express program -- arranged for the benefit of Saudi Arabia -- that admitted a number of the 9/11 hijackers into the United States. However, there were larger issues at work, ones that made us vulnerable in 2001 and keep us vulnerable today.

An aggressive spiritual force is working its way through American culture, one which might be called Orthodox Secularism. Though it lacks any belief in a Supreme Being, it otherwise has all the characteristics of a religion, and it is regnant in academia, the media, and large swathes of the "permanent government". It manifests itself in well-known ways, such as the demand for the removal of religious symbols from the public square, or the promotion of abortion-on-demand, but there are other, more subtle, ways in which it affects the conduct of our defense against the Great Islamic Jihad.

Three general areas of this new religion are worth pursuing:

1. The Theology of Doubt

Orthodox Secularism requires that adherents subscribe to radical doubt. We must doubt that our culture is superior to any other, that there are any moral absolutes, that the free market is a way to create wealth, etc. Not all propositions are open to doubt -- otherwise the system would de-construct itself, like Postmodernism -- but the major cultural pillars of the West are all questioned.

This is a legacy of Communism, a credit to the proficiency of the KGB. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union poured enormous clandestine amounts of money into the left-leaning and radical organizations of the West, in addition to feeding them propaganda and disinformation designed to discredit the principles and institutions of the Free World. Communism is gone, but its legacy lives on in our weakened institutions, which continue to peddle the same old nihilistic themes.

This makes the West constitutionally reluctant to take on our Islamofascist enemies, to name them for what they are and counter them in the realm of ideas.

2. Race Trumps Everything

As many politicians (especially Republican ones) know, it is impossible to say certain things in public about race. Statements are constrained by the shibboleths of the age of Orthodox Secularism, with many thoughts on the subject now considered doubleplus ungood, at least for white people.

Thus, the fact that virtually all acts of terror perpetrated since the Twin Towers fell were committed by Muslims, most of them from the Middle East and South Asia, is well-known to just about everybody. But if mentioned publicly it immediately throws the speaker open to charges of racism, and it cannot under any circumstances be used to track down terrorists or to prevent another horrific attack.

If one steps back from the scene to regard the situation, it can hardly be viewed as anything short of mass insanity.

Race trumps border security, preventing us from stanching the flow of illegal immigrants into this country, a flow which may well conceal al Qaeda members. Race trumps any attempt to track the terrorists down once they are in the United States. Race trumps airport screening, leaving us with only random searches; in other words, avoiding giving offense to people with our "racism" is more important than preventing the deaths of hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of innocent people.

The internment of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War is used as the model of "racist" behavior to avoid. But, as Michelle Malkin has demonstrated, the internment decision was a reasonable one to make in wartime, given the fact that a large network of Japanese spies was known to be in place in the United States. It is only with the luxury of hindsight, and through the lens of political correctness, that this can be seen as racism.

It is racism if we seek to profile potential terrorists by their nationality or appearance. It is racism if we draw attention to their repugnant religious beliefs. It is racist to expect immigrants to assimilate to American culture and adopt American values. Any attempt to combat the Islamofascists within our own society simply reveals our inherent racism.

3. Toxic Tolerance

A liberal democratic country like ours is an open society, which requires that its citizens be tolerant of those who differ in their appearance and customs. Tolerance becomes toxic when it demands an acceptance of behaviors which run counter to the basic rules of liberal democracy and undermine its very existence.

If radical Islam demands our tolerance and respect, then we must abide by its tenets and institute an intolerant and illiberal polity. In the name of multiculturalism, Canada has officially sanctioned sharia. But, when applied, sharia will impose legal principles, such as restrictions on the weight of women's testimony, which violate Canada's own legal principles and constitutional norms. Problems like this cannot be wished away in an attempt at multicultural harmony; the tolerance of intolerant cultural institutions generates irreconcilable conflicts.

If the West were not defending itself against the Great Islamic Jihad, such issues might remain interesting intellectual puzzles, suitable for reasoned academic debate. But in the context of a post-9/11 world, they are a recipe for cultural suicide.

Throw open the doors! Welcome all who wish to enter, even those who strive to slit our throats!

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   

Orthodox Secularism is a spiritual force, drawing on the same wellsprings as religion but without acknowledging religion. This suggests the question: what is the religious analogue to the collective doubt, self-hatred, and impulse to self-destruction as outlined above?

One word: Sin.

Orthodox Secularism does not include evil in its theological structure, and it does not admit the existence of sin. But our human nature cannot be denied, and human beings are inherently aware of their sinfulness, consciously or not. Environmentalists rely on this: in their dogma, humans are inherently destructive of the environment, and sin against Mother Nature.

The feeling of sinfulness can lead a religious person to confession and absolution, or it can be projected onto others. Since Secularism denies sin, only the latter course is open -- sins are committed by corporations, Republicans, America, the West, or even humanity itself.

This unconscious and unacknowledged sense of sinfulness generates the tenets of Orthodox Secularism and breeds a reluctance to act against the evil forces which threaten us. It is the wizened warder who has let them through.

A larger question remains: can this battle against the enemy within be fought without a religious regeneration in our own culture? Does liberal humanism provide enough spiritual might to counter the Great Islamic Jihad?

If not, then we have no arms to fight it with.


Dymphna said...

Your delineation of the problem facing the West is being played out in many European countries even now.pen, active and shrill appeasement continues to pick up speed. One has to admire the Dutch for attempting to come to terms with it, late as the hour seems for them.

And we best not say "it couldn't happen here..." You can see the water trickling under the door with the advent of p c "security" at our airports, and the short-sighted political power plays re the porous borders in our Southwest.

Maybe the Boy Scouts would be targeted less if their motto was "See No Evil" instead of "Be Prepared."


truepeers said...

Heh, I've just been profiled! Baron thought, just because I had commented here before, he could email me to come again. Am I offended? Uhh... no. As members of a free-wheeling consumer and information society, we are getting used to profiling of all kinds. Naturally, we might feel a moment of discomfort if we are profiled by the police or other authorities. But why? In large part because we are living with a traditional model of civil rights in which the paramount goal has been to treat everyone the same, and to minimize the conditions that could entail anyone being singled out for anything but positive benefits.

But this discomfort is largely perceptual and will not remain constant over time. In the present situation, why shouldn't we, whatever kind of person we are, want to encourage those in charge of our security to make the most efficient use of their limited resources? E.g., if most of the break-ins occur in a certain part of town, then that is where you want the cops doing extra patrols. In any case, the mind of a cop is always profiling; it's inevitable, so the question is not really profiling, but how should cops treat people with respect. Perhaps it is time to reflect on the freedoms we enjoy within an information society, much of whose economic success depends on profiling and treating people differently to better serve us as, and to make it easier for us to become, distinctive individuals; we should get used to the idea that it is a good thing to be profiled as a means of facilitaing and increasing all kinds of positive exchange and human interaction. Thanks Baron.

I always thought one of the wackiest aspects of the leftist critique of modern systems of authority was the facile Foucault-style critiques of state policing as being the imposition of some regrettable regime of surveillance and punishment. What sane person doesn't prefer to have authoritative strangers policing the community, as long as they are professional and ethical, as opposed to the old-fashioned method where one was policed by neighbors, cousins, uncles, etc.? The left needs to grow up and stop hating cops. They are our friends, precisely because they're not our friends.

However, I must offer a note of criticism. As a Canadian, I fear Baron has unfairly characterized my entire society when he says we have officially sanctioned Sharia. What has happened is that in one of our ten provices, Ontario (keep in mind that in our rather decentralized federation, the provinces have responsibility for family law and much else), the government has commissioned a report on the possibility of allowing Sharia law to be used in family law arbitration, according to a presently used model under which Jews, and I believe Catholics, are allowed to use religious officials and principles to help mediate their family law disputes.

The report's commissioner, a former left-wing politician, did the PC thing, and said, allow Sharia courts, but insure they are not allowed to abrogate the rights of women, etc. etc. (Leftist elites always prefer to avoid the appearance of conflict when they are in the driver's seat: everyone can just get along as long as we imperiously deny that conflict is an essential aspect of human affairs.)

Now whether or not the Ontario government adopts the report remains to be seen. I hope not; in any case, there are a lot of people, including a lot of Muslims, who are against the idea - largely in the name of protecting women's rights - and are being vociferous about it. It is rather heartening, in fact, to see a strong Muslim voice against this proposal, as we often hear that moderate Muslims are not standing up in public to criticize the more fundamentalist among their co-religionists.

There is a lot of pc genuflecting to immigrants in Canada; but even most of our leftists are sophisticated enough to know that rights and causes can clash - even if they hate, publicly, to have to admit it and to take responsibility for making real choices and taking a stand. Such conflict is increasingly apparent in the present situation because Muslims are speaking against Sharia, and so we can expect to come to the fore the strongest pc element in our culture: the great propensity to see women as historical victims of men. Aggressive men are seriously frowned on almost everywhere in Canada (in this respect Canadians are perhaps at their most different from Americans), save on the hockey rink. So, behind the dour pc masks - our great critic, Northrop Frye, once said of southern Ontarians that they were the most brutally inarticulate people on the face of the earth - I doubt there is any signifiant sympathy for tradition-bound Islamic men. Whatever nods to Sharia may be made in future, I do not expect they will engender a system that will have much power to pressure women into agreeing to systems of arbitration that are clearly stacked against women's rights.

So much more to say about your post, Baron, re sin and secular freedoms, but I will have to leave this for another time.

Baron Bodissey said...

truepeers -- you're right about the police. No one can hold those ideological stereotypes about the police if they:
1. Know a significant number of police personally, or
2. Ever need one badly, and have him show up to do what only the police can do.

It was #2 that helped convert me from a liberal to a tool of the fascist state...

As for Canada -- thanks for clearing all that up. But I don't think Canada can ever guarantee that sharia be implemented, AND that the rights of people under their Constitution will always be respected. The two are simply irreconcilable. And I have my doubts that any Muslim who wants sharia will accept the idea of dropping selected portions of it to please the infidels.

Dymphna said...

Well, TP, here's another bit of Yank ignorance: I had no idea that Northrup Frye was a Canadian. I just *assumed* that anyone as erudite as Frye must be English. OTOH, I'd never assume he was an American, and for the same reason.

Here's a good quote from him on education:

Northrup Frye's Ideal StudentIn the universities of the immediate future, the student's problem, despite all the limitations that universities will be forced to put up, will be not so much the difficulty of getting to college as making sure that when he gets there he will be educated and not merely processed. In the nature of things no instructor, however deeply interested in students, can take initiative in this. The student must cultivate all the virtues of education, and the virtues of education are mainly social vices. He must become anti-social; he must make an unmitigated pest of himself in sitting on his professor's doorstep armed with questions; he should have the kind of maladjusted unpleasantness that goes with the genuine student's mentality. When a good student displays arrogance, it often means that he is pulling away from the kind of well adjusted social behaviour that leads to security, popularity, and death of the free mind (72).

Thanks for the serendipitous reminder about Frye. I'll send this on to the Baron's son who is pursuing a degree in Chemistry. He sometimes finds the pursuit to be a difficult slog thru dark forests and sloughs of despond. This will cheer him on...meanwhile, I think I'll check back on Frye. It's like finding an old friend I'd lost track of...


truepeers said...

D, I like your Frye quote. I imagine he is thinking about his own youth in terms of the arrogant anti-social path to education. As someone who discovered Frye during my rebellion against professors and secular orthodoxies (which are refusals to grapple with the fact that whether you are a "believer" or not, you cannot fully understand humanity without trying to understand why we are religious from the start) and finding myself now an outcast from academe, I wonder at the difficulties of giving advice to young students. At times of emotional duress, you need a good shot of the truth (such as Frye's first-rate study of the Bible can give); but alas, sometimes a taste of the truth demands you give it further attention, and this causes more social problems before it eventually sets you free in difficult circumstances.

There are many riches in Frye's formal and informal writings - including many such comments on the student and the university - which are currently being published in a multivolume collection. But ultimately he showed some limits in turning his literary insights into a full-blown anthropology. I don't think Frye fully grasped myth in terms of its anthropological function, as did Rene Girard. You might be interested in a recent book, William A. Johnson, Violence and Modernism. Ibsen, Joyce, and Woolf (University of Florida Press, 2003) that discusses Frye and Girard at some length and focusses on the theme of sacrifice, which we were previously discussing.

Frye was from New Brunswick, and studied at Toronto and in England (Cambridge or Oxford, can't remember). In New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, Ontario is often referred to by its early nomenclature, Upper Canada, as a way of remembering our pre-Confederation colonial differences, and denigrating UC's pretensions to lead the post-1867 nation. Hence Frye was in regional character in pointing to Ontario inarticulacy. In western Canada, especially BC, people boarding airplanes sometime joke about "going to Canada", i.e. Ontario/Quebec. Such are our regional affiliations, which I suppose, prompted my response to Baron's comment on Canada embracing Sharia. It is our most pc province that is doing the experimenting, as usual.

hank_F_M said...


Well said.

Every once and a while I point out that the religion in the US that most aggressively “proselytizes” is Secularism. It’s proponent’s want it to be the established religion, taught in public schools etc. And of course the goddess of Tolerance will brook no tolarence of any effective competition.

jj mollo said...

I think that it's as easy to generalize about secularism as it is about the Christian right. There are many flavors. There are many Christians, even, who believe in keeping all the activities of government rigidly secular. The viewpoint arises from the true discrimination against Christianity, or branches of Christianity, that has been practiced in other places and in the past. I personally think we need to relax a little, but some people do feel really threatened.

Baron Bodissey said...

jj -- I'm well aware that secularists vary widely, but I still think generalization is useful. And some Christians do not just want to secularize the government; in effect they want to secularize Christianity itself. Talk about radical doubt! I'm an Episcopalian, so I know whereof I speak. I watched the same process in my son's private Quaker school. You would be amazed at what was allowed there, all in the name of peaceful "tolerance".

Aggressive, orthodox secularism seeks to push all expressions of non-secularist faith behind closed doors, preferably with double locks. It pursues its goals with missionary zeal, through organs such as the ACLU and People for the American Way. It is the religion that dare not speak its name.

This post was more focused on the driving force behind it (the unacknowledged sense of sinfulness) than on the diverse ways it manifests itself.

Eric said...

oooooo....I like that. The analog to sin. While I'm not completely sure that one can say all secularlists do not admit the existence of evil, your analogy articulates something that I've always been aware of, but have a hard time explaining to others.

Baron Bodissey said...

Eric -- it's true that I'm making a gross generalization here. I've certainly read atheist commentators who do acknowledge the existence of evil. The funny thing is, they mostly seem to support the way the USA is waging the war against the Islamofascists...

jj mollo said...

A lot of liberals are ashamed of the actions of the US, past and present. They feel that this collective shame deprives us of the moral authority to act agressively in the world. I wouldn't characterize it as a sense of sin, but it's an interesting way to look at it. I understand their point of view, and share it to some extent. I wish we were better. I wish Abu Ghraib had never happened. I wish the Cherokees were still in Georgia. I wish I could believe Michelle Malkin's theory on the internment. But in the end, we have to recognize that there are degrees of wickedness, and we have to choose. The blood on our hands is nothing like the river that flowed from Saddam's hands.

Baron Bodissey said...

jj -- I think we may be coming to the same conclusion, but from different directions. At a time when religion was still widely practiced and almost universally experienced by people, wickedness was understood to come from human sinfulness, and the struggle against it was the effort to line up with God. The first task was to recognize sin in yourself, and resist it; then you turned to combat it in the wickedness around you.

From an entirely secular point of view (when God either doesn't exist or is irrelevant to these matters), there is no metaphysics with which to describe, approach, and surmount this process. Evil does not have an a priori existence; people are rational actors; bad behavior is due to a damaging environment; etc.

But humans are spiritual creatures, and intuitively sense the presence of sin in themselves and others. We Christians have a Redeemer to help us recover from our own sins, to know that we are forgiven. Then we have the luxury of at least attempting to forgive others.

I submit that a completely secular person has no real way to purge his own sense of sinfulness. The only way to relieve that unbearable feeling is to project it outwards onto others, individually or collectively. Michael Moore (whether cynically or sincerely) has tapped into that great well of projection in secular society. America or international corporations or right-wing zealots are doing bad things and hurting the good people of the world!

I agree with you that there are degrees of wickedness, and that common sense and a modicum of lucidity tells us that the wickedness of ourselves is far less than that of those we fight.

Baron Bodissey said...

Fred -- I agree that atheism is the greatest leap of faith of all. A believer might come to doubt that his version of God is not the right one, but an atheist has to to be certain that all versions of God are wrong. That's quite a leap.

And he owes the certainty of his un-faith to what? Divine Revelation? Ha!

erico said...

Rene Girard's identification and analysis of the scapegoat mechanism pertains to the 'secular religionist's' practice of his faith as much as any historical religion you may care to study. And Girard's critique of the PC left is devastating. They pride themselves precisely on overcoming blind prejudice, and are busy removing the splinter in their neighbor's eye while suffering blindness due to their own projection/scapegoating. According to your analysis, because they deny sin as operative within themselves there is no point in turning within. Not sure how accurate that is in the day to day reality of the 'secular religionist', but certainly when the mob mentality becomes overwhelming, under the force of crisis.

As the conversation covered faith, science and Canada, I'll mention Bernard Lonergan, since I've heard him associated with Rene Girard though I never found out why. Anyone here have any information on that connection? Much obliged.

Baron Bodissey said...

Erico: Dymphna will be on later to comment on Lonergan, since she says she is very familiar with him.

My contention is that there is a fundamental condition in being human, which Christians call "sin". There are probably ways of conceptualizing it in completely secular/scientific terms, but sin seems to cover it and is well-understood by most people.

Most people feel their inherent sinfulness, even if they are not conscious of it or don't acknowledge it. But religions which place it in a spiritual framework give us a chance to redeem ourselves from sin and to obtain absolution.

Orthodox Secularism lacks this capacity. In fact, in its present PC phase, it denies sin; it asserts that all children are born good, and are only diverted into bad deeds by society through poverty, racial discrimination gender bias, etc., etc. Self-esteem is shoveled into them when self-respect is what they need, since self-respect is earned through the effort of overcoming difficulties and triumphing over one's failures. Self-esteem, on the other hand, is what mothers give their infants for simply existing. Maybe that's why today's adolescents seem so infantile in their attitudes and behavior. Gang-bangers typically score high when tested for their self-esteem index.

When sin in oneself is denied, it must be projected outward onto the Evil Other, which process tends to lead inexorably to the Holocaust, the Gulag, and Pol Pot. God help us all.

erico said...

Thank you for your reply, Baron.

I've actually tackled a portion of Lonergan's Insight (and Method in Theology), though that was a decade ago. A major premise of which is the compatibility of faith and science, through an analysis of the human knower doing the knowing. More recently I discovered Girard's thought, and appreciated his anthropological underpinnings, which he would defend as being entirely within the sphere of scientific and academically respectable enquiry. So, I can see a connection between the two thinkers. On some website or book jacket there was a blurb about Girard being in the Lonergan school of thought, and I was hoping to find out a bit more. Google isn't turning much up.

It seems to me that to discuss sin in non-religious terms, perhaps at the level of comparative religion, as you are doing, may have a similar utility in speaking to the world. The Catholic formulation that grace builds upon nature would seem to allow for such a dialog, although paradoxically, sin isn't any 'thing', rather it is a privation of the good. In this fallen world, though, we constantly run up against it. Also, latent in affirming self-respect as opposed to self-esteem, though I certainly agree in large degree to your analysis, is the Pelagian danger. A bit of a tightrope to walk, here.

God Bless.

Freedom for Islam said...

The ideology of the Founding Fathers is lost forever. America has lost her way now and will never get her innocence back again. I feel very sad about that. They were once heroes, and believed God, had given them the right to rule this country and build a new free world of free speech and freedom of religion. Now dark forces are pushing these rights to one side. Now the USA is the underdog. How did it happen?

Greed is her biggest enemy and this is the reason for much of her economic woes. When we lose honour, we have lost everything.

Today we hear that the USA forces cannot help Japan in their hour of need with a boiling reactor, because they dont know how to do it. If they cant, who can? The Japanese people have suffered so much from USA with Hydrogen bombing of Hiroshima. A gereration suffered horrible injuries from irridation and slow death. Yes, Japan was the enemy. Now, mother nature is fighting back to save her home, the only one we all have. And the pro nuclear activists and supporters have gone all quiet. Will mankind ever learn the lessons of history before it is too late? We should take the time to remember, that a car can run on water. H2O. We dont have to rape the underworld of gas and oil. We do not need the Muslims oil. It will be difficult at first, but we should begin working on this problem. Why make them weathy, they dont share it with their own people. They slaughter them. Without mercy. Muslims have more to fear from another Muslim than they do from us.

This I think, may be the beginning of strange and explosive events on our planet. It began several years ago. It will settle down again, like things do, and then the dogs of war will be reborn and, to a new generation, who have no memory about it.