Thursday, January 8, 2015

Paris Reduced to Terror

Though politics is one of my interests, it has not been a subject addressed in this weblog, which is dedicated to the implications of Catholicism and theology. Therefore, this comment, something of a 'public theology,' shall be interested in the events harbored in the names of justice and God, and how these events might be unfolding in the recent occurrence of devastation in Paris.

The West receives the news from Paris with horror and terror, and tends to define the killing of journalists as terrorism, and further proof  that Islam wishes to impose Sharia law wherever it pitches its tent. While terror might properly characterize the emotional response to this occurrence, terror might not be the most effective way it is finally interpreted. It seems to me that, at least from some perspective and for a moment, Sharia law was in force in Paris, enforced by 3 agents authorized by jihad to exact, for that moment, justice, a justice served by the deaths of journalists exercising the Western idea of freedom.

The West has not gained much from interpreting the enforcement of Sharia law as acts of international terror. The West's mode of response has been to take its collective head out of the sand in order to use that sand to fill up all the oceans of trouble, an act which it thinks will eradicate that trouble. But the West continues to drown and jihad continues to drink sand. The West asks 'what justice is this?' and jihad asks 'what freedom is this?' Indeed, to ask the questions is to answer them. There is no calculus satisfactory to  both Islam and the West, no equations of 'terror' with 'justice;' for in this collision of cultures, 'terror' sees itself on the one hand as 'freedom' and 'justice'; and on the other hand, 'justice' sees itself as 'freedom' and the absence of 'terror.' All meanings are lost in translation.

The events that are released by highly charged terms such as God, justice and freedom are always already troubled, if not just plain trouble. All too often, people die and the earth is scorched in the violence of the crusade, carried out in the names of God, justice and freedom. The crusade is troubled by the antagonists who both hold to acting in the names of God, justice and freedom, and Islam and the West seem quite satisfied with themselves to embark on a strategy in which the only survivors of their antagonism will be these names for whom there will be no one left to utter. The nihilism and insufferable self-indulgence of these antagonists make the same claim to truth, justice and the [choose your metanarrative] way.

Perhaps the problem is one of a poor memory. The antagonists have forgotten that a God that is not love is not God; that the only justice is the justice to come and that justice is the justice of the  God to come. And that God to come will be a God of love for whom violence is a very peculiar choice, a very odd exercise of free will.

There are short term memory deficits at work as well. All three monotheistic faiths preach that God made humans in his image and likeness. So, when the enforcer's of Sharia law looked into the faces of their own image and likeness and called out their names, they also called out the names of justice, freedom and God and shot them all in the head (witnesses to the massacre agree that the executioners called out the names of each victim before meting out the justice of Sharia). Murder in these names is the murder of the events harbored in these names. The murder of a single human being is the murder of God, which is the distancing of humanity from the event of the God to come.

What has violence to do with God? The Christian crusades ended when Christianity finally looked to the log in its own eye before removing the speck in the other before it. Christianity saw that its violence was not authentic; was not of its own substance, but a contamination from without that had entered its very fabric. It pulled out many fibers, but, apparently, Christianity is not immune to memory problems;  strands of violence wreak scandalous havoc to this day. Is this, I wonder, what we really mean by 'Christian realism?'

The calls from justice, freedom and God, the calls from the justice, freedom and God to come, are difficult to discern when the strands of violence remain in the grand tapestries of religion (and politics, too). And it is clear that the only justice, the only God we will ever get is the God and justice that visited Paris, so long as the names we give God and justice are our own names. So long as the images and likeness we see in each other are fear, hate, terror and horror, then our justice and our God will be the God and justice of fear, hate, terror and horror.

What can be the resolution to such hardness of heart? Metanoia. The tilling of the earth in the heart, its softening, its readying to receive the other, will open hearts to receive the image and likeness of God. When we look into each other's faces and call our names, we must look more deeply through the surface of the deep, into waters from which we all come. It is here that we meet the God to come in the ongoing creation of the world. We really need to begin again, and start a new story. Viens, oui, oui.

Paris reduced to terror gives us nothing new, more of the same; that story is old. The West has not visited atrocities upon Islam and Islam is not exacting justice in the face of the injustices of the past. That's the narrative gasping for air. Paris needs to be raised to the power of the infinity of God, through and despite the finitude of the human. When the crusaders of yesterday wielded swords, the world had the luxury of time to discover its engines of violence. The crusaders of today wield weapons very unlike swords. Jihad knows no borders, knows no sovereignty but Sharia, knows no limits on the force of Sharia. Time is running out: God and justice hang upon the discovery of the engines of violence conspiring to reduce God and justice to the cinders of empty names, and the rest of us to the nothing before creation.

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