Friday, July 15, 2016

Liberty (check), Equality (check-mostly), Fraternity (uh-oh)

So yesterday was Bastille Day, a French holiday which I have never been inclined to celebrate (I think my fellow New Orleanians are nuts for holding Bastille Day festivities). So many terrorist acts (of the 18th century sort) were justified in the name of "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" that the whole era of the French Revolution (which came out into the open with the storming of the Bastille) was called "the Reign of Terror" or simply "the Terror." July 17 is the anniversary (and feast day) of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne, who had offered their lives "to quell the Terror." (Within two weeks after the sisters were guillotined the Reign of Terror was over.) Terrorism is not a brand-new phenomenon.
The martyred nuns of Orange also met death at the guillotine.

I found myself wondering, as the news from Nice began flashing across social media, whether in some way the ideals of "liberty, equality and fraternity" can flourish when they are stripped of their origins in the Gospel. After all, until Christianity began to influence cultures, nobody pretended (or even dreamed) that people were all equal, all brothers and sisters, all capable of participating fully in society as co-creators of public order.

Even in Christian cultural settings, transforming social structures to conform to the whole truth about the human person was (and remains) an excruciatingly slow process, but the Terror tried to do it by force while wiping away the entire Christian substructure that made those values conceivable. And now that just sort of seems normal.
Whether the pressure is subtle (vote this way or you will be ostracized as a "hater") or overt (bloody violence and terrorism), "fraternity" is the first value to crumble to dust.

It's not that I have a developed response to these events, but I can't help believing that what we really need to do to respond to "the Terror" of our times is return, personally, each one of us, to a profound encounter with Jesus in the Gospel. If our parishes were visibly havens of the liberty, equality and fraternity that St Paul wrote about in the first century, maybe we could begin again to transform the world around us.
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In the meantime, here is a very interesting reflection on the phenomenon of terrorism and how it allows relatively powerless agents to provoke disproportionate anxiety and trigger imprudent government response that plays into the terrorists' hands (and increases the overall perception of violence and a society spiraling out of control): The Theatre of Terror

Here are a few tidbits:

"Terrorists undertake an impossible mission: to change the political balance of power when they have almost no military abilities. To achieve their aim, they present the state with an impossible challenge of its own: to prove that it can protect all its citizens from political violence, anywhere, anytime. The terrorists hope that when the state tries to fulfil this impossible mission, it will reshuffle the political cards, and hand them some unforeseen ace."

"The less political violence in a particular state, the greater the public shock at an act of terrorism. Killing 17 people in Paris draws far more attention than killing hundreds in Nigeria or Iraq. Paradoxically, then, the very success of modern states in preventing political violence make them particularly vulnerable to terrorism....
"In order to assuage these fears, the state is driven to respond with its own theatre of security. The most efficient answer to terrorism might be good intelligence and clandestine action against the networks of money that feed terrorism. But this is not something citizens can see on television. Once its citizens have seen the terrorist drama of the World Trade Center collapsing, the state feels compelled to stage an equally spectacular counterdrama, with even more fire and smoke. So instead of acting quietly and efficiently, it unleashes a mighty storm, which fulfils the terrorists’ most cherished dreams."


Anonymous said...

One of my favourite characters in literature is the good bishop in Les Miserables set in the historical time you write about at the beginning of your blog. This book should be essential reading for all bishops in the Catholic Church, reminding them of the importance of down-to-earth, kindness and compassion (whilst standing up for, of course, the truth of the Church etc ..). Victor Hugo wasn't - in public at least - devoutly Catholic. But he did the Catholic Church a real service in writing this book, above all, for creating the good bishop (and please God may he be rewarded for it). Ed, UK.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

Right you are, Ed. As Catherine of Siena said in the 14th century, "If you are what you should be, you would set the world on fire!" A call for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sister. God bless. Ed