“Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war.” – Psalm 144
It has been 14 years since that morning of shock and horror that so many of us will never forget. I recently heard a bishop give a homily about how, as he sees it, the United States is continuing on a pathway of decline on the global stage that started with our failures in Vietnam, and continues with our inability to stabilize Iraq and the surrounding region, and includes something that not so long ago would have been unthinkable: an attack of innocent civilians on our native soil. For him, what happened on 9/11 was simply a manifestation of how far we have fallen from power.
That may or may not be true. One thing is true: war continues to evolve, as it always has historically. We continue to be at war, whether we like it to admit it or not. But the war today is one without the comfort of defined national boundaries and recognizable armies. It is a war without a “front” or a tangible battle line of engagement.
In this war that we are caught up in, the prized targets are what one side defines as “civilians” to use the classic category: housewives, businessmen, college students, tourists, bus drivers, spectators at sporting events, and the like. These are the people who can be blown up or shot because they do not see the attack coming until it is too late.
The attackers are frequently our neighbors, at least by geography, though we live worlds apart ideologically. They live in another “nation,” even though they live across the street. And their intention is to bring down all around them the fabric of Western Society, as they perceive it, not caring if they die in the process. The goal is to cripple the basic routines and customs of our everyday way of life by choking it all in fear.
And the attackers are fully aware that eventually, there can never be enough metal detectors and checkpoints and barriers because they will just keep finding new ways to shatter the stillness of what is commonplace. Most recently it was a train in France, and by some stroke of luck, that attack was stopped. But there will just be more. And they know it. And we know it, too.
The causes of the war are deep and complex, but the fault lines of it all revolve around faith, secularism, and contrasting lifestyles. I remember a few years after 9/11 there was a full page add in the print edition of the New York Times by some atheistic organization (they are all the same), with a big picture of the burning towers and a headline that read: “This is what religion causes.” Of course we are all supposed to believe, as a result, that the answer to these problems is to become more secular and to eradicate religion. Then there will be peace.
My thesis is that what these people are at war against is the secular and decadent Western culture. And it seems to me that the more secular we become, the weaker we get, and the harder they fight.
In a war of this nature, without a clear army, territory, battle front, or “side,” what is the place of classic Catholic Just War theory which revolves around the necessity of using force to protect the innocent in our fallen world? Who can say? Is a new Catholic response needed? Maybe not.
Curiously enough, another vaguely defined “front” in this war is demographic. And what has laid this fault line bare, most recently, is the refugee crisis and response in Europe. The European nations are trying to do the right thing by letting all these displaced people in. But the quiet admission is that doing so is going to change the face of Europe forever, as hundreds of thousands of non-Christian, non-Europeans come pouring into the heart of the continent. To put it plainly: it will be the largest and most peaceful Muslim invasion of Europe in one sweep that history has ever witnessed.
But the “invasion” has been happening for years, though at a much slower (and therefore tolerated) pace. Which would not be such a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the trickle and now torrent of newcomers is taking place while the European continent has made itself childless and post-Christian, and they have therefore signed their death sentence as a people and culture. The identity of Europe is not strong enough anymore, of its own accord, to withstand all the waves of migrants. And both sides are fully aware of that.
I am very gratified that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has ordered the churches and native populaces to do the Christian thing and take in these displaced peoples… peoples displaced by the culture wars happening in the Middle East (not just in Lower Manhattan). But it’s worth noting that our recent Popes have all but ordered the Europeans to have more kids, too, and to get back to their roots. To put it bluntly, the new war that we are in is being lost in the bedroom.
Peace is evolving, too. It is not so much about secure boundaries anymore. More and more it is about, and must be about, an absence of fear. And here, again, the Christian Gospel is instructive. We do not define peace as the absence of war. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit that comes from a well-ordered heart, rooted in filial trust of our Father, and fearing nothing other than His holy will.
A peaceful person is therefore at home embracing his faith, and embracing the best (not the worst) of our Western ideals, and doing so calmly in the face of the threat of death, even the possibility of death while riding the train to work. And a peaceful person is not afraid to have children and to embrace the future in a Christian culture. That is true peace.
Europe is not at peace because they are not at peace with themselves. America is not far behind. But the good news is that the Gospel is true in every era, and in every time of war. And therefore it is never too late to find true peace.