In the wake of last weekend’s terror attacks in Paris, Europe continues to fall deeper into her spiritual and cultural torpor. As I write these words, the continent is still absorbing the shocking news that some 129 people will never see the sun rise again. For the second time this year, terrorism has struck at the heart of France. However, this time President François Hollande has declared a state of emergency and ordered all borders closed.
But more than France, the entire continent of Europe has been embroiled in a bitter border debate. It was sparked by the refugee crisis brought on by the rise of ISIS in the Middle East. And now, at least one of the Paris assailants has been identified as a refugee. The debate has vacillated between two opposing poles. Just after the Charlie Hebdo attacks, people demanded the borders be shut. Then, the dead body of a young child washed ashore at the edges of the continent and people clamored for them to be opened. With Paris in flames, we have returned again to the first position. It would seem that each new incident in this tragic narrative pushes Europe from one pole to the other.
At the heart of the debate about Europe’s borders, the refugee crisis, and immigration policy stands a question about the continent’s identity and its responsibility for the plight of Middle Eastern Christians wanting to seek safe refuge among us. For as long as they have been living side by side with radical Muslims, they have borne a bullseye target on their backs. But, this history goes back to the foundations of Islamism. For our part, we give no heed to this history, forgetting the stated goal of the reconquest of Europe in the fifteenth century: to wrest the continent from militant Muslims and return it to the Christian faith at its origin.
How did we come to this point of forgetfulness? When did we become lethargic about our spiritual heritage and start to submit to those who overtly want to impose their Sharia Law? Our forgetfulness is contrasted by the spiritual motivation that ignites in the heart of ISIS members, which is the same that rocked the Iberian Peninsula under the Umayyad caliphate in the eighth century. This last invasion took until 1492, when the Catholic monarchs pressed the Muslim hordes out of Granada. Yet, many Europeans have forgotten this history.
How long will we take to remember our past and to recover Christian Europe?
At this hour, it is hard to predict because our forgetfulness is complicated by the fact that radical Muslims are already within our borders, seeking to re-take our cultural identity. We allowed them to enter and become French, British, or Portuguese. No longer externally distinct from us, their only differentiating feature is their hate for the ‘infidels’ that welcomed them. It is a hatred they nourish toward this decadent society we insist on calling civilized. But, western civilization is depraved, not by them, but by us. We cannot even call it an authentic culture anymore.
In the interest of relativism and multiculturalism, we have lost that culture.
Europe was established on a Christian foundation. Benedictine monks and others preserved the faith from Barbaric corruption, transmitting it through a vibrant liturgical life and libraries of illuminated manuscripts. The Middle Ages were not dark ages, but an epoch transformed by the light of faith. As the reconquest of Europe was unfolding in the fifteenth century, the Catholic Church was establishing the first university on the basis of the harmony of faith and reason. It was not simply a stone construction, but an investment in truth and spirit. Simultaneously, kings and popes were raising architectural wonders of art that still last today. The Portuguese were discovering India and setting sail for Brazil. Christopher Columbus was arriving in the New World. With its roots anchored in the fertile soil of this Christian heritage, fifteenth century Europe could proudly celebrate its solid social advancement.
According to Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), Europe is a Christian concept. The founding charter of the European Union tacitly acknowledges this: “conscious of its spiritual and moral heritage,” Europe “is founded on the indivisible, universal values of human dignity, freedom, equality and solidarity; it is based on the principles of democracy and the rule of law. It places the individual at the heart of its activities, by establishing the citizenship of the Union and by creating an area of freedom, security and justice” (Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union).
How did we come to forget this tremendous heritage? There is no surprise in finding jihadists at our doors already. The dictatorship of relativism, taking root here since the French Revolution, reduces Christian education to one option among others in a supermarket of subjective credal positions. Yet, we are not free and equal brothers unless we live under the same Father’s roof. Nevertheless, while radical Muslims keep diverging from His paths, we become nothing more than Abels.
The radical Muslims are deep inside our society. They are in plain sight, telling everyone openly what they aim to accomplish, and advancing their message through coercion. In a bizarre way we are the reason they act in daylight. There is no need for them to hide when we cover our own eyes. And besides looking away from terrorists killing 200 children, we accuse our own, the crusaders of old, who gave their lives to protect this Europe we are naïvely taking to the edge of destruction. And so, we are also Cains.
While the macabre dance between Abel and Cain accounts for much of our forgetfulness, there is something else that we must confront. Europe seems to find some sort of comfort in this hell-on-earth that ISIS is spreading so quickly. Even if Paris is just across the street, we somehow believe that it is far enough not to hit us. However, at the same time, the Catholic Church’s teaching on Hell is a huge nuisance. We can quiet our fears about ISIS by turning off our televisions and convincing ourselves that the threat it poses cannot touch us. But, we are unable to shut down our conscience. We cannot forget the afterlife, which the Church reminded us about just a few weeks ago on the Solemnity of All Saints.
Deep down in our minds we know that Paris’ attacks are our fault. But we keep ignoring this truth, seeking any milligram of happiness that anesthetizes our guilt. From the Church’s teachings, we seem to forget the one, which says that “only in God will he [the man] find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for” (CCC, 27). And what we do not learn, we do not teach. So it is in Europe.
By indulging our fetish for spiritual and cultural forgetfulness, we have permitted the coming-to-be of a hell on earth under the reign of ISIS.
Is this the world we want our children to inherit? Is it the one we ourselves wish to inhabit? Do we want to live accustomed to the terror of radical Islamism? We were supposed to teach our children the way of Christ and so far we are leaving a great void in them. Where there is no God, there is room for the devil. We are habituating our youngsters to live under a dictatorship of relativism that permits the most grotesque horrors of Islamic fundamentalist violence.
There is one problem, however: Now, it is knocking on our door. And, we must answer it.