Fr. Jacques Hamel, 1930-2016
When a pope dies, he is pronounced dead by a physician, just as ordinary people are. But then an older tradition takes over. The papal chamberlain calls out the pope’s first name and asks, “Are you sleeping?” On getting no response, he taps the pope three times on the forehead with a small silver hammer. If this too evokes no response, the chamberlain announces to the world that the pope is dead.
We may consider this custom quaint, even primitive. But it does serve to demonstrate to all, including the most skeptical, that the pope is indeed dead. Unexpectedly, this tradition popped into my mind after I learned of the most recent attack on Western Europe by Muslim extremists. An elderly priest had his throat slit as he celebrated morning Mass in his picturesque church in Normandy. He was forced to kneel as his two murderers delivered a “sermon” in Arabic.
But it makes perfect sense. What are all these recent attacks but taps on the forehead with a small – or perhaps not so small – hammer?
● The London subway and bus bombings.
● The near beheading of a British soldier near his London barracks.
● The Madrid train bombings.
● The Paris “Charlie Hebdo” and kosher deli shootings.
● The Paris theater mass shooting and mutilation.
● The Nice truck running over a crowd.
● The Cologne New Year’s Eve mass rape and sexual assault.
● Four bloody attacks in Germany in the past week.
● The murder of an 85-year-old priest at his altar in Normandy.
Nor is this even near a complete list. One must consult the Internet to have any hope of keeping up with the continuing litany of barbarism. But what is the net result – in addition to dead and injured bodies and traumatized minds, that is? Zero. Nil. Rien. Nichts. Nada. Niente.
Oh, yes. French President Hollande uses the word “war” and declares a state of emergency. German Chancellor Merkel confers with her advisors. Outgoing British Prime Minister Cameron briefs his successor, Theresa May. Miscellaneous cabinet ministers meet with assorted pundits. But the words “Islam,” or “radical Islam,” or “Muslim extremists,” or “Islamist terrorism” rarely emerge from the mouths of the timid politicians, the politically correct pundits, or their neutered-lapdog media.
Years pass. More innocent civilians are murdered. More men, women, and children are forced to live in fear in their own home towns, where their ancestors have lived for centuries. More Islamist fanatics shout their warnings from the housetops. But nothing meaningful is done, or even seriously discussed.
Let me tell you a story. On the evening of July 27, 1984, my wife and I were in Westwood, a few blocks from the UCLA campus. It was just before the Los Angeles Olympics, and the streets were crowded. Suddenly we heard many sirens. A man came into the store and announced that someone had driven his car onto the sidewalk on Westwood Boulevard and mowed down many pedestrians. It turned out that the driver had no connection to terrorism.
Paramedics and firefighters were triaging the injured. There were 51 casualties, of whom 12 were critically injured and one killed − a 15-year-old girl. We had crossed that street only a few minutes earlier.
As we stood watching with the crowd, two police officers placed the handcuffed suspect in a patrol car, and he was driven away by a sole officer. I felt that the police should have been more careful. I thought that another officer should have been in the car, and a second patrol car should have escorted it.
I was wrong. The man had mowed down many pedestrians − at the time no one knew how many were dead. Despite this, no one in the crowd attempted to pull him out of the car, or throw a soft-drink can, or even yell obscenities. The police knew liberal west-siders, and correctly assumed that in the presence of violent evil, they wouldn’t do anything, or even say anything.
Is it possible to be too civilized, like a pampered dog that no longer barks when criminals break in? Is it possible to go past the point of civilization and enter the realm of helplessness and apathy, where adults act like good little children and wait for someone in authority to do something?
This question has political implications. Years of leftism have conditioned us to depend on the government to protect us, care for us, and tell us how to live our lives. But the question goes beyond politics and touches on what it means to be truly civilized. Have we reached the point that many people believe anger is always wrong? Have we confused petty anger over personal slights with righteous indignation over real evil?
Let those who love the Lord hate evil…
− Psalm 97:10
I believe that a civilized person is one who is angered by the infuriating, disgusted by the revolting, and moved to action by the intolerable. But many people believe that to be civilized, they must remain calm regardless of the circumstances, and that negative emotions are marks of the uncivilized. They believe themselves much too elevated for such primitive feelings. They are wrong, perhaps fatally wrong.
This scene from the film “Death Wish” says it best:
Paul Kersey: Nothing to do but cut and run, huh? What else? What about the old American social custom of self-defense? If the police don’t defend us, maybe we ought to do it ourselves.
Jack Toby: We’re not pioneers anymore, Dad.
Paul Kersey: What are we, Jack?
Jack Toby: What do you mean?
Paul Kersey: I mean, if we’re not pioneers, what have we become? What do you call people who, when they’re faced with a condition of fear, do nothing about it, they just run and hide?
Jack Toby: Civilized?
Paul Kersey: No!
People like that are the opposite of civilized. They are like sheep that see a lamb carried off by coyotes, but do nothing, hoping that the sheepdogs will protect them. But what if the sheepdogs are as apathetic as they are? What then?
Am I advocating a return to a primitive time when vigilantes meted out do-it-yourself justice? No. But that may happen if civilization continues to deteriorate. On the contrary, I am advocating a return to a more recent time, when a driver who mowed down 51 pedestrians would need several police officers to protect him as he was hauled off to jail.
Apathy and passivity are not characteristics of civilized people. They are characteristics of submissive people who invite an authoritarian regime to control their lives – whether it is a fascist or communist government imposed from within, or an Islamist state imposed from without. As Edward R. Murrow taught us, “A nation of sheep begets a government of wolves.”
Tap, tap, tap goes the silver hammer. Western Europe, are you asleep? Western civilization, are you asleep? America, are you asleep? Or are you dead, and just going through the motions?
Tap, tap, tap.
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