Official of Ohio State University declares that the Somali who drove his car into crowd of students, then stabbed others, was a “member of our family” and we should have “compassion for his life.” She did not explain why someone who wanted to “kill a billion infidels” deserved compassion. Nor did she express compassion for the 10 injured students, one of whom was in critical condition.
– News report
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
− William Butler Yeats, “The Second Coming”
Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
– Leviticus 19:16
Recently I picked up a book by Theodore Dalrymple. Dalrymple is a psychiatrist who worked with convicts and has insights into what causes people to remain in the underclass. His book “The New Vichy Syndrome” is subtitled, “Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism.”
The author discusses how the socialized, secularized Europeans have lost whatever minimal ability they had to oppose Nazism in the past, and now seem to have no ability whatsoever to resist extremist Islam today. I thought about what, specifically, Europeans have lost.
● Europe is filled with beautiful cathedrals, but they are almost empty. The mosques are filled, however. In supposedly Catholic France, more people go to the mosque every Friday than go to church every Sunday.
● European nations have birth rates far below replacement levels, while immigrants from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Balkans tend to have more children.
● Europeans riot because of suggestions that their early retirements be delayed or their extended vacations be shortened.
These facts are related. After all, what gives people hope for the future? For example, why do people have children? Children used to be economic assets. Boys, and sometimes girls, could be put to work in the family business or farm. Girls, and sometimes boys, could marry into wealthy families. And children could take care of elderly parents. But no more.
Now children are economic liabilities. Consider the frightening cost of the “best” pre-schools, schools, math coaches, soccer coaches, high schools, universities, and graduate schools. Even public-school students need expensive computers, supplies, clothes, and shoes. And often, adult children move away and may play little role in caring for elderly parents. Or they may move back home and want their parents to take care of them.
But economics is not the only reason people tend to have fewer children. People who are egotists want to spend their time, money, and energy on themselves. And people who are secular have less reason to have children for the purpose of transmitting their ethical values. People may have children in order to teach them to become devout Catholics, or Evangelicals, or Jews. But hardly anyone has children for the purpose of teaching them to become liberals.
Where do people find a purpose − a reason to get up in the morning, to go to school, to go to work, to look for a lifetime partner and get married, to have children, to avoid life-destroying alcoholism or drug addiction, to find a useful occupation, to do more than watch TV and play video games, and to go on living until the end of their natural lifespans?
Where do people find transcendence − something bigger than themselves?
As Dalrymple points out, people find purpose in religion or work, and preferably in both. But what has already happened in Europe, and is now happening in America? Religion is becoming weaker, and work is becoming less meaningful. Europeans remain apathetic while extremist Muslims become more aggressive. But Europeans demonstrate in the streets when cash-strapped governments propose delaying early retirement or curtailing generous vacations. In doing so, Europeans reveal what they believe is really important.
Europeans, and increasingly Americans, have substituted vacation for vocation.
Ask the typical high-school or university student the meaning of “vocation.” You will hear “job,” or “occupation,” or perhaps “profession.” But very few will know that the meaning is related to the words “vocal” or “vocalize,” and is equivalent to “calling” − that is, something we are called to do. Of course, if you ask the meaning of “calling,” you will probably hear, “What you do on a phone.” But an online dictionary could tell them:
1. A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.
2. An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling.
These ideas would seem odd, even foreign, to young people who were not raised in religious homes. To increasing numbers of young people, a job is something they do for money, hopefully for 35 hours a week, with six weeks paid vacation, generous sick leave and medical benefits, and retirement on a good pension after − at most − 25 years, regardless of their age.
Even if this regime were sustainable, it would mean that people spent one-third of their lives in school, one-third in productive work, and one-third retired. Can civilization survive if people spend only one-third of their lives advancing it, or even supporting it? As Europeans are discovering, the answer is no.
They plan to make a living, but even if they do, is this really living? Without religion to teach that living a good life will give us hope for the Next World, and without work that is meaningful, what remains? Working for money to pay for a vacation and a flat-screen TV is motivation, but it is not inspiration.
Benedictine monks teach that “laborare est orare,” to work is to pray. But today, people aspire to do as little of the first as possible, and still less of the second. We are taking life and washing it in the hot water of socialism and the bleach of secularism. We are washing out all the vivid colors and leaving only pale, faded pastels. No wonder many people find life uninspiring, even boring.
Without a distant goal to aim for, people tend to lose their way. I learned this in the Boy Scouts, but it is true for all life, not just for hiking. But a greater problem is that it is not occurring in a vacuum. Radical leftists are seeking to control our lives on one side, and extremist Muslims are seeking to control our lives on the other.
Leftism is a powerful force, but it is not self-sustaining. We saw this in the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union, and we are seeing it in the slower collapse of socialist Europe − and in its low birth rates. Yes, leftism still can cause trouble, as witness the Democratic Party. But leftism is on a down-slope. Radical Islam, on the other hand, is self-sustaining, and it is on an up-slope.
If we lose our way, there are others waiting impatiently to take over. Trading a vocation for a vacation is a very bad deal, and ultimately a fatal one. As our current economic and social problems demonstrate, if we are not careful, we are likely to lose both.
In poker, you may win an occasional hand with no cards if you are a good bluffer. But in real life, you can’t beat something with nothing. The first rule of gun fights is bring a gun. The first rule of culture wars is bring a culture. Europe has worked long and hard to rid itself of both guns and culture, and now finds itself totally disarmed. Let us not follow this suicidal example.
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