A famous Frenchman once said, “It is dangerous to be right when men of power are wrong.” This is why free speech matters. Even though Charlie Hebdo published little more than puerile smut, they have the right to be wrong so that others can have the freedom to be right. This freedom to be wrong is at the heart of Western Civilization and is the exceptional premise of the First Amendment to the Constitution which sets the United States apart from all other nations. In his famous Regensburg lecture, Pope Benedict XVI recounted the story of the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus speaking to an emissary from his Muslim foes.
Saint Thomas Aquinas with Aristotle and Plato, Triumphant over Averroës by Benozzo Gozzoli, c. 1460-1480
Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God,” he says, “is not pleased by blood – and not acting reasonably (???? ????) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”
The eternal clash of East and West is at its heart a question of whether faith and reason can coexist. The Christian view is that they can, and indeed that they strengthen each other, whereas sadly the postmodern secularists and the radical Islamists are in violent agreement that they cannot. For both of them, it can only be one or the other. In the quest for intellectual or spiritual purity, both sides defile the human person by reducing him to only half of his being.
In these extremes we see the horrors of communism on the one hand and terrorism on the other, of the barbarity of eugenics in the former instance and the barbarity of ignorance in the latter. Under both regimes, poverty and destruction flourish. The multitudes living under this oppression are diseased in both the body and the soul. Men of reason uninformed by faith and of faith uninformed by reason will stop at nothing to pursue their aims–not even the very gates of Hell.
The recent attacks in Ottawa, Sydney, and Paris are shocking enough, but consider that in the same past few months, Boko Haram, the Islamic State, Al Shabaab, and other terrorist groups have slaughtered hundreds upon hundreds of other innocents around the globe. They do not even think to spare the lives of children and pregnant mothers. The barbarians are at the gates and we must be prepared to defend not only the lives of the innocent, but also our intellectual and cultural patrimony for future generations.
The Universal Church is our only hope. In ages past, we have safeguarded the ancient wisdom and we will be called to do so again. As Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Matthew:
You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house. So let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
As the world is engulfed in chaos and woe, we must hold on to our faith, but we must also stand up for the freedom of all. A terrible wind is blowing across the land and it will only become more difficult for us to maintain that delicate balance, but we must. We have no other choice. The fate of humanity depends upon it, and upon us.