Saturday, May 7, 2011


Years ago, longshoreman-turned-philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote an important book entitled The True Believer, described as an analysis of the mind-set of the fanatic. His insights are still (and especially) relevant today in the face of the global conflict of ideology between radical Islamists and pretty well everyone else in the world. A sobering statistic: if indeed 90% of all Muslims worldwide are humble, peaceful, faith-filled and devout, still—10% of a billion is a lot of Islamists.

The conviction of a fanatic is that his view is so right that all other views, to whatever degree they diverge from his, are therefore not only wrong but deserving of being stamped out as dangerous, or heretical, or evil. By definition, then, the view of the fanatic alone is true. There is no possibility that a fanatic can be 80% correct and therefore have tolerance for those who are also correct to some degree: the true believer is always 100% correct, and so his opponents (or those whom he perceives as opponents) are 100% wrong. It is a clear view, simple to understand, and uncomplicated by the subtleties and ambiguities that if faced could imply the need for some vague sort of compromise with wrong—this the true believer can never tolerate.

All this is a long way of saying that one anti-terrorist raid is a far cry from the elimination of terror, and (to steal the title of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book) there is no future without forgiveness (and reconciliation, and healing).

We see Islamists as fanatics; do we realize we are seen the same way by them? They were dancing in celebration when 9/11 happened, and it offended us to the bone; what do they see when we celebrate the killing of their leader? They reckon us to be economic imperialists who also are purveyors of pornography (aka, Western ‘culture’). On what basis do we refute those charges as false?

I have no magic wand for ending the enmity. But I am convinced that violence and counter-violence will never end it.  But I do want to end this blog-post with a quote from the Catholic Liturgy, the Opening Prayer from the "Mass for Peace and Justice":

God of perfect peace, violence and cruelty can have no place with you.  May those who are at peace with one another hold fast to the good will that unites them; may those who are enemies forget their hatred and be healed.

Let the Church say AMEN!

And please enjoy the movement below from the Gloria of Antonio Vivaldi--the movement "Et in terra pax" (and peace on earth).  For those who listen carefully, you will hear the tension of notes that clash briefly and then resolve--Vivaldi's way of showing, musically, that the peace of Christ is "not as the world gives peace"...


  1. We shall then continue to create little islands of peace. As our Lord once did. But peacemakers are often put to death - made examples of suffering. Biblical history from the beginning of creation demonstrates the strength of evil. When evil is counteracted by peace-loving people, they are overwhelmed by the launchers of evil. It is our legacy then, that our Christian belief of martyrdom is the only open pathway to heaven. It is this demonstration of courage that must be our model. In homilies, you have spoken of the attribute of boldness. How many of us could develop a boldness that champions peace with all its side effects?

  2. I just don't see how an end could ever be reached without violence when it comes to this particular face-off in our world. When those who have made themselves an enemy of peace will not respond to anything but violence and will deal in nothing but violence, how else do you stop them? It reminds me of WWII, how could someone so set on destruction and conquest (Hitler) be stopped in any other way? When peaceful means of reconciliation (not sure of the spelling on that one) are looked upon as weakness by the ones who wish to destroy you, how else should you restore peace but to destroy those who cannot be stopped in any other way?
    I don't think it's ever right to rejoice because violence has been carried out due to necessity, like it was in response to Osama's death, but I do see a need for it in this world and I don't see that ever changing. It is terrible, but sometimes, it's unavoidable. It reminds me of a quote from Thomas Jefferson: "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants".

  3. Violence may sometimes be required (esp to defend the innocent who can be saved in no other way), but 2 things are true: it is not a matter of rejoicing but of real necessity, and the issue must be crystal clear (the argument is used by other radicals to justify the shooting of abortionists, for example).

    Then again, we have to remember that the real "Tree of Liberty" was the one on which blood was indeed shed--the Blood of the Lamb, at Calvary. How do we follow (how are we called to follow) His example?

  4. It seems like the most important part, especially in cases where violence is regarded as the only path left to take, is knowing where you stand in relation to what is right and good. Someone who is radical is definitely thinking that they are doing what is right even though they aren't so, if we are to carry out violent acts for the sake of good and in defense of innocence, we best make sure that it really is for those reasons and not less honorable ones.
    It seems that nothing worth having ever comes easily or without a price, even Jesus paid the ultimate price of his life for the sake of us, our freedom and salvation... so, the question you've left is one that I'm sure you know a much better answer to than I could, but I sure do know that however we are called to follow His example is sure to be challenging every step of the way.