Sacralizing Violence

In the middle of writing an article on “political theater” for The Catholic Thing (yesterday morning your time, gentle reader), a friend emailed. He called attention to the shootings of police in Dallas, thus inspiring me to check the news. I’d been trying to avoid the news lately, having enough misery from other sources; when possible, I like to budget these things.

My impression, from the lofty height of political non-involvement, has been that everywhere is turning into Baghdad. I don’t mean by this only that our world is becoming more violent; or that the violence any reader might recognize can be restricted to physical carnage. Violence is spreading in many forms, and as ever, the worst of them may be spiritual – violence, or given human limitations, attempted violence against God.

For with the politicization of all human life in the West comes de-Christianization, and vice versa. I have put that baldly so the reader may view it clearly.

The post-modern, de-Christianized or de-Christianizing mind, is not apt to grasp this. We are materialists and utilitarians and, by extension, bureaucrats. We work with filing systems that are alphabetical, not hierarchical.

We put things in separate, but theoretically equal files. Politics goes in this file, religion goes in that. Even economics are routinely sequestered from politics; and every question of policy has its very own folder. There is considerable irritation – I often found this as a newspaper pundit – when someone mixes the files. How dare I intrude into the political file with a religious observation!

But the political files keep expanding, so that in order to make room for them, the non-political files need to be thrown out.

Often, I found that my editors (usually the harshest of my critics) were not anti-religious; at least not “personally.” Once I had one who even went to church. Though Protestant, he wasn’t “prejudiced against Catholics.” Or so he declaimed. I soon noticed that his real objection was to my messing with his filing system. The op-ed was for politics. Religion was on another page. The fact that it was now a non-existent page did not concern him: that had been someone else’s filing decision.

My point, that day, so far as I recall it, was, curiously enough, that politics were intruding on what had once been more-or-less universally understood as the religious domain – the public religious domain. That the profane was impinging on the sacred. (The issue was “gay marriage.”) And in the course of that, “sacralizing” itself – or given the usual qualification, trying to do so.


The person (or persons?) gunning down policemen could not have had a plan to slaughter all of the police in the United States. Such people may well be trying to instigate violent chaos. They certainly intend murder, if not suicide, too. But their act is chiefly designed as a gesture – a piece of political theater, a profane “liturgy.”

We may not like this theater – I would hope we do not – but that does not make it less theatrical. Nor does it remove such acts from the larger sphere in which political posturing is performed in less outwardly violent ways.

The grandstanding all about us is, nominally, political and not religious. That is partly why our more liberal politicians cannot bring themselves to confront radical Islam (for instance). Instead they condemn “terrorism,” which can be interpreted as a political crime. They can easily imagine a world in which one political entity is opposed to another, and therefore “declare war” on the Daesh. They cannot imagine one in which religions clash, in defiance of the political principle of “multiculturalism.”

I mean this seriously: they can’t imagine it. From Obama down, and well through the ranks of conventional Republicans, religion is a thing of the past. It no longer fits in their filing system. They are perfectly sincere in refusing to recognize “Islam” as a valid political category, because it is religious. The violence must therefore have purely political causes.

And they are sincere, too, in condemning any opposition to the religion, Islam, as an offence against multicultural tolerance, as a form of “racism.” This put them in the quandary of Orlando, where two of the Democrats’ reliable constituencies – homosexualist and Muslim – were in obvious conflict. The homosexual victims must blame anything else but militant Islam for the slaughter. They must not split the “progressive coalition,” which is post-religious by definition.

The current politicization of Islam, I have said myself, is a deformation of religious Islam. That is to say, it is an adaptation of Islam to conditions in a world that, far beyond the West, has become post-religious. It is a world in which the religious gesture – oriented by nature to “Allah,” or “God” – is replaced by the political gesture, oriented explicitly to one’s fellow man.

In that sense, which must seem rather arcane to the liberal mind, “terrorism” is certainly a deformity of Islam. That Islam might have a record of turning violently political, whenever it feels threatened, would be beside the point. It also has a record of turning peacefully religious when it does not feel threatened. Today, it confronts a highly politicized world.

Of course I know nothing yet, perhaps never will, about the specific shooter(s) in Dallas. One thing I can guess from this distance is that he or they had been schooled in “terrorism” by the present masters. This includes the use of violence as “political theater.”

Bush in Iraq, Obama in America, have subscribed to the same secular or (as I prefer to call it) profane and post-religious dogma. It is that “liberal democracy will save us.” Those who won’t subscribe are a puzzle to them. What can they be thinking?

My own view is that Christ can save us. But I think, in order for Him to do so, we must try to get increasingly out of His way.

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: