Facebook has only friends and no enemies. Real life has friends and enemies. If you belong to the Facebook generation and know only “friends” in the virtual world who “like” you, you can never imagine “enemies” in the real world who “hate” you. In real life there are enemies who want to kill you. They will kill you in the metropolitan conurbation of Paris or in the salubrious seaside town of Nice. They will kill you in a Bohemian nightclub or in a bland airport terminal. They will kill you with bombs or with buses. They will kill you on Yom Kippur or on Bastille Day.
If you are a Westerner and you are living your life on Facebook, your response is bound to be that of utter and profound denial and disbelief. How can there be such grotesque evil in such a wonderful world? For over three hundred years your Enlightenment worldview has brainwashed you into believing that Homo sapiens is a species specialising exclusively in moral good. Your world is a fantasy world of boy scouts helping elderly women across the street.
In your world of Alice in Wonderland, evil only happens on TV screens in far-off Rwanda or Rawalpindi where barbaric black Africans or uncivilised brown Asians hack each other to death. In your world of the Enlightenment, progress is inevitable, science is invincible, democracy is unshakeable and individual rights are impregnable. Let’s sing ‘Glory to man in the highest’ and there will be peace to all people on earth. Your culture has debunked the pessimistic Augustinian archetype of original sin by steamrolling it with the Enlightenment myth of ‘every day in every way the world is getting better and better.’ Why believe the prophet Jeremiah’s rather gloomy diagnosis of ‘the heart as deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?’ if, after all, ‘man is born free but everywhere he is in chains,’ as Jean-Jacques Rousseau himself put it?
Here’s the bad news. You will have enemies. Recognising this is a high-voltage shock to your system if you are a liberal and a love child of the Enlightenment. With the Beatles you’ve been puffing your weed and strumming your strings and you ‘imagine there’s no countries/It isn’t hard to do/Nothing to kill or die for/And no religion too….’ As a good liberal you ‘imagine all the people/Living life in peace….’ You make love, not war.
And then a bomb blows away your bliss. A lorry runs over your slogans of Liberté, égalité, fraternité and your only feeble response is virtue-signalling using Twitter hash tags, candlelit vigil services and Elton John’s Candle in the Wind. You hear more utterances of empty bravado from politicians you voted to power and who keep promising you a ‘new dawn,’ a ‘new horizon’ and a ‘new world’. The French President repeats what he has said before: “France is strong. And she will always be stronger, I assure you, than the fanatics.” Really, Monsieur Hollande?
If you are a Western Christian your liberal worldview is further reinforced by a woolly, lukewarm, wishy-washy, and watered down gospel of ‘niceness’ especially if you have had a staple diet of sermons from left-wing bishops and goody-goody clergy in the Church of England promising you global peace, climate change and a world free of conflict. Even though these clerics claim to believe in a book called the Bible—which is replete with sin, evil, and conflict—these are themes they have sanitised on an industrial scale for your consumption so you are not too disturbed when you pop into your ‘nice’ church on a Sunday morning for a ‘nice’ service. Your tolerant, touchy-feely, kum-ba-yah singing woman vicar will find it unsettling to tell you that in the Bible, God, God’s people—Israel, Jesus, St Paul and the disciples, all have enemies! And if you pray the prayers of the Bible—the Psalms—you will discover they are full of enemies and contain bloody prayers for God to obliterate your enemies!
The problem is that Westerners have forgotten ‘that there has ever been a category of human experience called the enemy.’ This is what philosopher Lee Harris argues in his controversial book Civilization and its Enemies. Harris is writing in the context of the threat of radical Islam to the West. Liberals live in a fantasy world when it comes to the concept of an enemy. Liberals believe that for every problem there is a solution, for every conflict a resolution. The way to achieve this is to sit down, negotiate, and do on balance what is best for all. There are no enemies, only people who are fighting because they have been deprived of something and if you provide that something they will become your friends. Such thinking, says Lee Harris, is an illusion that uniquely exists only in the West.
Why have we been reduced to this? I can think of at least three reasons. First, Western culture is now based on the flotsam and jetsam of moral relativism. There is no right or wrong. It is all a matter of perspective and preference. In a culture of relativism you lose your moral fibre and are no longer prepared to take a stand for what is right, just or true against what is evil, corrupt and false.
Second, since the Second World War, the Western world has bred a generation of wimps who are risk averse and only too willing to cower before power. Lee Harris says this is one of the greatest threats to our civilisation particularly in the face of militant Islam. Don’t forget the Duke of Wellington’s shrewd remark that the Battle of Waterloo was won on the playing fields of Eton, he writes.
Third, young people in the West no longer have heroes to inspire them. When Professor Allan Bloom asks his students at elite Ivy League universities ‘who their heroes are…there is usually silence, and most frequently nothing follows. Why should anyone have heroes?’ Instead of being inspired by heroes, they are intoxicated with celebrities, he writes in his book The Closing of the American Mind. Heroes are willing to die; celebrities are dying to live.
So what do you do? Like British tourist Lucy Nesbitt-Comaskey you can complain that the Nice terror attack ruined your shopping trip. Or you can purchase a copy of Lee Harris’ Civilization and its Enemies and post it to your local politician. Or, dare I suggest it…you might even consider picking up the Bible and becoming acquainted with an alternative narrative of the way the world works—a world where enemies threaten to disrupt, derail and destroy all that is good in God’s created order.