‘Stay, Stay Your Sacrilegious Hands!’
Attacks on churches by Islamists in Europe are now commonplace. In 2018 there were 877 acts that damaged church property in France. There are no official statistics for 2019 church burnings, but there were 1,063 anti-Christian attacks. More alarming still are the attacks that have occurred during the course of the riots that have recently gripped America: between 10 and 16 July there were half-a-dozen attacks on churches, and there have been many other incidents of iconoclasm as well. Places associated with, and devoted to, St Junipero Serra have been particularly targeted.
These events remind us that the fight of certain strands of ‘liberalism’ with the church is far older than that of fascism and communism. It is, of course, a notoriously difficult term to define or to pin down, but we have little choice but to use it. ‘Stay, stay your sacrilegious hands!’, wrote Wordsworth to the revolutionaries in France – for it was by their hands that buildings, institutions and heads fell one by one. Wordsworth was at first enchanted by the revolution, but became horrified by the atrocious violence committed and blood shed in the name of that new, secular ‘Trisagion’: equality, liberty and fraternity. This is necessarily bound up with the history of today’s liberalism and we should do well to remember it. Sacrilegious hands are once again tearing down buildings and smashing statues in indignant, often iconoclastic, rage.
An at least partially concerted effort is being made, on more than one front, to oust Christianity from the public forum. It is as if liberalism had taken up her ancient quarrel once again, and this time with a renewed and sharper determination to finish it. These renewed attacks on institutions and values have, of course, been happening for many years now. An over-sexualised and individualistic society, in which social media have a very powerful influence over the young, has helped to draw people far away from the realm of the spiritual and, now that bonds of such a kind are at their weakest, certain actors have moved on from surreptitious inveigling to outright hatred. There is no longer a need for them even to disguise the fact that the Church is a target, if not the target, for destruction.
Recent attacks in America have often been connected with the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement which seems to be in good measure made up of well-educated young people. The ideology is not, however, the preserve of youth. Just as the revolutionaries of the past were armed with ideas provided by the philosophes so too are today’s revolutionaries equipped by many of today’s intellectuals. A 2016 study published in Econ Journal Watch considered the voter registration of faculty members in selected social science disciplines (and history) at forty leading American universities. The study found a ratio of 11.5 Democrats for every Republican in these departments, but with a relatively wide variation. In economics the ratio was 4.5 to one, while in history it was 33.5 to one. The young are often being inculcated at university.
Throughout history the Catholic Church has stood as an impediment to what some in assorted eras have deemed ‘progress’. Communism, fascism and liberalism have all clashed with her and her ancient traditions. Fascism and communism both fell. Liberalism will not prevail. There is a not inconsiderable portion of overlap between liberalism and the teaching of the Catholic Church, but at the same time some very fundamental differences. The most striking is the elevation of the individual above all else (in practice, if not always in theory). This has severed man’s association with the collective and his meaning is necessarily found in the collective. Communism and fascism were in a sense only attempts to find it (the collective) again and both had disastrous consequences. Identity politics and the Marxist agenda within this is yet another attempt to fill the vacuum. As long as the Catholic Church opposes the internal contradictions of our liberal society it will remain a target for destruction, but the Church, ‘that frame of social being, which so long/ had bodied forth the ghostliness of things/ in silence visible and perpetual calm’, will endure.