Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Fragile Artefact

A people without a common rule of law cannot live. It destroys itself in anarchy, which is a parody of freedom, its exaltation to the point of abolition. When every man lives without law, every man lives without freedom.

Spirit of the Liturgy, 18

Reflection – Well, I guess this is timely. It has been a week of anarchy in the world—mob violence, murder, chaos. While the political way ahead in Egypt, Libya, Iran, Syria is far from clear, and the proper response of US and Canadian governments is far from clear, I hope we can all at least join together in fervent prayer for peace in these and in all parts of the world. Lord have mercy on us.

We do see in this situation, however, the true value and indeed necessity of social order, rule of law, basic structures of police, military, court systems, and the constitutional framework into which all these fit. When this collapses, when law is violated and the structures that enforce the law co-opted to serve the political ends of whoever is exerting power of office today, then anarchy is upon us.

And with anarchy, eventually the violence of the mob. And this is not some far away (yet all too close) Middle Eastern phenomenon. Lawlessness and mob violence are growing in North America, too. When people in power ignore the laws of the land for political expediency, when the rich and the powerful seem to be exempt from the petty rules that govern the rest of us, when the rules and regulations themselves appear to breed like Tribbles, each new set of regulations born pregnant with the next batch, so that it is probable that both you and I are breaking some law or other right now… when the law is broken, in other words, it is only a matter of time before people take to the streets in sheer anarchic revolt.

Underneath the political issues is a moral and spiritual question. Namely, are we as a society concerned with forming people to be good human beings, or merely good units of production? Are we as a society concerned with passing on the virtues of justice, equity, self-sacrifice, concern for the common good… or are we content with reducing people to the level of cattle to be herded, exploited, and kept happy with ample feed?

I know—I’m starting to rant here. Sorry about that. (It’s been a while since I’ve ranted, hasn’t it?) But a society that has no concern for the moral fiber of its citizens is a society on its way out. A nation, a civilization that throws pornography and light entertainment, cheap food and drink at its people, while seeing them fundamentally as ‘human resources,’ sources of capital and labor, is a civilization sowing the wind and about to reap the whirlwind.

Basically, if you treat people as sub-human, don’t be surprised when they behave sub-humanly. And when the music stops, the money starts to run out, the food and drink is a bit scarcer… well, a people who have never heard of, let alone been formed in, an ethos of justice and shared sacrifice and concern for the common good may not take this too easily. Today there are mobs in Egypt and Libya… tomorrow or the day after it could be well be Ottawa, Toronto, New York, Washington.

Civilization is a fragile artefact, only preserved at the cost of unceasing effort, education, vigilance. And rule of law, the deep sense of being a nation of laws and not men, of absolute adherence to the constitutional order of things, and of the absolute principle of equality of persons before the law, and of the absolute rights to life and liberty of all human beings in law and in life—this is the sine qua non of such vigilance. This is why abortion is the greatest destroyer of civilization today - once we deem some human beings to not have a right to live, we have ceded the field to anarchy.

Well, we need to pray. And we need to do all we can to form ourselves and those in our care in the virtues of justice and care for the common good. Without this, the barbarians are not just at the gate; they are within; they are us. Lord have mercy on us, and let us pray for our troubled world and all its needs.


  1. Syria, a few days ago I read "More than 2,200 people have been killed since the Syrian government's crackdown on protesters began in March, says the UN high commissioner on human rights". Syria...A country of 26 million, mostly arab (11% christian).

    Then yesterday the embassy attack, and death of the embarassador and three others. In Egypt, the American flag at the embassy was briefly replaced with a black Isalmist flag.

    On 9/11, 11 years after the Isalmist terrorists killed thousands of Americans...and the war that reulted from that still does on...

    People close to the situation than me are saying that what really happened is more related to a stirring of the fervor of people who believe that violence is warranted is the name of their religion, even when it is no more than a criticism of that religion, Isalm. Whether authorities in Egypt or Libya sympathize with the attackers or are unwilling or unable to take action action them is a matter of great importance...but what happened is really more related to the beliefs that have been indoctrinated in many Muslim countries.

    This time the deadly protests were set off by a movie made in the US where a filmaker calls Isalm a cancer- and depicts Mohammed in a ..shall we say...very critical way...

    These reactions in fundamentalist countries are not new... There were several Americans killed in Afganistan recently over a video of soldiers descreting the Koran... These are people who believe that our war is with Isalm, not extremists whose interpretations of their religion is a misguided excuse for violence and war.

    For me, it is hard t understand this point of view. I ma an American and grew up with the freedom to choose my religion and allow allow to do so. There are those, however, who are not aquainted with such ideals- freedom of expression- freedom of any kind.

    Your last line helps me..."all we can do is to form ourselves and those in care in the virtues...without this, the barbarians are not just at th gate, they are within, they are us".

    God bless you. Please keep writing and praying for me and all of us

  2. I have had a related conversation with two different people this week. At the time none of us was aware of what happened in Syria.

    People are getting used to being treated like a tissue. Use it and throw it away. We have forgotten that we, and those around us, are made in the image and likeness of God...and need to seek that perfection.

    In traditions where being made in God's likeness is not part of the teaching at all? We can see in history what can happen...and what will happen. It is already happening.

  3. Rant away, Fr Denis, you raised very valid points that too many choose to ignore from our distracted lives.


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