Where Lent Began With A Whimper
As Lent ends, it can help to look back at how it began.
It seems that in Belgium there is a Mardi Gras-like festival for inaugurating Lent which includes dressing in drag and making fun of everything that moves.
It’s gone on for centuries, at least according to the press reports (though one is somewhat skeptical that homosexual-themed Christian-bashing raunch was really that common in Belgium until rather recently). But this year, the festivities were suddenly paralyzed by fear.
What if somebody dresses up in a burqa and makes fun of Mohammed? It’s one thing to mock the king and the Pope. But what if you mock people who have developed a reputation for killing those who mock them?
Meetings were held. Panic was in the air.
It all provided a little glimpse of the void at the heart of Europe where Christ used to be. Underneath all the brave talk about free speech there was ... nothing.
Punch through that brave talk and a vacuum hungers to be filled with whatever will fill it. Christ is supposed to fill it, but Europe has been engaged in the extended project of exorcising him for at least two centuries. The trouble is: Supernature abhors a vacuum and Islam is not modest about filling that vacuum. So before beginning a big fight between “Western secular values” and Islam, Jesus has some words of advice for post-Christian Europe:
“For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with 10,000 to meet him who comes against him with 20,000? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace” (Luke 14:28-32).
This is solid, practical common sense on the earthly level. It is even more solid, practical common sense on the spiritual level. Ultimately, it is Christ, not Mohammed, who is coming to Europe with vastly superior forces. But the decaying West is attempting a project much like Israel’s at the conquest of Canaan.
As you may recall from the Book of Numbers, Israel was commanded to take Canaan. They sent spies in and came to the conclusion that God was mistaken. So God rebuked them and told them, “Have it your way. You won’t enter Canaan.”
Then, with perfect tone deafness, Israel decided, “We were wrong. We should take Canaan.” So they attacked — and were defeated. The common thread throughout was Israel’s willfulness. Even when they appeared to be repenting, they were still just doing what they wanted and not listening to God. Post-Christian Europe’s hollow defiance of Islam reminds me of it. It’s not about returning to Christ.
After all, the European Union made it as clear as can be that any mention of Europe’s Christian heritage should be expunged from it founding document. The goal of the EU is to make a spiritual vacuum and call it “secular values.”
But those “values” only serve to weaken Europe’s ability to preserve the vacuum from aggressive Muslim encroachment. The light yoke of Christ has been thrown off only to find that the heavy yoke of shari’a is even now being fitted to its shoulders. In short, we are witnessing a culture trying desperately to avoid the inevitable consequences of the choice to exorcise Christ.
If the Biblical pattern is anything to go by (and my assumption, as a Christian, is that it is revealed precisely as something to go by), post-Christian culture is attempting the impossible: It is attempting to avoid the fruits of its sins and to cling to the exaltation of the imperial autonomous self.
Against this choice, God inevitably allows the Midianite, the Assyrian and the Babylonian to come and do his thing. Not that his people may be destroyed, but that they may be purified.
I have no illusions that any modern nation-state is “his people.” The Church, not the nation-state, is the people of God at the center of history. She is what the story is about because she is the body of Christ and he is the Lord of History. The thing is: The Lord of History is a crucified Lord.
That means we can only come to share in his resurrection by imitating his death. This does not mean “Cave to Islam.” It means “Repent and believe the Good News.” Post-Christian Europe is hoping to stave off both repentance and the consequences of impenitence.
It can’t be done. If it will not have the former, it shall certainly have the latter.
Mark Shea is senior content editor
- April 9-15, 2006