There is reason to think that “the war to root out terrorism” may well be the last battle between the Modern and the Postmodern world. The last gasp of “modernity” comes suprisingly from fundamentalist Islam, while full–blown Western “postmodernism” comes from once Christian America. This is an odd couple.
The technologically–astute bin Laden has an almost medieval vision for the world. America, only recently known as the great “Christian” nation “under God” of the modern period, is Christian no longer. We have become one nation under many gods, as the invocations in the recent quasi–official mass prayer services to remember the victims of the World Trade Center massacre demonstrate. As a nation, we are now hedging our bets, as Israel was tempted to do, and are praying to all the gods, for maximum protection–to the gods of Abraham, Jesus, Mohammed and Krishna–democracy oblige. For ultimately, when we abandon the God who made the heavens and the earth, our help can only come from the God Demos. Vox Dei becomes vox populi.
Being at war is, nevertheless, an uncomfortable time for the US and the West, because wars are definitely modern, even pre–modern phenomena, and evil has a way of undermining the reigning metanarrative of postmodern optimistic relativism.
For different reasons, this is becoming an uncomfortable time for Christian orthodoxy, as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson quickly discovered. How do we navigate in this most treacherous of minefields, with attacks external and internal? The Western postmodern world will probably win the war, thanks to the massive fire–power of the US arsenal, however much it is caught up in this unfortunate inconsistency of having to divide the world into black and white–though we are told, most appropriately, for our postmodern times, that this will not be a “conventional war.” It is right to respond to evil, and justice must be done, but what then?
The successful end of the “war” will bring peace but perhaps the peace of planetary postmodern pagan syncretism, which will certainly include the moderate Muslim world. “Peace in our time,” as Chamberlain declared in 1939, is an irresistible goal. Said one of Chamberlain’s successors, Tony Blair, a few days ago: “Let us reorder this world [by] the moral power of a world acting as a community.” But such a postmodern global village, having eliminated “evil,” may turn out to be one of the most difficult places for Christian witness in the entire history of the Church.
While I do not agree with Jerry Falwell’s ill–placed and illegitimate comments, the press treatment is more interesting, more prophetic, than his ill–conceived remarks. This erstwhile leader of the Moral Majority was immediately labeled “the American Taliban.” How quickly times change. From flexing moral and social muscles on prime time a few years ago as spokeman of the Moral Mojority, Falwell now falls to abject whimpers of forced apology, an object lesson of the difficulty of public Christian discourse in contemporary, no–longer–Christian, America.
This interesting anecdote aside, the general direction of events helps us understand how Tacitus, the Roman historian (AD 55–120) could describe as “haters of humanity” the early, peace–loving Christians. These fine, upstanding citizens even prayed for (though not to) the emperor. They neither set fire to Rome nor blew up the tower of Siloam. Nevertheless, their faith in the God of the Bible threatened the pagan construct of social harmony at its religious core. It disturbed the world peace of imperial, nationalistic idolatry, just as the Gospel always does.
It makes one wonder if we are about to face a future in which anyone making truth claims for a religious metanarrative, other than the over–arching ideology of peace–loving P.C. orthodoxy, will be dismissed as talibanesque. Under the banner: “WTC Terror: Never Again!” such “hate speech” could be silenced–”for the sake of humanity.” Those uttering such speech could once again be branded as “haters of humanity.” It faces us with an important question: What discourse must the Church adopt in the coming days that avoids both the sentimentality of Interfaith syncretism and the evil violence of this–worldly fundamentalism, which is neverthelss faith to the eternal Gospel? Now is the time to think about the answer.