The terror of our time is terrorism. All is not right with the spirit of our land and we shudder. Perplexed the best and brightest ask, why? Years ago as a graduate student of social anthropology I was taught that the language of the problem always contained the language of the solution. This was not meant to be optimistic about problem solving but rather pointed to an often overlooked limitation of western consciousness. Our solutions are simply expressions of our language and another way of re-stating our problems. Some are now beginning to understand how giving up freedom for security in order to fight terrorism can create its own form of terror.
Another aspect of this problem of language or consciousness is that if you limit your ‘vocabulary’ in expressing the problem your solution will also be limited by the same constraints. In other words if the expression of the problem is simplistic, politically correct or inadequate so to will be the solution. The ‘factors’ that create or encourage terrorism are not simply economic, political, social or cultural. There is a real spiritual dimension to the root causes of terrorism that few tackle. Robert Sibley goes right back to the ancient Greeks searching for the proper language to describe how young men growing up in our privileged society turn to terrorism;
The ancient Greek philosopher recognized that the most dangerous creature in the world is a young man of limited education. His Socratic dialogue, The Republic, explores the need to educate young men to noble purpose, training them to direct their desires — their spirits, in other words — to the well-being of the city. For Plato, a young man’s “spiritedness” informed his character and conduct. Unless that spiritedness was educated for worthy ends it could easily degenerate into conduct harmful to the city. That is to say, young men can be turned to both good and evil. The spiritedness that prompts them to noble purpose can also be misdirected to violence if their psyches are miseducated. (Young men can be turned to good or evil – Robert Sibley, Ottawa Citizen Published: Monday, April 29, 2013)
To consider this possibility, we as a society would have to tacitly admit that all is not well with our spirituality. We would have to admit that what we pass on to our youth by way of education is lacking in the very area that preserves and creates civilization – nobility of heart, mind and soul. Sibley continues; “Unfortunately, modern secular society can fail to provide young men with a positive sense of meaning that satisfies their spiritedness. The acquisition of technological trinkets and vicarious living through video games is not a meaning-filled life. Some, as we’ve seen, turn to violence to provide them with a sense of purpose.”
Our great leaders and educators in the west have failed to see what others in far away remote places understand and have used with devastating effect upon us. Our consumerist and secular culture has created a spiritual void in our young people and the vacuum of it invites the worst of spiritually driven passions to enter in. Jesus spoke of this kind of spiritual invasion of empty places; “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest, and finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first. So shall it also be with this wicked generation.” (Matthew 12:43-45)
But few western academics would risk their reputations by admitting even the possibility that in our rush to secularize and empty out our public institutions of Christianity, we may have thrown out something that could make us and our children noble. No political leader would ever risk his or her vote by even remotely questioning the wisdom of ‘secularizing’ not only the state but the spirit as well. Sibley cites Philosopher Eric Voegelin who coined the word “pneumopathological” to describe the moral insanity of the self-righteous world of the terrorist. Our society must struggle with these ideas lacking as it does the most important critieria for identifying moral insanity in individuals; “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15,16)
Jesus taught us this but who listens to Him any more?