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The Courage to Hold Our Spiritual Fortress

By David Warren

In celebrating the dignity of labour, we honour the unsung living and dead who have built what we are, who have made our wilderness fruitful, through myriad tasks both paid and unpaid. Each of us is a link, weak or strong, and there is none on whom, in some moment, our entire civilization might not depend. Labour is for the strong, and whether man or woman, young or old, our duty is to build our strength however we can: mentally, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Strength, in the service of the good, is also what we have been building, in the grand collective labour. There is no structure so strong it can't be demolished, no armour so thick it can't be pierced. What we see in the built environment around us is always transient, and will pass some day. What must not pass is the spirit of the builders, communicated from parent to child, and friend to friend. The most beautiful thing that can be built, is the spirit of the person who has lost everything: who wipes away tears, and starts again. It is an ugly thing to make excuses.

But those are just words; I promised you a slog.

The column I wrote last week, on the two Fox News journalists who were captured in Gaza, and agreed under duress to make a propaganda video, in Arab garb, taking new Muslim names and announcing their conversion to Islam, has got a lot of response. I know I've hit a nerve when my inbox overflows.

Let us be clear on one fact. Such videos have serious consequences. They are used as a powerful propaganda weapon across the Muslim world, to show aspiring fanatics how spineless Westerners are. And that video in particular was priceless, for the degree of prostration it exhibited. We cannot dodge this issue.

Most of my correspondents were favourable to what I wrote, but many, including several who said they generally agree with my views, were horrified by the tone of that column, which they found merciless and uncharitable. This is as it should be: I meant it to be hard. I meant to cut with a dull blade through the glibness with which we accept treason and apostasy, as a small price to pay for one's personal safety.

I refused, in that column, to take the easy way out, to lard it with empathy for the captives' plight, and other concessions to moral relativism -- let alone to add the excuses the captives themselves have made, on behalf of their captors and the society that encourages them.

Nor did I find space for this worthy sentiment, echoed by many readers: "I hope that you and I are never in such a situation, for neither you nor I, though hopeful, can be particularly certain that we would stand."

Others said gloatingly they look forward to when I am captured by terrorists -- a few even volunteered to perform the experiment -- to see how courageous I will be, when I am asked to deny everything I believe in.

To which I reply, that I cannot know how I will behave in such a situation, until I am in it. But if I capitulated, from fear of pain and death, I would be deeply ashamed of what I had done. And this shame would haunt me for the rest of my life. I would not be appearing all smiles on TV, I would not be accepting the accolades of my colleagues, and I would surely have the decency to contradict anyone who dared call me "brave" for saving my own skin.

And if I had, in that moment of cowardice, denied Christ, I'd be praying for forgiveness as Judas should have prayed. Unless, like his, my soul had been broken by the gravity of my act.

This is no mere ethics quiz: I invite my reader to ask himself what he would do in the situation those Fox journalists found themselves in. Not what I would do -- I am just the messenger -- but what you would do. And before you give any quick or clever answer, recall that our whole civilization stands or falls on what you decide. Do you, do we, have the courage to hold our spiritual fortress? Or will we, in the time of trouble, give everything away?

*

UPDATE. Since I wrote this column, the quantity of "lynchmail" on this subject, has overtaken the quantity of "fanmail". Several bloggers have taken it upon themselves to lead the jackals, with pieces that first misrepresent what I wrote, then speculate sarcastically about my personal history, on the basis of no personal knowledge. Of the 600 or more letters I've read, frothing about "how easy it is for you", all but four or five are choking with expletives, profanities, & obscene suggestions. All, without exception, are pure ad hominem.

It is interesting that only two of these hundreds of letters appear to be from women, & those two perhaps the least uncivil. The women also signed plausible names; whereas most of the men, spittling on about MY masculinity, conceal themselves behind such Internet nicknames as "Oregon Boy", "Crikey Crav", "Weasel God", "Zamboni Driver", "The Sarge", &c.

Another interesting thing. Many of these writers claim military service records, almost always "in the Marines". A couple dozen say they were "prisoners in Vietnam". But not one of these self-advertised war heroes signs a plausible name, or mentions his rank or unit.

Though tempted by so many requests, I will resist providing a raconteur's history of my own past encounters with physical danger (in Vietnam, Cambodia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, & the West Bank, though never in Gaza). True, I've been held under duress only once, & that was just for money. (I escaped without surrendering any, BTW.) Nor would I whine, that at age 53, & with a slipped disc, I am unlikely to be recruited by the United States Marine Corps, to go fight in Iraq.

Why are such details, while entertaining in themselves, irrelevant to the argument?

Because I didn't condemn the two Fox News journalists for simple cowardice. I condemned them because they didn't think twice; because they took capitulation for granted. I condemned them because they showed no regret for having committed apostasy & treason, regardless of how they were pushed to it. Because they sold out the West without a second thought, & continue to sell us out now that they are free. That is what I found so starchless.

If, after their release, they had shown the slightest contrition for what they had done, I would never have bothered to write about them. For they are merely topical examples, of a much larger phenomenon, that fills my inbox from day to day.

The expression "men without chests" comes from C.S. Lewis, incidentally, as "straw men" from T.S. Eliot. These are not my inventions: they are what is called "allusions". The terms don't refer to cowardice alone, but to something broader & emptier.

One last point: a direct answer to the people who asked me, plainly, "What would you do in the position of those Fox guys?"

I would pray, ask God to guide me, & give me the strength to obey. And on my own account, I might think: "I'm getting off easy. I've lived this really reprobate life for half a century, & God is letting me off if I can just get the last twenty minutes right. It's time to cheer up."

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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