There is no post-religious rhetoric that can properly meet and combat an offense such as ISIS. What shall we say, that they hate freedom? That they have a flagrant disregard for human rights? That they are guilty of war crimes? It would be true, of course, but true in a language that that bears no weight on the theocratic perversion that currently struts its self-obsessed pageantry on the international stage.
How, in short, does one properly insult ISIS? With bombs, yes, but I want an answer beyond cynicism, one that addresses how we confront this evil for ourselves, in the language of our own thoughts and conversations, private and public. Shall we strike terror in their marrow by hurling half a dictionary of liberal-democratic insults, boldly calling them fascists, totalitarians, or if we’re really feeling testy, religious fanatics and ultra-conservative, neo-nationalist Islamist extremists? Good God, it makes one feel weak and paltry just toying with the phrases. They pull 21 Christians from their homes and, with all the preening vanity of a pubescent middle-schooler with a pathological addiction to selfies, make a video of their beheading. Somehow hurling “fascist” into the abyss seems about as piercing as “bad guy.” Suddenly our indignation that they are “intolerant” is about as striking as mentioning that they haven’t developed a taste for French impressionism.
A post-Christian world has no vocabulary with which to insult a barbarian horde — or, to be more precise, a techno-barbarian Twitter account from the more predictable bowels of Hell. We have no concept of a theology as a dominant, motivating force, no concept of divine revelation as a dominant justification — we are so busy deploring the evil-justifying tendencies in religion that we have become blind to the fact that only a fundamentally religious worldview can meet, insult, and reject a perversion of religion.
Such speech would hardly do for our politicians, but it is the only speech I have found properly satisfies a a spiritual need to confront the murderers we cannot fight, a rhetoric alongside of which the rhetoric of post-Christianity appears wasted and wan.