The Dhimmi and the Virgin: The Future of Notre Dame

By Timothy Furnish Published on April 19, 2019

A century ago, The Education of Henry Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. It has also been ranked the most influential non-fiction book of the 20th century. Adams was a noted historian and journalist, related to both Presidents Adams. He died the same year World War I ended.

As an American Studies major in college, I had to read that book. But all I remembered of it was a chapter title: “The Dynamo and the Virgin.” (To refresh my memory, I found a recent essay by the Smithsonian’s Art Molella.) Adams attended the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. There he decided that the West was “sacrificing traditional values on the altar of technology.” He saw the huge electricity-producing dynamos as symbols of the modern age. (These worked like the hand-cranked battery chargers in modern emergency flashlights and radios, but on a much larger scale.)

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Dynamos were replacing, Adams thought, the medieval Christian image of the Virgin Mary as the symbol of Western civilization. He was not a Christian. But Adams feared that addiction to such machines would degrade Western civilization. Such might even destroy it.

Not the Dynamo but Dhimmitude

Most memorable about The Education of Henry Adams are his warnings about the future. These did not (yet) include nukes, robots, or super-smart primates, mind you. As the Parisian church dedicated to Jesus’s Virgin Mother burned, I thought of Adams. But as the fire was put out, I realized that he was only half right. Western civilization has indeed sold its soul, but for “diversity,” not technology. And this “diversity” looks a lot like dhimmitude, the old system of deference to Islam.

How so? Churches throughout Europe have been desecrated over the past several years. Ones in France have been particularly popular targets. Just a month ago the Saint-Sulpice church in Paris mysteriously “caught fire.” Two months ago, ISIS specifically called for jihad in the French capital. Just last week one of three Muslim women involved in a previous plot to blow up Notre Dame was sentenced.

And don’t forget that both ISIS and al-Qaeda waged deadly 2015 attacks in Paris. As my Army basic training Drill Instructor used to say, “it don’t take a GED” to figure some things out (much less a PhD). In light of all this data, asking whether jihadists might have torched Notre Dame is quite reasonable, and not an “anti-Muslim conspiracy theory,” much less “alt-right.”

Fox News Enforcing Muslim Blasphemy Laws

But Shepard Smith and Neil Cavuto of Fox News Channel disagree. Both of these anchors, on allegedly conservative FNC, shut down guests just for raising the possibility of fundamentalist Muslim involvement. (That “Shep” did so comes as no surprise to me. I was on his show back in 2014, being interviewed about the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram. When I tried to discuss the Islamic doctrines behind the terrorist group’s actions, Smith cut me off and changed the subject.) One expects more out of FNC.

As the West in general, and France in particular, has abandoned Christianity, many elites have embraced the dynamic of dhimmitude. Most importantly, such subservience keeps one’s head attached to the shoulders. But it also valorizes virtue signalling, placating white guilt over wrongs, real or contrived, done to the “race” of Islam.

The BBC, however, is a lost cause, as many know. And the Beeb demonstrated dhimmitude yet again in its Notre Dame fire coverage. The world’s preeminent news organization managed to discuss the primary church in all of France without mentioning the words “Christian,” “Catholic” or “Mass.” That is impressive, both in terms of verbal dexterity and cultural cowardice. As of this writing (the evening of Wednesday, April 17), French authorities are still investigating the cause of the blaze, contra media claims that terrorism has been ruled out.

Rolling Stone Celebrates the Fire

But enough about what, or who, might have caused the fire. What comes after? “Notre Dame has … served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place.” That revolting revisionist history comes courtesy of E.J. Dickson in Rolling Stone. And it’s clear whom he sees as resenting Notre Dame. It’s France’s growing Muslim population. Daniel Judt in The Nation agrees: “instead of decrying” the burned out cathedral, “we should seize it — as a timely reminder of … the kind of nation [France] could become.” One more welcoming to refugees in general, and Muslim ones in particular.

Perhaps the Left is right about Notre Dame. According to Pew only about 58% of French are Christian, most of those Catholic. In 20 years Christians will be outnumbered by “unaffiliated” and Muslims. So it might make sense to turn Notre Dame into a secular temple. Or a mosque. After all, Napoleon, that Enlightenment French emperor, was rather fond of Islam.

Unlike Bonaparte, however, who conquered an Islamic country (Egypt), modern French leaders are allowing Muslims to take over France. And dhimmis must, above all, keep their masters happy.

Does Notre Dame Still Have a Mission?

Let us return to Henry Adams. “The Virgin had acted as the greatest force the Western world had ever felt, and had drawn man’s activities to herself more strongly than any other power.” But she was losing to the Dynamo.

[T]his huge wheel, revolving within arm’s length as some vertiginous speed, and barely murmuring — scarcely humming an audible warning to stand a hair’s-breadth further for respect of power…. Before the end, one began to pray to it….

As the West in general, and France in particular, has abandoned Christianity, many elites have embraced the dynamic of dhimmitude. Most importantly, such subservience keeps one’s head attached to the shoulders. But it also valorizes virtue signalling, placating white guilt over wrongs, real or contrived, done to the “race” of Islam. To paraphrase George W. Bush: you’re either with the Virgin or with the Dynamo, whether as a dhimmi or a Muslim convert.

The fire at Notre Dame is a sign, especially for French Catholicism. But is it going out of business? Or does the church there still have a mission from God? Let us pray it is the latter.

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