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Addressing senior SS officers in Poznań on October 4, 1943, Heinrich Himmler was in a cheerful mood. The total extermination of the Jews, he told his minions, was going swimmingly; how unfortunate, though, that Nazism’s biggest triumph must be forever concealed. The mass murder, he said, was “an unwritten and never-to-be-written page of glory in our history,” doomed to be denied and obscured because, well, most people just felt icky when confronted with the sight of naked, starved corpses piled high.

A committed pagan who had his SS erect several memorials to the Germanic tribes and warlords who had fought Christianity throughout the ages, Himmler held the idolator’s primitive belief that to become God, a man must show utter indifference to human life. Smash a child’s skull, and you’ve moved beyond good and evil, to a place of sovereignty reserved only for deities—and demons. But never let the world catch you red-handed, Himmler knew, lest humanity’s irritating insistence on human dignity drive folks to rise up and resist.

I’ve been thinking about Himmler’s dark path to transcendence a lot this past month, especially after viewing many of the atrocities committed on October 7, captured by the Hamas terrorists themselves on their GoPro body cameras. The marauders breached an internationally recognized border to rape women, behead babies, and bind parents to children before burning them alive. These acts would have thrilled Himmler and his men. But Hamas went a step further. They had no patience for the arch-Nazi’s bashfulness. They wanted the world to see their atrocities, in close-up and real time. Because the intolerable desecration of the human body was precisely the point.

At the end of October, Carl R. Trueman reminded the participants of a seminar that followed his Erasmus Lecture that the decades that separate Himmler from Hamas are marked by the effort to sever the ties between personhood and embodiment. A fetus is undeniably embodied but, according to abortion advocates, not yet a person. And transgender ideologues insist that a person may also decide that he was born into the wrong body, and choose to mutilate his body at will, a practice doctors and educators call “gender-affirming care.” These convictions are of a piece. The sexual revolution makes little sense unless you adhere to the potent pagan principle that flesh and self are separable.

Which, if you reject that whole bit about being created in the image of God, is easy enough to believe! After all, what is a human body, if it possesses not a divinely ordained soul but some kind of operating system, one that is entirely earthly? Believe that materialist account of what it means to be human, and the body becomes not a shrine but a battlefield, each mutilation a triumph and a testament to our godlike ability to shape our future as we, and only we, see fit.

The devils who slaughtered more than 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped more than 240 were merely taking this logic to its conclusion. They’re neither nihilists nor serious believers in Islam, a religion that, even in its more rigid forms, does not recognize such atrocities as acceptable. They are, simply and terrifyingly, pagans, fighting the very same war described so lucidly in Leviticus, the war against God and those who believe in his mercy.

Understand this pagan impulse, and the world suddenly becomes a bit easier to comprehend—if, alas, no less dark. The college students who wave Palestinian flags as they search for Jews to assault, the social media influencers who swoon over Osama bin Laden, the newspaper editors who print terrorist propaganda while suppressing observable reality—they aren’t merely fools or even just anti-Semites. They, too, are pagans, and they see the blood-soaked bacchanalia of heathens across the sea as an invitation to an intoxicating future free from the binding limitations of truth and the reality of divine judgment, a pagan paradise where nothing is permanent and everything is permitted.

Shortly after the attack, an Israeli TV comedy show ran a skit depicting a conversation between two Columbia University students and a senior Hamas leader. The collegians, true to form, were chirping about LGBTQ rights and praising the bearded zealot for being a fellow fighter for minority rights. The terrorist, in turn, expressed an uncomplicated desire to murder all gays and infidels. It was an amusing satire, but it missed the larger point. Hamas may openly and gleefully execute homosexuals in the streets of Gaza, but it’s not illogical for the inflamed progressive crowd to sing the terror group’s praises, because inflamed progressivism was never really about securing individual rights or correcting moral wrongs. It was, and is, an assault on family, on faith, and on the nation, America’s three pillars. It was, and is, a pagan movement that aims for liberation from God’s created order. Its flag is desecration. The only question is how far its adherents will go at any given moment.

The Hebrew Bible provides clear instructions for engaging with pagans. Debate, conversation, any attempt at reason—those are all losing propositions, a truth that is difficult for those of us reared on the free and unfettered exchange of ideas to accept. In a democracy, we are told, we discuss and we persuade, and that is how the work of self-governance gets done. But how can we discuss matters of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, with a person whose goal is the devastation of our civilization? The thousands who clogged the Brooklyn Bridge earlier this year, hailing the murderers of October 7 as “our martyrs,” aren’t in the market for a good argument; they are here to cheer the desecration. They are here to tear apart that which is holy. Their interests aren’t political or socioeconomic or even cultural; they are on the march, as heathens have been since time immemorial, to befoul our sacred spaces with their idols.

How, then, to proceed? What to do when we bump into these idolators in our midst, or—more accurately, given their rising propensity for violence—when they bump into us?

First, stop being shocked. The rampant Jew-hatred, the disdain for America, the disregard for human suffering—consider the Penn students who mocked the posters of Israeli child hostages by hanging up similar posters featuring cows—are of a piece. The zeal for desecration is a feature, not a bug. There will be plenty of time later to ask ourselves how we got here, how the pagans and their fake moralism (Hamas atrocities “liberate,” whereas the just use of force by the Israeli military, disciplined by moral restraint, is “genocide”) managed to take over so many of our institutions. For now, we don’t have the luxury of acting surprised. For now, we must fight to preserve what is sacred.

We need to understand the scale and scope of the battle. Ours isn’t a skirmish against a few privileged brats playacting as campus revolutionaries. The impulse to desecrate is shockingly widespread in post-Christian America. Many American citizens are willing to praise a terrorist organization while it holds other American citizens hostage. Lawmakers welcome the emissaries of Hamas and other terrorist groups and host them on Capitol Hill, while media outlets amplify their views loudly and uncritically. What are we to do about these realities? This is not an easy question to answer. We don’t want to destroy our American culture of freedom in order to “save” it. But doing nothing allows those bent on destruction to have their way.

Which brings me to my final and most important point.

Those of us who keep God’s commandments are emissaries of his sanctifying power. We shine a light into the darkness. Our duty right now isn’t just to fight the pagans in courtrooms and voting booths and anyplace else where we can make a difference in civic life. We have a higher calling, that of obedience to God’s will. This obedience allows us to consecrate all that has been desecrated. Instead of a culture of mutilation, let us foster a culture of life, one that regrets the need for lethal force to ensure peace rather than rejoicing in the death of the innocent, one that disciplines the sword with strict principles of justice rather than rampaging without regard to moral constraint. This work will be hard, given the perversions we face. But, hallelujah, it isn’t complicated: Our faith traditions have left us very detailed instructions, tried and perfected over the centuries. All we have to do is follow the script. 

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and the cohost of its popular podcast, Unorthodox. 

Image by Israel Defense Forces on Wikimedia Commons licensed via Creative Commons. Image cropped, filter added. 

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