Like a Candle In Berlin

by Theodore Dalrymple

A moment used to be defined as the amount of time between a Mexico City traffic light turning green and the sound of the first car horn, but now it might be defined as the period between a terrorist attack in a Western city and the first public appearance of a candle. Every terrorist attack, including the latest one in Berlin, is immediately followed by the public exhibition of lighted candles. It is almost as if the population keeps a store of them ready to hand for this very purpose.

What do they dignify, these candles? We are all accustomed to the lighting of candles in Catholic churches, but Berlin is not a Catholic city and, like most Western capitals, is not notably observant of any religion. Its Christmas markets belong more to folkloric tradition than to a living faith. It is likely, indeed, that most of the people whose first impulse was to light candles were proud of their lack of religious belief. On the other hand, quite a few of them might say that they were not religious, but spiritual.

The reason (I surmise) that so many people claim to be spiritual rather than religious is that being spiritual imposes no discipline upon them, at least none that they do not choose themselves. Being religious, on the other hand, implies an obligation to observe rules and rituals that may interfere awkwardly with daily life. Being spiritual-but-not-religious gives you that warm, inner feeling, a bit like whiskey on a cold day, and reassures you that there is more to life—or, at least, to your life—than meets the eye, without actually having to interrupt the flux of everyday existence. It is the gratification of religion without the inconvenience of religion. Unfortunately, like many highly diluted solutions, it has no taste.

The candles, then, are a manifestation of modern paganism, a striving for transcendence without any real belief in it. They are also a somewhat self-congratulatory symbol of our own peaceable temperament: the violent are not great candle-lighters. We cannot, for example, imagine Genghis Khan lighting many candles for the souls of the departed (not that we really believe in souls).

But is there any harm in lighting candles in the immediate aftermath of a massacre? It adds very little to global warming, and so Gaia is not much harmed. We express ourselves thereby, and self-expression is an unmitigated good, as failure to express ourselves is an unmitigated harm.

It would be difficult to prove it, but I imagine that all those candles are an encouragement to the very kind of people who commit the massacres that are the occasion for the exhibition. We cut their throats, or drive trucks into them; they light candles. They are not morally superior, as they like to think they are; on the contrary, they are feeble, weak, soft, enervated, vulnerable, defenseless, cowardly, whimpering, decadent. Against such people, we are bound to win; and it won’t even take long.

They are mistaken, the terrorists; but they are not clever or deep thinkers. So if you want more terrorist attacks, light a candle.

First published in City Journal.


4 Responses

  1. It has always seemed to metro be a reference to Elton John's 'Candle in the Wind',although thereis a Catholic resonance in it.

  2.   I agree. The candle response is emblematic of the weakness of the Judeo-Christian ethos in the teeth of Islamic jihad. Contrast that with the response by Muslims to reprisals against Muslim targets: Angry mobs waving fists, knives and guns, howling for revenge and blood, chanting "death" to the uppity perpetrator, often followed later by some act of vengeance against some hapless soft target, which is then celebrated. When it comes to jihad, to quote Leo "the lip" Durocher, nice guys finish last.

  3. You can't serve two bosses: either you serve God or mammon. You can't procreate and be spoilt by excess of wealth. That's why we stopped having children and believing in God. The way to heaven is too narrow for us. It is uncomfortable.
    To fight against jihad is even more uncomfortable. In the end, why should we? Muslims have some spirituality, we have none. We work to consume the excess of wealth ourselves, we do not give to our children and we do not give to our parents. Old and young is considered a nuisance for our comfort: they make the place dirty and expect attention. Kindergartens and houses of care for the old have become a business. One who takes care of his own family, young and old, can't make money, means being useless. Feminism has won, women strive to do professions they hardly arrive to do, and pour their frustrations into more consumism just to keep going. Life passes without knowing one's own children who grow up to join the hamster running competition inside of the spinning circle in the cage. 
    There is no reason why not to suicide. It might bring more comfort and at least some peace of mind.
  4. …the peace. It's the word of the day, isn't it? Even the Pope has it on his lips every day. Accept all religions and you will have peace. Imagine that it is the peace that everybody wants. But what kind of "peace" do the strangers bring? Maybe it's the death of their enemy (us) that will bring them peace. But, to protest one's own death could mean to disturb the "peace". So, please, be quiet and light your candle in Berlin. It's our tomb too. Pshhh…

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