On Monday, the Notre Dame De Paris caught fire, sparking worldwide discussion about the importance of the cathedral to both France and the entire Western world. Reactions on social media were mostly outpourings of love and support. However, there were some who were less than supportive. Leftist magazine Rolling Stone, for instance, called the fire a "liberation" from the building's oppressive "meaning." Other reactions were supportive, and yet still caused controversy. Ben Shapiro, author of a recent book supporting the ideals of Western Civilization, described the horror of the cathedral spire collapse this way:
The next day, the Washington Post published an editorial which blamed Ben Shapiro's tweet for evoking "the specter of a war between Islam and the West that is already part of numerous far-right narratives." The author, Talia Lavin, went on to compare Ben to alt-Right provocateur Richard Spencer and ChristChurch shooter Brenton Tarrant. This prompted outrage from many the right, including David French, who jumped to Shapiro's defense.
The Washington Post should be ashamed of its dishonest attack. That said, the conservatives who are defending Shapiro's tweet go too far. What Ben said was not exactly "words of truth." In reality, it was the imprecision of Ben's words which mislead readers and allowed some to interpret his words as indicative of an alt-Right perspective.
What Ben meant to say is obviously benign, as any reasonable observer will readily acknowledge. He meant to say that the Notre Dame cathedral is a great achievement of the West, a monument to God, and a symbol of the highest Western ideals. What he said, however, was that the cathedral is a monument to Western Civilization itself.
This may seem like a small, almost pedantic distinction. But, it is not. In fact, the difference represents the enormous gulf which separates Ben Shapiro from the alt-Right. Ben and the alt-Right fundamentally disagree about where the greatness of the West is found. Ben Shapiro thinks the West is great because of the ideals and values which are expressed in America's founding documents. Richard Spencer, originator of the term "alt-Right," thinks those ideals and values are utterly worthless except inasmuch as they reflect the greatness of the white race.
If the alt-Right had its way, every piece of Christian art and architecture in Europe would be seen as a "monument to Western Civilization." But, the artists and craftsmen who built Notre Dame knew better than to give glory to themselves. They were building for God—erecting spires that pointed up to Him. Ben Shapiro would do well to acknowledge this fundamental difference and correct the ambiguous language of his tweet.
As we consider the significance of the burning of the Notre Dame De Paris, let us ponder in our hearts words which have been sung within its halls on many occasions, and will hopefully soon be sung there again:
“Non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tuo da gloriam.”