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Reply to William T. Cavanaugh’s essay, “Mourn the Dead Without Glorifying ‘Charlie Hebdo’”

Sister Katleen Deignan

After reading William T. Cavanaugh’s essay, “Mourn the Dead Without Glorifying ‘Charlie Hebdo’”, published in the Commonweal Magazine on January 13, 2015, Sister Katleen Deignan was moved to reply to the author.

To read the William T. Cavanaugh’s essay:


Sister Katleen Deignan letter:

Thank you so much, Professor Cavanaugh, for articulating so clearly and helpfully my own and others' more nuanced and complex response to the great tragedy of Charlie Hebdo.

The more I investigate that journalistic enterprise the more disturbed I have become. With all the horror and anguish of the assassinations of the victims – the satirists of CH – one can loose the much more subtle problematic which this publication represents: the 101 micro-aggressions against select "others" who may have earned a word of satire, but who receive the repetition of that word as disrespect, disregard, distortion; as a violation.

I am even surprised at my own reaction and deeper reflection on this horrible violence, which I denounce with the millions who marched Sunday. Yet I am here wishing for a more mindful, reflective forum to consider how we as "western civilization" will encounter and receive those in our midst who bring another faith, another vision of what civilization is, another desire to honor their own identity and spiritual inheritance, and still live in our liberal democracies.

It is clear that it is not just Islamist terrorists or jihadis who would undermine the very foundations of our "civilization/s" in the West, but also those who would denigrate the deep store of wisdom and sacred culture on which so much of it is founded: here I speak of our Christian legacy. Indeed, I mean the legacy of "faith/faithing" by which "man is NOT the measure of all things" in this glorious, utterly mysterious universe. Further, the triumph of material atheism, of scientific secularism, is not, to my mind, the truly progressive agenda of post-modernity. Rather, it is another, perhaps more subtle mode of existential despair masking as sophistication.

I share with my Muslim brothers and sisters an aversion to the gross, crass vulgarity of what at times passes for progressive, enlightened thought. It does not leave me enlightened, but sad, and sometimes sick.

Yes let us march against terrorism, but for me, I will continue my deep examine of its microscopic seeds in my own psyche.

Thank you for the opportunity to say what I have not actually had the chance to say in the four brief days since the horrific day. May it humble us all; may we learn with Lanza Del Vasto and Dr. King and the Buddha, and yes Jesus, that violence begins with a word.

Much peace to you and to all,

Kathleen Deignan, CND, PhD

Professor of Religious Studies

Founding Director of Iona Spirituality Institute


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