There is something admirable about this liberal habit of self-criticism. It builds off of Jesus’ admonitions to refrain from casting stones, to hold off from judging the righteousness of others, and to avoid hypocrisy by removing the plank from one’s own eye before pointing to a speck in the eye of another. Whether or not such humility makes us more like God, it undoubtedly humanizes us, allowing us to see our own faults and the commonalities we share with others, even our enemies.
But this instinct can also blind liberals to real and important differences, and discourage the making of relevant, even essential judgments, as the embrace of humility and call to refrain from judging others becomes, paradoxically, its own source of pride. (“If only these judgmental simpletons could be as impressively humble and sophisticated in evaluating the world as I am…”)
Today this dynamic can be seen most clearly — and most dangerously — in the tendency of certain liberals to scour history and the internet for evidence to corroborate the suspicion that we in the modern West are really not all that much different than or morally superior to the Islamists currently rampaging across Mesopotamia, Libya, and central Africa. Sure, they do bad things — but we do, too! Who are we to judge?
As Graeme Wood’s superb cover story on the Islamic State in the March issue of The Atlantic makes indisputably clear, ISIS and many of those who support and long to fight and die for it really do exist in a different moral and theological universe than just about every American living today — and liberals who deny the reality of that chasm do so at their peril.