Richard Spenser and Msgr. Stuart Swetland have been having an argument about whether Catholics are allowed to dissent from the claim that Islam is a religion of peace. Msgr. Swetland was running the Newman Center at UIUC back when I was a student there, and I have all good memories of the place and at his “Theology on Tap” discussions. (At the time, I was more liberal than him. I can only imagine how horrified he’d be at how I’ve turned out!) It would be a shame if I were to spiritually imperil myself by failing to welcome the latest Muslim invasion. But have I?
Swetland helpfully lays out some of the major “magisterial teachings on Islam since VII”. (Presumably this is because the Church only started making official pronouncements about Islam circa 1960.) They fall into two broad categories:
- Doctrinal: Muslims worship the true God, and they have many true beliefs about Him.
- Moral: Muslim morality has a lot going for it, like prayer and almsgiving. Also, Islam is a religion of peace. It is non-violent and tolerant.
What a relief–I agree with both of these! I have argued before that Muslims certainly do succeed in referring to the one actually-existing God, both in their speaking and their worship. I have also affirmed that Islam is a religion of peace, at least in the same sense that Catholicism and democracy are peaceful. It aspires to a state of universal tranquility, and it only resorts to violence over what it perceives as egregious, provocative violations of its vision of right order. I believe I have even affirmed here and there that Islam is theoretically more tolerant than liberalism, in that it can concede some space to something other than itself, whereas liberalism will brook no deviation from “equality”, “non-discrimination”, and “tolerance”.
The above evaluate Islam according to the categories of truth and morality. They do not address how Islam is to be evaluated according to a third, completely independent, category–the political categorization of friend vs. enemy. The friend/ally is not necessarily ideologically correct, the enemy/threat is not necessarily morally bad, and so forth. The question does not pertain directly to the essence of Islam at all, but rather to its causal influence on the Catholic Church and the historic people of Christendom. In terms of the friend/enemy distinction, it is abundantly clear that Islam is an enemy. Consider the following:
- Muslims in the West always ally politically with the anti-Christian Left.
- Even if they didn’t, the presence of large numbers of Muslims in Christian lands would destroy the ability of Christianity and the civilization it created to continue functioning as a common culture in these lands. Given the extreme aggressiveness shown by Muslims, even modest numbers of them lead to the de facto banishment of Christianity from public life and the establishment of Islam as a privileged faith immune to public criticism.
- Muslims continue to savagely persecute Christians in the Middle East. (Pope Benedict’s statement that middle eastern Christians have “let themselves be challenged by Muslim devotion and piety”, quoted by Swetland, is unintentionally funny. That’s one way of putting it.) In Europe, even as a small percentage, they have already begun terrorizing us and harassing our women. (Of course, it’s only a minority that do this. Most of the Muslims being settled in your town won’t be raping your daughters. Doesn’t that make you feel better?) One needn’t, and shouldn’t, make assumptions from this fact about any individual Muslim one meets, but one certainly can have statistically reliable expectations about what effects a large cohort of Muslims will have.
- The behavior of the Catholic Church over the first millennium of Islam’s existence, particularly that sanctioned by the popes, is explicable only in terms of a response to a threat.
So, as long as one keeps the three categories straight–doctrinal, moral, and political–one can affirm Catholic teaching and practice through her long centuries dealing with this terrible foe.
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