Categorizing Islam

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.

14 Responses

  1. You are really twisting yourself in circles trying to be faithful both to the ancient and modern Roman Catholic Church, even though the modern Roman Catholic Church is hostile to the ancient.

    It appears to me that Roman Catholic Church is now actively hostile to the one flesh doctrine, at least in so far as it lays any burdens on women – that it actively rejects the proposition that wives should honor and obey, and is actively hostile to the position that wives are required to sexually gratify their husbands.

    Without the one flesh doctrine, everything the Roman Catholic Church says about sex and marriage is silly nonsense. If no one flesh doctrine, then no adultery doctrine, and it looks to me that just as one flesh is preached no more, it has come to pass that, female adultery is preached no more.

  2. I’m interested in Islam’s take on scapegoating. Rene Girard defined Satan as a mechanism for relieving communal tensions through scapegoating, or blaming an individual or group who had insulted God or the gods. Christ flipped that narrative on its head by identifying God, or that which is holy, with the scapegoated victim. The implications of this, according to Girard, have been unfolding in the world around us for nearly 2000 years now, and overcoming the urge to identify and inflict violence upon scapegoats — and instead learning how to grapple with what is real or true about the world around us — now seems to be key to mankind’s survival. It’s not an existential question, it’s the existential question. It seems that people who have read Girard more closely than I tend to elide over this question a bit. What’s your take? And can Thomas Bertonneau, who is far more familar with Girard than I am, also address this?

  3. My question, again, being what is Islam’s take on scapegoating? What is a Girardian analysis of Islam? What does Islam look like when viewed through Girard’s take on imitation, crowds, and the derivitive nature of desire? I’ll note that, in part, I’m a little intrigued by the sobriquet “religion of peace,” (of relatively recent vintage?) given that the traditional way to achieve communal peace is through the sacrifice of a scapegoat (hence, in Girard’s analysis, the statement “I come not to bring peace but to bring a sword,” implies that Christ’s revelation of (and discrediting of) the scapegoat mechanism at the foundation of communal unity will bring division. So on a superficial level, this seems concerning, no?

  4. “Given the extreme aggressiveness shown by Muslims, even modest numbers of them lead to the de facto banishment of Christianity from public life”

    Is that true of the Russian Federation, where Muslims make up 15% of the population; much higher than in any Western country

  5. I’m with MPS here. The current Muslim freak-show is our freak-show. The demented, ultra-violent strain in Sunni Islam is promoted worldwide and especially in the lands of the West by Saudi Arabia, our bestest buddy. We, and the English before us, consciously decided to ally ourselves with these mutants and to look the other way as they propagated their ideology throughout the Sunni world and especially in the growing Muslim communities of the West. Recall the pictures of W holding hands with the Saudi King. In fact, it has not infrequently been our hand on the grip of the Wahhabi sword.

  6. In the West, Moslems live among the host population. In Russia, they live, for the most part, separately, and in their own geographically distinct regions.

    Therefore, the Russia-Europe comparison isn’t a particularly instructive one. It’s a nice “gotcha” point though, as Ms. Palin might say…..

  7. I wouldn’t put much stock in anything Girard says, Brian.

  8. @Brian

    According to Girard, despite some non-sacrificial elements, Islam is essentially a pre-Christian religion. He didn’t write much about Islam, anyway.

  9. Does the friend/enemy categorization means one can’t be a neutral?
    If you are not a friend, you must be enemy?

  10. vishmerh24,
    Surely it is obvious that the friend/enemy distinction is a spectrum. Any schoolchild knows that there are degrees of friendship — I mean that completely literally; everyone runs into the phenomenon in school if they haven’t previously — and it is not much less obvious that some enemies are worse than others.

  11. […] takes a stab at Categorizing Islam: Doctrinally, morally, and politically. Bonald’s on-going work at establishing the […]

  12. As Ed Feser points out, the whole debate is silly because the Church has no authority to decide what Islamic doctrines are.

  13. “[T]he whole debate is silly because the Church has no authority to decide what Islamic doctrines are.”

    But that would lead to the conclusion that the Church could not rule whether an Islamic Doctrine conflicts with its own faith.

  14. I don’t think it would. If the Church incorrectly thought that Muslims were idolatrous pagans (some of the early Crusade literature suggests that Latins believed this) and declared that Islamic idolatry was incompatible with Christianity it would be correct in regards to Christianity though wrong in regards to Islam. I don’t see a problem there.

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