Islam, Ignorance, and Diversity

In the spring of 2000 I spent a semester in Jerusalem, taking classes at Bethlehem University (a Palestinian institution) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Shortly before becoming a Jesuit I made another pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in the spring of 2006.

While in the Holy Land the second time I heard two Western tour guides, on separate occasions, tell an encouraging story about inter-religious cooperation.  When Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square in the spring of 2000, the guides said, the mosque on the edge of the square silenced the call to prayer it normally broadcast at noon so as not to disturb the papal liturgy.  According to the guides, doing so was an unprecedented gesture of goodwill.

There’s only one problem with this cheerful tale:  it isn’t true.

I was in Manger Square that morning when the pre-recorded call to prayer came blasting over the Mosque of Omar’s loudspeakers midway through the Prayers of the Faithful.  The lector paused, everyone stared at their feet in embarrassment for a few moments, and, when the recording finished, we went on with the Mass.  When I visited six years after the fact, I had a conversation with a local Christian who told me that the interruption of that liturgy is still seen as a painful reminder of that community’s minority status.

Last week’s discussion of the proposed Park 51 mosque reminded me of the tour guides’ story.  The original post argues, quite rightly, that a greater knowledge of Islam and of things religious more generally, would be a good thing.  But underlying this argument runs an implicit narrative that goes something like this:  we’re all pretty much decent folks and share the same basic human values regardless of superficial differences (say race or religion) and once we learn more about each other our suspicions and conflicts will melt away.

This story is one of the late twentieth century’s great narratives and is implicit in many of the stories we read and movies we see.  It’s present, in slightly different ways—to pick two recent films at random—in Invictus and Avatar.  It’s the “story” implicit in John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  It’s a particularly powerful story because quite often it is, thankfully, true, and it certainly shapes the way we understand our own history.  The civil rights movement—the great national story for many generations of Americans—is a version of this narrative.

This narrative is a good story in every sense.  When it’s true, then things turn out better for everyone:  prejudices are overcome and we take a step toward a more peaceful world.  The narrative is a good story in the other sense of being a compelling tale:  there are both internal and external struggles to be waged and usually there are Good Guys and Bad Guys it’s easy to root for or against.  (The villain in the Park 51 posting isn’t too hard to spot, is she?)

But what happens when this narrative isn’t true?

My basic disagreement with the Park 51 post is not with its call for greater religious knowledge and understanding, including knowledge and understanding of Islam; it’s with the implicit assumption that once we come to know Islam we’ll find that it really teaches the same sorts of things we all believe anyway, that a mosque is basically just a church with a crescent instead of a cross on top.

I’ve lived and traveled in the Muslim world (Central Asia, the Middle East, East Africa) and read the Koran, but I’m not going to pose as an expert on Islamic history, law, or culture.  The more I’ve learned the more cautious I’ve grown about generalizations, whether they be the “All Muslims are potential terrorists” or “Islam is a religion of peace” variety.  Both of these statements strike me as equally vacuous.  Nor am I just making a point about there being a great deal of internal diversity within Islam; it seems to me that there are patterns of thought which are characteristically Islamic.

My point is that once we have come to appreciate these modes of thought we might find out that they are quite different from secular or Christian ways of thinking.  And we might even find out that some of these Islamic ways of thinking are disturbing and objectionable.

A number of Western European countries are finding themselves in just such a position now, as their embrace of “diversity” as an overriding value has floundered when confronted with people who are, well, different.

I think what has happened in these Western societies is that our own religious beliefs have become so vague and watered down that we no longer realize how important genuine differences in religious belief can be.  An excellent study on American religion (Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith, 2005) concluded that most young Americans of all religious denominations believe in an unofficial de facto creed the researchers call, tellingly, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

The basic tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism are things like:  God exists; God wants us to be nice; the goal of life is to feel good; God does not need to be overly involved in our lives except when necessary to solve a problem; and everybody goes to heaven, except maybe Hitler.

The point of dragging Moralistic Therapeutic Deism into this discussion is that it cuts across all official religious affiliations:  most Catholics are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, as are most Baptists, Methodists, Jews, etc.  Most of us probably have a little Moralistic Therapeutic Deist inside, and when most of the believers we meet—regardless of what they call themselves officially—really do believe the same sort of anodyne things, it’s easy for us to assume that the more we get to know each other the more we’ll find that our differences are all benign.  Those who are really different we can dismiss as “extremists,” which is an easy way to avoid having to think much further.

Most contemporary Americans may be Moralistic Therapeutic Deists, but that doesn’t mean everyone is.  When we begin to look at Muslims steeped in Islamic rather than (secular) Western culture we should not expect to find other Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.  We should not be surprised if we find people who think quite differently than ourselves.

Of course, if we really want to, we’ll be able to find what we want.  If we’re eager to find and stereotype foreign enemies, we’ll be able to do that.  If we’re most interested in proving our moral superiority to Sarah Palin and the “neo-cons,” well, we’ll be able to do that too.  We’ll always be able to proof-text the Koran to fit our preconceptions, just as some people proof-text the Bible.

There’s a (probably apocryphal) story that when Winston Churchill read the Koran, he put it down and declared, “As long as this book exists, there will never be peace on earth.”  When I read the Koran, trying to imagine that I took it as seriously as I do the Bible and the teachings of the Church, my impression wasn’t as harsh as Churchill’s.  I remember thinking that if I were a Muslim I probably wouldn’t become a suicide bomber myself—but I might not be willing to condemn other Muslims who engaged in such violence either.  I put the book down feeling unsettled and just a little bit disturbed.

That’s what happens when we leave comfortable narratives behind.

43 Responses to Islam, Ignorance, and Diversity

  1. Juan Lino Lopez says:

    I’d like to give you a bit of personal background so that you have a context for my remarks. My family came from Spain and so I probably see this topic a bit differently than some of your readers. I also have close friends who are Middle Eastern Christians as well as a former Muslim friend who converted to Catholicism (his family does not know for safety reasons). Lastly, I am closely watching what’s currently taking place in Cordoba and friends there keep me up-to-date on the conflict.

    So, based on conversations with those friends as well as my own research, here are my thoughts:

    1. Westerners assume – many times unconsciously – that all religions are essentially like Christianity since at root, Western Culture is a Christian culture. (Many today are trying to deny this, but an open-minded look at history clearly demonstrates this.) So, for example, when I, as a Catholic Christian, read the Qur’an, the Bhagavad Gita, or the I Ching, I unconsciously seek, remember, and recognize those sections that remind me of sections in the New Testament.

    2. Consequently, I believe we Westerners generally misunderstand Islam because we persist – many times unconsciously – in viewing Islam in light of our Christian categories and Christian experience. And I believe this is not only unreasonable but a great danger.

    3. Lastly, because of these assumptions, I believe we Westerners often believe that Islam is simply a religion that will eventually mature, as did Christianity, into a more tolerant, more expansive faith. However, my study of the writings of, and about, Islam (which I freely admit is not as complete as it could be) showed me that there is no equivalent in the Qur’an to the New Testament’s mandate to “love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” or “turn the other cheek.”

    Great Post on an important topic.

  2. therese says:

    Anthony, Thank you for this thoughtful post. It articulates well the doubts that I was trying to express in the previous post’s comments.

    Because I’m in the medical field, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many muslims over the years. There is only one doc that I’ve ever met who was overtly critical of Christianity & this country. What I did observe was that, in relating to this physician, not only did other Christians keep their mouths shut but other people who I knew were Muslims themselves. Everyone was scared to take him on/challenge him. He won by intimidation.

    I did NOT judge all Muslims based on my experience with this man any more than all Catholics can be judged based the antics of the Catholics in Congress. That makes no sense & its against the teaching of our Church. OTOH, I can observe history & the current state of this world: The only countries where authentic religious liberty is truly practiced are/were Christianized. Period. Your story re: Manger Square illustrates this intolerance/lack of sensitivity.

    So, as always, I support our dear Holy Father 100% in his Regensberg address & all he’s said on this topic. Placing me in the category of a neo-con who really needs to be re-educated is fine. I do need education on many topics and that’s one reason I like this blog. But, refering to one comment on the previous post, I can with a clear conscience say that I’m not using the victims of 9/11 as a ‘facade’ to hide my deep-seated prejudices behind. I am just observing what are apparently politically incorrect facts.

  3. therese says:

    PS…You have probably seen Chaput’s speech in Slovakia last wk. In it he also addresses our amnesia/apathy & secularism & ‘radical Islam’.

  4. Henry says:

    Juan Lino and Therese raise very good points. The only thing I would add is that a friend gave me three books to read – Religion of Peace?and Islam Unveiled by Spencer and 111 Questions on Islam and, if they are accurate, people need to really wake up. I am also currently reading Brother Tariq and that’s also very enlightening.

    While I personally believe that smearing the Muslim faith, or any Faith, is wrong, I do find it interesting to note that many people have written anti-Catholic books and/or made anti-Catholic movies and none have suffered the fate of Theo Van Gogh.

  5. gregory says:

    Theresa, do you mean this wonderful speech?

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Gregory, I took the liberty of linking to the speech for you instead of reproducing the whole thing here. The speech is certainly worth a read–I just wanted to keep the comments here manageable.


  6. Henry says:

    Anthony, as I mentioned in my e-mail, I spoke with a friend who majored in Islamic Studies and he told me that the Spencer books and Brother Tariq are not necessarily objective and/or accurate and so I want to share that with your readers.

    Therefore, in the interest of fairness and balance I’d like to only recommend 111 Questions on Islam and The Bible and the Qur’an, both published by Ignatius Press. I’ve read them both and I found them to be very enlightening.

    Pax Christi,


    • Qualis Rex says:

      Hello Henry,

      I would say Spencer’s work is absolutely accurate, but not objective, since he is coming at Mohammedanism from the standpoint of a “non-believer” whose family experienced persecution under Mohammedanism. The same can be said of Brigite Gabriel (also Lebanese). However, I would offer that your friend who majored in “Islamic Studies” did not get an objective view either, since he/she undoubtedly go the point of view Mohammedans themselves, without any critical counter-views.

      When studying religion, you are always coming at it either of someone with or without faith.

      • Henry says:

        Thanks Qualis. I personally enjoyed the Spencer books and my personal views on the topic are articulated very well by Juan Lino. My friend is going to live in a Muslim country for a while and I’d be interested to see what happens when the “rubber hits the road” – theory is one thing, reality another.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Thanks, Henry. I haven’t read any of those books, but I do think it’s important not to start with anything too polemical. If we’re trying to understand any other way of thinking (in this case Islam) we should try to understand how (in this case) Muslims understand themselves, which means starting with a “sympathetic” read. Of course, as should be clear, this does not mean that we aren’t critical.

      • Qualis Rex says:

        Good point, Tony. To that end, I’d recomend the Qur’an as a first point of education. It’s not a difficult read at all (MUCH smaller than the NT) and one can then jump off to the why’s and how’s.

  7. Father Joseph Leppard says:

    A great topic and well presented. The problem in our present culture is the fact that we do not educate .. ; we limit our scope on information and knowledge in our schools and anything that would make a district in the public school system uncomfortable with that administration is not taught.

    We can educate, but the sequitur is not necessarily educated. . and the only way we will see that is by doing and then acting . ..

    Great job. .great experiences my younger years, I studied in Rome as well as Jerusalem in preparation for ordination, and I felt ‘educated” and “informed” when I left both Rome and Jerusalem.

    Take care of yourself and the best.

  8. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony, thank you for tackling this subject in such an incredibly insightful and unbiased way. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is. Several posters have already stated beautifully worded points which I don’t feel the need to repeat. However, as someone who was also raised around Mohammedanism (I even have them in my family) and lived in a Mohammedan country, I will make some additional comments;
    1. Mohammedanism has a built-in defense mechanism codified in the Qur’an, stemming from the life of Mohammed himself. When it is the minority, it is peaceful and has an aya/passage which instructs its adherents to simply say, “to you your religion and to me mine”. When a majority is achieved, it later instructs its adherents to rise up and subdue/subjugate those who do not adhere to Mohammedanism. This dichotomy is what allows staunch adherents to present a peaceful “front” when necessary (i.e. to the West) while at the same time gearing-up to the big showdown.
    2. We must absolutely make the distinction between believing and cultural Mohammedans. Just as we unfortunately have cultural Catholics (i.e. those who support abortion and other issues against church teaching), so too do we have Mohammedans who drink, eat pork and support values that are against Mohammedanism. Yet, come Ramadan, you will see these same people fasting with their family for the sake of unity.
    3. Mohammedanism DOES have a distinct attraction in the West. Regardless of how much the media tries to present a version of “Moderate Islam”, this is an artificial construct, as there can be NO DECONSTRUCTION OR CRITICISM of the Qur’an. Meaning, the absolute and basic tenet of Mohammedanism is that the Qur’an was revealed DIRECTLY (through an indirect source…go figure) from God and is His word-for-word dictation. With this mindset, there is no room for debate or questioning the relevance or fairness of certain ayat/passages. This moral certainty can be VERY appealing to people living in the west who were raised on a fluid moral relativism. We need look no further than the case of Johnny Walker Lindh or the host of other converts to see this truth.

    Once again, EXCELLENT post, Tony.

  9. Jay Hooks says:

    I thought I’d drop in a quote that (then) Cardinal Ratzinger offered in “Salt of the Earth”:

    “Today’s discussion in the West about the possibility of Islamic theological faculties, or about the idea of Islam as a legal entity, presupposes that all religions have basically the same structure, that they all fit into a democratic system with its regulations and the possibilities provided by these regulations. In itself, however, this necessarily contradicts the essence of Islam, which simply does not have the separation of the political and religious sphere which Christianity has had from the beginning. The Quran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic…”

    Notice what he’s not saying here: he’s not saying anything to the effect that Muslims cannot live or organize themselves peaceably and fruitfully in liberal Western society, or that they should be held in a different regard to other citizens in such societies (this much, I think, applies to the Park51 discussion). Nor is he denying that Christianity has experimented with a marriage of the political and religious sphere in its own history.

    Incidentally, I clipped the quote from an article by John Allen:

    There’s plenty of energy in the blogosphere to charge up discussions of the “real interests” of Islam, and I look forward to further commentary on the topic in this thread. But I’m also glad to see the other point raised in your commentary regarding Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. I think that Ratzinger’s quote speaks to this, too: our Western appreciation of diversity and niceness runs so deep that not only do many American believers allow their own religious ethics to be watered down for the sake of “getting along,” but we naively assume that every other religious ethic in play is capable of or interested in doing the same.

    So, the MT-Deists might be wrong to assume this about Islam. Then again, the Catholic MT-Deists aren’t entirely right in assuming this about themselves; if we take the Christian ethic seriously enough – and I suspect, Anthony, that you also share this insight – we may just decide that we’re also called to shake our civic and cultural timbers to a certain degree.

  10. Jay Hooks says:

    Caveat: The ways in which Christianity and the Qur’an call its relative adherents to engage with civic culture are very different, as Ratzinger suggests. I’m simply arguing that the Christian ethic entails a certain breed and degree of involvement, and even conscientious advancement, in their larger cultural spheres. Only so much advancement is permissible in a liberal Western society, and that’s fine. Still, the call to evangelize culture remains, and mainline American Christians are perhaps feeling this call less urgently in the interest of being polite or tolerant.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Jay – I was alluding to this in the 3rd point I made in my post above. American (and indeed most Western European) culture would have us believe that the highest ideal we can aspire to is tolerance. The easiest way to achieve this is to erode any sense of universal truth, meaning we all have beliefs and each one is just as valid as the next, therefore there is no need to be judgemental or intolerant.

      From the many accounts I have read of Johnny Walker’s conversion to Mohammedanism, one of the main drivers was his father’s “coming out” as a homosexual and his mother’s new-age philosophy, which shifted with every fad. Mohammedanism gave him a moral stability and structure to validate what he was feeling, and a clear sense of right and wrong. Although his parents did not obviously believe in Mohammedanism, it was their own wishy-washy moral relativism and misguided belief in tolerance that allowed him to become radicalized, even to the point where they allowed him as a minor at age 17 to travel to Yemen and study Arabic and Mohammedanism. IMHO, these parents should have been brought up on charges of neglect.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      Right, Jay. I’d even be comfortable saying that an honest engagement with Islamic ideas might mean that we come to see flaws in our own worldview and the way we live our Christianity as well. The Koran actually does have some legitimate criticisms of Christians (that they’re divided and squabbling amongst each other) alongside illegitimate ones (the accusation of tritheism).

      • Qualis Rex says:

        To be fair, Tony, what religious group does NOT squabble internally? Yes, Christians have been squabbling since just after Pentacost (I believe it was over who’s tongue of fire was longer). These squabbles are even codified in Acts and the leters/epistles which are full of admonishments to settle squabbles. But Mohammedanism is by no stretch imune to “squabbles” (I put quotes, since they are far FAR more deadly).

        Contrary to a popular myth propogated by many Mohammedans, there is no united “Ummah” or “brotherhood”. The biggest and most visible “squabble” is of course between the Sunni and Shia, which I believe in this last decade alone has claimed over 600,000+ deaths. Other squabbles are with the Ahmadiya sect (who are not even allowed to call themselves “Muslim” under pain of death/blasphemy laws in several Mohammedan countries). There are Alwites, Khawarij and too many more to mention from Pakistan to Morocco.

        FYI, not only is the Qur’an wrong of tri-theism, it is also wrong in who it names in our Trinity; it says we worship God, His Son (Isa/Jesus) and Mary. this alone should prove the Qur’an is errant/not from God. But not to them.

  11. “My basic disagreement with the Park 51 post is not with its call for greater religious knowledge and understanding, including knowledge and understanding of Islam; it’s with the implicit assumption that once we come to know Islam we’ll find that it really teaches the same sorts of things we all believe anyway, that a mosque is basically just a church with a crescent instead of a cross on top.”

    Why do you think there is the implicit assumption in that post that I quoted that Islam teaches the same sort of thing? I don’t think that is implicit in the post at all, but only that we need to understand it before we critique it. If you could clarify how you thought it had an implicit “we all believe the same thing” sense? I agree with you that this is the main narrative of modern philosophy and that it is disastrous. I just didn’t find it in the post. Thanks.

  12. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    To be fair, I may be conflating somewhat the intention of the original post with a number of things that were said in the discussion that follows.

    Nonetheless, the post you quoted did seem to imply that the unease with building the mosque at the proposed location amounted entirely to fear-mongering, with the last paragraph in particular suggesting we have nothing, really, to fear about Islam. A fair reading of the post, it seems to me, would be “If we knew Islam better, we wouldn’t object to the mosque.” This suggests a rather benign picture of Islam.

    Even though I’m happy to concede that the author’s intention might not have been to support the “we all believe the same thing” narrative, I do think it relies on our predisposition to believe that narrative for its punch…

  13. Mason Slidell says:

    Your diplomatic skills are quite evident here Anthony. There seems to be a lot being said without it being said, if you know what I mean. Since I was the only commenter in the previous post to go on at any length in support of the Cordoba Initiative, I’m sure you mean to address me, at least in part.

    Your tendency to provide information that would inform the reader you’ve had more than just a passing interaction with Islam and Muslims (“I’ve lived and traveled…[in] Central Asia, the Middle East and East Africa) is meant, I’m sure, to give credibility to your analysis of Islam, but just as quickly you seek to absolve yourself of any responsibility (“but I’m not going to pose as an expert on Islamic history, law or culture”).

    Something very common to your writing style is a “dodge and weave” method, in which you poke our head out quickly to say what you think and then, just as quickly, withdraw into a coy and demur “but I’m no expert.” At least for me, this makes honest discourse through the reading of your words and intentions difficult.

    So, let’s all acknowledge up front that we are no experts. We’re just ordinary folk with an interest. Given your general skepticism regarding the “benign face” of Islam some have portrayed, how should we, as Christians living in the West, deal with the malignant face of Islam, which you seem to hold as a more accurate description?

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:


      • Mason Slidell says:

        As Michael Palin would say, “Gosh, we’re all really impressed down here, I can tell you.”

      • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

        Sorry. I couldn’t resist… it’s just so rare I’m accusing of being too diplomatic.

        Part of the point is that there is no simple solution, that what works in the West might not work in the Islamic world. My impression is that the “grand narrative of civilizational warfare” might be more deeply imbedded in Islam than we’d like to think, that it might be the sort of factor we simply have to deal with rather than an aberration that will go away given sufficient goodwill.

        I also think that we need to be more assertively and firmly Christian — that a huge part of the problem is that Muslims looking at the West can’t respect Christianity as a spiritual force because it’s become so watered-down.

        Losing a concept of the natural law in particular I think hurts us in knowing how to respond to Islam, as well as other things. One problem with Islam, as I see it, is precisely the lack of a strong concept of natural law. (Natural law forms the basis of the Church’s belief in religious freedom, as articulated in Dignitatis Humanae.)

        Others have said useful things in this discussion, so I’ll leave my comments at that for now; part of the reason not to pose as an expert is, in addition to not actually being an expert, to give other non-experts the freedom to join in the discussion. I may still criticize what they say, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t find any value in it.

      • Mason Slidell says:

        Christians being Christians would be a great start. In my experience with Muslims, they will often conflate Christianity with Enlightenment secularism, particularly libertinism, capitalism and liberalism.

        The fear many Muslims have of the West is tied to the conception that its values lead, by definition, to the fall of religion in social, political and cultural influence. Christians and Muslims have a natural alliance here. Plus, Christians, from personal and communal experience, could assist Muslims in separating the wheat from the chaff when it comes to Enlightenment secularism.

        Without a doubt the most insightful statement I ever read from Joseph Ratzinger was from his interviews in Salt of the Earth: “Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more by the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intense struggle against evil and bring the good into the world – that let God. I see that there is once more a great deal of activity of this kind…there are powerful way in which faith is present, inspiring people again and giving them dynamism and joy. In other words, there is a presence of faith that means something for the world.”

        Beautifully said. For Christianity to mean something for the world, we must unload the baggage we still defend, consciously or not. We don’t have to defend capitalism or liberalism or libertinism. We don’t have to defend the West. We must only live the gospels – simply, faithfully, nonviolently and lovingly. When we do this, we will find partners among those who may have been confused and/or skeptical of our true allegiance – to Christ or to the West.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Mason – Tony needs no defender, as he can absolutely hold his own in substance, style and character. But as a fellow poster here, I would offer that if you find it “difficult” to engage in “honest discourse”, I would submit that is due to your own bias and predispositions as opposed to anything Tony is writing, which the rest of us seem to able to digest without any problems whether or not we agree with the particular post.

      One can comment observationally on a subject (i.e. “i remember one time I saw…) as a backdrop to preface an opinion, which is offered as such. Somone who lives next-door to a nuclear reactor may have a lot of valid observations but not be an expert in nuclear physics.

  14. Qualis Rex says:

    Mason – you say “The fear many Muslims have of the west…Christians and Muslims have a natural alliance here.” To which I say, no we do not. Categorically. The Catholic response to secularization is evangelization. The Mohammedan response to secularization is imposition of Shari’a. We have seen this over and over from Iran to Nigeria. If you are suggesting that Christians should naturally ally themselves to the Mohammedan call for Shari’a simply because it’s better than secularism, then this is truly misguided to say the least. And make no mistake, regardless of what any Mohammedan tells you, imposition of Shari’a law is the final end-game/goal of Mohammedanism. The closest analogy I can offer is that it is akin to the Christian believe in the eventual Kingdom of God on earth.

    So, no, we are absolutely not allies. The enemy of my enemy is most certainly not my friend, if that is what you were raised to believe.

  15. therese says:

    Mason, You say “We must only live the gospels simply, faithfully, nonviolently & lovingly. When we do this, we will find partners…”

    You’re probably right, we will find partners. We will also find enemies. Please witness the reaction to the paragraph in B16’s Regensberg address that referred to Islam.

    So I too won’t be accused of being ‘coy’, let me be clear: I very much doubt that any person of good will would disagree with your statement quoted above. The problem, to me, comes in what isn’t said, you as say. Tell me, please, what is meant by “nonviolently, loving etc?” Is it “loving” to not call a spade a spade? Is it nonviolent to throw moneychangers out of the temple?

    Of course, since we are in love with Jesus, we all have signed up for the Cross. There’s no end run around that fact, thank goodness. In my experience though, the words that you use (not you personally, since I don’t have any idea what kind of person you are!) are, again to quote, often a ‘facade’ for simply accepting whatever accusation is raised against Christianity without an objection. That way of approaching a problem is often a way of avoiding the Cross.

    Not to belabor the point, but this is what I’ve found so inspiring about this Pope (& all his predecessors in the 20th century): Nonviolently/lovingly does not equal impotent or silent which usually = acquiescence.
    IMO, this is the point of what Chaput is calling for in his Slovakia speech, for Christians to find their voice/spine.

    • Mason Slidell says:


      I mean very simply that everyone is deserving of my love and no one is deserving of my violence. I try to follow (though I fail many times as I’m a sinner) to practice the same philosophy of nonviolence as advocated and practiced by Thoreau, Gandhi, King, Day and Chavez.

      For those women and men, one always spoke the truth, lived the truth and acted directly and boldly so “the powers that be” knew the truth. But the truth does not entitle anyone to hate, attack or kill any other, EVEN IF the other hates, attacks or kills you. It is a hard philosophy that goes against the desires of the flesh, but I find it difficult to read the gospels and not come away with a deep recognition that it is central to salvation by the cross.

      • Gregory says:

        Dorothy Day had an abortion. I’m sorry, How is this a philosophy of non violence?

      • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

        Gregory: I’m sure Mason is referring to Day’s philosophy as developed after her conversion to Catholicism. Her pre-conversion abortion can be considered no more a part of her later philosophy/theology than St. Paul’s pre-conversion persecution of the Church can be considered a part of his Christianity.

      • Gregory says:

        Anthony, I read this and thought of my comment, and thought this passage may apply in the case of Darthy Day and to me as well….

        Luke 7:36-50
        36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat at table.
        37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment,
        38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
        39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
        40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “What is it, Teacher?”
        41 “A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty.
        42 When they could not pay, he forgave them both. Now which of them will love him more?”
        43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, to whom he forgave more.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.”
        44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair.
        45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet.
        46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment.
        47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
        48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”
        49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”
        50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

      • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

        Thank you, Gregory. This passage strikes very close to the heart of the Gospel for me…

  16. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    Actually, I think Mason is on to something important. Muslims have problems with lots of things in Western culture, many of which we (Christians) should have problems with as well.

    “Natural” alliance might be a bit strong but isn’t worth quibbling over. There will be points where we find quite a bit in common with Muslims and can work together — think of the Holy See’s diplomacy at some of the UN conferences on population control, for example. Yes, our ultimate goals are different, but that doesn’t mean we renounce all “tactical” alliances.

    I understand that some might be nervous that even such “tactical alliances” could lead to a weakening of one’s Christian faith, and I don’t want to dismiss such concerns. The real danger in such cases is not of Christians becoming Muslims but of Christians becoming mushy relativists. The point of the mustard seed analogy, however, is that we must become more firmly and thoroughly Christian; a community which is more faithful and secure in its identity, even if it is smaller, will be able to give better witness to everyone — Muslim, secular, whatever — than one that is Christian because that’s just what people are here.

    The bottom line for us is that even if we are in “tactical alliance” with Muslims or other Christians or even secular people (because there are points too where we will find ourselves more aligned with secularists than with Muslims) we never stop evangelizing. We must always be evangelizing.

    • Mason Slidell says:


      I very much agree. Christian by water and spirit, not Christian by locale, heredity or ideology. When we cling to Christ and have no other temporal mistress, what we preach will be as clear as it can be.

  17. Qualis Rex says:

    Mason – you say “the truth does not entitle anyone to hate, attack or kill any other”. So, are you saying that the likes of St Louis, who fought and killed Mohammedans in defense of Europe, the Holy Land and the truth (i.e. that Mohammedanism is a militaristic, hegemonistic threat) was wrong for doing so? The church would disagree with you, given he was beatified.

    Maybe the bigger picture here is how quickly we in the West can have our thoughts and actions be branded as “hate” simply because we do not agree.

  18. mydogoreo says:

    Jackpot, Father. And to Jay Hooks’s comments I would add that it’s all about Sharia, Sharia, Sharia. Every aspect of the devout Moslem’s life is governed by Sharia (which is likely what Card. Ratzinger was referring to).

    Even my Moslem friends agreed that there was really no room for free will; they just do what their told through Sharia.

  19. […] mentioned before on these pages Christian Smith’s insightful study on American spirituality, Soul Searching:  The Religious and […]

  20. Anonymous says:

    “… a greater knowledge of Islam and of things religious more generally, would be a good thing….and once we learn more about each other our suspicions and conflicts will melt away.”

    This is a great point. If people would take the time to learn about other people’s cultures and religions, we could get closer to getting rid of generalizations and stereotypes. I do not, however, agree with how this is phrased. It seems as if all conflict based off of religion disappear with no effort. People can learn about another’s culture and still be strongly opposed to it. Couldn’t people become even more stereotypical if they feel other people’s views threaten their own? Those who lack humility struggle with the idea that they are fallible. Humans tend to think that they are better than they are. Only the humble will be able to get past stereotypes and accept other cultures.

  21. […] that all it really takes is being a “decent” person.  Such a belief is one of the tenets of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” America’s default interdenominational creed.  We are mostly decent people, which means we […]

  22. […] all it really takes is being a “decent” person.  Such a belief is one of the tenets of “moralistic therapeutic deism,” America’s default interdenominational creed.  We are mostly decent people, which means […]

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