The Pope and Islam


One of the commentors below worried about my post on “Charitable Hatred.” I just wanted to confirm – should anyone be in doubt – that I find the angry denunciations of the Holy Father to be lamentable and inexcusable, and don’t mean to blithely dismiss them as just “more of the same” in world history. While the Pope’s remarks might have been inadvisable (that is at least open to debate for another time), and we should worry about papal defenders who are quick to use what one blogger calls “neocolonial” language against what they perceive as “barbaric” or “primitive” peoples, the lecture, which has largely gone unread, did not merit the response of harsh and cruel (and sometimes cynically opportunistic) rhetoric, much less the horrific firebombings of churches. Please read the lecture.

One hopes that the horrific attacks on churches prove to be isolated incidents, for the sake of Christianity and Islam alike. As many of you know, the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, stated with “esteem” about Muslims, “They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.” This particular insight, I think, should actually be enough to ground the claim that, as one Declaration signed in 2002 by prominent Christian, Muslim, and Jewish leaders said, “killing innocents in the name of God is a desecration of His Holy Name, and defames religion in the world.”

Why is belief in God, “merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men,” strictly incompatible with any violence committed in his name? Put simply, if God needs to be avenged or protected, or his cause and reputation require us to desperately secure political influence and earthly success for their survival, then God becomes a god. I would like to turn to a couple paragraphs from a lecture that Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, delivered at al-Azhar al-Sharif in Cairo in 2004 (it answers the question quite succintly):

But there is a practical consequence of this belief about the One Living God. If God is truly not a part of the world, truly self-sufficient, then his will never depends upon how things turn out in the world. We cannot work out what is just and good simply from what seems to work, from what the world finds successful or easy or popular. What is good and just is rooted in eternal truth, in the nature of God, who is what he is quite independently of what the world is and what the world thinks. The world may tell us that we should behave in such and such a way – that we should seek only to make and keep money, that we should break our promises, that we should take revenge and show no mercy, that we should take our pleasures where we like. Sometimes behaviour of this sort seems to bring success in the world. But the believer knows that no amount of worldly success can make bad things good, because nothing in the world can change the will of God, who is beyond all change and cannot be affected or weakened by any other being. So we hold to our calling to virtue and generosity and justice whatever may happen, even if, today and tomorrow, it does not make our life easy and comfortable. We struggle in our interior, spiritual battle, to be faithful to God’s will.

The greatest challenge today for our world is how to react to circumstances in a way that is faithful to God’s will. Undoubtedly, greed and revenge affect all of us. We feel that we want to defend ourselves in the way that a person without faith or hope or love would understand – in anger and bitterness and unforgiving cruelty. But when we act in such a way, we show that we do not really believe in a God who is living and self-sufficient. We do not believe that God’s will is enough; we act as though the circumstances of this world could so change things that cruelty and fear could become the right tools with which to defend ourselves.

So when the Christian, the Muslim or the Jew sees his neighbour of another faith following the ways of this world instead of the peaceful will of God, he must remind his neighbour of the nature of the one God we look to, whose will cannot be changed and who will himself see that justice is done. Once we let go of justice, fairness and respect in our dealings with one another, we have dishonoured God as well as human beings. …

So whenever a Muslim, a Christian or a Jew refuses to act in violent revenge, creating terror and threatening or killing the innocent, that person bears witness to the true God. They have stepped outside the way the faithless world thinks. A person without faith, hope and love may say, If I do not use indiscriminate violence and terror, there is no safety for me. The believer says, My safety is with God, whose justice can never be defeated. If I defend myself, I seek to do so only in a way that honours God and God’s image in others, and that does not offend against God’s justice. To seek to find reconciliation, to refuse revenge and the killing of the innocent, this is a form of adoration towards the One Living and Almighty God.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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