Month: July 2005

Pope Benedict XVI Roundup!

  • The First Three Months of Benedict XVI: New Pope, New Style, by Sandro Magister. http://www.chiesa July 25, 2005, offering an appraisal of the Holy Father’s pontificate thus far, with attention to those who criticize him as “an enemy of modernity” as well as the Father’s ability to “captivate the crowd” in a new way:

    The same masses of the faithful that applauded the gestures or striking phrases of pope Karol Wojtyla, while almost completely missing what it was that he was talking about, are doing the opposite with the new pope. They follow Ratzinger’s homilies word for word, from beginning to end, with an attentiveness that astonishes the experts. Verifying this takes nothing more than mingling among the crowds in attendance at a Mass celebrated by the pope.

    The new pope’s style is sober in terms of his contact with the masses. His symbolic expressiveness comes entirely from the liturgy, which he celebrates with a great sense of authority. But apart from the Masses, catecheses, and blessings, Benedict XVI is a minimalist. “The pope must not proclaim his own ideas, but rather constantly bind himself and the Church to obedience to God’s Word,” he said when taking possession of the Chair of the Bishop of Rome, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on May 7. And he keeps to this standard even in regard to public gestures. He does very little of his own. He wants the faithful to pay attention to what is essential, which is not his own person but Jesus Christ alive and present in the sacraments of the Church.

  • Via Cosmos, Liturgy, Sex — what a great name for a blog! — comes Benedict XVI, Vatican II and Modernity July 24, 2005. A Zenit interview with Tracey Rowland, dean and permanent fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family – Melbourne and author of “Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II (Routledge, 2003), on the Holy Father’s role in the Second Vatican Council (“I don’t think that the Council changed his views so much as his views shaped the Council”) and the Church’s role and its relationship to “the world”:

    Contrary to popular perceptions, his Augustinian spirituality does not mean that he is against the world or that he believes that Catholics should crawl into ghettos.

    What it does mean is that he is no Pelagian. He doesn’t think that with sufficient education the New Jerusalem can be built on earth. Civics education alone, lectures on human rights, exhortations about brotherly love and the common good, will get nowhere unless people are open to the work of grace and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    A humanism that is not Christian cannot save the world. This was the conclusion of his fellow peritus Henri de Lubac, and Benedict has made some very strong statements against the pretensions of a mere secular humanism.

    Moreover, while he is not advocating a retreat from the world, he has exhorted Catholics to rediscover with evangelical seriousness the courage of nonconformism in the face of the social trends of the affluent world.

    He has said that we ought to have the courage to rise up against what is regarded as “normal” for a person at the end of the 20th century and to rediscover faith in its simplicity. In other words, one can engage the world, and be in the world, without being of the world.

    (Here is Part II of the interview with Dr. Rowland).

  • There are some affinities between Rowland’s perception of Benedict and that of Fr. Komonchak’s sketch of Pope Benedict’s Augistinian, or Bonoventurian, perspective (The Church in Crisis: Pope Benedict’s Theological Vision, Commonweal June 3, 2005 / Volume CXXXII, Number 11).

    According to Komonchak:

    “Much has been made of his experience of student unrest at the University of Tübingen in 1968. Many see that experience as the best explanation of the apparent intellectual about-face that turned the young progressive theologian of the Second Vatican Council into the poster-child of conservative reaction in theology and in church politics. There is something to this, and Joseph Ratzinger was not the only European intellectual to have been deeply affected by the excesses of the fascists of the left at the time. (We all know the definition of a neoconservative: a liberal who’s been mugged.)

    But overemphasizing that Tübingen experience may lead one to overlook the deeper continuity in the new pope’s basic theological approach and vision. . . .

    Komonchak describes Benedict’s perspective as a “Bonaventuran” theological vision, presenting “the Christian message as the only truly liberating force” over and against “contemporary philosophy or the human and natural sciences,” sharply critical of post-Vatican II theology which had “lost its critical distance and has become a handmaiden of the various forms of positivism”:

    . . . In Ratzinger’s writings, there are very few positive references to intellectual developments outside the church; they almost always appear as antithetical to the specifically Christian. There are no cultural or social pierres d’attente. Instead, dichotomies abound, contrasts between the Christian notions of truth, freedom, nature and those current in Western culture. The faith must be presented as countercultural, as an appeal to nonconformity. It can appeal to the widespread sense of disillusion to what modernity has promised but been unable to deliver. It will make its appeal by presenting the Christian vision in its synthetic totality as a comprehensive structure of meaning that at nearly every point breaks with the taken-for-granted attitudes, strategies, and habits of contemporary culture. The gospel will save us, not philosophy, not science, and not scientific theology. The great model for this enterprise is the effort to preach the gospel in the alien world of antiquity and to construct the vision of Christian wisdom manifest in the great ages of faith before philosophy, science, and technology separated themselves into autonomous areas of reflection and activity.

    One can tell where this is headed. In the latter part of his article, Komonchak portrays then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s role as Prefect of the CDF as one in staunch opposition to and suppression of “theological pluralism”, academic freedom and a progressive “dialogue with the world.” In a condescending reproach, he expresses the hope that with his ascension to the chair of Peter he might “recognize that the necessary proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ will include moments for listening . . . to others — of different minds and different approaches — within the household of the faith.”

    Thankfully, a well-deserved and substantial critique of Fr. Komonchak’s article is penned by Jamie Blosser at Ad Limina Apostolorum, budding patristics scholar at Catholic University of America and himself an “inveterate Augustinian.”

  • On the eve of the feast of St. Benedict (July 11, 2005); Pope Benedict devoted his weekly Angelus address to his namesake, St. Benedict of Norcia (480-547):

    . . . here is a particular aspect of his spirituality, which today I would particularly like to underline. Benedict did not found a monastic institution oriented primarily to the evangelization of barbarian peoples, as other great missionary monks of the time, but indicated to his followers that the fundamental, and even more, the sole objective of existence is the search for God: “Quaerere Deum.”

    He knew, however, that when the believer enters into a profound relationship with God he cannot be content with living in a mediocre way, with a minimalist ethic and superficial religiosity. In this light, one understands better the expression that Benedict took from St. Cyprian and that is summarized in his Rule (IV, 21) — the monks’ program of life: “Nihil amori Christi praeponere.” “Prefer nothing to the love of Christ.”

    Holiness consists in this valid proposal for every Christian that has become a true pastoral imperative in our time, in which one perceives the need to anchor life and history in solid spiritual references.

    A Sublime and perfect model of sanctity is Mary Most Holy, who lived in constant and profound communion with Christ. Let us invoke her intercession, together with that of St. Benedict, so that the Lord will multiply also in our time men and women who, through an enlightened faith, witnessed in life, will be in this new millennium salt of the earth and light of the world.

    You can find the full text of Pope Benedict’s address here, courtesy of Zenit News Service. (Or better yet, hear him here, via Vatican Radio — now podcasting).

  • Friend on High Gulfshore Life interviews Fr. Joseph Fessio on his friendship with Pope Benedict XVI, among other things:

    Q: Are people overreacting to his conservative stance?

    A: I think some of the hostility [among Catholics] is projection. He has to tell people, “You can support women’s reproductive rights if you want, but you can’t be a Catholic in good standing.” They get angry, and they project that anger back on him. He’s not an angry man; he’s serene. But he’s serenely proclaiming controversial truths.

    Q: Will there be any changes?

    A: We have a creed, and that’s not going to change. John Paul II knew he couldn’t change the teachings — he didn’t want to — so he changed the location. His travel was big news, but what he said was old news.

    Q: How will he surprise people?

    A: With the depth and richness and clarity of his intellect. The man is phenomenal — and part of that is his capacity to listen.

    (Via Curt Jester).

  • From David Major Jones’ la nouvelle théologie blog comes an excerpt from interview with Henri De Lubac (30 Giorni July 1985), in which the famous theologian offered his impressions on “the [‘very public’] manner in which Cardinal Ratzinger conducts the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
  • No Prophet In His Own Land: Reflections on Benedict XVI, Crisis July 4, 2005. Alice von Hildebrand reflects on what she believes is the largely cool reception Germany has given to the election of one of their own:

    One would have hoped that their response would mirror that of the Polish people when Karol Wojtyla became John Paul II, if only for purely nationalistic reasons. Nothing of the sort happened: “No one is a prophet in his own country” sadly applies in this case. The cool response of many Germans, and the outspoken antagonism of others, speak volumes for the state of Catholicism in the country that gave us Luther. . . .

    According to Hildebrand, it was the Cardinal’s post-1960’s disillusionment with post-VII liberalism that led to his unpopularity among Germans:

    As His Eminence relates in his autobiography, Milestones (Ignatius, 1997), after Vatican II, he became conscious of the poison contained in some innovative theological ideas that were spreading like wildfire. Once in Bamberg in 1966, he gave a talk in which he articulated his concerns. Afterward, Julius Cardinal Döpfner expressed “his surprise at the conservative streak he thought he detected.” Was he not recanting positions he had previously defended?

    Having perceived the dead alleys into which some of the theses he’d previously endorsed were leading, the still-young theologian didn’t hesitate to change course. From this moment on, his popularity declined.

    She mentions as well then-Cardinal’s clashes with prominent liberals Bishop Karl Lehmann of Mainz and Bishop Walter Kasper of Rottenberg-Stuttgart on various pastoral issues.

    Mrs. Hildebrand goes on to praise the Holy Father for “accepting the cross of the papacy” and his courage in the face of the attacks that are sure to follow, recalling his Christlike patience in dealing with protestors at a 1988 talk in New York city (at the invitation of then-Lutheran Fr. Richard J. Neuhaus). She closes with a reflection on his choice of name and his views on the liturgy: “This is the pontiff whom the Holy Ghost has inspired weak and imperfect men to give us as the representative of Christ on this earth. A Te Deum and a Magnificat are called for.”

  • Reading Ratzinger. Amy Welborn reviews “the second long piece on Roman Catholicism that the New Yorker has run in recent months.” The article itself is not available online, but judging by her comments it’s probably not worth purchasing the magazine. Ah, well — at least they made the effort. As Amy says, “What other secular magazine is attempting to take this moment seriously?”
  • Chris Young designed this bumper sticker for his dad, and then had it printed in volume due to the popular response it received. If you’d like to get one for World Youth Day — one of the many enjoyable traditions is the giving of gifts to pilgrims from other countries — you can order them here. Price is $3.95 each (with postage of $1.50 for 1-2; $3.50 for 3-10; $5.50 for 11-20; etc.).
  • It’s summertime . . . meaning vacation . . . and here’s Pope Benedict On the Value of Vacation: “Days in Which More Time Can Be Dedicated to Prayer” Zenit. Address before praying the midday Angelus with some 6,000 people gathered in the Alpine village of Les Combes, Italy. July 17, 2005. (Photographs from Benedict’s vacation in Italy can be found on the Ratzinger Forum — leave it to the fans to find the best)
  • Amy Welborn (Open Book) blogs on the Pope Benedict’s trip to Val Grisanche in the alpine region of Valle d’Aosta in northwest Italy, with photographs and excerpts from a meeting with journalists in which the Holy Father gave his opinion on the 7/7 London bombings.
  • Planning on traveling to Europe yourself? Deutsche Welle reports that the Holy Father’s native land has become something of a tourist spot, with the help of an Italian guidebook to Benedict’s favorite haunts:

    Not content with providing guided tours of his current address, an Italian entrepreneur based in Germany has copied the business ideas of her Vatican-based cousins by compiling a guidebook to the pope’s Bavaria.

    Now with the help of the 152-page book “The Bavaria of Joseph Ratzinger; a practical guide to the origins of Benedict XVI”, papal devotees can plan their vacations in the southern German state around the places where the pope lived, the churches where he celebrated Mass and his favorite places to eat.

    The book, which also contains essential information such as where the young Joseph Ratzinger first raised a bierstein of Weizen, goes on sale this week in Italian bookstores.“It’s a different way to get to know this holy man, for Catholics and non-Catholics,” Jeanne Perego, the Italian author, told reporters.

    Back in April Deutsche Welle reported on Ratzinger’s birthplace, the “sleepy village” of Marktl am Inn, now coping with the flood of tourists, journalists and pilgrims. The Charlotte Observer also reports on the increasing trend of Following in the pontiff’s footsteps (July 24, 2003).

  • “The Pope and the Pussycats”, by Sandy Robins. MSNBC July 13, 2005:

    After weeks of speculation, the cat is out of the bag — Pope Benedict XVI loves felines. It turns out that the pope is the proud owner of Chico, a black-and-white domestic short hair that lives at the pope’s home in the Bavarian town of Tübingen, Germany.

    Agnes Heindl, long-time housekeeper to the pope’s brother, Father Georg Ratzinger, who lives in nearby Regensburg, told MSNBC.com that Chico is currently being looked after by the caretaker of the pope’s private residence [due to regulations against pets in Vatican apartments].

    Cat lovers rejoiced in the election of Pope Benedict. According to Vatican officials, the Holy Father’s email address “has been swamped with messages from animal lovers asking for blessings and his prayers. Even in Rome his love for cats was well known:

    According to local news reports, the pope used to walk the streets of Borgo Pio, his former Roman neighborhood just east of the Vatican, where neighbors likened him to Dr. Dolittle with a Pied Piper charm. Stray cats would run to him when they saw him coming and he used to prepare food for them daily on special plates.

    See the rest of the lengthy article for a look at the favorite pets of past popes and the “special place” felines have in the hearts of Italians.

  • Getting our vote for the fluffiest reporting on the Holy Father to date: Pope may be turning into an icon . . . of fashion, by Martin Penner. Sunday Times July 16, 2005.
  • Finally, why would Pope Benedict XVI’s secretary Father Georg Ganswein send an Irish journalist living in Moscow a bottle of Old Bushmills Irish Whiskey and the note “His Holiness Remembers the Bet”? — FIND OUT FOR YOURSELF. A truly delightful story and a testimony to the Holy Father’s good humor.

    Update: The downside to the internet – rumors travel fast. The upside: readers kind enough to engage in fact-checking. Etienne relays the following:

    Here ist the answer the German news agency send to me after contacting the Vatican about the story:

    “Wie unsere Nachfrage beim Vatikan ergab, ist die Geschichte leider frei erfunden. Der in der Meldung genannte Sekretär des Papstes, Georg Gänswein, verwies darauf, dass der Papst strikter Alkohol-Abstinenzler sei. Er wäre also niemals eine Wette um Alkohol eingegangen, auch nicht als Kardinal.”

    I think a translation is not necessary. The story was denied by Fr. Georg Gänswein.

From Salt of the Earth

Responding to the question: “What would you yourself see as specific about your theology or the way you do theology?”:

I began with the theme of the Church, and it is present in everything. Only, in dealing with the Church it was important to me, and it has become increasingly important, that the Church not be an end to herself but exist so that God may be seen. In this respect I would say that I study the theeme of the Church with the intention of opening a vista onto God. And in this sense God is the real central theme of my endeavors.

I have never tried to create a system of my own, an individual theology. What is specific, if you want to call it that, is that I simply want to think in communion with the faith of the Church, and that means above all to think in communion with the great thinkers of the faith. The aim is not an isolated theology that I draw out of myself, but one that opens as widely as possible into the common intellectual pathway of the faith. For this reason exegesis was always very important. I couldn’t imagine a purely philosophical theology. The point of departure is first of all the word. That we believe the word of God, that we really try to get to know and understand it, and then, as I said, to think it together with the great masters of the faith. This gives my theology a somewhat biblical character and also bears the stamp of the Fathers, especially Augustine. But it goes without saying that I try not to stop with the ancient Church but to hold fast ot the great high points of thought and at the same time to bring contemporary thought into the discussion.

On conscience and the “primacy of truth over goodness”

The appeal to conscience can, of course, shift into obstinacy, in which you always think you have to be against everything. But, understood in a proper sense, a man who listens to his conscience and for whom the truth that he has recognized, the good, is above approval and acceptance, is really an ideal and a model for me. And personalities like Thomas More, Cardinal Newman, and other great witnesses — we have the great men who were persecuted by the Nazi regime, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example — are great examples for me. . . .

There is a willingness to purchase well-being, success, public regard, and approval from the reigning opinion by dispensing with the truth . . . under the pretext of goodness people neglect conscience. They place acceptance, the avoidance of problems, the comfortable pursuuit of their existence, the good opinion of others, and good-naturedness above truth in the scale of values.

On the importance of “[keeping] intact a sense of the joyful beauty of the redeemed creation”:

A joyfulness based on willful blindness to the horrors of history would ultimately be a lie or a fiction, a kind of withdrawal. But the converse is also true. Those who have lost the capacity to see that even in an evil world the Creator still shines through are at the bottom no longer capable of existing. They become cynical, or they have to say farewell to life altogether. In this sense, the two things belong together: the refusal to evade the abysses of history and of man’s existence, and then the insight that faith give sus that the good is present, even if we aren’t always able to connect the two things. Particularly when one has to resist evil it’s all the more important not to fall into the gloomy moralism that doesn’t allow itself any joy but really to see how much beauty there is, too, and to draw from it the strength needed to resist what destroys joy.

Excerpts from Salt of the Earth: The Church at the end of the Millenium (Ignatius Press: 1997), part of this summer’s (re)reading.

Sound Criticism or Impediments to Fruitful Conversation?

[Crossposted to Religion & Liberty]

David Jones (la nouvelle théologie) has alerted me to the following by Fr. Jape — “Against Progressives and Progressivisms” — written in response to a passing reference to him in the context of our discussion of the Zwicks’ article “The Economic Religion of Michael Novak” here, as well as criticisms of David T. Koyzis aka. “Byzantine-Rite Calvinist.

I haven’t read a great deal of Fr. Jape and The New Pantagruel — actually, I was going to make a serious point to spend part of the weekend reading his contributions — so I’ll bypass weighing the merits of the allegation that he wishes “to abandon the western democratic project entirely.”

Regardless of their critique of the admittedly real failures of liberal democracy, it seems to me the “Augustinian Thomists” are nonetheless content to remain residents (and presumably participants) in “The American Experiment.” As Fr. Jape notes, it is erroneous to assume that “if one rejects the liberal premise of public involvement, one must by necessity become a mountain recluse mailing explosive packages to university professors.”

However, having familiarized myself to some degree with Novak’s works, I think I’m qualified to comment on Fr. Jape’s charges of utopial idealism in the latter part of his post:

. . . Novak went so far recently as to make the absurd claim that the onset of a global economy has demonstrated that “it need not be the case that ‘you always have the poor with you’ [quoting our Lord]” and “that it is a moral obligation of societies as well as individuals to overcome poverty.” It is central to Novak’s progressive gospel to believe that, in his words, “the chains of poverty [can] be systematically broken” and there is a “moral imperative that they must be broken.” Perhaps Novak will soon turn up authoring a UN declaration that progress in human enlightenment has reached such a point that “it need not be the case that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God'” and that now it is incumbent upon society to break the yoke of human sin. But of course this is the logical outcome of the modern liberal state as developed and analyzed so clearly (and tragically) by Nietzsche’s self-salvific proposal to deal grace to himself. Conservatives and Christians simply don’t pay enough attention to Nietzsche

While Novak’s turn of phrase is indeed susceptible to misinterpretation, I find Fr. Jape’s interpretation nonetheless over the top and highly exaggerated. It’s doubtful that Novak intended for his words to be taken in a utopian “make poverty history” sense of Bog Geldoff’s Live8 concert campaign.

In fact, one might gain a better understanding of where Novak is going with this by reading the quotes in their proper context — which is to say the rest of the paragraph, which Fr. Jape conveniently omits in his rush to castigate Novak for his presumed utopian faith:

While Americans retain a strong notion of human imperfection and affirm the need for checks and balances — in other words, they hold to a nonutopian understanding of human nature — they also take an almost Catholic delight in the goodness and possibilities and wonders of creation. “Chance,” Tocqueville notes, “is an element always present to the mind of those who live in the unstable conditions of a democracy, and in the end they come to love enterprises in which chance plays a part. This draws them to trade not only for the sake of promised gain, but also because they love the emotions it provides.”

In such a tumultuous nation, marked by extraordinary social and economic fluidity, people began to understand — perhaps for the first time in human history — that poverty was not necessarily a natural condition. The age-old class structure — not to mention the seemingly inevitable premodern cycle of prosperity and economic decline — could be broken. And if such progress were possible in the United States, why not in other countries? The chains of poverty could be systematically broken — and if they could be broken, there was a moral imperative that they must be broken.

And so they were — first in the United States, and then slowly, progressively, around the world. Little by little, people began to understand that it need not be the case that “you always have the poor with you” (Matthew 26:11) — that it is a moral obligation of societies as well as individuals to overcome poverty. Whereas poverty had previously been taken to be the natural condition of most human beings everywhere, through the workings of capitalism it came to be considered as counter to nature, immoral, and the result of inadequate social planning and effort. In America, the process of moving up and out of poverty, generation by generation, came to be called fulfilling the “American dream.”

Novak’s optimistic assertions about the “American dream” and the potential of liberal institutions for moving the poor up and out of poverty,
may indeed be subject to scrutiny, but I don’t see how one could question the fact that we have a moral obligation to assist those in need and, insofar as it is possible, help them out of poverty.

Likewise, once Novak’s quotes are read in context,
it does not appear that Novak labors under the illusory utopianism of Fr. Jape’s portrayal. He does, however, make the case that capitalist development in the context of liberal democracy presents the best opportunities for assisting the poor from the ground up, and is demonstrably better than socialist planning and other failed economic experiments of the past. “The greatest of all acts of charity is to teach the poor a system for escaping from the prison of poverty.”*

I think that in such discussions as this one must always be on the alert for taking a phrase or a passage out of context. It is possible to take Novak’s praise of the free market and corporations and, isolated from the rest of his work, conclude — per the Zwicks, that he is an “apologist for Enron” who, along with Fr. Sirico of The Acton Institute, “use Catholicism as window dressing to promote an economic system based solely on self-interest,” or, per Pat Buchanan (in a recent Godspy inteview, that he belongs to “a sect that holds, heretically, that free market-democracy is mankind’s salvation.” These kind of characterizations make for memorable sound bytes or catch-phrases to be recited ad nauseum — but, in my opinion, they do nothing in terms of promoting a serious discussion.

It has always been Novak’s contention, as far as I have read of him, that the very success of the free market and liberal democracy is contingent on the degree to which it is grounded in the practice of virtue and the Judeo-Christian moral tradition. For further discussion see my post The Neocons – Apologists for Free-Market Utopianism? January 8, 2005.

I’ve already demonstrated this penchant for quoting out of context with respect to the Zwicks. Although it seems to be the case with Fr. Japery in this post, I trust he knows better and look forward to reading more.

* * *

Update Where Novak stands with respect to capitalism was briefly articulated by Novak in the correspondence from the latest issue of First Things, which I was fortunate enough to read during this morning’s commute. As it is not yet available online I will take the liberty of posting:

While I cannot agree with every part of [the reader’s] summation of my arguent, he is quite right on his main point — that capitalism posits no moral end for the human person. (To be sure, this is also an advantage; it is a system open to many persons who have quite contrary perceptions of the best life for the human person.).

That is why my own conception of a sound social system calls for more than capitalism — in fact, for three systems in one; not only an economic system anchored around the ownership and practical insights reached through invention and discovery, but also a political system that protects the rule of law as well as individual and minority rights, and that separates political, legislative and judicial powers; and also a strong cultural system based on the full flourishing of persons and communities, and rooted in the depths of the human spirit. Capitalism alone could not suffice for a full human vision, nor even for its own integrity and longetivity.

In my view, the fullest vision of human fulfillment, both for individuals and for the whole human community, is the Christian (Catholic) faith. That faith provides the fullest theory of political and personal liberty that I have ever encountered, and also — and this is a newer discovery — the best theory of the free economy. But two thirds of humanity are not currently Christian, so the open-endedness of capitalism, its limitation in one respect, is in other respects a strength to be grateful for.

Indeed, whatever the limitations of capitalism, which are many and real, its strengths should not go underappreciated. Capitalism is the best hope of the poor to be liberated from immemorial poverty. It is, on the material side, the best supplier of support for a rich and complex civil society. And empirically, at least, it appears to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for the successful rooting of democracy. These are not minor social virtues.

The specific complaint [against capitalism] — that it tends to obscure Christian truth about the love of God, and to implicate us in too many worldly and pleasurable distractions — was lodged just as effectively against mercantilism, feudalism, and every other economy in history.

Nonetheless, in a society as free and as rich in human possiblities as the United STates and Europe, I don’t think that at the Final Judgement we will be able to plead as a mitigating circumstance that “capitalism made us do it.”

We are, as history goes, remarkably free and remarkably endowed with the means to show our love for God in ways as numerous as the stars of the sky. If we do not do so, the fault lies not in our systems but in ourselves.

One might hope that Michael Novak’s clarification will be enough to dispel the misunderstandings (and misrepresentations) of his detractors, and we can continue on a real and fruitful discussion of these issues.


* p. 108, The Universal Hunger for Liberty). To understand why Novak proposes this, I recommend part two of this book — “The Economics of Liberty” — as a brief introduction to Novak’s thought, more fully developed elsewhere; and perhaps Thomas Sowell’s Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy (Basic Books, 2004).

Here and There . . .

An irregular roundup of blogs, articles and commentary.

  • Who is the greatest theologian of all time? — In answer to a recent survey run by the TheologicalStudies.org, the Protestant theologian John Calvin won out (over Augustine, Karl Barth, Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Schleiermacher — yes, in that order). However, the Christian Post reveals that “The poll was conducted in May and was based on responses from 400 web viewers,” making for a rather limited panel, in my opinion.

    Needless to say, the results are being contested — and the question reconsidered — by Blogodoxy (favoring Origen), Ad Limina (seconding Blogodoxy’s choice of Origen), and Pontifications, as yet undecided but Fr. Al “would put Thomas Aquinas, Karl Barth, and Martin Luther (in that order) above John Calvin.”

  • Peter Sean Bradley (Lex Communis) reports on a blog controversy over the historicity of the Catholic Church. “The controversy was kicked off by a post at Redstate where various bloggers reviewed Thomas Woods’ How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. . . .” — Peter provides a good roundup of the discussion, including contributions by Josh Trevino and Jimmy Akin, as well as his own perspective on the matter.
  • Justin Nickelsen, a friend and reader of David Jone’s la nouvelle théologie — has been inspired to start his own blog: RRCT: Retrieval and Renewal in Catholic Thought. One of his opening posts is on the “journalistic maturing” of John Allen, Jr., reporter for the National Catholic Reporter and the well-read column “Word from Rome”.
  • On la nouvelle théologie, a flurry of comments and a minor dustup btw/ Stephen Hand and myself, but may be useful reading in that I clarify exactly why I do not believe the Zwicks (of the Houston Catholic Worker) are “exactly on point” in their treatment of Michael Novak, but rather indulge in a misreading, and perhaps even a deliberate misrepresentation, of his position on issues in Catholic social doctrine.

    Presently I’m reading and enjoying Novak’s Free Persons and the Common Good, a very rich and educational study in understanding the term from the Catholic perspective as well as Alexis de Tocqueville and the writings of our founding fathers. Novak wrote his book in tribute to Jacques Maritain and the 40th anniversary of Maritain’s influential essay The Person and the Common Good.

  • My brother Jamie-the-Patristics-Scholar has just updated his Saint Augustine’s Library — “[his] attempt to compile a comprehensive ‘library’ of St. Augustine’s works, their translations, and commentaries which are available online.” A very impressive compilation of links and resources. Check it out.
  • Jonathan Bennnett, author of Ancient & Future Catholic Musings blogs on the Catholic practice of offering it up.
  • Mystery Achievement on the need to Purge the Poison of Anti-Semitism:

    For the poison of anti-Semitism to be purged from the Church, we Catholics must come to terms with the modern state of Israel. I’m not talking about the diplomatic sphere, either–as important as was the Holy See’s establishment of relations with Israel was. I am talking about the theological sphere.

    One of the things that Benedict talked about in his meeting wtih Jewish leaders in Rome was the need to come to grips with the theological and moral dimensions of the Holocaust. And speaking of same, a good place to start would be to examine the roots of the “Palestinian” movement . . .

  • Benedictines Come Home: An Ancient Order Returns to Norcia:

    It may seem strange that the church built over the house of the man who founded Western monasticism would be devoid of Benedictines, but that was indeed the case. When Napoleon conquered Italy in the first decade of the 19th century, he outlawed monasteries and expelled the Benedictines from Norcia. The church was given over to the diocese and the monastery remained empty.

    Then, during the great Jubilee of 2000, the year of conversions and miracles, the tide turned. A tiny group of American Benedictines led by Father Cassian Folsom came to Rome looking to return to their monastic roots. Their paths crossed with the archbishop of Spoleto and Norcia, Riccardo Fontana, who invited the little group to return to the home of their founder. . . .

  • Can’t afford a pilgrimage to Rome but always wanted to hear Papa B16’s general audiences? — According to Zenit News Service, Podcasting Has Arrived. “Vatican Radio broadcasts in more than 40 languages to every country via all long, medium and short waves and, for the last four years, has enabled its listeners to tune in via the Web, at www.105live.vaticanradio.org — recently, they ventured into the technological trend of podcasting, enabling Catholics to plug in with their IPods and portable MP3 players.
  • Worries about Resurgent Devotions, Fr. Jim Tucker (Dappled Things) responds to an article (“Let’s not be hopelessly devoted to devotions”) by U.S. Catholic associate editor Bryan Cones, criticizing the prevalence of popular piety among young Catholics.
  • L’Espresso interviews Pope Benedict XVI’s spokesman Joaquín Navarro-Valls, “From doctor to journalist. Love. Chastity. A passion for dance. Opus Dei. And twenty-one years spent beside two popes.”
  • Swimming the Tiber, or how I came to love infallibility, by Fr. Kimel of Pontifications. (See also The Church of the Body and Blood of Christ – an account of his reception into full communion with the Catholic Church at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Greenville, South Carolina:

    . . . here is no uncertainty in the Catholic Church. The sacramental intention of the Church and her liturgy is clear. This is a Church that truly believes and confesses and prays the Real Presence.

    The Body of Christ was given to me to eat. The Blood of Christ was given to me to drink. At that moment I knew that I now belong to the Church of the Body and Blood of Christ.

    Also, The Pontificator makes his First Confession.

  • Dawn Eden (The Dawn Patrol) has an ongoing account of her conversion to the Catholic faith:

    C.S. Lewis wrote that those who find themselves in heaven will look back and realize they had been there since birth (and so too with those in hell). Likewise, when I look back to my earliest understanding of God, I see an affinity with Catholic faith. My faith journey now seems like a natural progress, brought to its greatest fruition with the understanding and acceptance of the Roman Catholic Church as the church that Jesus founded and has chosen as His means of salvation. . . .

    Part One, Two and Three.

  • Evangelization 101: A Short Guide to Sharing the Gospel, by Carl Olson. Ignatius Insight: If asked to complete this sentence, “The entire mission of the Church, then, is concentrated and manifested in      “, how many Catholics would finish it with the word “evangelization“?
  • Excessive Catholicism would like to say “We Told You So”:

    That is what the pro-life movement can collectively say, now that infanticide is being rationalized in a major medical journal and the nation’s paper of record. Yes, on March 10, 2005, the New England Journal of Medicine printed an article by some Dutch physicians that sets out some ethical and procedural guidelines for killing newborns that have severe disabilities. . . .
  • Matt C. Abott, columnist for RenewAmerica, posts an exchange btw/ gay Catholic James Clark and James Likoudis of Catholics United for the Faith, on homosexuality and the Church’s inclusive call to sainthood.

  • Father Down (Waiting in Joyful Hope) has a good post on sexual intersubjectivity written in response to a student’s inquiry:

    So why can’t the object of the intersubjective union be pleasure? It most certainly can be, and for a sexual union to be a truly intersubjective union means that each spouse should be attentive to the pleasurable elements of sex, not for themselves, but for their spouse. “Wham bam thank you ma’am” has no place in Catholic discipleship regarding sex, even if it is open to procreation. But what I think you are really asking is, “Why does *each and every* sexual union have to be intersubjective, i.e. open-to-the-total-gift-of-the-others-fertility-and-the-gift-of-God’s-blessing?” . . .

    That’s the question posed by his student. Read his post for the answer.

On a lighter note

  • Earlier this month my little bro’ Nathan completed the qualifications for Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist Designator. He was “pinned” by the MCPN (Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy) who is the highest ranking enlisted man in the entire Navy.

    The Enlisted Surface Warfare Specialist designator is awarded when a Sailor passes the respective qualifications involving a broad knowledge of all the weapons systems and main components of all the departments on a ship.

    The most recent papist of the Blosser Family converts, Nathan is actively involved with religious life aboard his shop, assisting his priest at Mass and spreading the gospel to his fellow sailors. (Via Dr. Blosser aka. The Pertinacious Papist, who posts a photo of the “pinning”).

Pope Benedict XVI and Harry Potter

Turning now from what I imagined was a somewhat substantial post on Islam and the religious roots of terrorism to a far weighter topic which absolutely demands our readers’ attention: the INTERNATIONAL MEDIA SCANDAL involving Pope Benedict’s alleged CONDEMNATION of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series in an apparent reprisal of his former role as the VATICAN ENFORCER. (News at 11).

When I half-jokingly mentioned Cardinal Ratzinger’s comments on in our last Benedict Roundup as one that may cause international division, I didn’t anticipate that it would recieve this much attention. . . . never underestimate the power of a hysterical MSM (Mainstream Media) to blow this out of proportion.

Consequently, here is the obligatory “Harry Potter” roundup for those who are interested:

  • Beginning once again, here is the source of the papal criticism of Harry Potter: Pope Benedict Opposes Harry Potter Novels, LifeSiteNews.com. June 27, 2005:

    In 2003, a month after the English press throughout the world falsely proclaimed that Pope John Paul II approved of Harry Potter, the man who was to become his successor sent a letter to a Catholic German critic of Harry Potter outlining his agreement with her opposition to Rowling’s offerings. . . .

    The main thrust of Kuby’s objection to Potter is that the books corrupt the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy.

    In the Zenit interview, Kuby quotes from the letter she received from Cardinal Ratzinger. In the letter, then-Cardinal Ratzinger specifically pointed to the fact that the danger in the Potter books is hidden was greatly concerning. “It is good that you shed light and inform us on the Harry Potter matter, for these are subtle seductions that are barely noticeable and precisely because of that deeply affect (children) and corrupt the Christian faith in souls even before it (the Faith) could properly grow,” said Cardinal Ratzinger.

  • David Paul Deavel @ The Seventh Age notes:

    . . . A private communication to a German friend saying, “ja, good article, you’re probably right,” is not a public statement that merits much attention without further reason. Even if the Pope had read the series and made the comments, which it is fairly certain he did not, Catholics are not bound to papal literary criticism. Catholics, said Chesterton, are bound in faith to agree on a few things, but tend to disagree about everything else.
  • Domenico Bettinelli’s commentary here, who reminds us that “In 2001, at Catholic World Report, we ran an article by Catholic author Michael O’Brien that was critical of the Harry Potter novels and the paganization of children’s culture”: “Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture” Catholic world News Oct. 10, 2001. (Michael O’Brien has posted his own views on Pope Benedict and Harry Potter on his website).

  • Additional commentary — on the book, not the article — by Catholic author Amy Welborn, Sorting Through
    Harry Potter”
    :

    There’s only one reason the Harry Potter books are in the least bit controversial. Just one.

    Wicca.

    That’s it. If we didn’t have this ridiculous little “religion” bustling around, forming “covens” in dorm rooms and getting army chaplains, I doubt one parent in a million would even think to waste even a minute being concerned about these books. . . .

    If you want to chat about the article, one need only turn to Ms. Welborn’s commentariat, 106 comments and counting.

    As to the ‘criticism’ itself, Michelle Arnold (friend of Catholic apologist Jimmy Akin) has a good assessment of LifesiteNews’ article:

    . . . The trouble with articles like the one on Lifesite is that they cause a lot of controversy without much substance. The same was true a couple of years ago when Roman exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth nixed the Potter series. Naysayers pounced on this and trumpeted it to fans of the series while failing to mention that Fr. Amorth was only speaking on his own authority and not the Church’s. Now that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger has become Pope Benedict XVI, naysayers are hoping to stir the cauldron again. Granted, the remarks should be discussed, even investigated, to ascertain what was said and the context in which it was said. But misleading headlines and sensationalistic articles are not the way to foster calm and reasoned inquiry.

    Jimmy Akin himself has a series of posts: LifeSiteNews Calls Kettle Black (“LifeSiteNews.Com, best known for reporting pro-life issues, has just performed a disservice to both the Catholic community and the newsreading community in general. . . .”).

    Pre-B16 on Harry Potter, containing a substantial analysis of the original letters sent to Gabriele Kuby, the author of a German anti-Harry Potter book and subject of the LifeSiteNews’ report

    Vatican Radio On Pre-16 Potter Brouhaha, posting in full “a transcript [of] a recent broadcast of Vatican Radio dealing with the alleged remarks of then-Cardinal Ratzinger on the Harry Potter books . . . [given by] Msgr. Peter Fleedwood, the Vatican official who initially made (what turn out to be) moderately pro-Potter comments when asked a question about the books at a press conference.”

  • When I originally blogged the LifeSite article, I quipped that “the Holy Father’s personal judgements on certain issues have been a source of division between the Papacy and orthodox American Catholics . . . no, I’m not talking about the war in Iraq: here is a far graver issue with potential for division on an international scale” — of course, it was only a matter of time before the Open Book Commentariat turned to the question of this very matter. Jim Cork:

    But seriously, I seem to recall that when then-Cardinal Ratzinger stated that the Iraq war could not be morally justified, many people protested that we were not bound by his private opinions, and that there was room for legitimate disagreement. I guess a children’s book is a more serious matter than war and peace and all that.

    Reactions aplenty, although the conversation has shifted from Potter to the familiar territory of Iraq, WMD’s, Bush lied, etc.

  • As far as the question of magic is concerned — I’d recommend the following essay as a “must read” on the topic, be they fans of Tolkien or Rowling or both (passed along by a reader at Jimmy Akin’s): Harry Potter vs. Gandalf: An in-depth analysis of the literary use of magic in the works of J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis, a booklet-length essay by Steven D. Greydanus (Decentfilms.com).

    As Greydanus contends, whether it’s C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling, the use of magic itself is secondary to the larger and deeper themes of the works — the relationships btw/ characters, the choices they make, the moral lessons learned.

    In any case, one should bear in mind that these are matters of personal judgement. Archbishop Pell of Sydney expressed his qualified enjoyment of the Harry Potter series in a column:

    “I like Harry Potter, a more pleasant escapism for me, but also much more superficial, predictable and sentimental than Tolkien’s world.

    Tolkien had fought in the First World War and his masterpiece was written with the Second World War as background. He knew evil at first hand and has written powerfully of the attractions of wicked power, treachery, human weakness and inconstancy.

    The Harry Potter series are brilliantly written children’s books, which many adults enjoy. Tolkien has produced much deeper, sterner stuff; an escapism certainly, which he describes not as the flight of the deserter, but as the escape of the prisoner. Into a world guided by a hidden benign Providence where a host of coincidences, occasional heroism, the weakness of the good and the dark scheming of the evil are all brought to achieve a partial victory for goodness.

    I personally concur with Archbishop Pell. Hopefully children and adults who cut their teeth on Harry Potter will eventually come to appreciate the challenging but ultimately rewarding fiction of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.

That’s a roundup of Catholic commentary. As Domenico Bettinelli predicted:

Whatever your opinion of the Potter books (and the disapprobation of a pope before he was elected does not bind Catholic consciences), it is clear that the mainstream media will see this as a fun newsworthy story to fill the summer news doldrums with a ginned-up controversy.

So, finishing off with a few choice headlines from the MSM:

Update!

Update! 9/30/07

Islam & Terrorism: Identification and Disassociation

Michelle of the Catholic blog Sollicitudo Rei Socialis recommends the following article by Islamic scholar Karen Armstrong: The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA (The Guardian July 11, 2005), calling for a phrase that is more exact than “Islamic terror” in describing the London bombings and Al Qaeda’s continuing war on the West:

We need a phrase that is more exact than “Islamic terror”. These acts may be committed by people who call themselves Muslims, but they violate essential Islamic principles. The Qur’an prohibits aggressive warfare, permits war only in self-defence and insists that the true Islamic values are peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. It also states firmly that there must be no coercion in religious matters, and for centuries Islam had a much better record of religious tolerance than Christianity.

Like the Bible, the Qur’an has its share of aggressive texts, but like all the great religions, its main thrust is towards kindliness and compassion. Islamic law outlaws war against any country in which Muslims are allowed to practice their religion freely, and forbids the use of fire, the destruction of buildings and the killing of innocent civilians in a military campaign. So although Muslims, like Christians or Jews, have all too often failed to live up to their ideals, it is not because of the religion per se.

On the one hand, the IRA never tried to bolster their violent tactics with a theological defense, and their tactics were clearly at odds with the core principles of Catholic moral tradition. One is not likely to find Catholic scholars sympathetic to the IRA presenting a theological apologetic for their campaign of terrorism. (As Ms. Armstrong rightly notes, “We rarely, if ever, called the IRA bombings ‘Catholic’ terrorism because we knew enough to realise that this was not essentially a religious campaign.”

What is the difference between the IRA and the present situation? — To borrow a popular phrase, “not all Moslems are terrorists, but almost all terrorists are Moslems.” Or, at least, carry out their acts under the pretense of waging an Islamic jihad against the West.

Whereas religion played a cursory role in the IRA, most acts of terrorism we see today are motivated by a religious worldview that is distinctly Islamic in tone if not in nature. A worldview that is taught in the religious schools througout the Middle East, preached by radical imams in mosques, expounded by Islamic scholars and inculcated in the minds of young Muslims, in some cases even from childhood.

While Ms. Armstrong is correct in noting that ‘Islamic Terror’ may be fueled by nationalistic ideology and a reaction to the brutal oppression of secular governments, I think that in eschewing the Islamic relationshiop altogether she downplays the role of Islam in providing a religious framework for terrorism.

Some examples:

  • Dr. Hani Al-Siba’i, director of London’s Al-Maqreze Centre for Historical Studies, said in an interview on Al-Jazeera July 8, 2005: “The term ‘civilians’ does not exist in Islamic religious law.. . . There is no such term as ‘civilians’ in the modern Western sense. People are either of Dar Al-Harb or not. Is this merely the opinion of one deluded Al Qaeda sympathizer or a common interpretation among radical Islamic believers?
  • On October 24, 2004, two Arab websites posted a petition from Arab liberals to the United Nations calling attention to the use of fatwas by Muslim clerics to condone violence and terror:

    . . . The Saudi newspaper Arab News reported that, within a week of the petition’s posting, over 2,500 Muslim intellectuals from twenty-three countries had signed the petition. Shakir al-Nabulsi, a Jordanian academic and one of the signatories, noted that “There are individuals in the Muslim world who pose as clerics and issue death sentences against those they disagree with. These individuals give Islam a bad name and foster hatred among civilizations.” The petition names several prominent clerics, among them Yusuf al-Qaradawi, an Egyptian preacher working in Qatar, and cites a number of fatwas as examples.

    (Source: Arab Liberals: Prosecute Clerics Who Promote Murder Middle East Quarterly Vol. XII, No. 1 Winter 2005).

  • According to MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute), “several Arab columnists have recently published articles critical of the view that the main motivation to terrorism is poverty or despair. They instead cite the role of cultural and religious factors in motivating terrorism, and particularly the incitement by sheikhs who encourage young men to conduct terror operations.” Arab Columnists: Terrorists are Motivated by Cultural and Religious Factors, Not Poverty (Jan. 26, 2005).

Disassociation and Identification: The Error of Two Extremes

Like Karen Armstrong I agree on the dilemma of how to properly label this particular manifestation of religious violence. But in discussing how to resolve this issue, I think one can err in two ways.

First, one can err in portraying Islam in a wholly positive light — e.g., a “religion of peace” — such that Islamic-inspired terrorism is percieved as wholly alien to the core tradition, as inherently non-religious and motivated by other factors such as nationalism. This flies in the face of religious history, the content of the Qur’an (which has its share of troubling passages regarding the treatment of Unbelievers), and radical Islamic thought on the dar al-Islam (the land of Islam) and the dar al-harb, (land of war). See, for instance, the website Dhimmi.org on the history of jihad and James Turner Johnson’s Jihad and Just War First Things 124 (June/July 2002), on the development of radical Islamic interpretation of these concepts).

Likewise, one can err as well in emphasizing only the negative elements of Islamic tradition and portraying it in the worst possible light. This is why in the past I have taken issue with some prominent pundits who in their denunciations of radical Islamic violence seem to dismiss Muslims themselves as belonging to a corrupt and irredeemable religious tradition. (I have assembled a few of these posts below).

A Christian Parallel

To illustrate what I mean about this error of identification and disassociation in dealing with the relationship of Islam and religiously-motivated terrorism, I think there is a similarity in Christianity’s relatively-late attempts to deal with the element of anti-semitism in strains of Christian interpretation.

For centuries Christianity harbored a “shadow tradition” within its ranks, dubbed by Professor Jules Isaac “The Teaching of Contempt” that sought to provide theological justification for the persecution and oppression of the Jewish people. Elements of this hermeneutic included the “dispersion of Israel as a sign of providential punishment”; the “degenarate state of Judaism at the time of Jesus” and the charge of the crime of deicide. (For further discussion see my post on Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and the Jews and a longer essay on Jewish-Christian Relations).

On one hand, it would be wrong to completely identify this “teaching of contempt” with Christianity itself, such that its purgation would necessitate the end of the Christian tradition and a wholesale dismantling of the Catholic Church. (Robert Louis Wilken criticized Catholic scholar James Carrol of having this intent in his review of review of Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews (Commonweal Jan. 26, 2001).

On the other hand, it would be wrong to completely disassociate the
“teaching of contempt” from Christianity, so as to contend that it had nothing whatsoever to do with Christian tradition. The “teaching of contempt” was a blatant perversion of the heart and core of the Christian faith, yes, but as Dr. Jules Isaac aptly demonstrated in Jesus and Israel, it was nevertheless one propogated by various Catholics (and Protestants) until the twentieth century when, moved by the bitter lesson of the Holocaust, it was addressed by Pope Pius XII and Pope John XIII, and was ultimately repudicated by the Vatican II conciliar document Nostra Aetate.

Likewise, in addressing the relationship of Islam to terrorism, we cannot turn a blind eye to those elements within Muslim tradition, and even within the Qu’Uran itself, that assist radical Islamic clerics and schools to advance an apology for terrorism.

Neither should we identify the two and deem them inseparable — such that the proposed solution to Islamic terrorism would lie in a liberalizing, secularizing and wholesale eradication of Islam itself. Such a “solution” to the problem of Islamic violence has been proposed by both sides of the political spectrum. In a recent case, Terry Mattingly at GetReligion questioned the prospect of Progress via a Muslim Spong?:

. . . Then [commentator Irshad Manji] suggests it is time for all religious leaders to be equally honest in dealing with their own scriptures and histories. So far, so good. Then she holds up, as the model for these exchanges, the work of retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of Newark. This is where the train comes off the tracks.

The last thing in the world we need right now is for Western leaders — religious or political — to find and promote the views of some Islamic version of Spong, someone who is no longer even a theist. You want a clash of civilizations? Let the mainstream Muslim world see America praising the work of those who do to Islam what Spong does to Christian faith. Heaven forbid.

Or as Fr. Neuhaus said in responding to an essay by Bernard Lewis that faults Islam and Christianity for their claim to divine revelation (Why Aren’t Muslims Like Us? First Things 134: June/July 2003):

“. . . Yet more troubling is the message that Islam, in order to become less of a threat to the world, must relativize its claim to possess the truth. That plays directly into the hands of Muslim rigorists who pose as the defenders of the uncompromised and uncompromisible truth and who call for death to the infidels. If Islam is to become tolerant and respectful of other religions, it must be as the result of a development that comes from within the truth of Islam, not as a result of relativizing or abandoning that truth. Is Islam capable of such a religious development? Nobody knows. But, if the choice is between compromising Islamic truth or a war of civilizations, it is almost certain that the winner among Muslims will be the hard-core Islamism that [Bernard] Lewis rightly views as such a great threat.”

Just as Christianity was able to overcome and repudiate the teaching of contempt towards the Jews, it remains for Islam to find within itself the religious resources to counter what many Muslims contend is a grave perversion of their faith. Michael Novak issued just such a challenge to Islam in his book The Universal Hunger For Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable, calling for Muslims to follow Judaism and Christianity in developing distinctly Islamic grounds for political, economic, and religious liberty, and citing the work of several Muslim scholars who are engaged in this task.

Finally, In The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism (Policy Review No. 125, June 2004), Shmuel Bar takes a look at “the Weltanschauung of radical Islam”, in which he argues that:

. . . to treat Islamic terrorism as the consequence of political and socioeconomic factors alone would not do justice to the significance of the religious culture in which this phenomenon is rooted and nurtured. In order to comprehend the motivation for these acts and to draw up an effective strategy for a war against terrorism, it is necessary to understand the religious-ideological factors — which are deeply embedded in Islam.

His conclusion is that the problem of Islamic-inspired terrorism must ultimately be resolved by Muslims themselves:

The goal of the West cannot be defense alone or military offense or democratization of the Middle East as a panacea. It must include a religious-ideological dimension:: active pressure for religious reform in the Muslim world and pressure on the orthodox Islamic establishment in the West and the Middle East not only to disengage itself clearly from any justification of violence, but also to pit itself against the radical camp in a clear demarcation of boundaries.

Such disengagement cannot be accomplished by Western-style declarations of condemnation. It must include clear and binding legal rulings by religious authorities which contradict the axioms of the radical worldview and virtually “excommunicate” the radicals. In essence, the radical narrative, which promises paradise to those who perpetrate acts of terrorism, must be met by an equally legitimate religious force which guarantees hellfire for the same acts.

Previous posts to Against The Grain on Islam:

Related Links:

  • Coming to Terms: Fundamentalists or Islamists?, by Martin Kramer. Middle East Quarterly Vol. X, No. 2 (Spring 2003) – a examining the semantic problem in labeling violent Islamic movements.
  • “The Crescent and the Gun”, by Brian Saint-Paul. Crisis 20, no. 1 (January 2002)
  • “Views on Islam”, by Benazir Bhutto & David F. Forte. Imprimis 31, no. 10 (October 2002): 1-6. Does the radical form of Islam behind the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, represent true Islam? or is it an aberration? Is Islamic doctrine compatible with religious pluralism and constitutional democracy? How are we to think of Islam in the context of the war against terrorism? The former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto responds.
  • Choose: Islam Scary, Lite or Dry? by David Need, reviewing three books by American scholars on Islam.
  • On Religious Fundamentalism and Terrorism Interview With Professor Joan-Andreu Rocha. Zenit News Service. July 17, 2005.

London Bombings and the Muslim Response

  • Father James V. Schall, S.J. responds to the London terrorist bombings in “The One War, The Real War” Ignatius Insight July 8, 2005.

    . . . The main battlefield of the war is not Iraq or even London tubes. It is in the media and public opinion in the United States and Europe about whether the will to do what is necessary to prevent these attacks is firm enough over a long period of time. Civilian and suicide bombings have a political purpose and a religious purpose.

    The political purpose is a calculated risk that continued bombings would show that Western powers cannot defend their own populations. Consequently, they should cease trying. They should rather, in return for “peace,” submit to Islamic neutralization of their territories, a kind of compromised second-class citizenship. Likewise, they should withdraw from any effort to prevent such attacks in Muslim lands themselves.

    The religious purpose of this war, in the minds of its advocates, is to succeed in subjecting the world to Allah. This purpose, no doubt, sounds preposterous. But I think that we misunderstand the problem if we do not disassociate what these terrorists themselves say from our theories of “terrorism.” The problem is not caused by fanaticism or some political, sociological, or psychological derangement. . . .

    . . . Al-Qaeda forces may have seen their reputation so questioned by the effects of the Afghanistan and Iraq phases of the war that they felt it absolutely necessary to show some flashy sign of strength. If so, this too is in effect a sign of their weakness. They revealed themselves for what they are once more. It has been taken as a truism that it is better to fight these forces on their own grounds and not in London or New York or Madrid. The war overseas does not prove that it is not effective, but that it is. But the latter three cities, however orchestrated, are part of the same war.

    In this sense, we can be grateful that the Islamic terrorists in London again called our flagging attention to the real war, the one against those who first declared war against us in the name of their religious and political mission. The first effort has been and still is to undermine any effective opposition. Whether this purpose can be achieved by terrorism and its effect on public opinion remains to be seen.

    From Communion and Liberation‘s press office:

    After Madrid, London. The great peace of postwar Europe is over. The factor that sows war is radical violence that refuses to accept reality, considering it wrong because it fails to correspond to its own vision, the sole determinant for what deserves to exist or be destroyed.

    The London massacre reveals that Islamic radicalism is the tragic emergence of a nihilistic position, which is seeking to impose itself in Europe as elsewhere as the standard of thought and action. The terrorists show they are its coherent disciples.

    In this situation of anti-human barbarity, as Benedict XVI has said, we will follow the Pope “in the certainty that charity is first of all communication of the truth”. And the truth is witness in the places of human experience where life is loved in its infinite value and in all its embodiments even more than the terrorists “love death”. Even the smallest attempt in this direction is not unavailing, because it affirms the inexorable positivity of reality, which nihilism can never overcome.

  • Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld:

    The London attacks have a special resonance for the American people — for America has no stronger or closer ally in the world than Great Britain. We are bound together by a common heritage, a common language, and a deeply shared commitment to freedom. As President Bush indicated earlier this morning, the United States will stand with the British people with unflinching resolve.

    Though it is not yet known with certainty precisely who is responsible, we do know terrorists’ intentions. They strike without warning and without regard for human life in the hope that they can frighten and intimidate free people — to change our way of life. And they won’t stop until their side or our side has prevailed.

    But if these terrorists thought they could intimidate the people of a great nation, they picked the wrong people and the wrong nation. For generations, tyrants, fascists, and terrorists have sought to carry out their violent designs upon the British people only to founder upon its unrelenting shores.

    Before long, I suspect that those responsible for these acts will encounter British steel. Their kind of steel has an uncommon strength. It does not bend or break.

    The British have learned from history that this kind of evil must be confronted. It cannot be appeased. Our two countries understand well that once a people give in to terrorists’ demands, whatever they are, their demands will grow.

    The British people are determined and resolute. And I know the people of the United States are proud to stand at their side.

  • Terror on the Dole, by David Cohen, Evening Standard. 20 April 2004 gathers disturbing reactions from young Muslims from the Luton branch of al-Muhajiroun, “an extremist Muslim group with about 800 members countrywide”:

    “As far as I’m concerned, when they bomb London, the bigger the better,” says Abdul Haq, the social worker. “I know it’s going to happen because Sheikh bin Laden said so. Like Bali, like Turkey, like Madrid – I pray for it, I look forward to the day.”

    “I agree with you, brother,” says Abu Yusuf, the earnest-looking financial adviser sitting opposite. “I would like to see the Mujahideen coming into London and killing thousands, whether with nuclear weapons or germ warfare. And if they need a safehouse, they can stay in mine – and if they need some fertiliser [for a bomb], I’ll tell them where to get it.”

    With people like these residing in England, it’s a wonder the bombings didn’t happen sooner. (Via Rich Leonardi @ Ten Reasons).

    Also, Steve Coll and Susan B. Glasser have an article in today’s Washington Post telling how Islamic Radicals Found a Haven in London.

  • If It’s a Muslim Problem, It Needs a Muslim Solution”, says Thomas Friedman, noting that “To this day – to this day – no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden.” (New York Times July 8, 2005)
  • Global Voices Online provides a Middle East and North Africa Friday Blog Roundup of reactions to the London bombing, as well as from the Muslim blogosphere. If ordinary Muslims clearly recognize and condemn the evil, where are the clerics who will speak out on their behalf?

    The anti-terrorism banner is by Mustapha @ Beirut Spring.

  • A prayer from Pontifications:

    May God console the bereaved. May God execute his justice upon the murderers. May God deliver us from the scourge of terrorism and violence. And may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
  • This Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI called for prayers for the victims as well as the Muslim bombers, pleading for them to “stop in the name of God” (Source: CBC News July 10, 2005):

    “To those who foment feelings of hatred and to those who carry out such repugnant terrorist actions, I say to you: ‘God loves life, which he created, not death. Stop in the name of God!”‘

    Benedict made the comments – his most forceful against terrorism since becoming pope – during his traditional Sunday blessing to pilgrims and tourists gathered under his studio window in St. Peter’s Square.

    “We all feel a profound sadness for last Thursday’s atrocious terrorist attacks in London,” he said to applause from the crowd. “Let us pray for those killed, for those injured and for those dear to them. But let us also pray for the attackers: Let the Lord touch their hearts,” he said.