Archive for February, 2007

Dialogue with Islam

Interesting Godspy piece by Stratford Caldecott.

Maclin Horton

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Chickens, Eggs, and Spirits

I’m regretting that title but don’t want to go to the trouble of thinking up another one.

Maclin Horton

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There is a world of difference between the weekend sailor who observing the waves embarks with a map and a weather report and the seasoned mariner who knows the currents beneath the waves and can read in the winds and clouds the coming weather.

And a world away from either of them is the nearsighted novice who sets out in a leaky vessel and last year’s week’s weather report.

Which is about as apt an image of the architects of American foreign policy as I can conjure.

Michael Vlahos, who is, as his byline obliquely tells us, "principal professional staff at the National Security Analysis Department of The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory", is more like the reader of currents and clouds than otherwise.

His article
The Fall of Modernity
, in the current issue of The American Conservative, is breathtaking in its scope and depth. Mr Vlahos’ ability to fathom the currents and patterns of history, to
grasp the inner realities of rise and fall, of empire and its narratives, reads more like prophetic utterance than political commentary or historical analysis.

And I suspect those in power- or scrambling for power- are about as likely to welcome his dark meditation on our times as the blow-dried prophets of
prosperity are to quote the Lamentations of Jeremiah at length.

A heady brew indeed.

Daniel Nichols

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Where It Listeth

In my last post I mentioned in passing that "we could do worse than pray
for a revival of traditional Islam".

I realize that that is a rather startling thing for a Catholic to say and
the comment prompted several critical replies.

I intended to elaborate on what I meant by it, but last week brought a
heavy snowstorm to Ohio. As you can imagine, a foot of snow on the ground makes
my job delivering mail that much more arduous, and between the overtime and the
exhaustion I haven’t had a chance to write.

Now that I have a day off let me try.

First, I want to be clear that I am not talking about the emergence of what
everyone calls "moderate Islam", that is, liberal Islam.

There is a chapter in the book I just read, American Islam: the
Struggle for the Soul of a Religion,
by Paul M Barrett, devoted to one
representative of this "progressive Islam", Asra Nomani, a woman who led a
highly publicized drive in Morgantown West Virginia to advance equal treatment
for women in her mosque. She is a defiantly unrepentant unwed mother and one of
the other leaders of the Daughters of Hajar (ie, Hagar), the Islamic feminist
movement she founded, is a lesbian activist.

Whatever injustices toward women that may exist within Islamic communities
the Daughters of Hajar are bound to offend Muslim sensibilities, to prove in the
long run counterproductive. Like other religious liberalisms, the Islamic
variety appeals to a rarified minority and has little attraction for ordinary

Indeed, it is more likely to spark a reaction than to inspire change.

But besides the fact that it is bound to fail there are other reasons for
opposing Islamic liberalism and promoting certain traditional types of

As Catholics we believe that grace is not confined to within the visible
borders of the Church, that "the wind bloweth where it listeth" in the lovely
cadences of King James English.

Thus we may assess movements both within and without the Church based on
whether they are growing toward Truth, Beauty and Goodness or not.

Besides the criterion of whether movements are likely to contribute to the
prospects for "peaceful times", which we pray for in every Divine Liturgy, there
is the criterion of whether they are leading their adherants into greater of
lesser participation in grace, toward or away from the sanctified life that
finds its fullest expression in the Church.

Of course in  real life things are seldom perfectly clear; mixed motives
and jumbled content are often intrinsic to lived faith. Even within the Church
there are groups who stress one aspect of the truth at the expense of another or
who combine right doctrine with a hostile and uncharitable spirit.

As most of you know, I disagree with Fr Richard Neuhaus on his reading of
the signs of the times more often than not. And while I disagree with his
assessment of what is and is not a "Catholic moment" in history, it is evident
to me that such moments do exist.

And it is evident to me that they exist everywhere that the Holy Spirit is
leading people into greater truth and love, whether or not that leads to
acceptance of the fullness that is implicit within the Church.

Turning to the new Islamic militancy in its various Wahhabist and Salafi
manifestations I would suggest that a parallel exists in Christian history in
the rise of Calvinism.

Like Islamic fundamentalist militancy, Calvinism was a harsh and narrow
creed, militant, not afraid to use violence, and intent on establishing a
religious commonwealth in this world.

There are many similarities between the rule of Calvin in Geneva, Cromwell
in England, and the Puritan divines in New England with the rule of the Taliban
in Afghanistan or the Wahhabist Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, not least the hostility
toward folk religion, toward art and music, toward all that is human and
charming in the life of the people.

As the Puritans banned Christmas, so the Wahhabists banned the celebration
of the birth of Muhammad. The Calvinists suppressed devotion to the saints and
pilgrimage to holy places, and so have the Muslim fundamentalists.

As I have argued before, humans cannot long endure an ideology that
oppresses the heart, that robs the world of beauty and celebration.

In Christian history, Calvinist rule has never long endured.

The more intellectual heirs of the Calvinists rejected its narrowness and
embraced the opposite errors, unitarianism and universalism. These, and the
later transcendentalism begin with rejection of core components of the ancient
Christian Creeds and go downhill from there, despite occasional glimmers of
light here and there ("mixed motives and jumbled content").

But there was another movement which arose largely in response to Calvinism
which was more clearly Catholic in its intuitions, and which appealed to
ordinary believers in a way the liberal reactions did not.

I speak of the popular movement that was initiated by the Anglican cleric
John Wesley. Wesley reaffirmed the Catholic truth that sanctification was not
just a declaration by God unrelated to the reality of the sin-soaked soul
(Luther’s image of grace was a blanket of snow covering a dung hill) but a real
grace-inspired transformation of the whole person.

And Wesleyan life moved away from the frozen rationalizations of the
Calvinist divines and embraced a warm and human devotional life.

Of course Methodism and its variants had its excesses- extreme
emotionalism, errors about the nature of sanctification and so on- but all in
all it seems undeniable that this was a movement of grace, a  Catholic moment in
Christian history.

But are there comparable movements within Islam?

I think there are.

American Islam has a chapter devoted to Sheikh Muhammad Hisham
Kibanni, spiritual leader of the Naqshbandi order of Sufis in the United

To my amazement I read that the Naqshbandi own a farm near Fenton,
Michigan, the town where I grew up. Not only that, but what had been the local
Episcopal church is now their mosque.

I guess I haven’t been to my old town for a while.

Sheikh Kabbani’s Sufi approach to Islam emphasizes love, recognizes the
presence of God in all, and urges tolerance and peace.

He was disturbed, when he came to the US in 1990, by the intolerant tone of
much of what he heard in American mosques.

He has denounced those who spew hate and destruction in the name of Allah,
a stance that has brought death threats.

Yet the Sheikh is no liberal Muslim. Naqshbandi Islam is a deeply rooted
tradition within Islam, rather that a newly minted secular imitation. It is
mystical, not rationalistic; devotional, not dogmatic.

Besides the Naqshbandi, there are other movements- Sufi, Sunni and Shia-
which are traditional expressions of Islam and who view the Wahhabi and Salafi
violence as aberrational, who affirm the traditional Islamic prohibitions
against killing civilians, against slaying Muslims, and against committing

To pray for a revival of these expressions of Islam is to pray not only for
the common good and for peaceful times. It is to pray for the good of souls; it
is to pray movement toward Catholic truth and Catholic charity.

I do not see it as contrary to praying for the conversion of Muslims.

Daniel Nichols

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Atheistic Evolution: The Plausible Myth

Maclin Horton

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I heard a fascinating interview with Ralph Nader on NPR Saturday morning. I only heard the first half of what was apparently going to be quite a lengthy interview, but I was really struck by the amount of good sense the man talked. I was especially taken by the picture he painted of the civic culture of the small Connecticut town in which he grew up. I don’t suppose there’s a lot of hope of recapturing that, but the fact that it once existed proves it’s not impossible, at least.

This doesn’t mean I would vote for Nader for President–I assume he’s probably on the wrong side of life issues. But the interview was refreshing. I just poked around on the NPR web site looking for the audio and didn’t see it, but I’m a bit pressed for time. If anyone else finds it, please post the link.

Maclin Horton

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Joseph Pearce’s Small Is Still Beautiful

–Maclin Horton

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The Half-Right Wing

I haven’t read Dinesh D’Souza’s new book blaming the "cultural left" for
9/11, but in an interview in Crisis it is clear that he is very right about some things and very wrong about

A native of India, he is familiar with everyday Muslims in a way that few
Americans are and he decries the demonization of Islam.

He emphasizes that the new Islamic militancy is an aberration and not
representative of traditional Islam. I agree with him very much that we could do
worse than pray for a revival of traditional Islam.

Mr D’Souza rightly points out that much of Islamic ill will toward America
stems from the tawdry culture we export, though I think he underplays the
importance of American foreign policy, which he appears to support. He has no
sympathy for the Americanist mantra that "they hate us because we are good; they
hate us because we are free."

He points out that ordinary Muslims, while loathing terrorism, are also
loathe to condemn Islamic militants lest they be seen as supporting decadent
Western culture. As I have pointed out here, it is akin to Ireland in the Time
of Troubles: most Irish Catholics had no use for the IRA, but hesitated to say
so for fear of appearing to support British occupation of their country.

So far, so good.

Where Mr D’Souza goes awry is identifying the decadence of American culture
with "the left". We have discussed this on this blog, and nothing Mr D’Souza
says makes me question my criticism of the identification of tawdry culture with
"the left" or with the (overhyped) notion of the "red state/blue state"

It is a commonplace among conservatives to blame "the 60s" for modern
sexual deviance and for the erosion of sexual immorality in general.

This is an oversimplification. The lid may have blown off during the 60s
but the pot had been simmering for a long time. The Kinsey report was issued in
the late 40s, and the first issue of Playboy was issued in 1953. Hugh
Heffner was no hippie. Heck, he wasn’t even a beatnik.

And Sayyid Qutb, the grandaddy of modern Salafi jihadism, was radicalized
by the oversexed America he encountered in 1948.


There is a tendency among conservative baby boomers to exaggerate the
innocence of the world they knew as children. Some of this is because they were
protected more than children today are. And some of it is because much that was
unhealty was over their heads (I am not denying that things have gone downhill
badly since then, only that what we see today is not a radical departure from
the post-war culture but rather the sordid end of a logical sequence).

A while back I was at the library, looking for a suitable film to watch
with my children. I ran across an old Bob Hope movie; I forget the title. I was
not crazy about Bob Hope when I was young, but I thought the children might
enjoy it, so I checked it out.

I was shocked: the thing was pretty much uninterrupted salacious innuendo.
True, it wasn’t graphic, in-your-face crudeness like we see in modern media, but
the leering, nod-nod wink-wink tone was just as obscene.

We didn’t get far in the film at all.

For that matter even the Shirley Temple movies my mom gave us recently are
not free from suggestive elements; the tough guys and hardnosed dames in some of
them give one pause.

So is Bob Hope a "cultural leftist"?

Is Shirley Temple?

Nor is the simplistic liberal=decadent/conservative=clean paradigm accurate
in today’s world.

Anyone who has driven cross country can tell you that porn shops and strip
clubs are more common in the South than in New England. And I doubt that a
survey of the patrons of such places, or the users of online porn, would show a
disproportionate number of liberals among them.

The state with the highest divorce rate is Oklahoma, followed by other
Bible Belt states. Massachussetts has the lowest divorce rate.

A number of celebrity representatives of oversexed American culture-
Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, Beyonce Knowles- come from Evangelical
backgrounds, and at one time made a big deal about their faith. They went from
being Public Virgins to Celebrity Sexpots almost overnight.

A survey of conservative pundits and politicians will show little or no
difference in personal morality. I mean when Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh are
the champions of traditional values you know we are in trouble.

And let us not forget that President Bush and Vice President Cheney have
greeted the news of Cheney’s lesbian daughter’s pregnancy with gushing

It may be hard for conservatives to admit, but the problem is not leftist
culture but American culture.

I’m glad Mr D’Souza resists the demonization of Muslims. Shame he couldn’t
resist demonizing his fellow Americans.

Daniel Nichols

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The Liberal Conservative (4)

Maclin Horton

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