As I said the other day, I have no opinion on the question of whether or not Islam has an inherently violent core – I don’t know enough yet to express an opinion on this. But I do want to register a disagreement with what I think is a subtext of Stratford’s article: namely, that the primary way we Catholics should conduct ourselves vis-a-vis Islam is dialog. My question is: Dialog to what end? Our Lord said to go out and preach the Gospel. If dialog is seen as being a strategy for preaching the Gospel, well and good. It then needs to be evaluated according to how successful it is, like any other strategy. But I do not see how dialog can be an end in itself. Or if dialog is seen as a means of preserving world peace, that is a good and worthy goal, but still, it was not the primary charge given by Jesus Christ to the Church. And to describe the Summa contra Gentiles as a “great inter-religious dialogue” seems to me disingenuous. It is a defense of the Catholic faith and its comments on Islam are severely negative.
I wrote in the last post, “And to describe the Summa contra Gentiles as a “great inter-religious dialogue” seems to me disingenuous.” I should have written “misleading” instead of “disingenuous,” as this is more what I really meant.
I wouldn’t argue with most of what you say, especially about the ends of dialog. I can’t speak for Caldecott (obviously) but for me it’s an assumption that the ultimate goal is evangelization. Given the historical unlikelihood of widespread Islamic conversion, though, I think dialog is worthwhile for its own sake as a sort of proto-evangelization, even if no visible progress toward conversion occurs. If misconceptions on both sides are cleared up and hostility reduced, that in itself is a good, and possibly a step toward greater good (not to mention a help toward peace, as you suggest).
That said, though, I suspect that Caldecott is painting a slightly too-rosy picture of Islam. My intent in posting it is not to suggest that it’s the last word on how we should approach Islam, but to present a counterbalance to the widespread view that Islam is an evil thing that will simply have to be defeated by war.
Not knowing the Summa Contra Gentiles, by the way, I can’t really say, but I would suppose that “dialog” in the sense that we use the term today is not exactly what Thomas had in mind. :-)
For the record: “He (Mohammed) seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh urges us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected; he was obeyed by carnal men. As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity.
He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the Contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants. What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Mohammed forced others to become his follower’s by the violence of his arms. Nor do divine pronouncements on part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimony of the Old and the New Testaments by making them into a fabrication of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law. It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place faith in his words believe foolishly.” – thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, Book 1, Chapter 16, Art. 4.
No, that certainly doesn’t sound like dialogue (!). And such an approach is not helpful in the current situation.
I found Mr Caldecott’s article refreshing, and I don’t think “dialogue” and “evangelization” are mutually exclusive. Indeed, I don’t know how you would evangelize without beginning with dialogue of some sort.
I wonder if St. Thomas is historically accurate in his observation that “no wise men” believe Mohammed. Even if true, that wouldn’t exactly be a definitive proof.
Still, the saint’s words tend to confirm my impression of Islam: that its merely human origin is manifested in the human scale of its moral teachings. Eliot said that the Church is hard where we would be soft, and soft where we would be hard. I have the impression that Islam is (speaking very broadly) the other way around. I guess I’ll have to actually read the Koran sometime, though I don’t really want to spend that much of my limited time on it.
Still, I agree with Daniel that dialog is more or less a necessity for evangelization. The Church once tended to say something all too close to “Your religion is false. Ours is true. Submit or be damned.” (I know, I’m exaggerating, but the basic attitude often seemed that way.) I don’t think that’s likely to be productive in our time, if it ever was.
Well, if dialog is seen as a prelude or a means for evangelization, that’s fine, though of course, (as I said) it has to be evaluated on how successful it is. But the impression I got from Stratford’s article was that dialog was an end in itself, something that was an imperative for us, but the reason for that dialog was unclear – or so it seemed to me.
Also, I think it’s psychologically difficult for the same person at least to both dialog and proclaim the Gospel. Maybe what St. Paul did in Athens (as recounted in the book of Acts) should be our model. He sort of dialoged, in the sense that he appealed to what was best in the pagan traditions, but he was unhesitating about proclaiming the Gospel.
But hasn’t the Church- at least since Vatican II- also seen dialogue as good in itself, a means of coming to understand one another, a prelude to peace?
We are told to live at peace with all men, are we not?
Perhaps not everyone is called to the same mission in the Church? Some to evangelize, some to make peace?
I got that quote from St. Thomas off the web (obviously), but the reference seems to be incorrect. It’s book I, chapter 6 (not 16) of the ScG, and I verified that from my print copy.
As for dialog, the decree on ecumenism of Vatican II is clear that the purpose of dialog with other Christians is their incorporation in the one true Church, which is identified with the Catholic Church. I’m less sure about inter-religious dialog. Is there even anything in Vatican II about inter-religious dialog, as opposed to dialog among Christians?
Maybe no ‘wise men” believed in Mohammed, but no “wise men” of His day believed in Jesus either, just some fishermen and other common folk. So that argument doesn’t really discredit Mohommed it seems.
What does discredit him is the violence with which his movement originated, and which is perpetuated though the Koran. Yes, I know, the OT is full of stories of violence, and it can seem hard to explain why God did it that way. But they were what He did or directed at that time. They are a part of our Salvation History (one which some, myself included,have trouble reconciling with Jesus and the New Covenant). However, the New Testament is part of our more recent Salvation History, and The Last Rules we were left to live by, wanted us to be kind, merciful, forgive, peacemakers, and all that. The Koran’s pasaages of violence (and by the way, as a percentage of verses, the Koran has more violent passages) are prescriptions for the way we should act today. They are not a historical record. That’s a BIG diffence to me.
I don’t think we can dialog with “big Islam” with any hope of evangelization or conversion of the followers en masse. However, I do think we have an obligation to dialog to the extent that it helps us keep peace in the world instead of fighting, but that’s about all at that level. The real dialog should happen with our neighbor next door who is Islamic. Evangelize him to the Faith. If we all did that, then the adherants to Islam would dwindle eventually to the point where there would be no big “Islam” do dialog with anyway.
I happened to be browsing through John Paul II’s book Crossing the Threshold of Hope at someone’s house over the weekend, and read the brief section on Islam. He commends dialog very strongly, but at the same time is not hesitant to point out real deficiencies in Islam.
Have any of you read Belloc’s section on Islam in The Great Heresies recently? It’s been some years since I read it, but as I recall he seemed to think Islam peculiarly resistant to evangelisation.
Yes, Dan, Islam did not experience anything like the pacific early Christian centuries. It always considered itself commanded to construct a godly domain in this world.
However, once Christianity became the religion of empires its record is not good. Indeed, in -say- persecuting the Jews it surpasses Islam. And you will search in vain for the equivalent of the Second Crusade in Islamic history, with the Crusaders leaving a trail of dead Jews and Eastern Christians on their way to the slaughter that accompanied their conquest of Jerusalem.
Christian militancy is not just a thing of the past, as conversations with modern evangelicals will attest.
As John Paul II taught, dialogue with Islam is essential in our day, and it ought to be entered humbly, acknowledging the sins of violence that have afflicted Christian history.