Tuesday, 11 November 2008

On dialoguing with Muslims


One of the major achievements of Pope Benedict XVI has to be the reshaping of inter-religious dialogue with Muslims, taking it from the realm of wishy-washy platitudes where we 'explore our commonalities', to tackling some of the hard issues about whether and how the two religions, two civilisations at loggerheads with each other, can co-exist without killing each other.


The Vatican Meeting last week

Sandro Magister has written a nice piece on what was and wasn't included in the Charter of Rights signed by the Vatican and Muslims last week.


On the plus side, hard-won formal recognition of the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion publicly and privately. If it were to be implemented, it would be a big step forward for Christians in many Muslim countries. Also a formal statement that violence and terrorism in the name of religion are inappropriate.


But this was very much a first stage - the charter is silent on issues such as the right to convert.


Stage managing the message


But one of the things I liked most about this whole event has been the careful stage managing of the Vatican's approach to Islam. It was surely no coincidence that in the week before the meeting, the Italian journalist that the Pope baptised back at Easter, Magdi Allam, warned that Islam is inherently violent.


And now, in the week after the meeting the Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, head of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue has warned that 'there are now so many efforts to improve relations between Christians and Muslims that they risk overlapping and creating confusion'.


It is a timely warning, as every man and his dog were showing signs of jumping on the Christian-Muslim dialogue bandwagon, and mostly missing the point about what it is all about. Dialogue with Islam is not about finding common cause on some issues, about defending each other from extremist attacks or the like. There may be room for some of that. It is true that both Christianity and Islam are inherently opposed to secularism and that can give rise to strange bedfellows on some issues.


But the real issue is trying to find ways of managing the growing presence of a religion in Western society that is inherently opposed to Christianity.


I've heard the argument made that Islam is essentially where Christianity was four hundred years or so ago. That may well prove true. If so, the challenge is to move it quickly into the twenty-first century because that is when and where we are all living.


And in the process, maybe Catholics can learn something too - some of us also think that it wouldn't be a bad thing for Catholicism to recover some of the missionary vigour and commitment to practice that Christianity had four hundred years ago! There are things to admire about Islam, not the least of which is its commitment to a holy language and the transmission of its culture.


But let's remember that this process really is fundamentally about negotiating a modus vivendi with the enemy, not about trying to make new friends.

6 comments:

Son of Trypho said...

Writing from a (technically) Jewish perspective, I must admit that I am pessimistic about this dialogue. It would appear that all the concessions are made from the Christian (Western) position and virtually none are made from the Islamic position. In the 15 principles I cannot see a single concession but I'm open to discussion.

The rights to freedom in religion/personal belief and determination etc enshrined in western societies are not reciprocated.

(I note that one of the comments made in the article link refers to difficulties about rights and states law - which is formed around Sharia principles in almost every case which was not mentioned)

That is the reason that the conversion issue was not touched on. Until this changes, no genuine progress will be made. As Islam defines itself in active opposition to other beliefs and Islamic states sponsor discriminatory governance I never envisage this occuring.

Unfortunately I think that all this is doing is opening up
venues for proselytisation by acknowledging and establishing the legitimacy and credibility of Islam as an alternative religion and permitting its proponents to establish infrastructure to continue with this goal (conversion/outreach to non-believers).

Similarly, with the significant religious confusion occuring in the Christian world (eg. Fr Dresser) I see this as potentially dangerous for people's beliefs. Those with flawed Christological ideas could easily buy into the Islamic presentation of Jesus and Christianity.

One could say that similar points could be made about Judaism but I would suggest that Orthodox Judaism is quietist (politically) and discourages proselytisation/outreach and is sympathetic to western Enlightenment ideals. I am sceptical that mainstream Islam (let alone fundamentalism) is comparable.

Cardinal Pole said...

"It is true that both Christianity and Islam are inherently opposed to secularism and that can give rise to strange bedfellows on some issues."

As I have said before, Muslims and secularists agree on one of the most important things: they think that morality is a created thing, and is therefore arbirtary and mutable. Remember H.H. The Pope's words at Regensburg. As for 'strange bedfellows', it is in fact the Muslims and secularists we see in informal alliances on issues like polyamory and the recent controversy over prayer in Parliament.

"I've heard the argument made that Islam is essentially where Christianity was four hundred years or so ago. That may well prove true."

No, it is utterly false, unless evaluated according to the standards of what Prof. Amerio called 'secondary Christianity' in Iota Unum. Islam is exactly where one would expect a religion to be that can call good evil and evil good (cf. Isaiah), and it will remain that way forever.

"There are things to admire about Islam, not the least of which is its commitment to a holy language and the transmission of its culture."

Again, religion evaluated according to secondary characteristics. We have nothing to learn from Islam qua Islam, and I see nothing valuable in anything that is unique to Islam qua cultural institution either.

I deal with this in more detail at my blog:

http://cardinalpole.blogspot.com/2008/11/mr-verrecchio-on-islam-nostra-tate-and.html

"But let's remember that this process really is fundamentally about negotiating a modus vivendi with the enemy, not about trying to make new friends."

This, we can agree on.

Cardinal Pole said...

P.S. Mr. Muehlenberg has an interesting piece on Islam today:

http://www.billmuehlenberg.com/2008/11/10/islam-and-fifth-columns/

He reminds us of the Islamic doctrine of ""taqqiyah, meaning

"deception, dissimilation or concealment. Both in the Koran and the hadith, the term refers to lying to, and deceiving, the enemies of Islam."

Whereas Christians must never do evil, even if in order to bring forth good (cf. St. Paul), and indeed, the Holy Trinity cannot lie (see, for instance, the Roman Catechism). So the question is: how do we know that whatever the Muslims say in dialogue is not a pack of lies?

Anonymous said...

"One could say that similar points could be made about Judaism but I would suggest that Orthodox Judaism is quietist (politically) and discourages proselytisation/outreach and is sympathetic to western Enlightenment ideals."

Prof. Shahak, were he alive today, would not agree with that statement.

NOt that the falsely so-called "Enlightenmant" is anything to emulate; but then again, according to the Saviour, neither is pharisaic (which later became talmudic = "orthodox") Judaism.

+ Thomas Wolsey

Archieps. Eborac., etc

Louise said...

I agree with Pole.

Son of Trypho said...

Wolsey

I haven't read any of Shahak's works so I'm not in a position to comment.

I'm curious though to know in what context did you come across Shahak's works - you seem particularly familiar with them?