Why is that people seem unable to come to grips with what true fanaticism is?
Part of the reason Richard Dawkins' brand of aggressive atheism manages to get so much airplay is that it seeks to tar all religions with the same brush as Islamic extremists. 'Moderate' believers, he argued, serve only to legitimise the extremists.
Blair's Faith Foundation
Now it seems, the world's most famous new cafeteria catholic is fighting back. The problem lies in his definition of fanaticism. Former British PM Tony Blair launched a new faith foundation to fight religious extremism wherever it lurks a few days ago. Mr Blair hopes to 'enlist religion as a force for economic development and conflict resolution, rather than violence and strife'. One of its goals, according to Mr Blair, is 'to support religious leaders who were working to counter extremism within their faiths'. He went on:
"Though there is much focus, understandably, on extremism associated with the perversion of the proper faith of Islam," Mr Blair said, "there are elements of extremism in every major faith."
Yes, well just what the extremist elements in his own faith might be has been by an article in the Washington Post picked up by Fr Finigan:
"At an event designed to further mutual religious sympathy, two of the panelists -- including the president of Yale University, Richard Levin -- casually asserted that religious Americans who support pro-life restrictions on international family planning aid are as doctrinaire and exclusionary as Saudi extremists. Pro-life Catholics and evangelicals? Wahhabi extremists? What's the difference?"
Um, well, one wants to kill people, one to save them perhaps?
Mr Blair apparently later distanced himself from the comments. But the reality is that in his political life he consistently supported abortion, human embryo research and much more. He hasn't publicly renounced those positions. And his wife Cherie's tell-all autobiography I gather, reveals (far more than one would want to know, including that) she regularly used contraceptives.
Islam and fanaticism
The whole idea, of course, that one can isolate out the extremist elements from Islam, is fundamentally flawed. An excellent article by Damian Thompson has recently argued that it is attitudes to Islam that will be the next big issue that sets Christians at each others throats.
Certainly in Australian circles the battlelines are already well and truly drawn.
Curiously, the players on each side are not necessarily who you would expect.
The normally rabidly liberal Stephen Crittenden of the ABC's Religion Report was almost fired a few years back for writing an article in which he stated that:
"the Huntington thesis seems to have been remarkably prescient in the light of recent world events". That thesis, summarised in Huntingdon’s words: "The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power."
His programme (when not giving airtime to the a-Catholica crowd) continues to highlight the intrinsically expansionist and 'extreme' nature of Islam as a religion.
And there are some who are on the traditionally oriented side of the fence, yet who have developed what a recent Oriens editorial describes as 'Kasperesque attempts to tease a salvation for all monotheists', and argue that peaceful co-existence is possible. There is even a new Australian blog devoted to the cause of 'Jews, Christians and Muslims Working Together' Jews, Christians and Muslims working together.
The idea that Australian Muslims are all nice Liberal or swinging voters who certainly don't support extremism or the introduction of sharia law here also continues to be propagated by Muslim apologists in the pages of our daily newspapers and journals despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
How should we respond?
My view is that Catholics actually do need to be 'fanatical' - if fanatical means being orthodox in our beliefs, including on life issues.
We need to be fanatical if that means insisting that our children (and ourselves) are well-educated in our faith and able to defend it effectively.
We need to be fanatical if that means asserting the need for the practices of our religion that create and support a distinctively catholic culture.
And above all we need to be fanatical if that means actively evangelizing.
Muslims make up a very small proportion of the Australian population at the moment. We need to make sure it stays that way by working and praying for the conversion of our Muslim compatriots.
I'm not advocating that we storm the mosques, or be in any way disrespectful of Islam.
But orthodox Catholics have to assert, and assert firmly, that the Christ and his Church are what is necessary for salvation. We are not fanatics or extremists except in the deluded eyes of those who don't want to see the truth.
We want to protect life now, not destroy it in the name of Jihad.
We want all to share eternal life in heaven, not be deluded into hell by some bizarre materialistic fantasy.
Our Lady Help of Christians, victor of the Battle of Lepanto, pray for us.