Saturday, November 1, 2003

Kreeft's "Ecumenical Jihad" and Two Perspectives of Islam

Bill Cork posted recently on "Ecumenical Jihad" 1, referring to a book by Peter Kreeft, a philosophy professor at Boston U. and Catholic apologist. The title of the book is apt to send some religious factions into hysterics (radtrads at the word "ecumenical", liberals at the word "jihad"), but if you glance beyond the cover the proposition is interesting: a united moral front of Christians and Muslims against the oncoming tide of godless secularists"who acknowledge no law above human desire and all the religions of the world." (Incidentally, Mark Shea invoked Kreeft back in January 2003 in a plea for anti-Catholics and radtrads to cease "niggling about niceties of some point of doctrine" and come together over what counts).

Bill is somewhat dismissive of Kreeft's proposal, on grounds that "Christianity is more than moralism; we have a message to preach which is not simply a legislative program." I think this is an unfair representation of Kreeft's thought, simply because anybody perusing Kreeft's extensive body of writings in Christian apologetics will see he would be the last one to reduce Christianity to a "legislative program."

And yet, if Kreeft does make a case for religions joining ranks in moral affairs, this is not a bad place to start. Christians, Muslims and Jews disagree immensely over theological issues, but if there is any place where they can surely find common ground it is in morality. Kreeft is basically reiterating the call of Vatican II for Catholics to engage in "dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, [to] preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men." (Nostra Aetate).

Of course, Kreeft did write the book back in 1996 -- and engaged as we are in a post 9/11 "war on Terrorism," in which the enemy coincidentally happens to be an adherent to fundamentalist Islam, his vision of moral unity between Christians and Muslims has met with unanticipated obstacles. In defense of Kreeft, I don't think he counted as part of his proposal an alliance with the Taliban or Islamic fundamentalism. Nevertheless, threatened as we are by an increasingly transparent culture of death, I believe that Kreeft's proposal for joint action on the part of Muslims, Jews and Christians is just as worthy of consideration now as it was then.

* * *

Perhaps in reaction to recent events, I've noticed a number of bloggers taking more vocal positions on Islam. Some assume an increasingly critical or overtly hostile stance, questioning the portrayal of Islam as a "religion of peace" and vehemently denouncing the "islamofacists" responsible for persecution under Sharia law. Some have gone so far as to propogate visions of a modern Europe overrun by the Crescent, churches and museums leveled and replaced by mosques, the backs of the enslaved populace bent in forced prostration to Allah. 1 It was only today that I came across two blogs -- DhimmiWatch and JihadWatch, exclusively devoted to presenting the negative and most deplorable face of Islam.

Others, perhaps seeking to counter what they feel is an unjust and one-sided portrayal of Islam, blog on what they contend are credible and worthwhile features of Islam: the various similarities between Islam and Christianity in doctrine and practice; the religious devotion and admirable discipline found in Islamic religious observance, or the spiritual/mystical aspects within Islamic tradition. Needless to say, such bloggers are usually perceived by the former as hopelessly naive, foolishly optimistic, blind to the "real face" of Islam. 2

This dual tendency in blogging on Islam is something I have observed over the course of the past year, reading the blogs by members of what we call St. Blog's Parish. I actually understand where both sides are coming from, and I believe both are justified (to a certain degree) in what they say. For instance, I agree with the reasons Mark Shea has for criticizing Islam:

I regard it as diseased because it has a tendency to produce despotisms, it's borders are continually bloody, it tends to create people who fly planes into skyscrapers and lots of other people who cheer for that, and it tends to create backward cultures who blame their backwardness on the Jews because the repressive regimes they live under deflect their anger that way (and at us) rather than allow it to be directed at themselves.

These "tendencies" of which Mr. Shea speaks are clearly present within Islam, and he has every right to condemn them. But I am also prompted to ask: is this all there is to it? Certainly not. For the religion of Islam that Mr. Shea speaks of is also the religion about which our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, offers these words of respect and praise. Was he naive, deluded, wrong in saying so? -- I expect Mr. Shea would join me in saying no. Our approach to Islam would be greatly deprived if we didn't heed the words of Pope John Paul II and Cardinal Francis Arinze as well.

Likewise, for many of us living in the United States, Islam may very well be the religious heritage of our own friends and neighbors. Some of us have, like Mr. Cork and his son (or the Pope himself), stepped foot inside a mosque and witnessed Muslims in prayer, or perhaps even the pleasure of joining them in the breaking of the Ramadan fast. I consider it a blessing to have had the opportunity to do both -- for it is in such encounters and occasions for dialogue, these face to face meetings with the other, that I believe we truly gain an understanding and appreciation of Islam.

Consequently -- at the risk of stating the perfectly obvious -- perhaps both sides in this dispute should strive not to emphasize one "face" of Islam at the neglect and exclusion of the other. Realistic criticism of the tendencies towards despotism and fundamentalism within Islam is indeed necessary, but left at that it can easily give fuel to prejudice and hatred -- if not countered by a willingness to learn and recognize that which is also good and worthy of our respect. To that end I agree with Mr. Cork's recommendation that we should approach Islam in the spirit and example of St. Francis.

* * *

Finally, earlier this year, partly in reaction to the hostile tone of many posts I had read on this subject, I began putting together another webpage, an online compilation of articles and links on Christian-Muslim relations: history, dialogue, and our perceptions of each other. Those who are interested in this subject may find this of use. Pleaes feel free to recommend any that I have missed, as it is still very much a "work in progress."

  1. Bill Cork really should get a comment box for his blog, as much of his writing provokes me to further reflection and comment. ;-) Until he rectifies this matter I suppose my own blog will suffice.
  2. Concerns expressed in a reader's email posted by Mark Shea to his blog on 10/27/03, along with the usual chorus from the comment box, with particular attention to Crisis magazine columnist Sandra Meisel's fears: "Why the Church is so eager to "welcome" the hordes that will eliminate her in Europe puzzles me greatly. . . . I can look forward to being dead before churches become mosques, museums and all visual art are destroyed, music and games forbidden, etc etc under a Wahabi-style Islam. Remember, the Middle East was once a Christian region, but once Islam takes hold, Christianity is destroyed. And just wait till they start evangelizing South America." It was nearly a year ago that Ms. Meisel ridiculed those who suggested a Zionist conspiracy to destroy Christianity and take over the world . . .
  3. Thus Bill Cork objects to Mark Shea's reference to Islam as a "diseased spirituality", and is subsequently criticized by residents of Shea's comment box (Mr. Shea, to his credit, repudiates Bill's detractors).

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