Peter Kreeft on What Christians can learn from Islam

I have written a review of Peter Kreeft’s book “Between Allah & Jesus: What Christians Can Learn From Muslims” for the issue of our Kairos magazine coming out this weekend. It is a book I highly recommend. You can read my review to find out what it is about.

Unfortunately, I think that Peter Kreeft will probably lose a few admirers because of this book. But that’s Kreeft for you. Just like Socrates, he isn’t interested in people liking what he writes. He is interested in the search for truth. This book emulates Socrates in another way too: it is in the form of a dialogue, which doesn’t give you the answer. You have work it out. Of course, it is pretty obvious which way Kreeft is leaning.

The important thing is in the title: this isn’t a book of what “Christianity can learn from Islam”, but what Christians can learn from a serious dialogue with Muslims, ie. the actual practitioners of the Islamic faith. It is a book all about dialogue. All through the book, Kreeft speaks about the importance listening as much as talking. I can’t quote the exact way he puts that, as I have given my copy to a Muslim friend to read and give his opinion on whether Kreeft’s Muslim character in the dialogue is a true reflection of what a Muslim would actually say. I thought it was, from my experience, but nothing like asking someone who actually knows. (By the by, I would like to see a similar book of dialogues between a Lutheran, a liberal Catholic and a magisterial Catholic…).

In any case, several reviews have misunderstood this point and seem to think that what Kreeft has done in “Between Allah & Jesus” is a part of the Karen-Armstrong-style “industry” that “tries to find common ground with Islam”. But that would be entirely out of character for Professor Kreeft, whose only object has ever been to seek for truth, and yes, Truth with a capital T too. I will take as an example of a misreader of Kreeft one reviewer, William Kilpatrick, whose review is called “Christian Misunderstanders of Islam” (note already in the title his mistake in thinking Kreeft’s book is about Christianity and Islam, rather than the necessary engagement between Christians and their Muslim neighbours).

Here are some selections from Kilpatrick’s review with my comments in [bold italics] writes:

Unfortunately, considering his wide appeal, Kreeft’s latest book is basically an apology for Islam. [No. It is an apology for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims.] Between Allah and Jesus: What Christians Can Learn from Muslims is devoted to the proposition that the things that we (Muslims and Christians) have in common are more important than the things that separate us. [No again. Kreeft never says this. At the very beginning of the book, he lists the major and essential differences. What he says is that NEVERTHELESS we have to have the dialogue and what we can learn from Muslims is not all negative, in fact there is much that is positive and challenging for Christians.] In fact, writes Kreeft in his Introduction, we have a lot to learn from Islam: “…I also say that Islam has great and deep resources of morality and sanctity that should inspire us and shame us and prod us to admiration and imitation.” [That’s just plain Nostra Aetate, ie. the Catholic magisterial position.] Instead of fearing Islam, Kreeft says that Christians should join together with Muslims in an “ecumenical jihad” against our common enemies, sin and secularism.

…In Between Allah and Jesus, the strongest arguments for traditional morality are made by the Muslim student, Isa (the Arabic name for Jesus.) In fact, throughout the entire dialogue Isa has all the best lines. [The fact that Kilpatrick can say this means that he is in fact acknowledging that a lot of authentic Muslim standpoints have appeal for him too.] Isa is not only a defender of the sanctity of all human life, he is also a strong defender of the Jews (the six million who lost their lives to Hitler were “martyrs”), and a great respecter of women (“…all I’m doing is defending womanhood and motherhood and families”). In his appreciation of feminine virtues Isa sometimes sounds more like a Victorian seminary student than a twenty first-century Muslim male. [That’s true and not true. The character of ‘Isa may not be your average Muslim in the streets of Mecca, but I know plenty of Muslim men who would speak just as ‘Isa does in the story. I think what this shows it that this reviewer is working from a characterisation and a generalisation of Muslim males, and has probably not actually met a lot of Muslim men, or engaged in dialogue with them.] Isa even makes the case that women in Muslim societies are happier and more contented than women in Western societies because “we let women be women,” whereas Western women are the victims of a sexual revolution which mainly benefits men. [Kilpatrick and other readers are free to disagree with what ‘Isa says – it isn’t Kreeft who says this, but his character- but this is also a commonly expressed opinion among the Muslim men I know.] One of Isa’s dialogue sparring partners, Libby (a liberated feminist), objects to all this with vehemence, but she is plainly no match for Isa. She spouts feminist slogans; Isa is a master of logical argumentation.

Kreeft advises his readers that he “does not necessarily agree with everything said by Isa as a Muslim,” but his sympathies clearly lie with Isa. [he has sympathies for his character ‘Isa, but if you want to know where Kreeft himself stands, you have to listen to Fr Hereema, the priest character in the story] For example, Fr. Heerema, who represents the orthodox Catholic position in the dialogues, usually finds himself in agreement with Isa. [So? I’m an orthodox Catholic too, and I often find myself in agreement with my Muslim friends – more so than with my rather secular friends, anyway.] Moreover the sentiments expressed by Isa are quite similar to those expressed by Kreeft in his Introduction: for example, says Kreeft, one of the most important things Christians “should learn from Muslims or be reminded of by Muslims” is “the sacredness of the family and children.”

“Sacredness of the family?” In this and in other parts of his book, Kreeft seems to be inadvertently transposing Christian notions into Islam. [As far as I know, ‘Isa doesn’t call the family “sacred”. What Kreeft is saying is that the Muslim emphasis on the importance of marriage and family life can be a reminder to Western Christians that Christianity actually teaches the “sacredness of the family” over against “the sacredness of the individual”.] While there may be some highly spiritualized Sufi sect somewhere that looks at marriage and family in this light, this is not the picture of family life that emerges in the accounts of ex-Muslims such as Nonie Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and Wafa Sultan. [From here on Kilpatrick spends a number of paragraphs demonstrating that there are plenty of Muslims that show characteristics which contradict ‘Isa’s standpoint. That’s true. But Kreeft isn’t talking about Islam or Islamic society. He is allowing the Muslim character to express his point of view.]

…But, as any objective scholar of Islam can attest, this is sheer nonsense. Islam didn’t sell itself through tenderness but through terror. Once, when a Jewish tribe surrendered to Muhammad’s forces, he ordered the beheading of over 700 of the captives. On another occasion he ordered that some captured thieves have their eyes gouged out, and their arms and legs cut off on opposite sides. Inquiring students at places such as Boston College, Calvin College and Wheaton might want to supplement their Kreeft with some samplings from the Hadith and The Life of Muhammad. [In this book, Kreeft is not dealing with what Kilpatrick seems to think is “objective” scholarship about Islam. He is dealing with one particular Muslim dialogue partner. Kreeft is also very aware that there is an “Islam of the sword” and that in many cases this kind of Islam has had the upper hand. But he is honestly trying to dialogue with the many Muslims that we in the West have as neighbours: honourable, gentle, virtous people who do not deserve to be labelled as violent or hateful or dangerous.]

Kreeft’s tendency to confuse Islamic concepts with Christian beliefs continues in his treatment of jihad. The secular media, says Kreeft, has created the false impression that jihad is a duty to wage war against unbelievers. But, according to Isa, jihad, is, in reality, “the inner struggle against evil.” The trouble is, the evidence for this interpretation is minimal. In one Hadith—the one which Isa quotes—Muhammad is reported to have said, “the most excellent jihad is for the conquest of self.” But this is from a Hadith of doubtful provenance and, in any event, the Koran makes it quite clear in several places which is the more excellent jihad. For example: “Do you pretend that he who gives a drink to the pilgrims and pays a visit to the Sacred Mosque is as worthy as the man who believes in God and the Last Day, and fights for God’s cause? These are not held equal by God.” (9. 19-20) [Again, none of this is relevant to Kreeft’s book of dialogues. The only relevant fact is that this is what many Muslims tell us Jihad is. Every Muslim I have ever spoken to tells me this. Perhaps Kilpatrick speaks to different Muslims. Or does he only read about them?]

…Isa’s attitudes may be unrepresentative of Muslims but, unluckily, Kreeft’s favorable disposition toward Islam is representative of many influential Christians. [Kreeft’s “favourable disposition” is ultimately not towards Islam, but towards the many honourable adherants to Islam. And ‘Isa’s attitudes are not all that dissimilar to those of the many Muslims I know.] He is not alone in his attempt to “reach across the aisle” and find common ground with Islam. Despite the increasingly bloody persecution of Christians in the Muslim world, many Christian leaders still cling to the pious hope that there is some slight misunderstanding between Islam and Christianity that can be cleared up by more dialogue. [Religions don’t dialogue, people do. Islam and Christainity may be ultimately incompatible – but human beings can always dialogue, and where there is dialogue there will always be a better outcome than where there is war.] Dialogue with Islam has, in fact, become something of a growth industry. It’s no longer confined to high-level theologians: it’s become the in-thing for parishes and congregations. In the last few years, numerous Christian churches across America have invited Islamic speakers to come in and explain Islam to them. The rationale is that “people fear what they don’t understand,” and once we understand Islam we will see that there is nothing to fear. [So what is Kilpatrick’s point? Does he want to make sure that we stay afraid? Whatever happened to “perfect love casts out fear”?]

Kreeft shares that hope. As he puts it, “I think this high and honorable dialogue between two high and honorable faiths will continue…and that something great will come of it.” But what if he’s wrong? …We are in a high stakes struggle with Islam. It’s one that doesn’t allow for much margin of error. [ie. don’t dare to come to agreement on anything!] You can misinterpret or completely ignore the beliefs of Jains or Buddhists, and still rest secure that your life will go on as before. But misinterpreting Islam could turn out to be fatal mistake. If it turns out that jihad is not, after all, an interior spiritual struggle, but rather a serious obligation to subdue non-Muslims, a lot of Western Christians are going to be woefully unprepared for the kind of things that are already happening to Christians in Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Nigeria. [Note that fear is the overriding theme here.]

Peter Kreeft has written some of the finest works of Christian apologetics of the last four decades. But he’s off base with this one. Seeing that Kreeft has been highly influenced by C.S. Lewis, and is considered by many to be a worthy successor to Lewis, he might want to take a second look at Lewis’ views on finding common ground with an alien faith. In The Last Battle, Lewis’ fictional account of the conflict between the Christian-like Narnians and the Muslim-like Calormenes, the Narnian have been deceived into believing that their God, Aslan, and Tash, the demonic God of the Calormenes actually have much in common. “Tash” and “Aslan” they are told are only two different names for the same God. In reality, “Tash is Aslan: Aslan is Tash.” After a while, the hybrid God is simply referred to as “Tashlan.” As time passes, however, the worship of Tashlan becomes simply the worship of Tash, and the Narnians find themselves enslaved by the followers of Tash. [Ironically, it is exactly here that Kilpatrick seems to have failed to understand Lewis. In the final moments, one honourable Calormene (yes, there is one! Maybe his name was ‘Isa?) discovers all along that the “Tash” he thought he was worshipping was in fact truly Aslan. Kilpatrick takes hold of one side of Lewis’s picture and loses the other. As Kreeft says, our common enemies are demons, not eachother. Tash is a demon. Those who seek to worship the true God will always find him.]

I am currently reading Hans Urs von Balthasar’s “Theology of Karl Barth”. That might seem a million miles away from Kreeft’s book on Muslim and Christian dialogue, but perhaps not. Here is what he says about the importance of dialogue:

Most polemical confrontations never become real encounters, not because they are polemical and fail because people disagree, but because they really want to meet: because everyone wants to encounter the other rather than be willing to be met. Certainly in many cases we feel that Barth has not really met us, because he doesn not really see where we stand. But still, I hardly know any Catholic writing where Barth would have to admit he has been met, although he has certainly tried to hear what we have to say. But, in a dialogue a willingness to hear out the other is more important than talking. Such eagnerness to listen is in fact a dimension of our very faith and thus our obedience and our prayer, all of which form an indissoluble unity.

I think Kreeft has tried, in “Between Allah & Jesus”, to bring his readers to a point where they really meet the Muslim, and to give us a chance to listen to them. He has tried to help his reader see where the Muslim dialogue partner stands, and to realise that it is not impossible for us to stand together.

If you have the time to sit and watch it, this may be of interest.

21 Comments

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21 responses to “Peter Kreeft on What Christians can learn from Islam

  1. Matthias

    and what can Muslims learn from Christians-the one thing that defines Christianity from all other faiths-GRACE.
    Akbat the Great had written over the doorway of a mosque in India these words ” Jesus of Nazareth (peace be unto Him) said “this life is a bridge between two worlds,therefore do not build yuor house upon the bridge”

    • Peregrinus

      Interesting!

      I would have said that the one thing that defines Christianity from Islam and all other faiths is Incarnation. Though, of course, what you say is also correct. Perhaps we have to concede that there isn’t “one thing” that defines us.

      I feel a Spanish Inquisition moment coming on. (“The distingushing characteristic of our faith is Grace! Grace and Incarnat . . . The two distinguishing characteristics of our faith are Grace, Incarnation and the ineffable mystery of the Trinity! Three characteristics! The three characteristics . . . I mean, among the characteristics of our faith are Grace, Incarnation, Trinity and . . .)

      • Matthias

        Fourth characteristic Jesus Christ is intracultural and cross cultural.The language of our faith is usually the vernacular,and we express the church calendar within it,whilst islam is arabisation

        • Peregrinus

          Well, I wouldn’t see those as quite such central characteristics. Muslims would also see God as intracultural and cross-cultural. They have no figure to correspond to Jesus Christ, so no parallel can be drawn. (If you’re looking for a parallel for Mohammed, I suggust a combination of Abraham and Moses.) The language of our scripture and worship is not normatively the vernacular (and indeed wasn’t normally the vernacular until relatively recently, in the case of scripture, and very recently in the case of worship), while Arabic is the vernacular for a significant proportion of Muslims (though a minority). The church calendar is neither here nor there.

          I’m happy to stop at three characteristics, but if you’re looking for a fourth then I suggest the centrality of the Great Commission to “teach [and baptise] all nations”, which has no parallel in Islam. (I would suggest Sacramentality or Eucharist, but in a sense they are aspects of Incarnation, and counting them twice would be cheating.)

    • what can Muslims learn from Christians-the one thing that defines Christianity from all other faiths-GRACE

      Or, as Kreeft puts it, both Christians and Muslims believe that the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, but only Christians know that the end of wisdom is the love of the Lord.

  2. Matthias

    Yes to teach and baptise all nations as opposed to convert by the sword.

    • Most conversions to Islam in the West today are not happening “by the sword”, Matthias. They are happening by persuasion, and even more by example – the sort of example that St Francis spoke about (although with a different content, of course!).

      • Gareth

        David: and even more by example.

        Gareth: Interesting. The only experience I have had with anyone who beholds to the Islamic faith (my residing state would have a very low proportion per population) is one of my close work collegues.

        He is sincere and devout and his daughters are always dressed modestly. He visits the Mosque religiously without fail every Friday and lets his fellow staff members know about it. He is widely respected.

        The practising Catholics that I have worked with were never really took an interest in daily Mass, despite an inner city church being a one minute walk from the city. One could barely tell that there were any different from the average Australian in dress or conduct.

        I am not saying it is all like this or all doom and gloom, but sometimes one doesnt have to be a rocketscientist to figure out why the great apostasy has occured in our time.

        It all comes back to what is preached from the pulpit.

        • I think your point is the point Kreeft is trying to make. Why can’t Catholics be more faithful in their Catholicism in the way that Muslims are in their Islam?

          Also, I note the important fact that you are speaking from a real encounter with a flesh and blood Muslim. I think that is necessary in this discussion.

  3. Bear

    Thank you for this.

    I have read some other blogs frothing at the mouth in fury at Kreeft writing this book.

  4. Spencer’s warnings about the wishful thinking inherent in Kreeft’s book is pretty persuasive to me!

    • Terra,

      I listened last night to the whole Spencer/Kreeft “debate” last night. Spencer speaks strongly, and, as Kreeft himself acknowledges, there is little that one can disagree with in his catalogue of woes of Islamic civilisation and history, but, again a Kreeft notes, his conclusion is not inevitable, nor, in my opinion, the right one.

      In many ways, Spencer and Kreeft are talking past each other, but they also epitomise the two dominant ways in which Christians seek to understand Muslims.

      The “debate” was over the horrible and rather insulting premise that “the only good Muslim is a bad one”. You can take that two ways:

      1) That to be a “good” (= orthodox/faithful) Muslim, you have to be a “bad” (= evil) human being.

      2) That to be a “good” (= virtuous) Muslim, you have to be a “bad” (= unorthodox/unfaithful) Muslim.

      They are, of course, two sides of the same coin, and they are predicated on the definition of what an “orthodox/faithful” Muslim should be. I find here a strange congruance between anti-Islamic Christain authors/speakers and the Jihadist/Islamist Muslim outlook. It fits the argument of both to take a particular interpretation of Islam, said to be based upon a particular kind of reading of the Koran and the Hadith, and to insist upon this as the only “true” or “orthodox” or “faithful” Islam.

      But it seems to me this ignores a couple of crucial points.

      1) Who on earth do we think we are that we are able to define someone else’s religion for them? Notably, there is a tendancy for Christian opponents of Islam to treat Islam like a kind of fundamentalist Christianity, ie. to think that it must be defined by a particular (some would call it “literal”, though that is inaccurate) reading of the Scriptures.

      2) It ignores the fact that there are many schools of Islamic thought in the world today (notably, but not only, in Western and non-Arabic Islam) that claim authenticity to the Koran and the Islamic tradition but do not read the Koran in the way either the Christian opponents of Islam do, or the way in which the Jihadists and Islamists do. (Spencer is simply wrong when he either denies the existence of such schools of thought, or – paradoxically acknowledging their existence – dismisses them as “authentic” Islam. ie. He draws his conclusions in the light of a pre-existing assumption about what “faithful” Islam should be).

      The difference of approach between Kreeft and Spencer can therefore be characterised (a little too braodly) as a difference between an observation of Islam and an encounter with Muslims. In the “debate”, and also in his book, Kreeft clearly is drawing upon discussions he has had with real Muslims, usually in the course of his career as a teacher of philosophy at Boston College. Spencer, on the other hand, runs the website “Jihadwatch.org”. It is fairly clear then that whereas Kreeft is writing and speaking from his real encounter with particular Muslims, encounters in which he is open to hearing what his dialogue partner has to say, Spencer is concentrating on accumulating accounts both historical and contemporary that support his war (his “jihad”?) on Jihadism. No wonder their perception of Muslims differs so radically.

      I do not know if Kreeft himself has seen clearly this distinction between the two approaches. I believe he knows it, but he did not take the opportunity to make this clear in his “debate” with Spencer, and this leads me to think that he has perhaps not analysed very deeply the vast chasm between the two different approaches.

      Nevertheless, he does make a point at the beginning of his book that he sees the encounter between Christianity and Islam taking place between two “Islams” (the Islam of the Sword – which is what Spencer concentrates on – and the Islam of the honest, honourable and virtuous believers) and two Christianities (liberal Christianity and orthodox Christianity). He would see Spencer’s work falling into the encounter between the Islam of the Sword and Orthodox Christianity. But he makes it clear that his dialogue with ‘Isa is intended to be a dialogue with the other Islam, the honest, honourable, and virtuous Islam. Spencer simply refuses to acknowledge that this second Islam exists, or, if it does, he asserts that it is “bad” Islam, and that the only true Muslim is a Jihadist.

      If you want to believe that, well, good luck to you. Go find a Jihadist. They are in the newspapers everywhere, but I don’t think you are likely to meet one next door. On the other hand, if you really want to encounter a fellow human being at an authentic level, why not sit down for a cup of coffee (or tea, if they are Turks) with your Muslim neighbour? I assure you, the experience will look a lot more like Kreeft’s dialogues than Spencer’s Jihadwatch.org.

  5. As Kreeft points out, underlying the debate between them really is the question of which is the greater threat, secularism born of the Enlightenment, or hardline Islam, and give that we both oppose one of them, isn’t there room to make common cause?

    The trouble is that the enemy of my enemy isn’t always necessarily my friend!

    Spencer’s argument, as I heard it, is that the soft tolerant version of Islam that we often encounter when we talk to individual Muslims in a country like Australia reflects appropriate Muslim behavior for those in a minority situation.

    But the fundamental premise of Islam is that the State must align with religion, and so is inherently expansionist, and once Muslims are sufficiently numerous to be able to act, are obliged to do so.

    I have to say that I think the evidence in favour of Spencer’s proposition that terrorists are able to define themselves as the ‘good’ muslims to the broader Islamic community is pretty strong. There are repeated reports (and from Muslim websites and sources not just the secular media) of pretty hardline stuff being preached in Australian mosques.

    And repeated incidents of Muslims who previously seemed to have largely assimilated into Western societies acting in ways totally opposed to it, refusing to recognise the authority of courts and so forth.

    Migration inevitably changes a country, often for the better. But when migrants come to Australia with an agenda to change its institutions and system of government, then I think we have to worry, and that seems to be the case for a signficant proportion of Muslim migrants.

  6. But the fundamental premise of Islam is that the State must align with religion, and so is inherently expansionist, and once Muslims are sufficiently numerous to be able to act, are obliged to do so.

    I don’t know if this is actually the way my Muslim friends and neighbours think, Terra. Did you hear this from a Muslim, or from some non-Muslim writing about Muslims?

    I have to say that I think the evidence in favour of Spencer’s proposition that terrorists are able to define themselves as the ‘good’ muslims to the broader Islamic community is pretty strong. There are repeated reports (and from Muslim websites and sources not just the secular media) of pretty hardline stuff being preached in Australian mosques.

    Spencer is correct – Jihadists do define themselves as the only “good” Muslims. But other Muslims vehemently deny this, and in fact charge groups such as the Wahabis (the powerful and influential Saudi sect that controls Mecca) as “heretics”. Are we wanting to tell our Muslim friends: “Sorry, I am afraid you are wrong. As infallible interpreters of your religion, we tell you that your “heretics” are in fact the “only good Muslims””?

    As for “reports” of what is preached in our mosques, you read this in a newspaper, didn’t you?When did you last actually go to a mosque for Friday prayers?

    I hope you understand that what I am getting at is that you are using a popularly reported image of “Muslims”, and not actually engaging with the real flesh and blood Muslims who live among us as our neighbours.

    That’s another thing too. Islam is not only about migration. All non-indigenous faiths came to Australia by migration (certainly the Lutheranism of my German forebears did). It might interest you to know that the first time the One God of Abraham was invoked upon our shores was by Muslim South Asian fisherman already in the 16th Century…

    • 1. Actually no, I’m not just going on books on this one! I met my first Muslim in my early teens who I got to know quite well as a Colombo plan student of my father. And I have had a few work colleagues who were Muslims, with whom I did make common cause to some extent, on the virtue of religion per se (and on some other issues vs our secularist colleagues), even while disagreeing on many other things!

      Still, I do find your dismissal of the formal study of Islam troubling. Of course I do read, both books of the apologist for Islam variety, the more serious studies of its history and concepts, and I’ve looke around the Australian pro-Islamic/why don’t you convert websites (which I have to say can be something of an eyeopener). Because just as one would get a skewed view of Catholicism by talking to a few random catholics in the workplace, so too, one would get a skewed view of Islam if one did not make the intellectual effort to go beyond the individual personal encounter.

      2. Is Islam about migration? Of course it is! The few Indonesian fishermen arriving on our shores at various times notably failed to make any serious inroads in converting our Indigenous population until relatively recently. Nor have the descendants of the Afghani camelmen formed a significant minority. And like it or not, the origins of Australia have been irrevocably shaped by our history as a British colony, and subsequently by our constitution which reflects the Christian orientation of the ‘founding fathers’. It is true that Islam does seem to be making converts thee days; a product in my view of our failure to transmit a strong sense of the value of our own culture and religion.

      3. I really don’t think the idea that there should be an alignment between the state and religion is Islam is a disputed topic amongst mainstream Muslims – those living as minorities recognise what is feasible and what is not, nothing more. Even most apologists for Islam that I know basically tell me that their hope and expectation is that Isalm will go through its own version of the Enlightenment at some point soon!

      4. Do other Muslims really reject the jihadists motivations? Some sure. And they may disagree on tactics and timing. But there is a continued reluctance on the part of many to actually come out and condemn, and back that up in practice. Not to mention an increasing pattern of people who looked like moderate muslims turning out to be the threat around the world.

      5. And by the way, no, you won’t find me going to friday prayers. Because I’m not a Muslim and the Catholic faith does not allow syncretism…

      • Still, I do find your dismissal of the formal study of Islam troubling

        I hardly dismiss such study, Terra. I read vociferously about Islam all the time. I find especially interesting some of the serious scholarly work on origins of Islam, which are not as straightforward as popular Islam – or even orthodox Islamic tradition – would have it! But it is important to balance both personal interaction and study. I am glad to hear that this has been your practice.

        The few Indonesian fishermen arriving on our shores at various times notably failed to make any serious inroads in converting our Indigenous population until relatively recently

        Well, yes, relatively recently, but not all that recently. There were significant communities of indigenous muslims in Northern Australia already in the early 20th Century, if not late 19th, from what I have gathered recently from hearing someone who has studied these communities. Apparently a good number of older indigenous can remember doing prayers on Friday with their father, and going to mass with their mother on the missions. Have you seen the work of Dr Peta Stephenson? Try this out: http://www.griffith.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/58316/Stephenson.pdf

        Of course our history has been shaped by British Christianity, but it was added to by both Irish Catholicism and (to a much lesser extent, except in SA) by German Lutheranism. Now these traditions are all Christian, but they are all acknowledged to have a place in our society today. Immigration has continued to take place, only the religious diversity our migrants bring is much greater. But I don’t think we can say that Australia is, by some kind of predestination, a Christian country. Our society will always reflect an amalgam of its members.

        most apologists for Islam that I know basically tell me that their hope and expectation is that Isalm will go through its own version of the Enlightenment at some point soon!

        I think it is inevitable. We underestimate both the adaptibility of Islam and the pervasiveness of the Englightenment forces to think otherwise. That should moderate our “fear” of Islam somewhat. There was a time when Catholicism knew nothing of the “Separation of church and state” (it still has its own particular ideas on that score) and many feared the Catholic faith (and still fear it) for precisely that reason.

        But there is a continued reluctance on the part of many to actually come out and condemn, and back that up in practice.

        This is a perception more than a reality. Being a minority in Australia, and having many ties to the “old countries”, there are many reasons why their criticisms may seem muted to us. Part of it is that they don’t see these actions of terrorism as something for which they are responsibile, and hence not something for which they should be expected to apologise (a little like John Howard on the Stolen Generation). But the condemnations are clear enough, I would have thought. Everytime a Jihadist blows something or someone up, the ones who suffer most in our society are Muslims.

        And by the way, no, you won’t find me going to friday prayers. Because I’m not a Muslim and the Catholic faith does not allow syncretism

        What the Church calls the “dialogue of religious experience” has nothing to do with syncretism. There are no laws in the Catholic faith to say that you can’t go to a mosque and observe what they do there. Actually, such observation of the religious practice of others is postively encouaraged. Best to go with a Muslim friend, of course, and then they can explain things for you. You shouldn’t regard this as a priori out of the question for a Catholic. Muslim prayers are not idolatry, you know.

  7. “What the Church calls the “dialogue of religious experience”” – no the ‘Church’ does not call it any such thing. It is a term particular to the inter-religious dialogue community!

    And I’m not particularly convinced that it is a generally particularly effective or appropriate means of carrying out the Church’s mission of evangelization, which must be the key dimension of any inter-religious dialogue according to Domine Ieusus.

    Which mainstream Church documents ‘positively encourage’ attending Muslim prayers? Because most of the ones I’m aware of see the task of inter-religious dialogue as something for the experts (other than of course in the context of the every day opportunities for evangelization that present themselves in social interactions).

    We all need of course to know something about other religious traditions so we can avoid giving unnecessary offence and understand the challenge they present to our society.

    But the priority for Catholics should be learning more about their own religious traditions first – attend an Extraordinary Form and Byzantine Rite Mass for example and make sure we are extremely well catechized – before worrying about rushing to the synagogue or mosque…

    • When talking about priorities, Terra, of course our Lord has the last say “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God”! Of course the “dialogue of religious experience” will not be for everyone, but if one is wanting to have a say about one’s idea of another religion, your authority to do so would be enhanced if you had some experience of how they worship and pray.

      And I must protest that you will not find a more ardent admirer of Dominus Iesus than myself. When this document was released in 2000, I finally felt that there were no more barriers to my becoming a Catholic (doctrinal, that is) and ventured forward. It was a life-changing document for me.

      As for the Church encouraging the “dialogue of religious experience”, I point you to the Pontifical Council of Interreligious Dialogue’s 1991 document “Dialogue and Proclamation”, paragraph 42:

      42. The forms of dialogue

      There exist different forms of interreligious dialogue. It may be useful to recall those mentioned by the 1984 document of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue(17). It spoke of four forms, without claiming to establish among them any order of priority:

      a) The dialogue of life, where people strive to live in an open and neighbourly spirit, sharing their joys and sorrows, their human problems and preoccupations.

      b) The dialogue of action, in which Christians and others collaborate for the integral development and liberation of people.

      c) The dialogue of theological exchange, where specialists seek to deepen their understanding of their respective religious heritages, and to appreciate each other’s spiritual values.

      d) The dialogue of religious experience, where persons, rooted in their own religious traditions, share their spiritual riches, for instance with regard to prayer and contemplation, faith and ways of searching for God or the Absolute.

      It is only in (c), “the dialogue of theological exchange”, that specialists are mentioned. The prerequisite for the “dialogue of religious experience” is that the participants be “rooted in their own religious traditions” (which points to your “priority”, I guess).

      I might anticipate the argument that statement from a Pontifical Council doesn’t amount to a magisterial teaching, and you may be right. It only tangentially shares in that quality of Magisterial teaching that requires the full assent of the faithful. My point is that as a “Reflection And Orientations On Interreligious Dialogue And The Proclamation Of The Gospel Of Jesus Christ” from the Curial body whose responsibility it is to guide the faithful involved in interreligious dialogue, we can take this as an encouragement along these lines. This is an important document for all who work in my field, and the most authoritative direction that the Church has given, given through the very body She has established to guide the faithful in this matter. There have never been any Papal statements to the contrary, and John Paul II’s own example at Assisi in 1996 and 2000 would suggest that this is offered as an appropriate mode of interreligious dialogue to the faithful.

      • You correctly anticipated my reaction to the Pontifical Council – moreover sharing spiritual riches doesn’t necessarily mean attending each others formal prayer services. And of course JPII’s Assissi gestures are one of the reasons some of us are glad the cause for his beatification has slowed…

        But in any case, no doubt you are pouring over the new guidelines for interreligious debate contained in the Pope’s Apostolic Exhortation on Scripture, which stress the role of mission in such dialogues, and avoidance of syncretism and relativism….

  8. David,

    I see you linked to the debate too. It wasn’t coming up for me on Google Rearder, but I see it now.

    Good innit?

  9. Christine

    And of course JPII’s Assissi gestures are one of the reasons some of us are glad the cause for his beatification has slowed…

    I have to admit I had a bit of a problem with that as well.

    There’s a wonderful Maronite Catholic parish in downtown Cleveland. I am learning much about their Arab culture, their Syriac-Aramaic liturgy and their deep roots in the Middle East. That may actually help me to appreciate the cultural commonality with those Muslims who do not see their faith through the lens of Jihad.

    Nevertheless, I tend to agree with Terra that until more Catholics become recatechized as to the truths of their faith the ecumenical talks are probably best left in the hands of the “experts” who are better qualified to sort these issues out.

    Of course, that by no means excludes extending the hand of friendship to Muslims we may encounter in the workplace or socially.