Bill Muehlenberg takes issue with my post on Cadbury’s Chocolate

On the front page of his blog “Culturewatch”, you will find a link to this article by the esteemed Bill Muehlenberg (for whom I have every respect): “Concerns about Halal foods”. In it – without a link and without directly naming me (perhaps he is trying to spare me embarrassment?) – you will find a reference to something I wrote on this blog not so long ago in reference to the “urban myth” about Cadbury’s Chocolate being “food offered to idols” (HT to Matthias):

But sadly even many Christians are quite confused about all this. Consider what one Catholic blogger (who happens to be fully involved in the interfaith movement) had to say about all this:

“There are many Christians who wish to say that the God Muslims seek and intend to worship is ‘not the same’ as our God. It is true that some of attributes Muslim’s ascribe to the Deity are different from the attributes we ascribe to Him, but then, the attributes of God in Jewish theology is different from the attributes of God in Christian theology too, and no-one is suggesting that they worship ‘an idol’.”

Sadly he is wrong in everything he says here. Allah is not Yahweh. The God of Islam is not the God of the Bible.

Before entering more deeply into Bill’s critique of my position, let me first say that I am not involved in something called “the interfaith movement”. There IS such a thing as an “interfaith movement” to which events such as the Parliament of the World’s Religions belongs, and “The Interfaith Movement” to which groups such as the Interfaith Seminary in New York belongs. What I am “fully involved in” is something called Catholic interrelgious dialogue, which is a whole different kettle of fish, though very often confused with “the” or “an” “interfaith movement”. But more of that some other time…

The first section of Bill’s article is uncontentious. He simply and correctly states what Halal food is and what the situation is in Australia.

Then in the next section headed “General Concerns” he grabs the stick at the wrong end by stating:

So what is the concern then about Halal foods in Australia (and the West)? A general concern which all Australians may well have is how this fits into the bigger picture of Islam in Australia. A major worry is that this is just another part of the process of setting up a parallel Islamic state within Australia, leading to the eventual full implementation of sharia law. Everyone concerned about the free and democratic West and how it is being undermined by various covert and overt Islamic pressures should be worried about this.

This really is too much. It is like the old English attitude that allegiance to the Pope obliged Catholics to act as a “fifth column” in Protestant England. It is simply making a mountain out of a mole hill. There are obvious tensions between Muslims allegiance to the Umma and their allegiance as citizens to the local State authorities – but these are no different from the tensions that exist between a Catholic trying to faithfully live out the law of their faith in a land whose law does not always comply with Catholic beliefs (we have a situation like that here in Victoria with our abortion laws – Bill would heartedly agree on this point, I think). But to suggest that the labelling of Halal foods for Australian Muslims is part of a “process of setting up a parallel Islamic state within Australia” is as ridiculous as suggesting that Catholic faithfulness to the teaching of the Catholic Magisterium is an attempt to set up a parallel Papal State in Australia. This is not helpful to the discussion AT ALL.

Not serving Haram food to Muslims is as much a mark of respect as not serving un-Kosher food to Jews. It is a mark of hospitality. Okay, you can raise legitimate questions of reciprocity (“why here in Australian when not there in Saudi Arabia”), but that is a different issue. Just because we are not treated hospitably elsewhere and by others is no reason for not showing hospitality here to our own citizens! Rather, we set an example, and maintain a benchmark, by which and from which we can raise these legitimate concerns with other nations that are not so hospitable to our beliefs and practices.

Also, Bill raises the following question:

Another concern is that companies pay these certification boards. So who gets the money? Where are these funds going to? Is it possible that some of it is finding its way into the hands of jihadist groups? These seem to be legitimate questions to ask.

It may be a legitimate question, but don’t assume the answer before you know it. I know some of the people directly involved in the business of Halal certification, and they aren’t Jihadists, nor are they getting rich on this. As Perry pointed out in the comments on my post on the matter, this is just a matter of the market – which will pay to make its products more acceptable to a wider public. In other words, why this attitude of suspicion without evidence?

Bill then goes on to specifically “Christian concerns”:

But more specifically, Christian concerns have to do with how Halal meats are ritually slaughtered. In this process (which can only be carried out by a Muslim), the Muslim prays to Allah while facing Mecca. Arguments can be made about how humane the process is, and groups like the RSPCA claim it is less humane than traditional slaughter methods. But what about this ritual, and the prayers to a false God?

Leaving aside the RSPCA’s concerns (and I remember well my father slaughtering sheep myself as a youngster – not something I could do myself – in ways that are not unlike the way in which Muslims slaughter their meat – minus the prayer to Allah), the hinge of this issue is that of whether or not Allah is a “false god”.

And that is where the rubber hits the road. Here the Catholic Church begs to differ from Mr Muehlenberg. We don’t regard Allah as “a false god”. No Middle Eastern Catholic regards the God of their Muslim neighbours as “a false god”. We would say that they worship the God of Abraham in a way that is not according to the Truth, and we would also say that they have beliefs about the God of Abraham which are not the same as our Christian beliefs about this God, but that doesn’t make Allah “an idol” or even “a false god”.

The rest of Bill’s argument hinges entirely on his assertion that Allah IS a “false god/idol”. He says that I am guilty (and hence the Catholic Church is guilty) of “simple heresy”, comparable to that of the Marcionites (a strange comparison, because it would seem to me that there is more of the Marcionite in Bill’s position than in mine).

Bill ends by saying:

It seems to me there are two main worries here. One is the ever encroaching inroads made by Islam in the West, along with the gradual diminutions of our freedoms. The other is the sloppy and unbiblical thinking found in so many people calling themselves Christians. Between the two of them the Islamist agenda is nicely being pushed along, while the West is slowly unravelling.

Well, it seems to me that what is driviing Bill is a fear of Islam (I don’t think fear is a good basis for the development of future relations between Christians and Muslims, though I grant there is good reason to fear – as Christians, however, we excercise that love which “casts out fear”) on the one hand, and on the other, exactly the same “sloppy and unbiblical thinking” which he ascribes to me.

For instance, we need to be clear of what we mean by “false god” and “idol”. In the account of the Golden Calf episode in Exodus, for instance, we have not so much a case of “false god” as an “idol” or “graven image” of the true God (the Israelites said to themselves that “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” Ex. 32:4). Still a sin, but the sin of false worship (“idolatry”) rather than the sin of worshipping a “false god”. Second we need to know what the Muslim is actually doing when he prays the prayer to Allah during the slaughter process. He is NOT offering a sacrifice to Allah, but rather acknowledging Allah (God) as the Lord and Creator of this creature which he is slaughtering. It is a kind of “anticipated” grace before meals. I have yet to meet a Muslim who was not prepared to eat a meal over which we have prayed Christian grace! (Or a Jew for that matter!).

Clear thinking, clear biblical thinking, and generous charity in the place of suspicious fear are what lay behind my original comments, and I am sticking to them.

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76 Comments

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76 responses to “Bill Muehlenberg takes issue with my post on Cadbury’s Chocolate

  1. marcel

    David, are you suggesting that it is settled Catholic doctrine that the Mohammedens worship the same (true) God as Christians? Consider 1 John 2:23…

    You said: “We would say that they worship the God of Abraham in a way that is not according to the Truth…”

    How can one worship God outside of the truth? According to Pope Gregory XVI: “The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her”.

    • Good questions, Marcel. Let’s see if I can do them justice…

      1) Are you suggesting that it is settled Catholic doctrine that the Mohammedens worship the same (true) God as Christians? Consider 1 John 2:23…

      Two things here: first the question of Catholic Magisterial teaching; second the meaning of 1 John 2:23.

      a) Catholic Magisterial teaching.

      Just picking a couple of statements off the Magisterial tree, we have:

      From Lumen Gentium (Vatican II):

      “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

      True, rather than affirm that they do, this statement says that the Muslims “profess” to hold the faith of Abraham, nevertheless the statement is unequivocal about the fact that the Muslims DO “acknowledge the Creator” (there being only One of these, and they acknowledge that One), and that they “adore the one and merciful God” “along with us”.

      This is from a Constitution of an Ecumenical Council. You can’t really get a higher statement of the Magisterium. But lest there be any doubt aobu the matter, the Council declared again in Nostra Aetate:

      “3. The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, [Cf St. Gregory VII, letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl. 148, col. 450f.) ] who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

      Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.”

      And in case anyone doubt whether this was just 1960’s craziness, the 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church repeats the assertion of Lumen Gentium in paragraph 841.

      Add to this John Paul II’s own witness. In his address to a rally of Muslim youth in Morrocco on the 19th of August 1985, he said:

      “Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.”

      Taking all this into account, it would be hard to argue that it is NOT “settled Catholic doctrine that the Mohammedens worship the same (true) God as Christians.” In fact, it might just be worth pointing out, that if you regard yourself as a “Magisterial Catholic”, this is an authentic teaching of the Magisterium with which you have to grapple and which you have to accept.

      Now, as for 1 John 2:23, which reads “No one who denies the Son has the Father. He who confesses the Son has the Father also”, we might ask ourselves what it means to “have” the Father. I would argue that it means “to have access to the Father”, in the light of Hebrews 7:23-25. This is undeniably true. To seek to worship the Father (ie. YHWH, the God of Abraham, the LORD) is not necessarily to succeed in this intention and profession. It is my understanding that our Muslim brothers and sisters, like our Jewish brothers and sisters, sincerely and devoutly seek access to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; BUT, not knowing or acknowledging Christ, in fact ultimately fail to do so (at least from their end – I acknowledge that it is quite possible, and indeed probably, that God in his mercy and grace is willing to accept their attempted worship, given that “he who seeks will find; and to him who knocks the door will be opened” Luke 11:10.)

      All this is notwithstanding what I have to say in response to your following question:

      2) Who can give the One God true worship

      You said: “We would say that they worship the God of Abraham in a way that is not according to the Truth…” How can one worship God outside of the truth? According to Pope Gregory XVI: “The holy universal Church teaches that it is not possible to worship God truly except in her”.

      Yes, this is true. It is not because of a lack of orthodox belief that those outside the Church are unable to give God true worship; it is rather because unless we have been initiated into the Church – ie. baptised (in the first order) and confirmed and receiving the Eucharist (in the second) – we are not incorporated into Jesus Christ and thus are not able to offer God the “acceptable sacrifice” that St Paul refers to in Romans 12. All this goes without saying.

      Of course, there are ramifications of this. Let us take Bill Muehlenburg’s assertion that the Muslims do not worship the true God because their worship is not true. Well, we Catholics could say that of the worship of Bill Muehlenberg’s protestant brothers and sisters. They do not offer the Sacrifice of the Mass in their Sunday worship services. They do not have a valid priesthood capable of conducting valid sacramental rites. They are not fully incorporated into the fellowship of the Church. Therefore, to a serious degree, their worship is impaired; they fall under the critique of Pope Gregory XVI, who said that “it is not possible to worship God truly” outside of the Catholic Church. Do we therefore conclude that Bill Muehlenburg worships “a false god” or is guilty of “idolatry”? By no means! We acknowledge that they with us seek to worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, although they do not do so in the way that is most pleasing to him, the way in which he has commanded us to worship him.

      So, we need to distinguish between the degree to which our worship is true, and our intention to worship the same God, the One God, the Creator, the God of Abraham.

      Now, I also want to distinguish my position on this (and what I take to be the Church’s position) from the position of those logicians who say that if there is only One True God Creator and Lord Of All, then anyone professing to be a monotheist must believe in this one true God. As one critique of this position has it, it is possible for two different men each to be married to one woman, and yet not be married to the same woman. My point does not derive from the fact that Muslims profess to be monotheists and therefore the God they worship must logically be the God we worship (in fact, that does not logically follow). What persuades me that the Church’s witness is true (apart from the Authority of the Church herself!) is that our Muslim friends 1) profess to worship the God of Abraham (the God of the “prophets”, including “prophet” Jesus), and 2) are at least (if not more) anti-idolatrous and anti-pagan as Jews and Christians.

      I hope this clarifies matters a little.

      • marcel

        Yes, it certainly clarifies your position well.

        The passage, particularly from Nostra Aetete, causes me much difficulty. I am not a solitary fringe dweller on that point.

        I think the snippet which states “this sacred synod urges all to forget the past…” is exactly the kind of thinking that led to the very problematic address in Morrocco and then the new Catechism.

        I would be interested to know if you believe Nostra Aetete has the mark of infallibility. I can’t see it that way (if it is not infallible then, ipso facto, it could be wrong). There are many Saints who could never have abided with the language of that document.

        • Let us be cautious of invoking that old bogey man “creeping infallibility” (as the liberals like to call it), and speak of authority. I know that Ecumenical Councils can solemnly define dogma and when they do, such statements are to be regarded as an exercise of the infallible teaching magisterium of the Church. I highly doubt whether we have a case of that in ANY of the Vatican II documents, which, as far as I know, did not solemnly define any dogmas.

          Nevertheless, in the Second Vatican Council, what we do have is the highest teaching authority of the Church (an ecumenical council which has been approved by the Bishop of Rome) exercising its magisterium, and hence the teachings of the Council must be received by Catholics with due docility and respect! At the very least, a teaching of an ecumenical council which has been approved by the pope is clearly the public teaching of the Catholic Church, which is all I am saying here in my piece. You can disagree with it if you like, but what you would be disagreeing with is the public stated and clear teaching of the Catholic Church (although I grant it may just possibly maybe not be infallible!).

          As for the authority of Nostra Aetate, well clearly as a decree of the Council it is less authoritative that Lumen Gentium (which was issued as an Apostolic Consitution). Thus NA must be interpreted by the more authoritative LG. Also, the Catechism quotes LG, not NA. Nevertheless both are in agreement on this matter. The fact that not only Paul VI, but also Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have also all given their assent to this doctrine (the sermon in Morrocco must be seen as a part of the ORDINARY teaching magisterium of the Pope) seems good enough to me too.

          As for individual Saints, well, they, unlike an Ecumenical Council or a Pope do not exercise teaching magisterium UNLESS they were also a bishop or a Pope.

          So it’s up to you, Marcel. If you assent to this teaching you are assenting to the public doctrine of the Catholic Church. If you dissent from it, well… On this blog, we try to “thik with the Church” even when she is not speaking “infallibly”, and yet we only propose, we never impose! 🙂

          • Fr John Fleming

            St Thomas Aquinas did not believe in the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. But he would have accepted the dogma had it been defined as it was many centuries later!

            • marcel

              Had Nostra Aetete been defined ex cathedra from the Chair of Peter then perhaps we could accept the novel treatment of Islam therein with the same serenity you attribute Aquinas in your speculative example.

              It is, however, hard to imagine that Nostra Aetete would have been very agreeable to the likes of St Peter Canisius: “Who is to be called a Christian? He who confesses the doctrine of Christ and His Church. Hence, he is truly a Christian thoroughly condemns and detests, the Jewish, Mohammedan, and the heretical cults and sects.”

              • Peregrinus

                Whether a particular saint can abide by church teaching is a problem for the saint more than for the church.

                I don’t think you can call St Peter Canisius in aid of an argument that Muslims do not worship God unless you are going to argue that Jews also do not worship God. Even if St Peter Canisius [i]did[/i] believe that, it’s hardly a Catholic view.

  2. Louise

    This really is too much. It is like the old English attitude that allegiance to the Pope obliged Catholics to act as a “fifth column” in Protestant England. It is simply making a mountain out of a mole hill.

    No. I think we’re letting these people walk all over us. I think it’s big problem (though not as big as secularism).

    • There is a difference between “letting these people walk all over us” (which I think is a bit rich – rather like saying late 17th Century Catholics in England were “walking all over” the protestants) and condemning them as “idolaters” and “traitors” to the State!

      I hope that sometime during all the joyful madness that is likely to be taking place in your household in the next few days, Louise, you will find time to reflect on the statements of the Magisterium regarding our Muslim brothers and sisters. We are obliged to listen to the teaching of the Church if we wish to call ourselves faithful Catholics.

      • Louise

        Look at England, David. Read all the stories of actual severe violence (beheadings etc) performed by Muslims (on account of their religion) which are all over the ‘net – acts of violence being performed today, not 500 or 1000 years ago. When I say “us” I mean the West, really, although I have some reason to believe that things are a bit mad in Sydney. England appears to be something of a basket case, going by the more extreme stories one reads.

        I have no problem with respecting Muslims as persons, but they are a thorough menace as a group, in certain parts of what was Christendom and we ignore that at our peril. I don’t particularly have a problem with companies offering halal this and that, but many Muslims do, in fact, wish to impose their nasty laws etc on western society and this could be a thin end of the wedge type thing. It *seems* to me (I acknowledge that I am no expert) that “moderate” Muslims are moderate mostly by not being very serious about their religion; something like lapsed Catholics – lapsed Muslims or secular Muslims, we might call them.

        I’m all for their conversion (rather than destruction) and Our Lord Jesus Christ is now appearing to many of them in person (so I read) and until this time, they have been apparently immune to the Gospel.

        It would seem that this is perhaps the fruit of the many years of intercession that Protestant Christians in particular have been directing towards the “10-40 window.”

        There is no reason whatsoever in the name of political correctness or what-have-you, that the West (or Australia in particular) needs to be making big concessions to Islam. It is foreign to our culture in a way that Catholicism certainly is not to England.

        Give some people an inch and they will take an ell.

        Please be specific in your criticisms of my comments as pertaining to the teaching of the Church. I am not aware that Australian law is required by the Church to make *any* concessions to Muslims, as Muslims.

        I’ll be more interested in “dialoging” (revolting word) with Muslims when they start treating Christians in their countries with basic respect. I believe the Pope refers to this as “reciprocity”?

        • I have no problem with respecting Muslims as persons, but they are a thorough menace as a group, in certain parts of what was Christendom and we ignore that at our peril.

          It is precisely as persons rather than “as a group” that we are called to interact with our Muslim neighbours, Louise. Take care that when you lump them all together “as a group” you are maintaining your respect for Muslims as persons.

          It *seems* to me (I acknowledge that I am no expert) that “moderate” Muslims are moderate mostly by not being very serious about their religion; something like lapsed Catholics – lapsed Muslims or secular Muslims, we might call them.

          I often hear this, but it is unfair. We should not really use the term “moderate Muslims” or “moderate Islam”, any more than we should use the term “moderate Christian/Catholic”. By doing so, you are defining Islam in a particular way and then saying that those Muslims who do not accept this position are in some sense not “real Muslims”. Islam does not have a central magisterium, nor do they all read the Koran in exactly the same way – certainly it is not their way to take Koranic verses and apply them in quite the way that many Christians would apply the bible. Note that there are many Christians who call Catholics “unbiblical” because we have different interpretations of the Scriptures to them. There are many schools of thought among Muslims, and none of them may be taken as “real Islam” over against others.

          Please be specific in your criticisms of my comments as pertaining to the teaching of the Church. I am not aware that Australian law is required by the Church to make *any* concessions to Muslims, as Muslims.

          Aside from respecting freedom of conscience and religious liberty… We ask this from the State for ourselves; is it not somewhat hypocritical to deny it to others?

          I’ll be more interested in “dialoging” (revolting word) with Muslims when they start treating Christians in their countries with basic respect. I believe the Pope refers to this as “reciprocity”?

          • Louise

            It is precisely as persons rather than “as a group” that we are called to interact with our Muslim neighbours, Louise. Take care that when you lump them all together “as a group” you are maintaining your respect for Muslims as persons.

            Speaking of groups is certainly permissible and necessary. I’m sorry, but I have no respect for people who go around committing gross acts of violence in the name their religion. And I’m talking about what’s happening now, not what the nasty Christians did way back when, in the Crusades and Inquisitions etc.

            We should not really use the term “moderate Muslims” or “moderate Islam”, any more than we should use the term “moderate Christian/Catholic”. By doing so, you are defining Islam in a particular way

            It is precisely b/c Islam has no magisterium that we need to speak of Muslims as sub-groups. You might not like my nomenclature – fine. But until Holy Mother Church comes out and states how we must refer to various kinds of Muslims, I will use the terms I find most clear.

            nor do they all read the Koran in exactly the same way

            Obviously it’s the ones who take certain teachings/verses literally who are the main problem. These are the ones who kill people. They are thugs. I’m not saying all Muslims are thugs, but their own history – in the main (yes, there were exceptions) has been far more violent than ours.

            I dont’ care about the precious nuances of Islam. I care about not letting the worst ones get away with murder.

            • Speaking of groups is certainly permissible and necessary. I’m sorry, but I have no respect for people who go around committing gross acts of violence in the name their religion.

              But why, by daming the entire group for the sins of a few, do you not respect Muslims who do no such thing, but simply wish the freedom to worship and live according to their Creed without being suspected and ostricised as potenitial terrorists by their fellow citizens?

              • Louise

                Because it’s organised violence and those “few” are not so few as all that in absolute numbers.

                I have no objection to Muslims practicing their religion if they can do it without killing people and without demanding that our society change radically to placate their precious feeeeelings.

                And I am damning no-one – that is a gross overstatement.

          • Louise

            Aside from respecting freedom of conscience and religious liberty… We ask this from the State for ourselves; is it not somewhat hypocritical to deny it to others?

            No. It is sound policy for the state to protect the culture. Culture means something. Islam is not part of our culture as such. Basic freedom is okay, but special concessions are not necessary. If Muslims wish to live in a Muslim country then let them go and live in one. All immigrants, in gratitude for the country which takes them in should do their best to fit in. I’m pretty certain, that’s consistent with Church teaching by the way (in the Compendium of Social Doctrine).

            Whether halal food is such a big deal or not I don’t know.

            • Islam is not part of our culture as such.

              Used our numbering system lately, Louise?

              And what, in Australia, is “our culture”? when my Lutheran forefathers came to this country, German language and the Lutheran religion were not a part of the Australian culture either. For that matter, when the first Europeans came to this country, they certainly were not a part of “indigenous culture”. You are sounding very French. (that was probably a racist comment!)

              If Muslims wish to live in a Muslim country then let them go and live in one.

              I understand that that is what they say of Christians in Saudi Arabia…

              All immigrants, in gratitude for the country which takes them in should do their best to fit in. I’m pretty certain, that’s consistent with Church teaching by the way (in the Compendium of Social Doctrine).

              So let me twist your words once more and fire them back at you. Are you saying that it is Church teaching that if Christians emigrate to Saudi Arabia, they should do their best to fit in and not demand the right to public Christian worship?

              • Louise

                I strongly suspect that the bit about our numbering system is a load of old cobblers, but even if it were not – so what? I can use “Arabic” (=/= Muslim) numerals daily without in any sense being Arabic.

                Australia does not persecute Muslims. We do not prevent them practicing their religion, nor do we prevent them by law from eating halal food etc. So, any comparison between the Muslims living in complete freedom here (and arguably Catholics have less freedom, since in Victoria, a Catholic doctor or more probably a nurse can be charged for not participating in an abortion) and our poor brothers and sisters in Christ living in dire circumstances in Muslim countries isn’t really going to cut it, is it?

              • Louise

                Are you saying that it is Church teaching that if Christians emigrate to Saudi Arabia, they should do their best to fit in and not demand the right to public Christian worship?

                No. Because you *are* twisting my words. The Church teaching I pointed to (without quoting directly) does not say that immigrants have no right to practice their religion in their new land.

              • Louise

                And what, in Australia, is “our culture”? when my Lutheran forefathers came to this country, German language and the Lutheran religion were not a part of the Australian culture either.

                I can barely be bothered answering this. When the German people arrived in SA it was a separate colony – yes?

                Also, since both Germany and England are inheritors of The Faith and have a shared history and much in common, it was hardly difficult for such people to forge something of a new culture together in a new place. The sad history (though highly exploited now by social engineers who want to pretend that culture is “nothing”) of the Australian Aborigines is lamentable indeed, but it is history and we are where we are now and that’s just how it is. None of this means that people can just come here from wherever and make demands on our society. Let them show some gratitude, I say. The Italian and Greek immigrants etc were able to fit in pretty well (yes, there was prejudice to overcome) without acting like a pack of crybabies and instead working hard to create something positive in the nation. These same people (including my father, who is an immigrant from Sri Lanka) are none too pleased, let me tell you, with the general behaviour of the Muslim immigrants.

                • During the first world war, and even during the second, many of “my people” (the Barossa Deutsch) were imprisoned under the suspicion of being German sympathisers. Some possibly were. The majority were not. Schools were closed (there was a thriving German Lutheran school system in Victoria and South Australia prior to the First World War that didn’t revive again until the 1960’s). Churches were burnt to the ground. The names of our families and our towns and our rivers were all changed to “good English names”. Our language was forbidden to be used in print. All this was despite the fact that they were model and loyal citizens. You can forgive me, I hope, for seeing parallels…

              • Clara

                The contribution of Islamic scholars to medicine was considerable with the medical treatises of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) (11th Century) being THE text for western medicine well into the 17th century.

                Also worth remembering that many of the classics of antiquity were preserved by Arab scholars and rediscovered during the Renaissance.

                I think this is the heritage to which ‘moderate’ muslims aspire and which is a far cry from Islamic fundamentalism which makes the headlines. Perhaps as Christians we might do well to recognise this exchange of ideas and knowledge and use it as a way of building understanding.

                • I’m just thinking that if we call one group of Muslims “moderate” the word for the other group would have to be “immoderate” wouldn’t it?

                  Muslims themselves use the term “progressive” Islam and “ultra-orthodox” Islam, a little like the distinction among Jews. We don’t talk about “moderate” Jews, but about Progressive or Reform as opposed to Orthodox or Ultra Orthodox. Reform Jews would not in any way think they were being unfaithful to Judaism. Just thoughts…

  3. PM

    Well done David. The views you are critiquing are not just paranoid drivel, they are dangerous. How many hundred thousand Iraqis were killed because this type of prejudice was used to drum up sopprt for the quest for imaginary weapons of mass destruction? John-Paul II was truly prophetic here.

    Yes, Muslim worship of the one true God is deficient. But logically, if they are monotheists must by definition worship, albeit wrongly, the same God.

    Anyone who knows some history will be well aware that Aquinas, for one, was not above borrowing from Jewish and Islamic theologians.

    • In fact, the history of the Church’s interaction with Islam shows that Christians originally regarded Islam to be an heretical form of Christianity. Implicit in this idea is the idea that Muslims were in fact attempting to worship the same God as Christians, but were simply getting it wrong.

    • Louise

      I am opposed to the war in Iraq, on the basis of principles of justice outlined by the Church. There is nothing dangerous with observing that Muslims are being a total menace in Western countries. It is not paranoid to be concerned about the militancy of Islam, even if the concern about “halal” food itself is a bit over the top. (It may or may not be).

  4. Susan Peterson

    I think you are right about the specific issues you discuss here.
    But I also think that Islam showed in the past that it was dangerous to Christendom, and that the particular strain of Islam which is dominant now is clearly dangerous to Christians.

    There is only one God, and anyone who intends to worship Him truly, no matter how wrong many of his ideas might be, is worshipping Him.

    Nevertheless, those false ideas can do harm. And for some people, the false ideas become more important than God Himself, in which case they are no longer worshipping anything other than themselves and their false ideas. (This can also happen to people who call themselves Christians.)

    I can’t imagine not letting people one has allowed to live in one’s country, follow their own religion about what kind of food to eat , or about how it is prepared. As to whether Christians should eat it, even if it were offered to idols, idols are nothing, and St. Paul said there was no harm buying food in the market which had been offered to idols, so long as this didn’t scandalize weaker brethren. I have eaten Kosher food and I would eat Halal food if it came my way.

    But there is a difference between treating others fairly and allowing them to “walk all over you.”
    You seem to think that is ridiculous, perhaps because there are a small number of Muslims in Australia, relatively speaking. However there are neighborhoods in Dutch and English cities (French also, I think) in which a Dutch, or English, or French girl cannot walk in normal western clothes without being either threatened or assaulted.
    In England, Muslims can have family matters decided in Sharia courts, in which women have almost no rights. Catholics have followed your advice and admitted Muslims to their schools, to the point where Muslims are the majority, and they then have petitioned the government to award the building -built by Catholics-to be turned over to them for a Muslim school…. and sometimes they have won.

    Mutual love and understanding would be wonderful, but you also have to show some prudence and judgment.
    Have you seen the movie Independence Day?
    Alien spaceships have arrived and one is hovering over a city. Some people go up to the roof of an apartment building and hold up welcome signs, dancing and partying. They are the first ones vaporized by the spaceship!

    Be just, be charitable. But don’t be a useful idiot.
    And, in my opinion, set immigration quotas!

    Susan Peterson

    • I think you are right about the specific issues you discuss here.

      Thanks, Susan.

      But I also think that Islam showed in the past that it was dangerous to Christendom, and that the particular strain of Islam which is dominant now is clearly dangerous to Christians.

      No argument there either.

      There is only one God, and anyone who intends to worship Him truly, no matter how wrong many of his ideas might be, is worshipping Him.

      Well, I don’t quite agree with that logic. That logic says that when I say two men are both married to only one woman, I am saying they are both married to the same woman. The case of the God of Islam being the same as the God of Christians and Jews is stronger than that. We acknowledge that Muslims intend to worship the same God as we do because they name him as the “God of Abraham”, and that God IS the same God we worship.

      Nevertheless, those false ideas can do harm. And for some people, the false ideas become more important than God Himself, in which case they are no longer worshipping anything other than themselves and their false ideas. (This can also happen to people who call themselves Christians.)

      Quite. In saying that Muslims seek to worship the same God that we do is not to say that all their ideas about God are true. As you say, that is true for some Christians as well!

      I can’t imagine not letting people one has allowed to live in one’s country, follow their own religion about what kind of food to eat , or about how it is prepared.

      Correct. That would be plainly inhospitable.

      But there is a difference between treating others fairly and allowing them to “walk all over you.”

      And I don’t think that this is a case of “allowing them to walk all over you”. What they choose to do with regard to identifying foods that are lawful for them to eat should be nothing to us.

      You seem to think that is ridiculous, perhaps because there are a small number of Muslims in Australia, relatively speaking. However there are neighborhoods in Dutch and English cities (French also, I think) in which a Dutch, or English, or French girl cannot walk in normal western clothes without being either threatened or assaulted.

      And if that were to happen here, it would be wrong and would be punishable by law. No problem. Only it ISN’T happening here, as far as I know.

      In England, Muslims can have family matters decided in Sharia courts

      And in this country we have Jewish law courts that decide the same things, and in fact also Catholic law courts. But the law of the country remains supreme, and both religious courts acknowledge (in practice) the family law of the State. Reciprocity too is a great ideal, and I think we have it in this country. The situation in the rest of the world is not so happy, but let us be an example!

      • Louise

        I don’t think there is anything wrong with being very cautious in our dealings with Muslims in this country, given how things actually are now in other countries.

        Jews and Catholics, on the whole, are not going around killing people in various ways for various reasons relating to their religion, so I think any concessions to either of these groups (and others) are reasonable under freedom of worship ideals.

        It is a common remark that “not all Muslims are terrorists.” This is true. But it is equally true that most terrorists in the world currently are Muslim. Why should we pretend this is not the case?

        • Peregrinus

          It is a common remark that “not all Muslims are terrorists.” This is true. But it is equally true that most terrorists in the world currently are Muslim. Why should we pretend this is not the case?

          The question is not “why should we pretend this is not the case?” but rather “why do we pretend that it is?” We in the west are highly selective about whom we choose to label as terrorist; we can easily create a “muslim majority” of terrorists by simply not labelling non-muslims/non-muslim groups who employ terror for political ends as “terrorists”.

          We are also selective about the qualities that we identify as relevant to terrorism. We could, for example, point out that most of the terrorists in the world have brown eyes. So why are we picking on Islam as the relevant quality? Or we could point out that most of the world’s [i]victims[/i] of terrorism are Muslims; why do we make rather less of this point as casting light on what it means to be a Muslim in today’s world? Or we could point out that, if we want to learn something general or generic about terrorism, there is no reason to confine our observations to [i]contemporary[/i] terrorists. Is there any reason to do this, other than to arrive at the answer we have already decided that we want?

          • Peter Golding

            Pere,could you tell us which other groups over the last 10 years have-
            1.Hijacked planes and flown them into office towers.
            2.Blown up night clubs,restaurants and motels
            3.Loaded up cars and trucks with explosives and driven them into crowded areas with a view to blowing up as many people as possible?

            • Peregrinus

              1. Why are you picking these particular forms of terrorism, and excluding others?

              2. Why are you confining your survey to “the last 10 years”? Is recent terrorism somehow more authentic than older examples?

              3. Why are you focussing on the religion of the perpetrators, and not on the religion of the victims?

              You seem to be asking questions designed to elicit the answer “Muslim”. My question is, why do you want to elicit that answer?

              • Peter Golding

                Why will you not anwer my question?

              • Fr John Fleming

                Come on Pere, Peter needs a response. The relevance is what is happening today. Part of the response would be that similar acts of terrorism occurring in the 1970s were with people of a different ideology but perhaps with a similar mentality not shared by others who might agree with their ideology. In our current times, Islamists (and I would prefer that as a more accurate depiction) are the main problem. It does not follow from that melancholy fact that Muslims qua Muslims are the problem.

                • Peter Golding

                  Thank you Fr.John.You clearly understand that it is what is occurring today that is relevant.

                • Peregrinus

                  Oh, I’m happy to agree that Islamist terrorism is a real phenomenon, and a big problem. My concern is when people use that fact to draw conclusions about Islam. “Islamism” does not equal “Islam”, and any account of the relationship between them needs to take account of the central fact that Islamist terrorism is primarily directed against Muslims and mainstream Islam. Using Islamist terrorism to characterise Islam and to dictate your response to Muslims is a little – no, a lot – like using Timothy McVeigh to characterise the United States, and to dictate your response to Americans.

                  And using Islamist terrorism to characterise terrorism (which is done when people say things like “most terrorists are Muslims” while nodding meaningfully) is a major mistake. Terrorism is a real problem and a real threat, and hijacking it in this way to serve an anti-Muslim agenda, apart from being monstrously unjust to Muslims, diminishes our capacity to think clearly about terrorism and how to respond to it. We need to not do this.

                  • Peter Golding

                    Pere when it comes to not answering a question you make Kevin Rudd look like
                    a complete ameteur.

                    • Peregrinus

                      I thought I had answered them, actually, in acknowledge the reality of Islamist terrorism. Still, if you insist:

                      1. Only Islamists have done this.

                      2. To my recollection, only Islamists have done this.

                      3. To my recollection, only Islamists have done this.

                      Now, will you answer my questions?

              • I think that this isn’t about the Muslims as much as it is about Islam. The dialogue is really between Christianity and Islam, and the objective is to invite Muslims to look at Christianity. This is not meant to be antagonistic. I think the Lord made sure to take that out of the picture. Challenging, certainly, always inviting (c), but not, I think, adversarial.

                • Peter Golding

                  To Pere,
                  1.I have chosen these forms of terrorism because they are used by Islamists and this debate is about Islam.
                  Methods used by other terrorist groups are a red herring.
                  2.As Fr.John correctly pointed out,it is recent history that is relevant.It should be remembered that since
                  9/11 in excess of 10,000 jihadist attacks resulting in loss of life have occurred worldwide.
                  3.Why do you focus on the religion of the victims rather than the perpetrators?
                  It is the opposite side of the same coin.
                  Your point that most of the victims of Islamist terrorism
                  are muslims is correct.Yes they like to blow up their
                  own,but there is ample evidence that they would like to blow us up as well.
                  I suspect they have not been more successful is because security and intelligence gathering are so much better in the west.

                  • Peregrinus

                    1.I have chosen these forms of terrorism because they are used by Islamists and this debate is about Islam.

                    Actually, this debate started because I questioned the significance of Louise’s assertion that “most terrorists in the world currently are Muslim.” That seems to me a statement primarily about terrorists and terrorism.

                    You are admitting here that you seek to prove a link between Islam and terrorism by intentionally discounting examples of terrorism perpetrated by non-Muslims.

                    You could just as validly disprove a link between Islam and terrorism by intentionally disregarding examples of terrorism perpetrated by Muslims, couldn’t you?

                    What you have done is to assume a particular conclusion (“most terrorists are Muslims”), look for evidence which is consistent with it, and disregard evidence which is inconsistent with it for no reason other than that it doesn’t support the conclusion you want to draw. This is not a convincing mode of argument.

                    Methods used by other terrorist groups are a red herring.
                    If we are considering a claim that “most terrorists in the world currently are Muslim” then far from being a red herring they are obviously, and highly, relevant.

                    2.As Fr.John correctly pointed out,it is recent history that is relevant.

                    You have both stated this, but neither of you have offered any arguments in support of the claim, and it’s not obviously true. I repeat, is recent terrorism somehow more authentic than older examples? Does it tell us something about terrorism that older examples don’t? Why?

                    It should be remembered that since
                    9/11 in excess of 10,000 jihadist attacks resulting in loss of life have occurred worldwide.
                    3.Why do you focus on the religion of the victims rather than the perpetrators?
                    It is the opposite side of the same coin.
                    Your point that most of the victims of Islamist terrorism
                    are muslims is correct.Yes they like to blow up their
                    own,but there is ample evidence that they would like to blow us up as well.
                    I suspect they have not been more successful is because security and intelligence gathering are so much better in the west.

                    That explanation offers no account at all as to why they would mainly target Muslims. Nor does your account depend to any extent on any consideration of what the objectives of Islamism are, and how those objectives are supposed to be served by attacking either Muslims or Westerners.

                    A common belief is that Islamism is directed primarily against westerners. In fact Islamist movements devote far more resources to attacks (verbal, political and terrorist) on other Muslims and on Islamic polities than on Westerners and western polities, and this is entirely consistent with their professed ideology and objectives, which have to do with how the Muslim world should conduct itself.

                    So why does this misperception survive? Well, it seems to be confined to Westerners, and I suspect myself that those who hold this belief, deep down, respond only to attacks on Westerners, and regard only attacks on Westerners as significant, and they unconsciously assume that everyone else shares this perspective. Hence they see Islamist attacks on Western targets as central to Islamism, and they assume that Islamists do too.

                    The fact is that the primary target of Islamism is what they see as false versions of Islam, and the adherents of those false versions – or, in other words, mainstream Islam, and most Muslims. Hence that is where the bulk of their attacks are directed, and that is where the majority of their victims are found. Their objective is social and political change in the Islamic world.

                    Their main objection to Westerners is to those Westerners, and Western powers, which support what they see as false Islamic regimes, or which seek to impose themselves on Islamic countries.

                    To the extent that their anti-Western activities fan resentment, or suspicion, of Muslims in Australia and other western countries, well, that suits Islamists very well indeed. The useful idiots in the West will help them to drive a wedge between Muslims and Westerners, which diminishes the capacity of the West to influence Islamic societies, an outcome which is consistent with their views. A confusion between Islamism and Islam therefore both gratifies their ideology (they think Islamism is the only authentic Islam) and serves their practical purposes, and they will do everything they can to encourage it. There is no reason, however, why we would want to support them in this.

                    • Keep going, Perry. You are doing a good job on this. I have gotten tired of the argument. I started the post on quite a different matter. But someone has to make the points you are making.

                      Just out of interest, Fr John suggests the word “Islamist”. I prefer the even more narrow “Jihadist” for this subset of folk, a term Fr Neuhaus used to favour.

                    • Peter Golding

                      Since you feel so strongly Pere that Muslims have been unfairly targeted in terms of terrorism,the least you could have done was provide a couple of recent examples of terrorism perpetrated by ther organisations that perhaps received little coverage in the media.

                    • Peregrinus

                      I repeat: why “recent”?

                      You cannot keep running from this question forever, you know.

                    • Fr John Fleming

                      Well, Pere, the reason why “recent” is important is that is what we have to deal with. The past we cannot deal with but we can learn from it. And lessons were learnt about the hateful nature of the ideologies characteristic of the Marxist Left which issued in acts of terrorism. No one now denies that. So, recent terrorism is something we need to deal with. And one will not deal with it unless one is prepared to understand who the terrorists are, and the reasons why they do what they do. I may be able to do something about a current problem in the way that I cannot do anything about a past problem. So, whether one likes it or not, Islamism is a problem for us NOW and it has to be addressed honestly. The fact is that there is a section of the Muslim community in Australia, as elsewhere, that is actively hostile to our political culture and our religious heritage. All that is on the public record. Yes, Muslims should try and sort this out within their own communities. But regrettably there are leaders of this community who have come to Australia with the express intent of imposing the attitudes prevalent within other societies on Australian Muslims. I could say more, but the point is that we have a current problem which must be dealt with and it wont be wished away by saying that today’s terrorists are no different, no better or worse, than terrorists of another time in the past. The question is not one of discussing the phenomenology of terrorism so much as what do we do with today’s version of it.

        • Jews and Catholics, on the whole, are not going around killing people in various ways for various reasons relating to their religion

          Neither do Mulsims “on the whole” do this.

          Is it true that “most terrorists” in the world are currently Muslim? I don’t know. I haven’t taken a poll. Certainly the most publicised acts of terrorism are those who profess the Muslim faith. However, I believe there are plenty of cases of terrorism going on in the world that are not by Muslims and are not given the same publicity.

  5. Louise

    Incidentally, David, if Bill has misrepresented you or your work (hopefully by mistake), then I am sorry to hear it.

    • I don’t think has misrepresented my argument – he just disagrees with that, which is fair enough. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, as popular opinion has it! 🙂

      But as for my work, the confusion is common. Many people are involved in interfaith activity for many different reasons. Too often, conservative Christians reject interfaith relations because they associate it with only one of those many reasons. I can live with that too.

  6. Concerning the Catholic attitude concerning Islam, perhaps it is useful to consider how St. Paul began his discourse with the Greeks in Athens, citing their statue to an unknown god in Acts 17. It is certain that what the Greeks had in their minds about this unknown god, which was probably something vague, did not in any way resemble God as St. Paul knew Him. But notice how he nonetheless said “It is this God whom you are worshiping in ignorance that I am here to proclaim to you!”

    I think this is the same approach the Church takes concerning the Islamic Allah. Here I am thinking of what the catechism says about Islam. It also helps me frame this by considering that this is not about a pacifist, pluralistic passiveness to Islam, but a sincere dialogue, where we can thus start somewhere in order to share the gospel with Moslems.

      • Louise

        Just bear in mind that historically, the Muslims have not been able to be converted to the Faith. They are not Greeks, at any rate.

        I don’t deny that we should try to convert them.

        • historically, the Muslims have not been able to be converted to the Faith

          What? Do you mean by this that no significant numbers of Muslims have converted to the Christian faith? That can’t be right. Fr Mitch told me in my interview with him that millions of Muslims in Algeria and Morocco are currently converting to the Faith.

          • Louise

            I said “historically.” It is true that visions of Jesus are *now* beginning to convert large numbers of Muslims to the Faith, but it has required this kind of miraculous intervention.

            I wish you would read what I write.

  7. Peregrinus

    A few thoughts:

    It is Catholic dogma that God can be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason. And that’s Vatican I, folks, affirming Aquinas; none of your trendy Vatican II stuff here. There is therefore nothing surprising about finding non-Catholics or non-Christians acknowledging and worshipping God, and finding this does not imply attributing any quality of supernatural revelation to their religious traditions.

    The same decree of Vatican I goes further. Apart from telling us that we can know God by natural reason, it describes the God that we can know by natural revelation:

    “1. The Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Roman Church believes and acknowledges that there is one true and living God, creator and lord of heaven and earth, almighty, eternal, immeasurable, incomprehensible, infinite in will, understanding and every perfection.

    2. Since he is one, singular, completely simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, he must be declared to be in reality and in essence, distinct from the world, supremely happy in himself and from himself, and inexpressibly loftier than anything besides himself which either exists or can be imagined.

    3. This one true God, by his goodness and almighty power, not with the intention of increasing his happiness, nor indeed of obtaining happiness, but in order to manifest his perfection by the good things which he bestows on what he creates, by an absolutely free plan, together from the beginning of time brought into being from nothing the twofold created order, that is the spiritual and the bodily, the angelic and the earthly, and thereafter the human which is, in a way, common to both since it is composed of spirit and body.

    4. Everything that God has brought into being he protects and governs by his providence, which reaches from one end of the earth to the other and orders all things well. All things are open and laid bare to his eyes, even those which will be brought about by the free activity of creatures.

    – Vatican I, Session 3, Chapter 1

    That’s the whole chapter. There’s not a word in it about the Trinity or the Incarnation. Why? Because in this passage the Council Fathers are indicating what can be known of God from natural reason. Later passages of the same decree discuss supernatural revelation.

    What is of interest in this context is that these attributes of God, identified by Vatican 1 as knowable by natural reason, are pretty much a summary of God as understood in Islam. There is nothing in this list of attributes which a Muslim would not heartily affirm and, almost equally importantly, there is no attribute missing here which a Muslim would say was essential to the nature of God. This is, in short, a Muslim description of God just as much as it is a Christian description of God. (Of course, it’s Jewish description of God as well.)

    What we have, therefore, is a dogmatic belief that God can be known by natural reason, an authoritative account of what we can know of God by natural reason, and two non-Christian religions – Judaism and Islam – which affirm a God possessed of all the attributes which we can know of God by natural reason. It beggars belief to say that one of these religions worships the true God and the other a false God – the more so since scholars of both these religions unhesitatingly affirm that they worship the same God.

    Why would anybody adopt this position? You’d almost think they don’t trust the church. They want to reject the idea that Muslims worship God since they think this would imply some quality of supernatural revelation in the Muslim religion – they don’t really accept, or at least they don’t trust, the dogmatic teaching of the church which states that it would mean nothing of the kind.

    A more depressing possibility is that they are motivated by animus against Islam, or against Muslims. When you see people having the screaming habdabs about halal foods being sold, questioning whether this is the first step in the imposition of sharia or whether it is a mechanism for funding islamist terrorism, you begin to fear that this is the case. Objectively viewed, the provision of halal foods in Australia is strikingly similar to the provision of kosher foods. If anybody wrote about the sale of kosher foods in such terms, we’d have no difficulty in identifying him as a virulent anti-Semite. I struggle to think of a charitable explanation for displaying such an attitude to halal food.

    • Fr John Fleming

      I totally agree with Peregrinus. I have been away for a week or so but was minded to make the same philosophical point when I got home, the point that Aquinas made and which was reaffirmed at Vatican I. But now I don’t need to. And thank you P also for the clarity of the way you have expressed this vital point.

  8. Mr. Schütz, neither of the two Conciliar/Catechism texts you adduced said that Muslims worship the same deity as Christians, or that what they adore is the God of Abraham:

    “In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

    “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, [Cf St. Gregory VII, letter XXI to Anzir (Nacir), King of Mauritania (Pl. 148, col. 450f.) ] who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God.”

    Given that Latin doesn’t have articles, I would expect that things like “the one and merciful God” and “the one God” could be translated respectively as ‘a single, merciful god’, ‘a single god’ (with capital ‘g’s if you prefer). Note also those two texts’ purely subjective linking of the Muslim God to the God of Abraham–“professing to hold the faith of Abraham”, “Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself”.

    So in fact it would seem that the one and only Magisterial pronouncement which supports the identity of the Lord and the Muslim God is when John Paul II. said that “[w]e believe in the same God”. But given that His late Holiness made that statement “to a rally of Muslim youth” can it even be considered Magisterial? (And I don’t ask that rhetorically–can someone tell me whether that is to be classified as a Magisterial pronouncement? Mr. Schütz says that it was an Act of the Ordinary Magisterium, but the criteria for that are that the pronouncement be on a matter of Faith–the Catholic Faith, not the faith of any other religion–or morals and in the Pope or Bishop’s teaching capacity. John Paul II.’s statement that we (Christians and Muslims) believe in the same God seems to me to fail the first criterion, and possibly the second one too.

    Now of course Muslims profess much about God which is knowable by unaided reason. But they also profess much about which unaided reason can give no answer, thus exceeding the proper scope of philosophy. If you ask the hypothetical ‘virtuous pagan’ (to whom the Gospel has not been announced but who knows, loves and serves God as far as right reason dictates) how many Persons are God and he answers ‘I don’t know’, then he worships the same God as Christians. But he who answers ‘God is not personal’ or ‘only one person is God’ does not. (Furthermore, if I’m not mistaken, Muslims are also in error on some points of natural theology–a commenter at this blog recently mentioned how she said to a Muslim colleague that God is love, which he denied).

    So do Christians and Muslims believe in the same God? Mr. Schütz was right to point out that it is a non sequitur to say that “Muslims profess to be monotheists and therefore the God they worship must logically be the God we worship”. But if the fact that both Christians and Muslims profess monotheism does not imply that we believe in the same God, then why would the fact that both Christians and Muslims profess ‘Abrahamism’, to coin a term, imply that we believe in the same God (given that we disagree as to the content of ‘Abrahamism’)? It seems to me that there is no logical or Magisterial reason to conclude that the respective objects of Christian and Muslim adoration are one and the same.

    • Peregrinus

      “In the first place amongst these there are the Mohamedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind.”

      . . . Given that Latin doesn’t have articles, I would expect that things like “the one and merciful God” and “the one God” could be translated respectively as ‘a single, merciful god’, ‘a single god’ (with capital ‘g’s if you prefer). Note also those two texts’ purely subjective linking of the Muslim God to the God of Abraham–”professing to hold the faith of Abraham”, “Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself”.

      I’m not convinced, Reg. For a start, precisely because Latin doesn’t have articles, if the sense of “one god, but not the one God” was intended, the text would need to include something to point to this. It doesn’t. [I]Nobiscum Deum adorant unicum[/I] means that they adore the unique God along with us; their adoration and ours has the same object, which is God. You can’t have [I]a[/I] unique God, obviously; it’s a contradiction in terms. If the author wanted to say that Muslims and Christian each worship a god which they conceive to be unique, he would need to say that. “Nobiscum Deum adorant unicum” does not admit of an interpretation which involves two different gods.

      And this is copperfastened by the opening words of the paragraph, which you quote – “in the first place among these are the Mohammedans” (“inter quos imprimis Musulmanos”). What does “these” refer to? It refers back to the preceding sentence, which you don’t quote – “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator ([I]eos . . . qui Creatorem agnoscunt[/I])”.

      In short, the [I]Deus unicus[/I] adored by Muslims is the [I]Creator[/I]. If, therefore, the passage had the meaning you suggest, and Muslims and Christians were worshipping different gods, each of which was conceived to be unique by its adherents then it would be the Muslims who were worshipping the Creator, and the Christians who were worshipping the false god. This is an implausible interpretation for a magisterial teaching.

      • Ta, Perry. You are doing my job very well.

      • “precisely because Latin doesn’t have articles, if the sense of “one god, but not the one God” was intended, the text would need to include something to point to this.”

        Which simply tells us that the sense of “one god, but not the one God” was presumably not intended.

        ” [I]Nobiscum Deum adorant unicum[/I] means that they adore the unique God along with us”

        As would all monotheists (at least those who hold that God can and ought to be adored, of course), yet as we agree, the fact that two persons or sets of persons are monotheists does not mean that their respective monotheisms have the same God.

        “the preceding sentence, which [I] don’t quote ”

        Because I’m interested here in Islam in particular rather than monotheism in general; indeed, that first sentence reinforces my case to the extent that it reminds us that not everyone who holds that one god is the creator adores the same god.

        “You can’t have [I]a[/I] unique God”

        Why not? Each of us has, for instance, a unique Tax File Number.

        “If the author wanted to say that Muslims and Christian each worship a god which they conceive to be unique, he would need to say that.”

        Assuming, of course, that that was indeed what he wanted to say! If he just wanted to say that Muslims are monotheists and to list some of the features of their monotheism, which is presumably all the author in fact wanted to do, then he can do that by saying what was indeed said.

        “In short, the [I]Deus unicus[/I] adored by Muslims is the [I]Creator[/I].”

        As is the unique god adored by any monotheist who adores a god as creator.

        • Just to clarify the sentence taking up text lines 4-5 of the body of that comment: What I mean there is that the author presumably just wanted to say that Muslims worship one God, while neither affirming nor denying that that one God is the one God, i.e., the same God we Christians worship.

    • One case of a monotheistic religion which is not mentioned by the Magisterium anywhere, as far as I can gather, and who make no pretense to worship the God of Abraham per se, are the Sikhs. If one were to argue that all monotheists are, of logical necessity, worshipping the same God, then you could make the case for the Sikhs. I don’t know enough about the Sikh doctrine of the role of their deity in creation to know whether they, like us and Muslims and Jews, worship “the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all- powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth”. I am open to the possibility, but I have no guidance from the Church on the matter, as I do with the Muslims.

  9. Louise

    You will not mind, David, that I do not wish to continue with this topic. I own myself rather bewildered however, that you seem to care more about the feelings of Muslims than your sister in Christ. I feel completely misunderstood (a common occurrence for me lately).

    • As I said to Gareth and Tony, we make our own decisions about whether or not to respond to comments on this blog – and indeed whether to post a comment in the first place. If I really think that a post is insensitive or has nothing positive to add to the conversation, I will delete it. I haven’t deleted your comments, and have taken the time to respond (at least briefly) so please take that as a sign that I respect your right to an opinion, even if I do not really respect all particular opinions that you might care to share with us. On this particular matter, fully respecting your feelings and particularly respecting you as a sister in Christ (which doesn’t mean that either all your opinions – or all of mine for that matter – are worthy of respect!), I believe that some of the things you have said are deeply disrespectful to some of our fellow Australian citizens. I hope that you can accept that I respect both you and your feelings even if I don’t agree with all your statements. The same goes for my Muslim friends. I don’t see why it should be either/or.

      • Louise

        It looks to me as though you look at Muslims in the best possible light and look at me in the worst, frankly. That’s what I object to. I don’t expect you to respect my *opinions*, but can’t you at least assume that I’m not actually trying to actively persecute people? It was exactly the same when we had the debate about a (fictitious and logically impossible) “neutral” state versus a Catholic Confessional State. All of a sudden it was me wanting to persecute people. I resent this enormously and will no longer engage in these debates if that’s how things actually are. I hope my impressions are wrong.

        • Perhaps my problem, Louise, is all that I have to go on are the words and language you use. Unfortunately we have not yet had the opportunity to meet face to face, and I don’t thik this disagreement would be so strong if we were having a face to face conversation. The difficulty I have is that the language you use is practically identical to language that I have heard used by people who DO intend some level of persecution. That is what is confusing me, I think.

  10. Peregrinus

    For Fr. Fleming:

    Well, Pere, the reason why “recent” is important is that is what we have to deal with. The past we cannot deal with but we can learn from it.

    Exactly. And one of the things we learn from past examples of terrorism (or indeed from current examples of terrorism which don’t happen to be directed at us, or at people like us) is that there is no special link between terrorism and Islam. Understanding this is vital if we are successfully to address terrorism perpetrated by Muslims.

    And lessons were learnt about the hateful nature of the ideologies characteristic of the Marxist Left which issued in acts of terrorism. No one now denies that.

    What we can deny, though, or at least question, is the assumption that terrorism emerges from a particular ideology, whether that be Islam or Marxism or anything else. I suggest that terrorism is more linked with psychology than with ideology. I also suggest that it is more linked with situation; terrorism is a tactic and one of the things we note about it is that it is not resorted to when other tactics are available, and offer any prospect of success. That is why it is mostly resorted to by marginalised and alienated groups. That is why action which tends to marginalise and alienate people is very, very stupid on the part of someone who professes to be concerned about the threat of terrorism.

    What we learn from looking beyond the terrorism of which we are the immediate target is that it can be found in association with any ideological stance, even a fundamentally democratic one. We may conceal from ourselves this by simply not labelling as “terrorist” the acts of people with whose situation or ideology we are in some sympathy, and/or by applying that label more freely than is strictly justified to the acts of people with whom we are not in sympathy. We can also conceal it by not labelling as “terrorist” the acts of political movements which achieve success. And we can conceal it by – perhaps understandably, but still wrongly – allowing our perceptions of terrorism and its sources to be influenced more by the terrorism that happens to be directed at us than by the terrorism directed at people we care less about than ourselves.

    So, recent terrorism is something we need to deal with. And one will not deal with it unless one is prepared to understand who the terrorists are, and the reasons why they do what they do. I may be able to do something about a current problem in the way that I cannot do anything about a past problem. So, whether one likes it or not, Islamism is a problem for us NOW and it has to be addressed honestly.

    Yes.

    The fact is that there is a section of the Muslim community in Australia, as elsewhere, that is actively hostile to our political culture and our religious heritage. All that is on the public record. Yes, Muslims should try and sort this out within their own communities. But regrettably there are leaders of this community who have come to Australia with the express intent of imposing the attitudes prevalent within other societies on Australian Muslims. I could say more, but the point is that we have a current problem which must be dealt with and it wont be wished away by saying that today’s terrorists are no different, no better or worse, than terrorists of another time in the past. The question is not one of discussing the phenomenology of terrorism so much as what do we do with today’s version of it.

    I don’t think our chances of doing anything effective about today’s version of terrorism are terribly good if we refuse to engage with the phenomenology. I say this as someone who lived in Ireland until 2003, and observed terrorism rather more closely, and for rather longer, than most Australians have done.

    What’s missing from the account you offer here is that the fact that the terrorist threat that we identify in Australia, such as it is, currently emerges from the Muslim community is almost incidental. At any rate, it certainly does not have the significance that much of the discourse seems to attribute to it. To the extent that there are terrorists in Australia, they are not terrorists because they are Muslims.

    It is an easy, but useless and unjust, response to terrorism to find some way in which the terrorists differ from us, assume that it is because of this difference that they are terrorists and we are not, absolve ourselves, and treat the entire community defined by that difference as somehow suspicious, somehow to be regarded with distrust, somehow responsible. No terrorist problem has ever been laid to rest by this approach; many – including the IRA campaign in Ireland that I lived through – have been prolonged by it. And I think those who prolong a terrorist campaign by refusing to address it rationally will have a heavy moral burden to bear.

    We’ll never address terrorism in Australia until we are ready to look beyond that fact that most of the current perpetrators are Muslims. They aren’t terrorists because they are Muslims; the great bulk of Muslims are not terrorists and, in fact, being a Muslim correlates more strongly with being victim of terrorism than it does with being a perpetrator.

    We need to be ready to consider how and why people resort to terrorism in order to understand what we are going through and how we can hope to alter the course of events. Simply noting that most terrorists currently in Australia are Muslims doesn’t contribute very much to this understanding. And noting that and going no further, as much commentary seems to do, is dangerously counterproductive.

    • Fr John Fleming

      Well, Pere, as must seem obvious to you, there is much upon which we agree. I agree with you that the terrorist threat in Australia is, perhaps not incidental, but certainly very small by comparison with almost anywhere else in the world. But the fact that you have lived in a violent place and Australia is, relatively calm, does not mean that we should just be thankful for small mercies. To keep Australia a safe place we need to be vigilant. In that sense the Irish experience is not relevant here.
      And of course I agree that the terrorists here are not terrorists simply because they are Muslims. And I hope that you will warrant that I never said that or implied it.
      What I did imply, though, was that there are people who come to Australia and bring their political agenda and past political hates with them and act on them. In the past we have seen that with the Irish, the Croatians and Serbs, and so on. Mercifully the overwhelming preponderance of these migrants have fitted into Australia well with perhaps the Irish Australian prejudice against the English (and therefore the Queen) being the most longstanding of these. While there have been politically motivated violent incidents there has not been terrorism to my knowledge until the alleged Ananda Marga plot.
      Where the Islamists are concerned (and I have not referred to them as ‘Muslims’),they are able to take the extremely anti-Semitic passages from the Koran together with certain other passages, and, in the absence of a central teaching authority use those passages to advance a certain political agenda amongst their co-religionists. We haven’t time to do psychological testing (notoriously inexact anyway) to profile terrorists. But we should act to rid ourselves of those who preach violence against the nation and its way of life (whoever they are), and to be more selective about the kind of people who are willing to fit into this country and live peaceably with others.
      There was a time when we in Australia were not selective enough with certain people associated with the ‘mob’ (Cosa Nostra etc) migrating to Australia in the immediate p;ost World War II period. We had to act on that. The mere fact that we have been able to thwart terrorist attempts does not suggest a time for complacency.
      We need to be ready to consider how and why people resort to terrorism in order to understand what we are going through and how we can hope to alter the course of events.
      Well yes, all very nice but that won’t get you far when under threat.
      Simply noting that most terrorists currently in Australia are Muslims doesn’t contribute very much to this understanding.
      Yes it does. It narrows down the scope of where you look to identify terrorists and accordingly more effectively to act in defence of our country.

      • Peregrinus

        Hi Father

        1. Yes, there is much we agree on.

        2. My comments are not directed specifically at you or at what you say, but at the discourse on this subject generally. You rightly distinguish between Islam and Islamism; others are not so careful.

        3. Historically, Ireland has had a problem with political violence which Australia has not. However, it’s not quite right to say that Ireland is violent and Australia relatively calm. Looking at crimes of violence as a whole, Australia is the more dangerous place for people to be. With higher rates of murder, assault, etc, here, I placed myself in greater danger through my move to Australia.

        4. This matters, because I think it tell us that Australians are not saved from a culture of political violence by any particular aversion to violence as such; they are apparently as happy as anyone else to be violent for other purposes. In the right circumstances, there is no reason to think that they would not engage in violence for political ends.

        5. Your comments about how terrorism might grow in Australia assume that it will be imported from other countries or cultures, and that we can avoid the problem by being “selective enough” about who migrates. I see no reason for either of these assumptions. As I pointed out before, terrorism is typically the resort of marginalised and alienated groups, and these very often are migrants or ethnic minorities. But not always; we know from Europe in the 1970s and 80s that middle class whites can and do resort to terrorism; why should we assume that white Australians cannot? In fact, white Australian racists did conduct a campaign of firebombings and murder in Australia from the 1980s onwards. The French consulate was bombed in Perth in 1995, by opponents of nuclear testing. There have been “pro-life” attacks (and, if ever inverted commas were justified, they are justified here) on actual or suspected abortion clinics in Australia, involving at least one murder.

        6. If white Australians have had comparatively little resort to terrorism, it is not because they are white, or Australian. It is because they haven’t often found themselves in the situation in which resort to terrorism looks like the best or only option. The key to avoiding a problem with terrorism is not to create, or to dismantle, the conditions in which people are likely to resort to terrorism. Alienation is an invariable element of those conditions. Low-level demonisation of immigrants, or of any ethnic or religious group, or low-level victimisation, is not going to contribute to this; it is more likely to have the reverse effect.

      • What I did imply, though, was that there are people who come to Australia and bring their political agenda and past political hates with them and act on them.

        Actually, from my experience, this includes a lot of Christians and Jews and Buddhists and Hindus and plain old Secularists as much as it does Muslims. I come across it a lot, and often get told “Why are you talking to THOSE people, when in [insert foreign address here] they do this this and this to us [meaning my ethnic/religious group at the given foreign address, not us here in Australia]?”

  11. Fr John Fleming

    Continuing the discussion Pere you say:
    Historically, Ireland has had a problem with political violence which Australia has not. However, it’s not quite right to say that Ireland is violent and Australia relatively calm. Looking at crimes of violence as a whole, Australia is the more dangerous place for people to be. With higher rates of murder, assault, etc, here, I placed myself in greater danger through my move to Australia.
    This is true, but we are not talking about violence in general, but terrorism, a particular kind of violence. Terrorism is oriented towards influencing governments by acts of terror. I have always been aware that crimes of violence in general in, say Northern Ireland, was perhaps the lowest in the UK. Terrorism has not been a part of Australian society the way it has been in NI.
    Where your points 5 and 6 are concerned you might be in danger of contradicting yourself. There is an abundance of evidence to show, as you remark, that terrorists mainly come from the middle classes, well off financially, and well educated. This was the case with the terrorists in the New York event of the 9th of September. It is also true that their justification for what they do is usually something to do with the poor and disadvantaged. Not the poor and disadvantaged have asked them to act in this way. Some of them may be recruited for terrorist activities, but in general the impetus comes from ideologically driven middle-class folk, of which Osama bin Laden is an obvious example, as was Lenin, and Mao.
    I do not believe that terrorism can be eradicated by wealth redistribution for example. What terrorists are after, from Robespierre onwards, is the state organised in the way they think it should be, in line with their political ideology, and will use whatever force is necessary, even against the innocent, to get what they want. The poor and disadvantaged are almost always secondary to the main aim which is ideological.

    • Peregrinus

      You are right to point out that terrorists are very often from a comparatively privileged background, even as they claim to be acting for the underprivileged. It’s an interesting phenomenon.

      Note, however, that while leftist terrorists and rightist terrorists often claim to be acting for the economically underprivileged, Islamist terrorists claim to be acting for Muslims, whose “underprivileging” involves their being victimised as Muslims, and need not always take an economic form. From this viewpoint, even comparatively prosperous Muslims may be oppressed as Muslims, in much the way that people may complain of Christians being discriminated against in secular western societies. It has little to do with money.

      Having said that, the involvement of middle class Muslims in Islamist terrorism may have something to do with a feeling of guilt – they do not suffer as much as their poorer fellow-Muslims. (Something similar may be true of middle-class Europeans engaged in leftist terrorism.) But it has more to do with situation. The 9/11 bombers were middle-class because they had to be. To be selected for this operation, you already had to speak very good English, and to have been educated to a point where you could meaningfully participate in an American flight training school, which requires a fair degree of maths and science. Plus, you had to be able to make a plausible application for a US study visa. Semi-literate 14-years olds were no use for this gig. But if you look at the suicide bombers deployed in Iraq and Pakistan and elsewhere, by and large the most you need is an ability to drive, and often you don’t even need that. They very often do come from economically underprivileged backgrounds.

      I entirely agree with you that terrorism will not be eradicated with wealth redistribution. Terrorism requires alienation and social exclusion, and wealth redistribution will help – if at all – only in circumstances where inequalities of wealth are the main factor in social exclusion. It will be no help at all where the problem is racism, exclusion of ethnic minorities, an excessively rigid political system which focusses power in the hands of a few and excludes alternative views, etc.

      I think it’s a mistake to adopt a “few bad apples” understanding of terrorism. The IRA at its height never had more than 150 volunteers in active service, and for most of the time it had much less than that. But you couldn’t have eliminated the problem simply by identifying and neutralising – one way or another – those 150 volunteers. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t attempt to do that, of course. But you would delude yourself to think that you were thereby solving the problem. If you do nothing about the reasons why those 150 came forward, why would you expect that 150 more would not come forward?

      • Fr John Fleming

        “I think it’s a mistake to adopt a “few bad apples” understanding of terrorism. The IRA at its height never had more than 150 volunteers in active service, and for most of the time it had much less than that. But you couldn’t have eliminated the problem simply by identifying and neutralising – one way or another – those 150 volunteers. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t attempt to do that, of course. But you would delude yourself to think that you were thereby solving the problem. If you do nothing about the reasons why those 150 came forward, why would you expect that 150 more would not come forward?” Yes, I think that is right especially in the context of Ireland. But the thing about Islamists is that they are engaged in international terrorism, and short of the surrender to their demands it is hard to see what are the alternatives apart from the ones I have mentioned..

        • Peregrinus

          I’m not sure that the international dimension of Islamist terrorism would fundamentally change any of the considerations that I am pointing to. I think it’s a feature of globalisation that movements internationalise themselves more readily and more quickly than they used to, but migration is a very small part of that. Look at international phenomena like Facebook, or Greenpeace, or the traditionalist Catholic movement, or the inexplicable appeal of Dan Brown; how much do they depend on migration for their rapid international transmission?

          I don’t have any difficulty about rejecting potential migrants with a record of involvement in terrorist movements but, you know, we already do that. You could argue that we could do it more effectively, devoting more resources to background checks of applicants for migration. The awkward but obvious truth, though, is that it is expensive and largely ineffective for the Australian police to investigate what happened long ago and in another country, or even recently and in another country. This is, realistically, not going to do a lot to offer us practical protection from terrorism.

          Besides, to the extent that we have Islamist terrorists in Australia, they seem to be home-grown (as in, they’re not migrants). A surprising number, in fact, are white Aussies who have adopted Islam as adults. OK, three – four if you count David Hicks, but back down to three again if you discount Willie Brigitte, who was French, not Australian. Three or four is not a large number in absolute terms, but it’s a startling proportion of the very small number of people active in Islamist terrorism in Australia. The same is observed with respect to Islamist terrorists in other western countries, though perhaps not so acutely. The 7/7 bombers in London, for example, were all British-born. One of them was an adult convert to Islam, and another had been raised in a completely secular environment, embracing Islam in any active way only in adulthood.

          Although four people is hardly a big enough number to be statistically representative, I think it’s still significant. People like Brigitte and Hicks and Roche and Thomas were already alienated, already drifting, before they ever encountered Islamism. One might guess that this was a factor in their conversion to Islam in the first place. I suggest that their growing (and irrational) anger about the treatment of the Islamic world by the West was a displaced anger at their own treatment by their own (Western) society and perhaps even at themselves. This kind of problem is not one that we will solve by controlling immigration.

          • Fr John Fleming

            Pere, you say: ” I suggest that their growing (and irrational) anger about the treatment of the Islamic world by the West was a displaced anger at their own treatment by their own (Western) society and perhaps even at themselves. This kind of problem is not one that we will solve by controlling immigration.” And of course I agree. But there are a number of Islamist terrorists in our gaols in Sydney and Melbourne who fit the profile I have referred to. More importantly, religious leaders who incite these attitudes should be deported wherever appropriate. And of course I agree there is no one single answer to the problem. But international terrorism is different from what obtains within a state, not least because it is an act of war which can escalate. That is exactly what happened in the case of Afghanistan.

  12. Fr John Fleming

    David, you have missed my point. What I am saying is that Islamist types in Australia bring their old hatreds AND political programmes with them. Since they will often have left a trail behind them we would do well to look carefully to see if we can identify these people before we agree to accept them. That is all. I am not talking about groups of people, I am talking about individuals whether they are from Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. Individuals not groups.

  13. Fr Ronan Kilgannon

    I slipped by accident to this site and discussion. After having my very gentle references to difficulties within Islam bitterly criticised by the site’s author some time ago as wholly inappropriate, I am not a little surprised to read the content of the 75 comments above, all freely published and accepted. Pray tell Mr Schultz what has happened to your heartfelt concern that your curial employers would not be able to distinguish between your balanced position on interfaith matters, and your readers comments? Has someone somewhere become enlightened?