Monday, October 26, 2009

Ross Douthat Thinks Islam is Evil

The battle of Hattin from a MS by Matthew Paris, 13th c.

But it's not.

The point, so I take it, of Douthat's recent NY Times editorial is that more "assertive" faiths attract converts, while the "ecumenical" denominations have lost them. (People like a tough God nowadays.) This is why, Douthat concludes, Pope Benedict XVI's outreach to schismatic Latin Mass adherents and conservative Anglicans were such strokes of genius. The real move -- and the real genius -- however, is that:

in making the opening to Anglicanism, Benedict also may have a deeper conflict in mind — not the parochial Western struggle between conservative and liberal believers, but Christianity’s global encounter with a resurgent Islam....

There are an awful lot of Anglicans, in England and Africa alike, who would prefer a leader who takes Benedict’s approach to the Islamic challenge. Now they can have one, if they want him.

This could be the real significance of last week’s invitation. What’s being interpreted, for now, as an intra-Christian skirmish may eventually be remembered as the first step toward a united Anglican-Catholic front — not against liberalism or atheism, but against Christianity’s most enduring and impressive foe.

Christianity vs. Islam. Good vs. Evil. Douthat's quite comfortable with this manichean world and, in fact, he might be right that that's exactly what Benedict XVI's doing -- using an external "enemy" to broaden Catholicism's tent. That latter bit is more troubling than the former. Douthat can think what he wants. There are plenty of people who are foolish enough to think that you can reify a religion -- any religion -- then chop it down to its "most basic" elements, thus ignoring context and historical circumstance. Whatever. But is the Pope doing this too?

As Douthat notes, Benedict has indeed done this before, in his Regensberg address. Benedict was a medievalist, after all, so why not look back to Urban II or Innocent III as models? Better yet -- stunningly -- how about Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny? This last guy might not seem to fit but there does seem to be a pattern here. Benedict says of Peter:
he showed care and solicitude even for those who were outside the Church, in particular for the Jews and Muslims: to foster knowledge of the latter he had the Quran translated.
Mostly, Benedict speaks of Peter's love of "peace." Ironic. Dominique Iogna-Prat has done some excellent work on Abbot Peter and what Benedict doesn't tell you is that Peter had the Quran translated so that Christians might better write polemics against Islam and so that Christian preachers might better work to convert the infidel. Abbot Peter was a staunch advocate for the Templars, for Crusades against the enemies of Christ, for the persecution of the Jews. Ultimately, Peter was concerned with constructing an intellectual wall around Christendom, where all non-Christians -- Jews, Muslims, heretics -- wouldn't be able to touch/ to stain/ to pollute the faithful.

This was where a manichean world-view led in the late Middle Ages. Christians vs. non-Christians. Good vs. Evil. This was the path that led to the crusader sack of Constantinople, to the Albigensian Crusade, to the provisions of Lateran IV, to the office of the Inquisition, to the expulsion of the Jews from the fledgling nations of Europe.

This is a path we ought not retread and a path both Douthat and Pope Benedict ought be aware of. Benedict is not Peter the Venerable, nor is he Pope Innocent III, but Benedict is no liberal either.


Steve Muhlberger said...

Too many want "peace" entirely on their own terms. Or else the weapons come out.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Douthat is panicking thinking that in a few generations his decendants may be non-white and non-Christian. He could do them a favor now by promoting a legacy of reason, acceptance and inclusion.

Christine Taylor said...

Wait -- I'm confused. If Benedict thinks that Islam is a mistaken belief, then why wouldn't he take steps to strengthen the Church against it? Practicing kindness and charity to Muslims, which one should do, is not the same as thinking that they are correct in their belief. Islamic and Christian belief systems are deeply opposed. People might believe that they are both wrong, but frankly both of them cannot be right.

Matthew Gabriele said...

Christine, that may be true but (if you read the post) the path Douthat and Benedict are trodding -- the people they're invoking -- advocated violence, not peace. That's the real problem. Belief is one thing. Enforcing it is another thing entirely.

Anonymous said...

Oh please!! Douthat has it all wrong about Benedict. And so, it seems, has this blogger.

Goodness gracious me! Do you need a Protestant who has been studying Benedict XVI by reading most of his books and writings, his speeches, almost his every uttering for the past six years, eight hours per day, to tell you that you people do not know and understand your own Pope??

Benedict XVI is probably the greatest Pope the Catholic Church has ever had. He is no Islam hater, no warrior against Judaism, or Islam, or even the "modern/post-modern world! He is not even a medievalist, as this blogger said. He is 82 years old and has knowledge and insight into human history and thoughts of thousands of years. And, not be forgotten, he is a follower of Jesus Christ. That is actually the bottom line. Benedict has the terrible responsibility to be Christ's Vicar in a world gone mad and, I'm sorry to say, of a (Catholic) Church that does not seem to deserve him.

To read Matthew Gabriele's words" "....the path Douthat and Benedict are trodding..." is absolutely mind boggling..... To think that (I presume) a Catholic could see fit to push Benedict XVI into a partnership with someone who reasons like Douhat is laughable. No, actually it is tragic. It shows once again that thousands of Catholics do not have a clue who and what their own Pope is. Do you only read media reports from the West? How is this possible?

Matthew Gabriele said...

Anonymous (the latter), I honestly don't have a response because you really don't make any points. I don't see how his age prevents him from being a medievalist. I don't see how his being a "follower of Jesus Christ" prohibits him from professing intolerance. I don't see how my reliance on "media reports" stop me from understanding the Pope. You just sound a lot like this guy.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

I don't know how I missed this, except that maybe it's because you posted it on my birthday! But yes to all of it. Well, except where you probable meant 'treading'? :-)