Conflating Christianity and Islam is an absurd response to terrorist atrocities

http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2016/01/11/conflating-christianity-and-islam-is-an-absurd-respond-to-terrorist-atrocities/

By Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith on the CATHOLIC HERALD, 11 January 2016

A special edition of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly paper, released last week

A special edition of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical weekly paper, released last week

L’Osservatore Romano is right to protest when Charlie Hebdo blames God for the carnage of last year

The first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket attacks in Paris has thrown up some commentary that has generated more heat than light. Charlie Hebdo itself announced that “A year on, the murderer is still out there,” illustrating this with a picture of a figure supposed to represent God.

L’Osservatore Romano rose to the occasion to point out that the nexus between religion and violence is not so easy or so simple; and now we have this article from Nick Cohen over at the Guardian website.

There are several points that Mr Cohen makes that require some sort of a reply.

First of all, Mr Cohen has a go at the Pope:

“The Pope responded to the murders of satirists by lecturing their corpses. You cannot insult or make fun of the faith of others, he said, as he came as close as he dared to blaming the victims. A man’s religion was like his mother, he added. And anyone who insulted his mother could ‘expect a punch’.”

Personally, I have no defence to offer of the Papal words on this matter. Back in the 1980s I used to hang out with, not by choice, quite a lot of people who were under the influence of Jesuit Latin American theology. Victim blaming was one of their favourite occupations, and it was regularly applied to the situation in Northern Ireland. Britain was being bombed, but what could it expect given its behaviour in Northern Ireland? I didn’t like that argument then, and I don’t like it any more now. My instinct, and it is the right one I feel, is always to blame the perpetrators.

But then Mr Cohen goes further. He tells us that “cultural conservatives do not want to be reminded that there is no Islamist crime so great the Judaeo-Christian tradition did not once authorise it” and goes on to tell us that shocking things that happen in the territory controlled by Daesh all have their parallel in the Bible or in Christian history.

Now, it is perfectly true that sodomy was a capital offence in Elizabethan England, just as it is in Daesh today. It is also true that the Book of Leviticus authorises stoning for adultery, a punishment still in force in Daesh.

But all this overlooks one important fact. Nowhere on earth today is there a Catholic who upholds the death penalty for sexual sin. Yes, there once was an Inquisition (a deeply misunderstood and maligned body) but those days are gone. The Church of today is nothing like Daesh. Which leads to an interesting question that Mr Cohen raises but fails to engage with: how come Christianity is as it is today and Islam is so very different?

Mr Cohen says: “Civilisation came from the battering that religion took from the Enlightenment, from sceptics, scientists, mockers and philosophers, who destroyed their myths and exposed the immorality of their taboos.” Actually, that is rhetoric, not history. Centuries before the Enlightenment, St Thomas Aquinas did not lay out the justification for freedom of conscience, and the freedom of even a mistaken conscience, because anyone battered or bullied him into it. Rather he did it based on his reflections on scripture and the tradition of the Church, as exemplified by St Augustine. And civilization predated the Enlightenment by many centuries, one need hardly add.

Mr Cohen’s chief mistake is to swallow the common myth that sees history divided into two distinct epochs, an age of ignorance and an age of enlightenment, with a great figure who marks the transition from one to another. For Muslims, it is Mohammed; for Professor Dawkins, it is Darwin, and for Mr Cohen, it is Kant. But this is not a mistake any Christian would make.

It was this attitude that Alexander Pope was surely mocking when he wrote the ironic couplet:

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night.
God said “Let Newton be!” and all was light.

This brings us back to the fact that L’Osservatore Romano is right to protest when Charlie Hebdo blames God for the carnage of last year. The religious realm is rather more nuanced than either Charlie Hebdo or Mr Cohen thinks. It seems rather trite to point this out, but it really has to be said: when someone in the Catholic Church uses the word ‘God’, and when the Charlie Hebdo killers used the word usually translated as ‘God’, the two words, though sounding the same, are not standing for the same concept.

Again, Catholics and Muslims have two very different understandings of divine revelation; to describe both Catholics and Muslims as ‘people of the book’ may be superficially true, but is deeply unhelpful, because their book is understood in a totally different way to ours. But this sort of reasoning – namely the realisation that certain resemblances can co-exist with deep difference and that certain terms are not univocal but equivocal – which is a legacy of the Enlightenment, which he professes to admire, seems to have passed Mr Cohen by.

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8 Responses to Conflating Christianity and Islam is an absurd response to terrorist atrocities

  1. kathleen says:

    Perhaps somebody could break the shattering news to the Charlie Hebdo satyrical writers (and their ilk) that it is their ‘religion’, Atheism, that is by faaaaar the most blood-thirsty, revengeful, murderous and cruel of all those on the face of the Earth. (Yes, far far worse even than Islam, which has a pretty bad record in its 1.200+ year history of ‘living by the sword’ – and that’s saying something!) Even today mass graves of victims of Atheistic genocide are being uncovered.

    Putting aside “just wars” (usually understood as wars of defense, that are wholly legitimate), Christianity has in its past committed crimes of violence and murder too. Sin is part of Man’s condition and Christians are not exempt from breaking God’s Divine Law. However, these crimes have been committed despite the teaching of Christ and the Catholic Church, in direct contrast to its precepts, and have never been part of its Doctrine.

    “how come Christianity is as it is today and Islam is so very different?”

    “As it is today” and always! They are, and always have been, “very different”.
    Christianity comes from God Himself, made Man. It is the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Faith given to us from the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
    Islam is, in a nutshell, a Christian heresy based on the followers of Arius who denied the Divinity of Christ. Mohammad is no prophet, but a disillusioned heretic and murderer whose ‘vision’ came from the Devil. “By their fruits….”.

  2. kathleen says:

    Just seen this insightful comment by someone called ‘Cestius” on the Catholic Herald article:

    “I’m increasingly fed up with the “false equivalence” many assign to Christianity and Islam. As a brief example, Crusades and jihads are regarded as equivalent and both equally despicable. But when you look it objectively, Crusades were only ever wars of defense, or limited campaigns to recapture lost territory. The jihads of the early Arab conquests, or the later Ottoman campaigns to invade Europe were purely wars of aggression intended on imposing Islamic rule on countries and peoples that were not and never had been Muslim.

    I think the reason so many people go in for this sort of false equivalence is that they really want to get at Islam, but fear the PC brigade and being branded “Islamophobic”, so Christianity and religion in general provides a good substitute or proxy target. Having said that, the Pope’s comments were not at all helpful. He should be championing freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of thought, not sounding like a branch of the PC brigade.”

  3. toadspittle says:

    Blaming God for man’s insanity is absurd. God is to blame for nothing.

  4. Robert says:

    Fatima the children were shown Hell. Blaming God means refusing Heaven and therefor choosing Hell. Whilst it is right to pray for and seek the Conversion and Salvation of souls remember Judas. Our Lord and Our Lady prayed for Judas but in the End Judas made His own choices.
    Apostacy and Rebellion are the two signs which actually flowed out of the French Revolution.
    Talking of PC correctness is a nonsense the yardstick for Truth is the Prince of Peace. If the Political has Apostacised and actually engaged in Laws contrary to God then they will not find Peace rather they will find War.

  5. Michael says:

    I think the reason so many people go in for this sort of false equivalence is that they really want to get at Islam, but fear the PC brigade and being branded “Islamophobic”, so Christianity and religion in general provides a good substitute or proxy target.

    I think that hits the nail rather firmly on the head! Also, lest we forget, there is an added bonus for those who wish to undermine Christianity and have any last remnants of its presence removed from public life – the removal of the last remaining standard by which our lives (particularly our private lives) may be judged. The very existence of the Church, even if most of the time it doesn’t register on people’s radars, or exists mainly in people’s memories, fuels the fire of what Bl. John Henry Newman called ‘the aboriginal vicar of Christ’ – it calls us back to that voice within which says “what you are doing is wrong, and if you persist in this it will not bring happiness to you or the society at large.”

    Re the whole false equivalence thing (which, as this commenter notes, is a convenient means of avoiding the problems within our own culture and the dangers presented by Islam), here is an excellent short piece at the Countercultural Father, who echoes very well my own frustrations (and I’m sure those of many others here) with respect to modern culture’s shallow posturing on this issue:

    I am a little tired (and bored) of people saying ‘Oh, so Because Religion!’ as a rebuttal. It is cheap, thoughtless, and ignorant…

    …It is made worse by the fact that most people who say Because Religion have no notion that their own philosophy, such as it is, is also based on assumptions; or indeed that they have a philosophy at all. There is frequently a naive belief in science and progress (not amongst real scientists, who are often both wise and aware of the limitations of their discipline, but in society more broadly) that does not stand a moment’s scrutiny; and that is often married to an incompatible belief that everything is relative. When I ask them to name their assumptions, they are typically unable to do so.

    http://ccfather.blogspot.co.uk/2016/01/because-irreligion.html

    Another nail struck well on its head I think.

  6. kathleen says:

    Yes, Michael, a good article.
    Using all religions as scapegoats for all the world’s ills is extraordinarily ignorant. There used to be a toad that used to slouch around here😉 who had well and truly fallen for the same old myth that many have today. ‘Blame religion! Don’t blame me and my alter ego, my greed, my pride, my I-know-it-all attitude!’ How wise was Isaac Newton (c.f. Countercultural Father), or one before him, who admitted that: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

    A glance at our last century will amply demonstrate that it is when Man departs from God, that he brings the curse of war down upon himself… and all that follows in the wake of war.
    Today’s evening post from Nick Donnelly highlights this very well too I think.

  7. Michael says:

    Kathleen @ 23:01, January 12th:

    A glance at our last century will amply demonstrate that it is when Man departs from God, that he brings the curse of war down upon himself… and all that follows in the wake of war. Today’s evening post from Nick Donnelly highlights this very well too I think.

    Absolutely! Here is another good summary of the way in which a ‘Blame Religion’ view of history is substituted for what actually occurred, and the way in which we continue to try and paper over the facts:

    It was in July of 1914 that European civilization entered its final death throes, the last convulsions of which would not subside for more than thirty years. After that, not even the illusions remained. The great Western project of secular modernity that had begun with the wars of the emergent nation-state back in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (conflicts that history, with her superb talent for hidden ironies, calls the “wars of religion”) had reached its logically ineluctable conclusion, carrying away the feeble remnants of Christendom on tides of human blood. Since then, the great moral mission of Western European society has been to arrange the debris in as attractive a style as possible, and to try to translate irreversible decline and disenchantment into some kind of humane ethos.

    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/01/from-a-lost-world

  8. toadspittle says:

    1: Atheists don’t blame God for anything. It’s peoples’ idea of God they blame. The differences of opinion over religion are real and painful – often fatal, and always have been.

    2: “Nowhere on earth today is there a Catholic who upholds the death penalty for sexual sin.”
    Yes, we Catholics see things relatively differently these days – don’t we?.

    3: “Perhaps somebody could break the shattering news to the Charlie Hebdo satyrical writers (and their ilk) that it is their ‘religion’, Atheism, that is by faaaaar the most blood-thirsty, revengeful, murderous and cruel of all those on the face of the Earth.”
    …Worse than any religion, in fact. “Yes, we were bad, but they were even worse.” All the same nobody has ever been killed in the name of “Atheism” as they are in the name of “Allah.” They were (or are) killed in the name of “Progress, ” or “Efficiency,” or maybe even “Love.” No matter. They’re just as dead in the end. The problem lies with those who believe they are certain – that they alone know.

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