Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Jews, Muslims, and a Crisis of Love

Mark Shea does a nice job at rejecting hotheaded comments about Muslims that have been swirling in his com box around two articles he has recently written. I'm abstracting some particularly good points. This seems to be a constant problem these days. If Islam - as Benedict said at Regensburg - is facing a crisis of faith and reason, so in response to this crisis, Christianity is facing a crisis of love. Apparently, the "other," in this case the Muslim, has become unlovable after September 11 and now Mumbai.

If non-Trinitarian monotheists called Muslims don't worship God, then neither do non-Trinitarians called Jews. If we try to claim that we should never allow Muslims to pray on Church property because they are not Christian, then Pope Pius XII should never have allowed Jews to celebrate their rites when he was hiding them in the Vatican and in other church properties. No hijab for Muslim kids, but strict adherence to Catholic dress codes? Very well then, no yarmulkes for Jewish kids at Catholic schools. No five minutes set aside for Muslims to say their prayers? Great! Then no time off allowed for High Holy Days for Jewish kids.

But for close to 2,000 years, Jews were largely regarded by the ordinary Catholic as the sinister internal enemies of Christian civilization -- just like Muslims are now seen. Instead of automatically linking all Muslims to the crime of Mumbai, the medieval Catholic mind tended to link all Jews to the crime of the Crucifixion and to numerous episodes of persecution of Christians. And so, Christians periodically forbade their rites as subversive of the Christian civil order, or decided that if they did not convert, it could only be because they basically agreed with the murderers of Jesus that He got what He deserved.

Remember: for most of the Church's history, though Muslims were seen as heretics, Jews were seen as even greater heretics. They were regarded as the first and most impenitent rebels against the revelation of Christ, who were far more gravely guilty of their rebellion than any Muslim could ever be. After all, said the medieval Christian, Christ came to them, they rejected him, and they have gone on rejecting him down to this very day. Indeed, (the logic continues) they aren't our elder brothers all (something Vatican II-resistant Catholics continue to maintain). No, said medievals, they are the original heretics. They are "those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Rev 2:9). The Church is the real "Israel of God," as St. Paul calls it. So the Fathers considered the Church, grafted onto Old Testament Israel, as the main trunk of revelation and the real continuation of the revelation.

We rightly recoil in horror from this. But for long centuries, Christians took this picture of our relationship with Jews as axiomatic. In comparison, they regarded the poor benighted Mohammedan as a second-class heretic: Since he began as a pagan Arab who had never had the advantages of the Jew, his fall was not seen as anything like so terrible as theirs.

And even in the Middle Ages, Jews were not all quietly suffering degradation without protest. Many made their contempt for Christians and their faith quite clear to their Christian neighbors. And their Christian neighbors responded in exactly the way that many Christians respond today. Only instead of saying, "If you've seen one Mohammedan you seen 'em all," medievals tended to say "If you've seen one Christ-killer, you've seen 'em all."

I recognize no commonality of spirit between the hysteria and frequent contempt for Nostra Aetate, Vatican II, Muslims and Jews that I'm seeing in a lot of the combox commentariat and the generous, thoughtful, and fruitful work being done by Pope Benedict XVI in his dialogue with Muslim leaders. It would well behoove Catholics who are serious about the Church's engagement with Muslims of good will to imitate him, rather than to simply issue sweeping denials that there is any such thing as a Muslim of good will or to heap scorn on Nostra Aetate. The pope is there to teach us. Let's learn from him.

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ

1 comment:

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ / Mason Slidell said...

To my Christian brothers and sisters in the West: Muslims are not the enemy. We face the rise of a muscular atheism aligned with a decadent culture. People of faith are seen, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said recently, as engaging in some sort of private eccentricity. Our cultural tensions should not be with Islam, but with the forces of evil found in idolatry and superiority. Western civilization long ago lost its fear of God.

Al-Qaeda is not Islam just as Irish Republican Army is not Christianity. No one should be surprised by political fanaticism and religious fanaticism exploiting each other, as history is replete with such examples. Millions of Muslims are trying to live their lives and preserve their growth in virtue day in and day out. They do not hate America or freedom or women. The only thing they want from us is to be left unsullied by our institutions and ideologies. They do not want McDonald’s and the Gap and Playboy magazine. They do not want to be “liberate” from their cultural “backwardness.” They just want to serve God in their religious and ethnic traditions.

How on earth could some Christians see this as a negative? Because some Christians – many Christians – have bought into the sin of Western superiority. Many of them are just so damn sure that Muslims will love liberalism or the “free market” or socialism or “freedom,” if only they would try it – maybe then they should be forced to try it.

This method of forced liberty has been utilized by the West on more than one occasion and the results have been consistent: Muslims have resisted our advances and it has created resentment and, in some cases, violent backlash against us.

Christians must stop supporting the political and cultural project of those who have nothing but contempt for religion and religious people. We Christians should ever be looking for more ways to partner with Muslims in our common struggle.

Mason Slidell