Some of my best friends are Muslim

Some of my best friends are Muslims. So I was glad to read of the respect we should have for them and their beliefs, as outlined by Pope Francis in Evangelium Gaudium. But many people have a serious concern about fundamentalism, within our society or elsewhere. The impression that Islam is, in some way, structured to impose its tenets, forcibly, if need be, wherever it has power is widespread. The pacific Muslim is merely waiting for his opportunity.

Some years ago I heard a heated debate on the radio between a Muslim and a Christian. To reinforce his points, the Christian reminded his opponent that, since Islam started in the seventh century, we should not be surprised that it was 700 years behind Christianity. It was a debating point of course, and the Muslim was not pleased. But I was reminded recently by a contributor on Secondsightblog, who asked if there was any form of reprehensible Muslim activity which could not be paralleled within Christianity. No one took up the challenge.

You may remember that Archbishop Rowan Williams sparked a big row in 2008 when he suggested that some aspects of Sharia law might be used in Britain. His defence, that we accepted aspects of Jewish and Catholic law, did not quench the fury. You will not need me to document the Church’s history of imposing its principles on secular cultures. The Irish and Spanish constitutions were recent examples – and mild when compared with Pope Boniface in 1302: “We declare announce and define, that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman pontiff.” We held that what we required was right and good – just like the Muslims. We imposed our principles because we could.

We shuddered recently at the progress of a cruel Muslim invasion in Iraq. How many innocents were killed by these foul people? Unbelievably, the two factions shared the same religion. Try the Albigensian Crusade in the 13th century. In one incident the entire population of Béziers was slaughtered. The Crusaders were assured by an abbot that the faithful would not die because God would know his own.

But perhaps this was a blip in true Christian values – we would not, of course, sustain for long our intolerance of others. Or would we? St John Chrysostom was, and remains, a Father of the Church yet he was a fierce anti-semite who would have supercharged the Nuremberg rallies. The Third Lateran Council (1179) ruled that no Christian ought to be servant to a Jew, and that Christian evidence should always overrule Jewish evidence. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) ruled that Jews should be distinguished by their clothing, forbade them from appearing in public at Eastertide. And some 50 bulls were to follow over the next 500 years, disadvantaging Jews in a whole range of ways. Undoubtedly the soil of the Holocaust was well composted by our holy forefathers.

Does that make you a little uncomfortable? And I haven’t even mentioned the pious Spaniards sprinkling holy water on the slave ships to baptise their captive passengers. Indeed the American bishops at the time of the Civil War were, as a group, notably pragmatic rather than moral over the slavery issue. Even the Jesuits, who had done such marvellous work in rescuing indigenous slaves from cruel secular masters in Latin America, were ready to use African slaves in their bastions of true Christianity in Maryland, and to sell them on when they were no longer economically viable.

Our principle of the freedom of conscience is laudable, but it was a rare commodity under the Inquisition. Pope John Paul declared that the Holy See “has always been vigorous in defending freedom of conscience and religious liberty.” Unless some strong qualifications to this statement went unreported there are a few heretics who would raise a scorched eyebrow at that.

But look at the issue of the hadith (official rule), proclaimed by the Prophet, that Muslim apostates are liable to execution. That is surely beyond the pale of any decent religion. Let’s see what Aquinas had to say about Christian apostates: “There are unbelievers who at some time have accepted the faith and professed it, such as heretics and all apostates: such should be submitted even to bodily compulsion, that they may fulfil what they have promised, and hold what they, at one time, received.”

We have to acknowledge that the great St Thomas, on whom we lay such authority, taught a Christian version of this hadith. We may argue that his stricture was only aimed at Christians who had been unfaithful. But many Muslims will tell you that their hadith was aimed at apostates, who might betray the group – which, at that time, was small and surrounded by enemies. It’s a better excuse than St Thomas had in the flush triumphalism of the Middle Ages.

I do not have the slightest sympathy with Muslim fundamentalists. But I abhor them, not because they are Muslim, but because they are fundamentalists. The only excuse I can conjure up for fundamentalists, either Christian, Muslim or secular, is some evidence that the common motive is fear. It takes some degree of confidence to live with uncertainty. Unchallengeable ideologies can comfort the nervous mind.

Fortunately the Catholic Church had the strength to change in many ways, precisely because we accept that our impoverished grasp of truth must develop. But if we should wish to condemn the extreme Muslim, we would do well to make an act of contrition first.

About Quentin

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94 Responses to Some of my best friends are Muslim

  1. pnyikos says:

    To reinforce your closing comment:
    C. S. Lewis put matters very eloquently in Chapter II of his book, The Four Loves:
    “If ever the book which I am not going to write is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery. Large areas of “the World” will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they? We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.”

  2. Peter D. Wilson says:

    Quentin – agreed wholeheartedly, but for one point that you presumably take for granted: in expressing abhorrence, do we not need to make a clear distinction between fundamentalists who merely base their own lives on a literal interpretation of their scriptures, and those who would force that interpretation on others?

  3. pnyikos says:

    I agree with everything you wrote, Quentin, but I would add a few comments.

    The Muslim world is indeed several centuries behind Christendom where its collective morality seems to be, but we should do everything we can to persuade them that just as the abuses you name are wrong, so is the persecution and terrorism that is going on in the name of Islam, so that they may catch up with us within a century or less.

    The secular world, which condemns the Christian abuses you mentioned, needs to do its share. Has any British government official condemned the ultimatum of ISIS in Mosul to Christians: convert, leave, accept dhimmitude [in the form of a tax not levied on Muslims] or die, and the concomitant robbery and theft of the goods of those who left? I am unaware of any US State Department official, let alone our President, Barack Obama, having done so.

  4. pnyikos says:

    One respect in which the Muslim world is more than just 700 years behind Christendom is the hadith that speaks approvingly of female genital mutilation. This pre-Islamic atrocity goes far beyond the baptism of slaves on slave ships or the circumcision of males. Those speaking in the name of Islam, theologians and imams, should make it clear that, hadith or no hadith, anything that goes beyond what males endure in circumcision is not endorsed by present day Islam.

  5. claret says:

    The history of the Christian Church is the history of good versus evil. I note that Quentin stops short of looking at the evils that persist to this day. The scandal of child abuse and the resultant cover-ups still rears it ugly head in 2014 and there is no prospect of it going away any time soon.
    Sadly what we have is just a reflection of how all power corrupts even when it is an organisation that preaches the opposite.
    We can only hope that we continue to ‘come out of the other side’ at some point but expect to be engulfed in yet another scandal of some description.
    This though is a reflection of real life and dirty politics and murky religion.
    The Metropolitan police in todays news find themselves in a media storm and have allowed themselves to be tainted with practices that are unlawful.
    The situation in Ukraine has highlighted how the Conservative party see no wrong in accepting large donations to their funds from Russian Oligarchs. (The true saying of there being ‘No such thing a free meal’ has come home to roost.) Despite the obvious dangers of letting themselves be put into this dangerous position they try hard to justify the unjustifiable. A ‘fundamental’ mistake born of arrogance and greed. Not a lot different to religious malpractice.

    • pnyikos says:

      Claret, you are exaggerating when you say “there is no prospect of it going away any time soon.” At least in the USA, the Catholic Church has gone to extraordinary lengths to make sure it does not happen again, including mandatory VIRTUS training for anyone over 18 who is in a leadership or educational role that brings them into contact with children or younger teenagers in Church functions. And the number of new cases or previously unreported old cases that has come to light in the past year is in the low single digits. Of course, even one case is one too many, but it is no longer covered up by the hierarchy if it comes to light.

      The one way things are still in need of marked improvement is appropriate punishment for those who covered up the scandal in the past. Former Archbishop Rembert Weakland, for instance, has not been appropriately punished for the scandals with respect to child abuse, nor his enormous misappropriation of diocesan funds; you can read about both on Wikipedia. Part of this may be because of the popularity he still enjoys among dissident Catholics and the secular press. Despite the outcry that may come from his sympathizers, he should be made to pay back as much as he can to the diocese he stole the money from, and I feel it entirely appropriate to sentence him to spending a year in sackcloth and ashes for his role in covering up and condoning child molestation. All bishops as guilty as he should be subject to the same penalty, in my opinion.

      • John Nolan says:

        The same Rembert Weakland tried to smear Benedict XVI and pose as a ‘whistleblower’. As usual, the press published barely half the story and had it not been for the internet, most Catholics would have been oblivious to the truth. He embezzled funds to buy off his erstwhile catamite who was threatening to expose him, but he was the darling of the liberals who were, and still are, prepared to overlook the fact that he was a pervert and an alleged crook.

      • Quentin says:

        I am not keen on the word ‘pervert’. It may be etymologically correct, but it carries pejorative overtones which seem to me gratuitous, and therefore not appropriate in a Catholic blog.

        Was Weakland ever found guilty of embezzlement in a civil or ecclesiastical court? I cannot trace this. Evidence please. Meanwhile, I have inserted ‘alleged’..

      • milliganp says:

        You talk of the singular clean-up which has taken place in the USA relating to child abuse. Nuns have been abused extensively in Africa, there are cover-ups occurring in the “Deep Catholicism” of former communist Europe. In the UK many clerics are seriously misogynist and church employees find they are not granted the basic safeguards of the rule of law. Many of our Bishops still consider themselves a law unto themselves, as do many parish priests. We have a long way to go to the levels of transparency and accountability which exist in, for example, education or the health service.

      • pnyikos says:

        Quentin, the following article in Weakland’s local newspaper explicitly states that
        “He retired in 2002 in a spectacular fall from grace after acknowledging that he used $450,000 in church funds in a failed attempt to silence a former male lover who years later accused him of date rape.”
        It is more detailed about the scandals he left behind than the Wikipedia entry, including some heartfelt complaints from abuse victims, and the head of an organization that helps them, about unresolved pain that Weakland is leaving behind. It reports that Weakland will move to a Benedictine abbey in Latrobe, Pa. in September. This may not be a bad setting for him spending a year in sackcloth and ashes, as I suggested.

  6. Singalong says:

    There is wonderful news today, that Meriam and Wani Ibrahim and their family have been allowed to leave the Sudan for Italy where they have met Pope Francis and will stay for a few days before leaving for the USA. I think this is a good opportunity for us to temper our condemnation of the way she was previously treated with the realisation that Christians have treated non Christians, and indeed each other, just as badly, a very good illustration of this week`s Post.

  7. John Nolan says:

    The original Fundamentalists were those Protestants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who reacted against the Modernist school of biblical criticism by setting out five ‘fundamental’ principles – the inerrancy of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus and the historical reality of His miracles. It’s a pity that it has come to be used pejoratively to describe anyone who has extreme views.

    JP II’s comment about freedom of conscience and religious liberty has to be seen against against the background of atheist totalitarianism when the Church and believers were denied the liberty to which they were entitled. ‘Our principle of the freedom of conscience’ is not one that the sixteenth century would have recognized. Latimer, Ridley and Campion did not die for the right of an individual to believe in anything or nothing; they died for what they believed to be divinely revealed truth.

    As for the Church ‘imposing its principles on secular cultures’ one has to ask to what extent the culture of Spain or Ireland was ‘secular’ at the time these constitutions were promulgated. Also, it was a long-held principle that Christian rulers had obligations towards the Church. If the Church was given a privileged position (such as the Anglican Church had, and to an extent still does) then that was ideal. However, the rise of bureaucratically efficient nation-states in the early modern era inevitably reduced both the independence of the Church and the power of the papacy.

    St Peter Claver, who styled himself ‘Peter, the slave of the slaves forever’ ministered tirelessly to the negro slaves as the ships arrived at the Caribbean port of Cartagena. It is estimated that he baptized nearly 300,000 of them. A pious Spaniard, sprinkling holy water?

    CS Lewis was wrong. We can’t disown the past, publicly or otherwise. It’s ours, whether we like it or not. Medieval warfare could be unbelievably brutal, but the era of the crusades is not simply a chronicle of atrocities on both sides. For most of the time there was peaceful co-existence and cultural exchange. The greatest threat to Islam was not from the west but from the east, in the form of the Mongol invasions.

    • milliganp says:

      I’m a mathematical fundamentalist! For me A+B will always equal B+A.

      • Quentin says:

        The algebraic example you give is a helpful one. It is an a priori conclusion since it cannot be denied without contradiction. This differs from a synthetic conclusion – which requires evidence.

        I agree that the word ‘fundamentalist’ is a loose one. Of course we hold fast to fundamentals – perhaps the Apostles Creed is a good example. A fundamentalist (in my book) is someone who holds tightly to literal truths, and will not entertain examination. Moreover he will condemn those who do not agree with him. He lives by his black and white certainties. It appears to be a matter of temperament – too fearful to cope with any ambiguity.

        That is why I think of fundamentalist first, and what he is a fundamentalist about second. Thus the fundamentalist Christian and the fundamentalist Muslim and the fundamentalist atheist all live in the same dark refuge of comforting certainty.

  8. claret says:

    Perhaps it was an error on my part to bring up again the spectre of child abuse in the church but it is pertinent to the way that Christianity (and regretfully, particularly, Catholic Christianity,) is looked upon in the secular world.
    I have to challenge Pynikos when he accuses me of exaggeration because we cannot hide under the banner of: ‘historical abuse’ as though this mitigates what is in the living memory of many baptised Catholics today who have suffered ,and are still suffering from the incidents of abuse.
    Read any Catholic paper today and there are weekly articles and news features on this subject.
    In Ireland especially there is the recognised need to compensate the thousands of women who were ‘sentenced ‘ to a life of virtual slavery in the Magdalen laundries. (At the time no doubt this was seen as an act of charity!)
    Also in Ireland there is an investigation on-going into the finding of bodies of babies and children in unmarked graves on land owned by the Church.
    No, it will live with the Church forever in much the same way as the Spanish Inquisition has become a byword for cruelty.
    Fundamentalism is often born from good intentions. (As is the road to hell.)

    • milliganp says:

      The Irish example bears great affinity with the more severe aspects of Islam in Muslim countries. The Magdalen laundries were not a mere product of the church but of church state and the common populace sharing the same ignorance – and calling it virtue. Many of the women incarcerated has been raped by fathers, brothers and uncles – the mere fact of being pregnant was considered sinful. Whereas the sex abuse scandal is primarily about the internal faults of the institutional church, the mother and baby home scandal is about a societal failure in a Catholic country – perhaps the closest we get to the Catholic equivalent of Sharia law.
      As a further example, in the 1950’s the Irish Government tried to introduce comprehensive health care for mothers and children under 16. The move was fiercely opposed by the Catholic Church. The Archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid opposed the change on the basis it removed from a father the right and responsibility to provide for his family. The fact that grinding poverty was endemic in many of Ireland’s cities (particularly Dublin) made this opposition a death sentence for many. Holy Catholic Ireland was not always a pleasant place to be.

  9. John Nolan says:

    Claret, have you ever wondered why the Spanish Inquisition has become a ‘byword for cruelty’? It has little to do with historical reality, and a lot to do with Protestant propaganda and the ‘Black Legend’. Henry Kamen’s ‘The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision’ (1998) busted that myth, although it is by no means the last word on the subject (the Inquisition kept excellent records). Similarly, if your view of the Magdalen laundries is conditioned by lurid press reports and a tendentious and fictional movie, it might be a good idea to read the McAleese Report. The original is very long, but there is an excellent abstract on-line.

    Exaggeration coupled with deliberate disinformation equals myth. The Soviets were so good at disinformation that the truth about a lot of the recent past will probably never be known. I am, however, disappointed to read ‘St John Chrysostom … ‘a fierce anti-Semite who would have supercharged the Nuremberg rallies’. Even allowing for journalistic license (conflating the fourth century with the twentieth is a good example), St John left several hundred extant homilies, of which a mere eight are against the Jews, or more precisely those Judaising Christians in Antioch; moreover he employed the Greek rhetorical technique ‘psogon’ which deliberately emphasizes the faults of one’s opponents. Patristic scholars do not regard him as an anti-Semite in the modern sense. Act of Contrition, anyone?

    • Quentin says:

      John, I think that contributors may like to judge when they have had a look for themselves. Try

      You must look at the thrust of my post; it is specifically concerned with our historical behaviour, and I make no suggestion that the Church would approve of Chrysostom’s views today. He was a man of his time, and in our time we must be concerned with our own abuses. One of them is that we often forget the beam in our own eye before we criticise others.

      The argument that he was using a Greek rhetorical form which was intended to encourage maximum hatred hardly constitutes a good excuse. Christ’s message of love for our enemies had been extant for over 200 years before he spoke. And the modern Church has repudiated its shameful history of anti-Semitism with appropriate apologies. Sadly, it is still endemic in some Catholic countries.

      • John Nolan says:

        The recent attacks on Jewish properties in the Paris suburb of Sarcelles following pro-Palestinian demonstrations were carried out by Muslim youths (most of whom were not Palestinian) against Jews (most of whom were not Israeli) accompanied by calls of ‘death to the Jews’. This may be construed as anti-Semitism in a Catholic country, and was quickly and rightly condemned by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, who met in the local synagogue. The bishop, who wore a suit, had donned a yarmulke for the occasion – a nice gesture, but had he worn his cassock he could have retained his zucchetto.

        What intrigued me were the number of on-line commentators who made comparisons with Kristallnacht. This shows an astonishing ignorance. Kristallnacht was organized by the German government; it was not a protest by ordinary Germans. Five years before, the Nazis had mounted an official boycott or Jewish businesses – ‘Kauf nie bei Juden!’ was the slogan. It was a flop and was never repeated. I don’t deny that there is a history of Christian anti-Semitism, much of it at the popular level but regrettably sometimes aided and abetted by the Church. However, there is also a history of Jewish anti-Christian sentiment, some of it surviving in the present day, and to beat our breasts and take all the blame for bad relations is not helpful. Islam certainly has an image problem, but the vast majority of Muslims, like the vast majority of Jews and Christians, are decent people who deserve our respect.

      • Horace says:

        Looking at the document suggested by Quentin I find :- “But if ours are true, as they are true, theirs are filled with deceit.”
        Chrysostom is speaking here about Jewish ceremonies but the phrase encapsulates the whole difficulty of ecumenism. It is all very well to talk about ‘freedom of conscience’ but this must imply freedom to believe in doctrines which are NOT true.
        So if we are convinced that someone’s belief is wrong should we just politely acknowledge it or should we attempt to bring them to the truth – and if so how?

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, John Nolan’s friend (and mine) Aquinas address this directly. We are obliged to follow the conclusion of our reason even if it is objectively wrong. His strongest example is declining to believe in Christ.

        This in no way inhibits our response. We might ask good questions which could lead him to a different analysis. We could simply say that we hold different beliefs, and explain our reasons etc. In some instances our silence might deprive someone of the opportunity to review his reason, and thereby do him a disservice.

        What we must not do is to bring pressure, unrelated to reason, to bear.

      • milliganp says:

        I believe “what we are supposed to do” is summed up with the phrases “love your neighbour as yourself”, “turn the other cheek”, “do good to those that hate you”.
        Perhaps our forebears considered burning at the stake an act of loving kindness.

      • jimbeam says:

        I read there is a difference between anti-semitism and anti-judaism:
        From what I have briefly read of the homily Quentin linked, Chrysostom is not trying to preach about how to regard jews on a human/ethnic level, rather on a religious level. Note he apparently memorised the bible and a deeply spiritual man; I think he is translating some of the nitty-gritty of the bible for his listeners (about the stump and the branches: see Romans 11), and he is aware of the dangers discussed in Galatians, and which St John (in 2 John 1) writes, about not sharing “in their wicked work.” (ie. shares in the Jews inherited and by-default denial of Christ; their forsaking and murder of him who is their King — of which surely they must confess and repent).
        If any religion (ie. Islam?) is not just ignorant of Christ, but rather has in any part—on any level—been seeded by the devil to deny/oppose Christ, then Christians should identify, and expose or distance themselves from the presence of “anti-Christ”. Perhaps this is about self preservation first, and then also about saving those who are thus seeded?

      • jimbeam says:

        Sorry I got priorities mixed up; I said “If any religion (ie. Islam?)…” — I should first have suggested Christianity.
        Just as unbelieving Jews were such a threat in the sphere of the Apostle St. John (and so also apparently to a lesser extent in the sphere of Chrysostom), so also to us is not the greatest threat—and obstacle to “building up in love”, and to effectively proclaiming the gospel—the Christ murdering ‘Christian’, and the “damnable heresies” that have mingled with Church orthodoxy? Cite 2 Peter 2: “appealing to the lustful desires of the flesh, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error”, and “because of them the way of truth will be maligned”. Peter’s prophesy seems a disturbingly apt and poignant examination of the history of the Church and our ‘Christianised’ world.

  10. John Thomas says:

    Remember that when you or I refer to “good” Muslims, “moderate” Muslims, or suchlike, we mean “good” etc. in OUR (Judeo-Christian) terms, not in Muslim terms. In Muslim terms (some Muslims would argue) these people are not being “good” at all, and if they “compromise” with Western democracy, liberalism, etc., they may well be being bad Muslims in strictly Muslim terms. It has been said that there are many, many moderate Muslims, but no such a thing as a moderate Islam. Christians who behave badly (there are, and have been, many of them) are acting AGAINST the teachings of their religion, as in the Bible, Jesus’s words, etc. The Muslim who kills apostates, Jews, etc., is behaving IN ACCORDANCE with the injunctions found in the Koran, and the real interpretation of their religion (it has been argued).

  11. John Nolan says:

    John Thomas, this is certainly arguable, but I am informed (by the blog editor) that pejorative terms are not permissible on a Catholic blog, although ‘fundamentalist’ is allowed because it is a pejorative term approved by liberals. There is a lot of hypocrisy going on here. My aim in posting here is partly to make a defence of Catholic orthodoxy and orthopraxis (although far more erudite people than I have made a far better case) but mostly to ensure that history is not distorted, falsified, simplified or used as a polemic.

    Quentin, Weakland admitted it and asked for forgiveness. He should certainly be forgiven his faults, but it then behoves him to keep his peace. He hasn’t done.

  12. John Nolan says:

    There is also the problem that if we accept, as does Quentin, that we are still developing ‘an impoverished grasp of truth’ and if we agree (with the Church) that there will be no further revelation until the Second Coming, we are simply sinking into a swamp of relativism.

    • milliganp says:

      I believe it was Churchill who said “if you’re going through hell, keep going”. I would prefer not to sink to the bottom of the swamp. However all the things I might grasp to save me are fundamentals.

  13. claret says:

    In response to John Nolan:
    In a leading Catholic newspaper dated 18 July 2014 there is an article about the amount of compensation being paid to ‘survivors’ of Irelands Magdalene laundries. According to this article 12.4 million Euros have been paid out to 346 women ( no men I note,) in compensation to date; and the final bill is expected to be in the region of 58 million Euros.
    I doubt these amounts are being paid as a ‘good will’ gesture or being paid contrary to any recommendations in the McAleese report.
    Incidentally I have never read the book although I may have seen some of the film at some point.

    The Spanish Inquisition is a by word for cruelty and had its existence been purely benign and for charitable purposes only then no amount of ‘protestant propaganda’ would have made it into something it was not.

    • John Nolan says:

      Claret, don’t impose 21st century values onto previous centuries. We don’t know yet how they will develop, but if the 20th century is anything to go by, I fear the worst.

  14. RAHNER says:

    “don’t impose 21st century values onto previous centuries.”

    Sounds like moral relativism……

    • John Nolan says:

      Might sound like it to you Rahner, but it ain’t. You’re not as clever as you think you are, and I’m not the only commentator on this blog to have noticed it.

      • RAHNER says:

        Then how would you distinguish it from moral relativism?

      • Vincent says:

        Could someone please define moral relativism in this context. Was St Thomas’ verdict that apostates might rightly be brought to heel by “bodily compulsion” (see Quentin’s quote in the post) an outcome of moral relativism, or a correct application of Christian principles rationally applied? This would seem to me to be a pretty direct justification for the rack, the thumbscrew and the flame. Did Mary Tudor have this written on her heart (just below Calais)?

  15. claret says:

    We are already in the 21st Century and still mired in scandal. Perhaps the 22nd century will be one to cleanse the Church of all scandal, malpractice and shady dealings.

    • milliganp says:

      Certainly transparency and accountability greatly reduce those failings due to hypocrisy and cover-up, and universal education reduces exploitation of ignorance. However today we have economic elites who effectively stand above the law together with near-unassailable political systems that defend the power of that wealth. Where the Romans appeased the masses with bread and circuses today we the cult of self and the laxest sexual morality in human history.

  16. Iona says:

    “We are already in the 21st Century and still mired in scandal.”
    But we’re not mired in 21st century scandal, are we? – Are we not rather struggling through the 21st century still sticky with 20th century mud?

  17. milliganp says:

    If we allow ourselves to use Immanuel Kant’s definitions of government
    Law and freedom without force (anarchy).
    Law and force without freedom (despotism).
    Force without freedom and law (barbarism).
    Force with freedom and law (republic).
    Christianity emerged in a period which was, for most, a cross between despotism and barbarism (the wealthy landowners would have perhaps thought it a republic, Paul, after all, was allowed appeal to Rome.) However the internal structure of the early church was closer to Kant’s anarchy as there was no use of force to maintain the order of the church.
    With the conversion of Constantine the church became an extension of the state and thus absorbed certain despotic tendencies. With the conversion of the German tribes, barbarism entered the sphere of the church and the Feudalism of the early second millennium was a mixture of despotism and faith, with developing culture.
    As republics attempted to emerge the church almost always was on the side of despotism. In essence we have little more than 2 centuries of the church operating alongside a republic.
    If we examine Islam, few stable republics have emerged and survived. Even in a notional democracy like Pakistan, tribalism is still a major force.
    However, if you talk to settled Muslims in this country, those who have not been radicalised see themselves as Muslims within a republic and seem content (bar Western moral decay) to coexist and participate in civic society.
    The challenge for the world is whether Muslims in the middle-east (which is the heart of Islam) can emerge from their mixture of barbarism and despotism to a republican form of government. However their history tends to point to benign despotism as their most successful form of government.

    • Quentin says:

      Your analysis makes sense to me. But can you identify elements in Islam which seem to give rise so frequently to forms of violent colonialism? The two issues which strike me, but I am no expert, are the perennial rivalry between Sunni and Shia and the dearth of means through which Islam can develop and replace medieval dogma with enlightened understanding.

      • milliganp says:

        If we look to history, there have been moments in Islamic history where the quest for knowledge has dominated – we only know Plato because of Muslim Neo-Platonists. The Sunni-Shia axis in many ways mirrors early Catholic vs Protestant polarisation. I suspect that Islam needs a modern, singular renaissance; but if we look at the European renaissance, whereas –at the time – Catholicism advanced, at the same time Protestantism retrenched (aka fossilised). So do we want a Sunnis renaissance or a Shia renaissance? What we need is a confident non-corrupt Islamic leadership.

      • milliganp says:

        I’m posting this separately. Several years ago I visited Dubai and stayed in a leading hotel. They had one or more floors only accessible by a private entrance. These floors were reserved for the extended Saudi royal family, who had unlimited access to alcohol and women provided as part of the hotel service. Perhaps this parallels the hypocrisy of mediaeval Catholicism. An exit from the current state of Islam may need a significant change in the underlying dynamics of their wealthy sponsors.

      • jimbeam says:

        milliganp said “if we look at the European renaissance, whereas –at the time – Catholicism advanced, at the same time Protestantism retrenched (aka fossilised)”. I think this means to say that Protestantism fossilised within—or in relation to—Catholicism and the RCC? In other words, Luther’s protest in the 95 Thesis became the fossil of Catholic protestantism; a deadlock, which is still unresolved?

    • pnyikos says:

      “However, if you talk to settled Muslims in this country, those who have not been radicalised see themselves as Muslims within a republic and seem content (bar Western moral decay) to coexist and participate in civic society.”

      Is “this country” the UK? Do you have any idea as to what percentage fall under either of your categories? Do you count everyone who lives in “No Go” zones (where Sharia law is given wide latitude, and police seldom interfere) as “radicalised”?

      The USA is rapidly developing at least one “No Go” zone in Dearborn, Michigan, where there is a major Islamic presence.

      Here is a long account of the complicity of Dearborn authorities in connection with a different group of set-upon Christians:

      A somewhat related issue: the Communist Party is still strong in Russia, and the party line seems to be that there either never was a Katyn massacre, or if there was one, it was carried out by Nazis; that all the Old Bolsheviks (Zinoviev, Tukhachevsky, Bukharin etc.) who were purged under Stalin were conspiring with capitalist agents; that there were no “political prisoners” in the Gulag Archipelago, but only “counter-revolutionary agitators,” etc. etc.

      The republican form of government is a fragile thing. Abraham Lincoln was very much on target when he ended his Gettysburg Address with the words, “…we here resolve…that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

      • milliganp says:

        The fragility of true republicanism is, I believe, a blind spot in western culture. Nevertheless, my experience of Islam is limited to the UK in general and London in particular. My daughter is married into a Muslim family and I hear a lot through her. As an Irish catholic, my parents experienced discrimination and prejudice. I feel strong empathy with decent Muslims trying to live their lives in a western society that distrusts all.

      • milliganp says:

        Your Dearborn example seems to be more about Christian fundamentalism than Muslim. It is highly offensive to openly protest and interfere with the religious practice of another group. Perhaps the worst group of fundamentalists on the planet are American bible-bashers who seem to think that forcing their ideas on everybody else is good citizenship. US airports now have “free-speech” zones which are easy to avoid so that people can go about their lives in peace.

    • pnyikos says:

      milliganp, there is a serious disconnect between your words “It is highly offensive to openly protest and interfere with the religious practice of another group” and what is in that website I linked. Does your idea of “religious practice” include selling T-shirts depicting a boy urinating on an Israeli flag? That is the focus of the first video in the website I linked:

      The second video shows a person repeatedly being blocked by security guards from asking a question about a Muslim pamphlet. He approached a booth with a sign saying “Got questions? We have answers” but got nowhere because a woman was videotaping his question and he was blocked because she continued to try to film what was going on. At one point, the camera itself was grabbed in a clear cut example of assault. What does that have to do with the “highly offensive” protest that you talk about?

      The third and fourth videos show the question-asker (a convert from Islam to Christianity named Nabeel) wearing a T-shirt saying “Jesus always loves you.” Is this what you call “forcing religious beliefs on others”? The theme of the third video is freedom from all kinds from oppression, and freedom of speech and religion explained by the former Muslim. He relates how the person at the “answers” booth asked the harassers to let the woman record, “let him ask the question, let me respond.” But the security guards would have none of that. The fourth video expands on these themes, giving various examples from around the world.

      Did you actually watch any of the videos? Did you see ANYTHING that you would call “Christian fundamentalism” besides the T-shirt and a sentence, spoken to the camera and not to a Muslim, about Nabeel having “accepted Jesus as his lord and savior”? Did you even LOOK at the website at all? What do you have to say about the written details of how the two Christians featured in the videos were arrested and incarcerated on trumped up charges? how, subsequent to their release from prison, there was a disinformation campaign against them which included the Mayor of Dearborn and also a number of Christian organizations?

      • pnyikos says:

        Here is a lengthy report, with a good deal of video footage, about Christians peacefully asking questions of Muslims about their faith and being repeatedly harassed and assaulted by Muslim security guards for daring to use video cameras, and arrested on trumped up charges by Dearborn police:

        It also relates how, subsequent to their release from prison, there was a disinformation campaign against them which included the Mayor of Dearborn and also a number of Christian organizations. Included in the margin are other videos talking about Sharia in Britain.

      • milliganp says:

        When I was a child I had to recite a piece “be calm in arguing for fierceness makes error a fault and truth discourtesy” (George Herbert), despite my lucid memory it does not prevent me sounding off sometimes in a less thought-out manner. We need to occasionally draw breath and not presume people with whom we disagree are enemies.

  18. John Nolan says:

    If ‘force with freedom and law’ equates to a republic, how do you explain the People’s Republic of North Korea? These labels are of little use. Similarly, to assume a dichotomy between ‘medieval dogma’ and ‘enlightened understanding’ is ahistorical at best. The men of the Enlightenment looked only to Classical models and disparaged the ‘Gothick centuries’. We now see them as blinkered, and as a result of their assumptions, often dangerously so. Yet we are children of the Enlightenment as much as we are children of the so-called Middle Ages (itself an Enlightenment construct).

    Usually what is assumed to be axiomatically true is open to criticism. The way the 21st century is developing would suggest that certain nostrums must be accepted uncritically. They are nothing to do with the revealed truths of religion, and everything to do with social conventions. Yet they have the force of a spurious moral rectitude and dissent from them can have serious consequences in career terms and even contravene the criminal law. Where do so-called liberals stand on this? Certainly not on the side of individual liberty and free speech. Together with the modern technology of surveillance (everything I post on here is indelible and could be used against me) and an insistence on conformity even in countries (UK, USA) which previously had a tradition of individual freedom, we are heading for a totalitarianism which Stalin and Hitler could only have dreamed of. All in the name of tolerance, of course.

    • Quentin says:

      John, I have found myself, in relation to this post, obliged to give a fuller definition of what I mean by ‘fundamentalist’. I wonder whether you could do the same for your usage of ‘liberal’.

    • milliganp says:

      On your first point the use of the phrase “People’s Republic” by totalitarian Communist regimes was ubiquitous. That does not diminish the possibility of a more concrete definition based on the interplay of personal freedom, the rule of law and the use of force to ensure both the rule of law and liberty; that’s why we have courts and prisons.

  19. John Nolan says:

    Paul Milligan, I agree with much of what you say, but where is your evidence that ‘medieval Catholicism’ was hypocritical? The period in question stretches from the fifth to the fifteenth centuries, which saw the development of the Latin Church, her liturgy, her theology. No doubt there were those who didn’t practise what they preached, but this is true of any age. I seem to spend most of my time trying to put the historical record straight, and quite frankly it’s becoming wearisome.

    • milliganp says:

      John Nolan, I was obviously not of “clear mind” using the phrase “medieval Catholicism”. I try to avoid the gross generalisation about what was nearly one thousand years of religious and political history that misusing the term implies. I stand corrected, sometimes one is so keen to put ones thoughts in print that the hands and brain are not entirely in sync. Hypocrisy is another word which can be used as a lazy generalisation and, two days on, I’m not sure what specific point was in my mind at the time.
      Wearisome as is your task to defend against lazy historical generalisations, keep it up.

  20. Claret says:

    Perhaps John you may find it less wearisome if you stop referring to 21st century values when we are only 14 years into it and still having over 80 years to go. I do wonder what marvellous values you have detected so far that allow us to throw off the shackles of the previous century and so set the historical record straight.
    So far this century we have had legal same sex marriage (imposed without any mandate to do so,) and the abandonment of the titles of ‘husband and wife.’ These would not come under everyone’s description of ‘values.’

  21. John Nolan says:

    Claret, I haven’t detected any ‘marvellous values’ peculiar to this century, which is the main thrust of my argument. You will need to consult John Candido, who worships modernity in all its aspects. Sometimes we take for granted principles which did not apply in previous centuries. At the time of the Seven Years War (1756-1753) the Royal Navy was at the height of its efficiency and was the most complex organization in Europe. Yet promotion depended a lot on patronage and influence. There is no point in upbraiding the 18th century for this; they would find the 20th century practice bizarre. After all, no-one would have risked his reputation by advancing a relative who was not up to the job, and the Admiralty would not have risked placing its confidence in an unknown quantity.

    As for ‘liberal’ it has come to mean a lot of things since it was coined in the 19th century to describe someone who advocated free trade and laissez-faire economics. Indeed, in the USA it is synonymous with ‘socialist’. I don’t always use it pejoratively; I am all in favour of what used to be called ‘a liberal education’. However, a liberal has been jocularly and not inaccurately described as someone who would fight to the death for your right to agree with him. In terms of present-day Catholicism, with a clear cultural divide which has been obvious since Vatican II, it is a useful label to describe one side whose views on a range of issues from liturgy to doctrine to authority show a marked similarity. The opposing camp which may be called conservative or even fundamentalist tend to share a set of common values which in many cases stand in sharp contradiction to those of their opponents. It may be regrettable, but it’s how things stand and are set to continue.

    • Quentin says:

      The differences between the conservatives and the liberals are, you suggest, regrettable. I wonder. It seems to me that the dialectic between the two is a healthy way of keeping within the boundaries of truth without arriving necessarily at final answers.

      A secular example has been that in our lifetimes there has been a swing between Conservative and Labour. Alternative governments have acted as a corrective to each other – but neither have been free to do anything dangerously dramatic.

      On the religious side an example is provided by extra ecclesiam nulla salus. The range from the original interpretation to the current view is considerable. The original principle may hold but our understanding of its application has altered considerably. The conservative my think it’s gone too far, the liberal may think not far enough. That’s healthy, in my view.

      • John Nolan says:

        Quentin. I take your point as far as politics is concerned. But in religion, which deals with Divine and revealed Truth, there is a problem. In the Catholic Church there has been a de facto schism for all my adult life; it was brought out into the open as a result of the Second Vatican Council and remains to this day. The idea that there is a via media between orthodoxy and heterodoxy seems to me to be nonsensical. However, who is orthodox and who is heterodox reminds me of a toast which is quite apposite in the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian Succession:

        ‘God bless the King! I mean the Faith’s defender;
        God bless (no harm in blessing) the Pretender;
        But who pretender is, and who is King –
        God bless us all! That’s quite another thing.’

      • milliganp says:

        John, I have to disagree as your thesis that there is a clearly defined schism. I know few, if any Catholics who would hold a position contrary to the major statements of faith or who hold a position analogous to many of the schisms or heresies of the past.
        I will admit that large swathes of the church no longer understand the implication of the call to holiness, particularly personal holiness, and there is widespread laxity in the moral dimension of our church societies. To be a schism people would have to reject the moral law for another version of truth; I don’t think laxity or laziness constitute schism.

      • milliganp says:

        Under Blair and Brown we had the most liberal form of free market capitalism parading as upmarket socialism. I don’t think anybody towards the lower end of the social scale sees our political system as a via-media.

      • pnyikos says:

        Milliganp, I am surprised to see you write: ‘To be a schism people would have to reject the moral law for another version of truth;’

        None of the schisms in the Church, including the Roman Catholic – Orthodox split, had any resemblance to a rejection of the moral law. That would not be schism, that would be heresy or worse.

        I am less qualified to comment on your claim, ‘Under Blair and Brown we had the most liberal form of free market capitalism parading as upmarket socialism.’ All I can say is that someone who has lived in both Britain and the USA said that the Tories are to the left [not right!!!] of the Democratic Party [and not just the Republican Party!] of the USA.

        I am even less qualified to comment on your claim, ‘I don’t think anybody towards the lower end of the social scale sees our political system as a via-media.’ It reminded me, however, of an article in the latest (May/June) issue of Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College, by a doctor who practiced for 15 years in the UK and has seen the conditions in which the poorest fifth of the English live.

        I was astounded. Here is a tidbit. The rest is equally unsettling.

        I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home. The child may be father to the man, but the television is father to the child. Few homes were without televisions with screens as large as a cinema—sometimes more than one—and they were never turned off, so that I often felt I was examining someone in a cinema rather than in a house. But what was curious was that these homes often had no means of cooking a meal, or any evidence of a meal ever having been cooked beyond the use of a microwave, and no place at which a meal could have been eaten in a family fashion. The pattern of eating in such households was a kind of foraging in the refrigerator, as and when the mood took, with the food to be consumed sitting in front of one of the giant television screens. Not surprisingly, the members of such households were often enormously fat.

        Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialization is now unknown. Here I should mention in passing that in my hospital, the illegitimacy rate of the children born in it, except for those of Indian-subcontinental descent, was approaching 100 percent.

  22. John Candido says:

    I favour a culture that loves modernity in all its guises. One that has a passion for technology, engineering, mathematics and all of the sciences; this is the country that I love. Let’s not forget the art and science of medicine, dentistry and all forms of industrial research. A country that eschews any form of intellectual shallowness, charlatans, magic explanations, UFOs, illogicality and hypocrisy; my heart lies here.

    Although not directly related to the modernist project, history in all of its guises is an essential social & intellectual undertaking that has a claim to any nation’s soul. Because of the importance of history and its relation to a nation’s story, it has an important function of clarifying our past. The unique and fascinating story of that group of amateur historians, who call themselves the Richard III Society, should be lauded for their preliminary work in finding the likely final resting place and remains of King Richard III. Cajoling the archaeology department of the University of Leicester to exam the group’s preliminary conclusions, in order to conduct the most unusual, unlikely and unique archaeological investigation in history.

    There is no alternative to a secular liberal democratic state. Democracy in combination with a regulated free enterprise system is the greatest show in town. The most efficient method of economic growth with a concomitant increase in our standard of living lies within it. A secular liberal democratic nation-state also is the most efficient method of putting religion in its place. I am not irreligious; an enemy of all forms of fundamentalism.

    One of my sociology lecturers gave me a useful key to organising philosophical, religious or political schools of thought, one that any person can use to their benefit. It is a continuum or sliding scale between the extremes of fundamentalism & cosmopolitanism, or liberalism.

    To give you one such example from the Middle East, Zionism is a political movement that I would describe as exclusivist and fundamentalist. It has caused untold harm to a plethora of people who have been born on the wrong side of history. The same can be said of any armed Arab movements that have arisen in order to attack Israelis. The continuing cycle of violence is truly horrific, as evidenced recently with the war between Hamas & Israel.

    Religious fundamentalism is something that we have to treat with extreme caution. Any religious fundamentalism that morphs into terrorism has to be monitored by security forces and prevented from attacking innocent civilians or our infrastructure. They must be prosecuted if they have committed criminal offences. At the same time any liberal nation-state must also respect religious freedom.

    Religious or political fundamentalists cannot be reasoned with as they will carry on regardless of public opinion. Neither can they be converted from their positions through the most brilliant argument. A civilising force such as liberal democracy may have an effect on some fundamentalists given a long period of time. In reality, economic sanctions are the only things that they will respect.

    Apartheid South Africa died as a result of internal dissent and international economic sanctions. This is an example of what the global civil community of nation-states can achieve once they have decided to be resolute. A similar regime will apply to that obnoxious war monger, Vladimir Putin. Putin will not respect reasoned protestations against fomenting civil unrest and in annexing Crimea for itself. International economic boycotts and continued isolation most certainly apply here.

  23. John Nolan says:

    John Candido

    Isn’t ‘loving modernity in all its guises’ a form of fundamentalism? I would certainly agree that liberal democracy as you define it is preferable to the alternatives on offer, but would be wary of signing up for a ‘modernist project’, whatever that might mean. The modern state, with its distended public sector, massive bureaucracy and plethora of agencies may not be the best guarantor of individual liberty. It can, and according to many people increasingly does, act despotically. Is scientific progress divorced from ethical considerations always beneficial? In 1940 Winston Churchill warned of ‘the abyss of a new Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science’.

    Had you lived a hundred years ago you might easily have been a Futurist. You might even have seen liberal democracy as a failed experiment and turned to Fascism or Soviet communism in the wake of the Great War and the Depression. After all, these systems seemed the acme of modernity at the time.

    Zionism was a political movement and an ultimately successful one which achieved its aims with the founding of a Jewish state in Palestine (something which Balfour in 1917 could not have predicted). The conflict in Gaza has come about because both sides believe they are fighting in self-defence. It has little to do with ‘fundamentalism’, however you define it.

    Putin is immensely popular and has convinced the Russian people that they are a beleaguered nation surrounded by enemies. I remember in the 1970s hearing the Sovietologist Peter Vigor describe the USSR as ‘a country surrounded by hostile communist states’. Pushing him into a corner might not be the wisest course of action. Unfortunately (and sadly partly as a result of liberal democracy) we have no statesmen, only politicians who exhibit the intellectual shallowness you quite rightly deplore. Canning, Palmerston or Salisbury would have known how to deal with Putin. It’s the same with Syria – the West needed to co-operate with Russia and Iran to broker a settlement. Standing on the sidelines expressing moral outrage is futile.

  24. pnyikos says:

    I finally got around to checking the statement in the lead article, “The Crusaders were assured by an abbot that the faithful would not die because God would know his own.”

    There is no firsthand account of abbot Arnaud Amalric having said that. The story has been traced back to Caesarius of Heisterbach, writing about the massacre twenty years later, and he did not name his source. He wrote that Amalric “was reported to have said it” (dixisse fertur in the original text). See:

    That does not let the crusaders off the hook, however. As the Wiki entry puts it:

    “While there remains doubt that the abbot said these words there is little if any doubt that these words captured the spirit of the assault,[6] and that the crusaders intended to kill the inhabitants of a stronghold that offered resistance.[7] However, typically that would involve killing the men, not women and children, and not the clergy. The crusaders allowed the routiers to rampage and kill without restraint, but quickly stepped in when it came to the loot.[8]”

    • milliganp says:

      The Siege of Drogheda by Cromwell holds a similar place in Irish history. Notwithstanding the barbarism implicit in the rules of siege, it was the way war was fought at the time and was, I understand, practiced by all, Catholic, Protestant, Mongol or Muslim.

    • Quentin says:

      Yes, these accounts are often difficult to pin down. But their preservation does help us to get the atmosphere at the time. As you will certainly be aware, Béziers was only one incident in this shameful crusade.

      I note that after Minerve was captured, the inhabitants were given the choice of accepting Christianity or being burnt at the stake. Familiar?

      • Peter Foster says:

        Those historical actions of institutional Christianity which confronted Christ’s teaching call out for serious analysis; however, John Thomas (July 25 2014 1.57 pm) makes a crucial point:
        “It has been said that there are many, many moderate Muslims, but no such a thing as a moderate Islam. Christians who behave badly (..) are acting AGAINST the teachings of their religion, as in the Bible, Jesus’s words, etc. The Muslim who kills apostates, Jews, etc., is behaving IN ACCORDANCE with the injunctions found in the Koran, and the real interpretation of their religion (it has been argued).”

        During Ramadan many Muslims attempt to read the whole of the Koran where they find a catechism of denigration of and violence towards unbelievers.

        Traditionally, Muslims who are a minority in a tolerant society are advised to conform as best they can to the laws of that society, promoting Islam in legal ways (the moderate Muslims); whereas those who live in Islamic countries are required to promote Islam by whatever means. This distinction is now under threat.

        The Koran itself can only be read in the context of its meaning through Mohamed’s life. Its chapters are the Sura ‘the fragments of revelations’.
        The ‘Sunna’ are precedents taken from Mohammed’s acts.
        ‘Hadith’ are collections of traditions which are thousands in number.
        ‘Umma’ is the muslim community worldwide. An affront to any is an affront to all.

        A natural corollary would be that the maltreatment of non-muslims anywhere in Islam is the responsibility of all; but this highlights a number of difficulties.
        (a) A Muslim cannot criticise the acts of other Muslims carrying out their religious duty.
        (b) Contradiction does not pose the same difficulties for a Muslim as it does for our Christian and secular culture which inherits a Greek philosophical tradition.
        Benedict XVI addressed this subject in his Regensburg address:
        “The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.[5] The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.“
        (c) The Koran is full of contradictions.

        This poses a difficulty in discussions about Islam. Islam exists with the same simple tenets in many forms. These forms I compare with the points in phase space in chaos theory which in their migrations always skirt the strange attractor. In the same way the different forms of Islam when called return to the life of Mohamed and the Koran.

        Discussions about Islam and with Muslims need to be honest on both sides. Contempt for the unbeliever leads the Muslim to evade key issues while we optimistically avoid them.

  25. John Nolan says:

    Before rushing to condemn the so-called Albigensian crusade out of hand, the following needs to be taken into account.
    1. The Albigensian or Cathar heresy was an extreme one, far more so than Arianism or Protestantism. It had already crossed the Pyrenees and was too close to Rome for comfort. Innocent III could hardly have sat on his hands while souls were being lost.
    2. Attempts were made at a diplomatic settlement but the Cathars murdered the papal envoy Peter de Castelnau in 1208.
    3. The military campaign was as much about the French king asserting his authority over the barons of Languedoc as it was about extirpating heresy.
    4. Innocent used the newly-formed Dominicans to preach the truth not only by words, but by example. One of the reasons for the popularity of Catharism was the austere lifestyle of its disciples, in contrast to the wealth and worldliness of the local clergy. In the words of Eamon Duffy ‘Innocent recognized that heresy could be effectively disarmed only if genuine religious zeal and reform were fostered: repression was not enough’.
    5. The Beziers massacre was exceptional even by the standards of medieval warfare. Most towns surrendered without being stormed and the Cathars of Carcassone were not killed (although they were driven out of the city). After the capture of Minerve the Cathars were given the opportunity to recant; only those who refused (some 140) were executed. It was not a forcible conversion to Christianity, since they were regarded as Christians, albeit heretical ones.

    We don’t condemn the Second World War because of the indiscriminate massacre of the inhabitants of Dresden or Hiroshima. To judge earlier centuries for acting in a similar way is surely hypocritical.

    • Quentin says:

      Arguable, perhaps, but not hypocritical. Neither Dresden not Hiroshima were actions of the Catholic Church. If they had been, I would certainly have added them to my list.

    • milliganp says:

      Surely we are allowed to judge the Church support of these regimes against the obvious Gospel call to non-violence. Our forebears appear to have been Catholics who remained barbarian – the Gospel did not change them.
      The idea that murdering large numbers of people so that “souls might not be lost” becomes a form of idolatry where we bind God to the same prejudices we affirm; I don’t remember any passage in scripture which indicated that Jew’s should be murdered for failing to become Christian.

      • John Nolan says:

        Paul Milligan, who suggested that Jews should be murdered for failing to become Christian? The Inquisition was only concerned with Catholics who had fallen into heresy. In the case of the Spanish Inquisition in its earliest and most oppressive years the target was not the Jews but those Jews (the ‘conversos’) who had converted to Catholicism but were suspected of backsliding.

        In fourth century Antioch there were Christians who still kept the Jewish fasts or who had claimed to be Christian but were not. These were the ones whom St John Chrysostom was addressing in his famous or infamous eight sermons. It does not make him Julius Streicher, however Quentin might spin it.

        If one is a Catholic, one believes that the Church has the fullness of truth, without which there can be no salvation (this is not the same as ‘extra ecclesia nulla salus’). If one thinks that all religions or even non-religious ethical systems are on an equal footing, then that is certainly a tenable position, but it is not a Catholic one. Every heresy under the sun quotes Scripture, including the Gospels, but that does not give it legitimacy. I’m sure there are those who would say they would rather not have the Catholic Church at all rather than have a Church which in times past has sanctioned force against heresy. They would be shocked at the idea that Our Lady’s intervention ensured the victory at Lepanto, yet we still celebrate it (7 October, the anniversary of the 1571 battle, is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary).

        The Muslims, the Cathars and the Protestants were (or are) not the ‘Church of Nice’. Tiny and insignificant Scotland burned more innocent people as witches in the hundred years after the Reformation than the Inquisition did in its entire history. Indeed, it is thanks to the Spanish inquisition and its legally qualified officials that the early modern witch craze was almost unknown in Spain.

      • milliganp says:

        John, you seem to be justifying one form of barbarism by saying somebody else was worse. I am aware that, by the standards of its day, the inquisition had fairer and kinder legal processes. You also seem to accept that it’s ok to kill heretics and schismatics. All I said was that there is no precedent for this in the New Testament.

  26. Ignatius says:

    I wonder how all this relates to events in Gaza today?

    • John Nolan says:

      Ignatius, an interesting one. Some have compared Israel to the Frankish states set up in the aftermath of the first crusade, which were admittedly relatively short-lived. However, both Jews and Arabs are essentially a semitic people with a semitic language; the Franks were racially distinct. Also, King Baldwin the Leper did not possess nuclear weapons.

    • John Candido says:

      I support the state of Israel. However I do not support Israeli policies that do not support full equality and human rights for all who live there. We all want peace in our lives. Peace is the supreme prize.

      Regarding the Middle East; truth can set a person, culture, or a people free from their current predicaments. Israel is the preeminent power between it and the Palestinians. Israel has the power and the authority to set the agenda for most issues between it and the Palestinians, and this most definitely includes future peace initiatives.

      Zionism is a form of exclusivist, partisan and fundamentalist political philosophy. It is fundamentalist because it is based on a monocultural and single religious bias as the basis of a nation-state. This is simply untenable to a modern understanding of liberal democratic nation-states.

      There is one single thing that Israel can do for itself before any peace initiatives can be fruitfully presented from either side in future. Israel needs to have a day of soul, or a significant moment with itself. The day of soul is similar to when a person looks in the mirror not to admire how handsome or beautiful they are, but to truthfully recognise every aspect of themselves. The day of soul is similar to the acceptance of the unvarnished truth about oneself.

      If there are intermittent wars between people over a significant period of time, intelligent people will always ask why this is happening. There is no escaping from this point. An intelligent and truthful answer to this question is probably the most effective defence that any nation can give itself; the most sublime self-defence without a peer.

      Israel needs to admit to itself that all is not right in the relationship between itself and the Palestinians. Israel will never have peace until it has its day of soul and admit to itself that it is guilty of discrimination, oppression, occupation and apartheid against the Palestinians. If there is no day of soul; no peace will come. The very second after this day of soul for Israel; peace becomes a realistic possibility. There is an ancient proverb that educates us all that only a fool will stumble over the same stone twice. Is Israel a fool?

      • Vincent says:

        A day of soul? Yes, all individuals and societies should have that.

        In the case of Israel, is it possible that it would lead to a realisation that its identity is defined by the opposition it attracts? For two thousand years, at least, it has suffered victimhood. Perhaps it has reached a stage when it is only confident of its exclusivity because of the dislike it encounters. It would be an irony if it needed anti-Semitism in order to be sure of its identity.

      • Quentin says:

        An interesting report on British attitudes to Israel contrasted with US attitudes published today – and relevant to this discussion.

      • John Nolan says:

        You can’t support the state of Israel and yet condemn Zionism. Unless, of course, you have your own construct of Zionism which has no basis in historical reality.

      • pnyikos says:

        You seem to be putting all the onus on Israel to do soul-searching, Candido. Have you looked at the Hamas charter? It seems to be saying that the Palestinian “struggle” has as its aim a Palestine subject to Islam. Specifically, look at Article 7, which has ignited a firestorm of controversy on one blog. It seems to say that Jews “invaded” Palestine by settling there, and that the 1948 and 1967 wars were part of the aforementioned “struggle.” The huge controversy is over the interpretation of the quote from Muhammad at the end of the article. To me it seems to say that any Jew that “obstructs” this “struggle” will be killed. How do you interpret it?

      • pnyikos says:

        Quentin, do you have any idea how those survey questions were worded? The only one that is quoted is ambiguous. It asks for people’s opinion of the following statement:

        ‘God gave the land that is now Israel to the Jewish people’,

        In the days of the Caananites, or in perpetuity, or in modern times? It makes all the difference in the world.

        It is noteworthy that the poll was conducted on behalf of the organization, Embrace the Middle East, of which Moody is CEO. Near the end of the article, Moody asks a very loaded question:

        `They worked tirelessly against South African apartheid in the 1980s. Will they also campaign for an end to the occupation of Palestine?’

        All of Palestine, or the part that became Palestine before the surrounding countries tried in 1948 to conquer the other part, Israel?

        Or will Moody be content with Israel ceding only those lands which it took in the 1967 war? [It has already ceded Gaza.] Does Moody want the Jewish settlements on the West Bank to be abandoned? Does he want Israel to give up the strategic Golan Heights, so important to its defense?

      • John Candido says:

        Thanks for your insights Vincent. Much appreciated!

        Pnyikos, I am not putting the entire onus on Israel to have their day of soul. That the Palestinians will have to follow suit as well, goes without saying. Whatever are the contents of Hamas’ Charter, a more primal and fundamental questions are why does Hamas exist at all? Why do they want to kill the Jews? What has led them to this state of mind, both historically and contemporaneously? I believe that a truthful and objective answer to these questions will lead to the basis of a final, long-lasting peace in the Middle East.

        The entire world was completely revolted by the ‘Endlosung’ or Final Solution of the Nazis, and as an act of conscience and reparation gave Palestine to the Jews to fashion it as a Jewish state in 1948. However, 1948 is also the year of the ‘Nakba’ (Arabic for disaster or catastrophe) for Palestinians. The creation of the Jewish state is a catastrophe for Palestinians, who were forced out of their lands by the Jews in 1948 and have suffered this state ever since. The Palestinians were not responsible for and had nothing to do with the Nazi Holocaust. All of the actions of the state of Israel to defend itself, or contain conflict from Arabs, are in fact the management of the aftereffects of the Nakba in 1948.

        Palestinians are discriminated against on a daily basis, are oppressed, their lands are occupied by Israel and are living in an apartheid state. The Middle East is a huge land rights problem. Solve the land rights issues and you will solve the problem of conflict in the Middle East. The role of international law in all of this is crucial. The question of what should apply; a two state or single state solution is the question of our time.

        I most certainly believe that long-lasting peace can be achieved in the Middle East. An international conference of nations should be convened in order to initiate a peace process. Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Syria (when and if they have ended their Civil War), Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, the United States, UK, the UN as well as several others, can all be delegates to such a conference. This will take several years to organise and conclude whenever all parties are willing to go down such a path. It will take an enormous and continuing act of trust, faith and goodwill, in order for this to be finalised.

  27. Claret says:

    Higher up this thread a poster has mentioned the situation facing Christians in Mosul which brings us back to the point of this particular post / blog.
    Unlike some on here I am not at all familiar with the Koran but I constantly hear from Muslim commentators that the word Muslim means ‘peace’ ( I stand ready to be contradicted ! Perhaps the relevant word is Islam, ) but the use of the word ‘peace’ is a regular greeting by Muslims.
    Any literal understanding of the word ‘peace’ from a Western perspective would seem to mean more than when used by Muslims.
    There is a strange silence about Mosul and the stated intention of the Muslims who have recently occupied the City to drive out all Christians who have been given the ‘choice’ of staying but being taxed for being a Christian, converting to Islam or being killed off.
    World politics, and religion too, can be a murky and violent business but there is no policy that I am aware of in any country that calls on Christians to give the same alternatives to Muslims as they give to the demise of Christianity.
    I wrote to my MP about the use of Sharia Law in parts of the UK and he was initially very supportive in combating this however when I wrote to him again on the same subject ( as it had got worse,) a year or so later his tone had changed considerably and he was in support of it. A problem too big to tackle as far as I can ascertain, so we now have mobs of young Muslims and their elders imposing Sharia Law in many areas of cities of the UK and doing so unhindered.

  28. milliganp says:

    Claret, you final paragraph strikes me as untenable. In Dec 2013 a group of muslim youth were jailed for attemting to create a Sharia zone in London. Apart from that I can find no evidence, particularly of your claim “in many cities”. The only websites supporting such a thesis are run by the EDL. The law society provided advice on creating Sharia compliant wills, which was misrepresented, in the persuit of newspaper sales, as Sharia by the back-door. However UK law provides many freedoms amongst which is how to dispose of one’s assets after death.

  29. John Nolan says:

    I’m with Mr Milligan on this one. Islam is not monolithic, and a lot of the barbarities we like to ascribe to it belong to tribal customs, particularly those brought over from rural Pakistan.

  30. Claret says:

    Untenable Milliganp?
    As I wrote in my post above the problem of Sharia Law imposed is too big a problem to tackle and is therefore ignored. There have been plenty of newspaper articles on the subject and crimes reported that for political expediency are recorded as something else.
    A recent example is of a non-muslim youth drinking alcohol in the street and losing an eye when set upon by a group of muslim youths in an area that had been ‘designated’ as one where Sharia Law applies.
    The prosecuting authority were quick to deny that this was in any way connected with Sharia Law. Instead it was described as being because the youth who lost his eye was a stranger to the area !
    Who knows the full extent of it all but the way that women are treated in many Muslim communities with forced marriage , genital cutting, physical abuse and the rest is endemic.
    A policy of ‘head in the sand’ keeps the statistics down.
    Tribal customs ? It looks to me as though whole nations are opposed to Christianity and its eradication.
    Not one Christian Church in Afghanistan. Are there really no Christians in the entire national population ? Has Christ not reached there ?
    Some Muslim countries ban the Bible and any Christian symbols. Choose your holiday destination carefully.
    I repeat is there any country in the world that is nominally Christian and purposefully has laws that marginalise Muslims ?
    Is everything wonderful for Christians in Pakistan, Iraq, Iran , Egypt to name just a few? Are the persecutions in these countries no more than ‘tribal customs?’

    • milliganp says:

      Claret, I replied to your claim of Sharia law and, in a lengthy rant, you quote only one possible example that supports your original claim.
      Muslims living out the laws of their faith are not imposing it on others. I would expect a Catholic not to go for an abortion, does this mean Catholics are defying the law of the land? It is reported that there are numerous Sharia courts operating in the UK, however they do not have the force of law; any two people who have a dispute have the right to use arbitration rather than the law courts to settle their differences.
      Britain has passed laws to forbid FGM, forced marriages and already treats “honour killings” as murder. I do not see any of this as the thin end of the wedge for introducing Sharia law. Let us not allow prejudice to identify problems that do not exist.

  31. John Nolan says:

    Paul Milligan

    I am not trying to justify barbarous conduct on any side. I have a certain sympathy with Julius II, forced to take up arms in defence of the Papal States to preserve their independence, which also meant the independence of the Church, considering that the two major powers of the world were warring over the control of Italy. In the 19th century many Irish volunteered to defend with arms the patrimony of the pope which was seen as under threat from the forces of the Risorgimento. They could not have foreseen the Lateran Treaty of 1929 which effected a compromise. Only in retrospect can their actions be seen as naïve and misguided.

    Early Christians were pacifist because they expected an imminent Second Coming and the dominant Power, the Roman Empire, was pagan. Things changed when the Roman Empire became Christian. There are those today who call themselves Catholic but deplore the post-Constantinian Church. They ignore the fact that the spread of Christianity was dependent on the Roman Empire and even after its fall in the West the Church utilized the structures of Roman provincial administration to spread the Gospel among the barbarian successor states.

    This goes some way to explain why the Quakers, whose pacifism is in many respects laudable and whose adherents have performed many good works, are a tiny semi-Christian sect with no influence.

    • milliganp says:

      John, I admire your tenacity and clarity. Christianity is successful because we beat pagans into submission, that makes us so much better than Islam.This is not to detract from the parallels in the OT, Israel had to fight its way to survival – so should we read the flow of Christian history as providential in a similar light?
      This thesis though does seem to encourage the alternate views of Christian development of de Chardin and Rahner (noosphere and anonymous Christians).
      I feel challenged, which is always a good thing in the search for truth; thank you.

      • John Nolan says:

        Indeed, Paul, I have been enlightened and educated by many of your comments. When I spoke earlier of a ‘de facto schism’ I am obviously qualifying the term ‘schism’. I suppose that the term ‘divide’ is more apposite. Yesterday I sang at a Solemn High Mass to honour GK Chesterton; it was a votive Mass of the BVM (Salve Sancta Parens, plus Mass IX) and since we had adequate rehearsal time and the services of two professional singers we were able to drill into the chant both in terms of its historical development and current performance practice. The Mass was according to the 1962 Missal and so essentially the same as it has been for 500 years or more.

        It was a world away from the average parish Mass with its Congregationalist ambience, post-1965 music (most of it unliturgical), emphasis on the ‘presider’ who eyeballs the congregation throughout and addresses them (and God, although one would be hard pressed to decide when he is doing this) entirely in the vernacular. Chesterton would not have recognized it. Similarly, what GKC accepted as being axiomatic with regard to Catholic doctrine is either challenged or ignored (also using the latter term to mean ‘be ignorant of’).

        There might be those who see this as a traditional-modern dichotomy; they are those who were adults at the time of V2 and embraced a brave new world. But that generation is dying off, and I have noticed that young Catholic adults, who have had no experience of the heady days of the 1960s and 1970s, are gravitating to traditional values, both in doctrine and liturgy. They are of course a minority, since most people of their age-group have lapsed along with their parents. I hesitate to use the term Modernist to describe the progressive faction which has been so dominant in the last fifty years, since it was used as an umbrella term a hundred years ago and is still rather absurdly called ‘the sum of all the heresies’.

  32. milliganp says:

    I’m trying to take a few days out from constantly trying to have the last word, but I found some words from a wise man of an earler generation, George Herbert.
    “The devil divides the world between atheism and superstition.”
    Fundamentalist love both ends of this spectrum. Having said that I’m fairly certain the word atheism did not exist in the time of GH -but I’m too lazy to check either the word or the quote!

  33. pnyikos says:

    I’m not yet fully recovered from reading a scholarly account of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, which included former President Morsi of Egypt, ousted in a coup.

    If the philosophy of this founder, Hasan al-Banna, is still the guiding force of this Brotherhood, then radical Islam poses an even greater threat than I had ever imagined before. From the introductory paragraph:

    ‘Al-Banna’s worldview may be summarized in four main propositions: First, Islam is a perfect and complete way of life; second, Islam must be the basis of all legislation; third, Western societies are decadent and corrupt; and fourth, God has commanded Muslims to conquer and rule the earth. Each of these propositions is deeply rooted in the worldview of classical Sunni Islam.’

    It was especially unsettling to read all the implications for societies under an Islam guided by al-Banna’s philosophy, and to read just how strong the support for some of these implications is in Egypt. What you see below is the penultimate paragraph of this article.

    What, then, can we expect from Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood? Are the Egyptian people prepared to support a Muslim Brotherhood agenda of the sort presented by al-Banna? The answer appears to be “yes,” simply because most Egyptians are devout, traditional Sunni Muslims. According to the Pew Research Center, 85% of Egyptian Muslims consider Islamic influence over political life to be a positive thing for their country. Fifty-four percent of Egyptian Muslims support making gender segregation in the workplace the law in Egypt; 82% favor stoning people who commit adultery; 77% support amputation of hands for theft and robbery; and 84% favor the death penalty for people who leave the Islamic religion.45 Seventy-five percent of Egyptians have a favorable opinion of the Muslim Brotherhood; 62% say the law should strictly follow the Quran, and another 27% say the laws should follow the values and principles of Islam without strictly following the Koran. A majority of Egyptians (54%) say the 1979 peace treaty with Israel should be annulled; only 36% say the treaty should be retained. 46

  34. milliganp says:

    Given the ultimate accusation against Islam is that it is intolerant, it’s interesting that today’s most popular news story on the BBC is about the difficulty of being atheist in the USA.

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