In the late 1930s Catholic historian Hillaire Belloc wrote:
It [Islam] is, as a fact, the most formidable and persistent enemy which our civilization has had and may at any moment become as large a menace in the future as it has been in the past…
It seemed an unlikely prediction. At the time, the Islamic world was practically moribund. A comeback did not seem to be in the cards. Yet, Belloc was proved right. Within four decades, Islam was once again a power to be reckoned with.
Had he lived, however, even Belloc would have been surprised to find that one of the chief agents of Islam’s resuscitation was his own beloved Catholic Church. Although Belloc referred to Islam as a “formidable and persistent enemy,” by the end of the century, practically no “respectable” Catholic would have described Islam as an “enemy.” On the contrary, Islam had become a “fellow Abrahamic faith” which, we were told, shared much in common with Catholicism.
At one time, the Catholic Church had defended the West against Islam, but by the beginning of the 21st century, the Church had become a reliable defender of Islam against its critics.
Despite abundant evidence to the contrary, Catholic leaders and educators assured the world that Islam had nothing to do with violence. They also insisted that “Islam” means “peace” and that “jihad” is an “interior struggle.” If you disagreed with any of this you were dismissed as an “Islamophobe.”
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The Church’s mission to fight “Islamophobia” came later. First came the Second Vatican Council and the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate. Nostra Aetate was intended to examine the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions. In particular it sought to consider “what men have in common.”
What do Muslims and Christians have in common? Here’s the key passage:
They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.
In short, Islam was just like Catholicism…except it wasn’t. The Council fathers had come up with a list of surface similarities between Islam and Catholicism, but had ignored the deep differences.
For example, Catholics and Muslims supposedly worship the same God. And sure enough, the God adored by Catholics is “merciful and all powerful”—just like the Muslim God. But unlike the Muslim God He is also a Trinity—something that Muslims vehemently deny. He is also, from the Catholic point of view, a Father. Again, this is vehemently rejected by Muslims. In fact, to say that God is a father is, from the Muslim point of view the height of blasphemy. Moreover, in Islamic scripture, Allah is always associated with the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, when a Muslim avows that “there is no God but Allah,” he is obliged to add “And Muhammad is the prophet of Allah.” Unfortunately for the “same God” thesis, the name “Muhammad” does not appear anywhere in the Bible.
Strike one! The pious belief that Muslims and Catholics worship the same God does not hold water. The “common-ground” thesis is built on very shoddy scholarship.
But wait! There is a man named “Jesus” in the Koran, and he is considered a great prophet. So, you can at least say that Muslims and Catholics both “revere” Jesus. Perhaps the common-ground thesis is intact, after all. The only problem is, it’s not the same Jesus. On the one hand, you have Jesus of Nazareth, on the other hand, you have the Jesus of the Koran, who does not resemble the former in any way, shape, or form.
Jesus of Nazareth is a recognizable human being, who eats and drinks and converses with his disciples in a recognizably human way. He also says things of startling and profound originality, causing many to say with wonderment, “no man has ever spoken like this before.”
The Koran, on the other hand, provides no details on the life of the Koranic Jesus. He has no substance, and practically nothing of interest to say. He is little more than a cardboard cutout. If you think I exaggerate, then read the Koran for yourself. In doing so, you may well find yourself wondering if the Council fathers and their “expert” advisers ever bothered to do the same.
Strike two! The pious belief that the Jesus of the Gospels and the Jesus of the Koran share anything in common other than the same name is completely untenable.
But how about the final point? —the one in which the Council fathers assure us that “they [Muslims] value the moral life”? This is particularly misleading because the Council fathers must certainly have known that the Muslim moral code differs markedly in many respects from the Catholic moral code. The Muslim moral code allows for polygamy, child brides, wife beating, stoning for adultery, and execution for apostasy.
Oh! There’s one more thing. In the last sentence of the first paragraph of the section “on the Moslems,” the Council fathers mention that “[Muslims] worship God especially through prayers, almsgiving, and fasting.” But they forgot to mention “jihad,” even though the Koran explicitly states that jihad is more pleasing to God than prayer and almsgiving.
How could they have forgotten to mention the thing that is most pleasing to God– namely, jihad? It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the authors of the Muslim section had been deliberately dishonest.
And the deception continued. In the wake of the Council, the Church set up numerous Muslim-Catholic dialogues, Centers for Muslim-Christian Understanding, and Abrahamic faith initiatives of various kinds. And all of them presented a Pollyannish portrait of Islam.
When the English edition of the new Catechism of the Catholic Church appeared in 1994 it didn’t say much about the Muslims—only that “together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.” It wasn’t much to go on, but it did seem to suggest that Muslims were on the side of the angels. So, when Muslims struck New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, it seemed safe to assume as so many in government and media were saying that “this has nothing to do with Islam.” Moreover, once it became known that Muslims revered Jesus and honored Mary, all subsequent Islamic attacks could be dismissed as the work of a tiny minority of extremists who had misunderstood the peaceful tenets of the Islamic faith. And when Muslims began migrating into Europe by the millions, Catholic prelates only had to remind their flocks that “in the face of the migrant we see the face of Jesus.”
On the other hand, it didn’t pay to see the face of Jesus in the face of persecuted Christians. When Pope Benedict XVI asked for greater protection of persecuted Christians in Egypt, Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar University cut-off the dialogue with the Vatican and wouldn’t resume it until Benedict’s successor, Francis, agreed not to criticize Islamic persecutions of Christians. Francis, of course, thought this was a good deal: the dialogue was his pet project—one that must be preserved at all costs.
The Church had for all intents and purposes become an enabler of Islam. But it wasn’t like the aiding and abetting of yore. In those days, some traitor or other would open the gates of the city to the enemy. In the modern era, the Pope simply warns the Christian population that if they don’t open the borders of Europe to the Muslim horde, they are guilty of closing the door of the inn on the Holy Family.
Belloc was right about Islam. It would return as a formidable enemy of Western Civilization. But Western Civilization—including the Catholic Church—couldn’t accept the fact of enmity and it invented all sorts of reasons why Islam and the West were really the best of friends. The Church which once had a well-deserved reputation for being both a Church of faith and reason even mistook Islam for a religion of peace.
The Ayatollah Khomeini could have set them straight on that. The man who overthrew the Shah of Iran once declared:
Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those are witless. Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword…People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for Holy warriors.
Despite the Ayatollah’s warning, there still seems to be a constant supply of “witless” ones in the Church who “pretend that Islam counsels against war.” Chief among them is Francis who in his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, asserted that “authentic Islam and a proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”
It’s a remarkable statement, and also provably false. Moreover, it puts Christians in danger by misleading them about the nature of Islam. Catholic apologists for Islam have been repeating similar lies about Islam ever since the mid-sixties. Will they ever be held to account? One sincerely hopes so.