Sunday, January 29, 2012

Chesterton: the paradox of Islam

From The Catholic Thing:

The paradox of Islam 
By G.K. Chesterton 
There is in Islam a paradox which is perhaps a permanent menace. The great creed born in the desert creates a kind of ecstasy out of the very emptiness of its own land, and even, one may say, out of the emptiness of its own theology. It affirms, with no little sublimity, something that is not merely the singleness but rather the solitude of God. There is the same extreme simplification in the solitary figure of the Prophet; and yet this isolation perpetually reacts into its own opposite. A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again.

A fascinating observation. Islam lacks sacraments. Yet the violence that is so much a part of Islam-- embedded in its theology and its reality-- is a kind of sacrament, a physical manifestation of Allah's will on earth.

In Catholicism, Christ's sacrifice of Himself is repeated at each Eucharist. In my view, Islam's egregious violence in the name of jihad is a satanic bastardization of the Lord's sacrifice. In both, innocents suffer. But the Lord's suffering in the Christian sacrament is redemptive, an act of ultimate self-sacrifice, an act of love. The suffering of innocents butchered by Islamic terrorists is an act of power, an act of the sacrifice of innocent others, an act of hate.

There is a difference between Christianity and Islam. A difference as wide as love and hate. Christ's sacrifice is God's renunciation of all manner of violence, a renunciation of all jihad.

Rene Girard explained it.


  1. I read on a French Site that Islam was sent by God to humble the Catholic Church.

    This site has the "imprimatur" of the Paris diocese.

    I still have a lot to learn...

    1. I spent some time speaking to a Chaldean Catholic guy in Israel a few years ago.
      He had served in the SLA and IDF and eventually came to live in Israel (from Iraq).
      He told me they had a teaching, common among his people. That Islam was 'the great Heresy' sent by God to punish Christianity for being such a sectarian bunch. That the only way we could possibly achieve a complete ideological victory, according to this teaching, is to reunite into one single creed.
      As to which under who, my friend was at a loss. :P
      Same kind of thing though, Pépé.
      Makes you wonder if the horrors we confront in Islam are a dark reflection, eh?

  2. ...that bring out the worst in people.

    You don't need any religion, be it Christianity, Islam or Atheism, to do that: some people are already capable of doing it really good by themselves!

  3. Nevertheless, Pepe, it is interesting that a society's acceptance of Christ is no bulwark against violence. The Christianity of Germany was no defense against Nazism. The teachings of the Eastern Orthodox church were ineffective against broad acceptance of Communism. The Christianity of Pyongyang (including members of Kim Il-Sung's own family) did no retard the adoption of Communism to any perceptible degree. And these examples don't even mention the times when Jesus's name is cried in battle - whether from the lips of Crusaders, or Conquistadors, or the Lord's Resistance Army, or witch hunters, or slave traders, or....

    As for the spiritual wealth of Christianity's sacraments, they're not enough to prevent ceaseless attempts to blunt or stop any science teachings that contradict Genesis. Christianity is the driving force of one of the greatest anti-intellectual movements in America.

    Yes, most American Christians are preferable to most armed, militant fundamentalist Muslims. But again, Michael stands atop a very fragile glass house as he energetically hurls his stones at people with beliefs that differ from his own.

  4. @RickK:

    [society's acceptance of Christ is no bulwark against violence.]

    Christianity is a major bulwark against violence. It is not completely effective.

    [The Christianity of Germany was no defense against Nazism.]

    Christianity in Germany was in retreat (Kulturkampf] as it was throughout Europe. It had been in retreat since 1789, and that retreat accelerated in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    The 20th century in Europe is the century of atheism's ascendance.

    [The Christianity of Pyongyang (including members of Kim Il-Sung's own family) did no retard the adoption of Communism to any perceptible degree.]

    Communism was adopted by force in NK after the defeat of Japan following WWII and the occupation of NK by the Soviet Army in August 1945. Christianity was crushed by the communists/atheists. NK is one of the most atheist nations on earth.

    [And these examples don't even mention the times when Jesus's name is cried in battle - whether from the lips of Crusaders, or Conquistadors, or the Lord's Resistance Army, or witch hunters, or slave traders, or....]

    There has been much bloodshed, some of it Christian perpetrated and some of it with Christian victims.

    Atheism in state power has been pure hell.

    [As for the spiritual wealth of Christianity's sacraments, they're not enough to prevent ceaseless attempts to blunt or stop any science teachings that contradict Genesis. Christianity is the driving force of one of the greatest anti-intellectual movements in America.]

    Deeply Christian America leads the world in science, and the scientific revolution is a completely Christian affair. Attempts by Christians to protect their kids from atheism's creation myth are laudable.

    [Michael stands atop a very fragile glass house as he energetically hurls his stones at people with beliefs that differ from his own.]

    What tripe. I don't attack Islam because it's "different". Judaism and Buddhism are different, but I don't attack them. I respect them, although I obviously hold to a different faith.

    I attack Islam because it is a violent oppressive religion. I detest terrorism, and while there are many peaceful and ethical Muslims (most Muslims are), they are good people despite Islam, not because of it.

    You live in a Christian civilization. You are ignorant of the extent to which your laws and science and ethics are informed by Christianity. You don't understand the blessing you have been given. As Christianity recedes, I suspect that even many idiot atheists will come to understand what they've lost.

    1. Michael's comments in brackets [].

      [Christianity in Germany was in retreat (Kulturkampf] as it was throughout Europe.]

      Just so others are aware of the facts from the 1939 German census: six years after Hitler came to power, the German people claimed they were 54% Protestant, 40% Catholic. So 94% of the population perpetrating or allowing the Holocaust identified themselves as Christian.

      [NK is one of the most atheist nations on earth.]

      NK was the most Christian part of Asia (the Jerusalem of the East) into the 1940s. Kim Il-Sung used Christian imagery (presumably learned from one of his Christian uncles) to craft his own religion. As a result, the people of NK are now deeply steeped in "Dear Leader" worship, complete with Heaven, divine right, and miracles. Kim Jong-Un completes the Trinity. Just because it isn't Judeo-Christian doesn't mean it is atheism.

      Here's a hint: a population of actual atheists wouldn't react with shock to discover their leader is mortal. Now go read first-hand, personal accounts of the reactions to Kim Il-Sung's death.

      [Atheism in state power has been pure hell.]

      Totalitarins, who by definition don't share power with anyone, including religions, generally don't make nice societies - this is true of communists, fascists, fundamentalist Muslim, or made-up religions like in NK.

      But secular, representative democracies do rather well. We've demonstrated that religion is not a necessary component of good government, and is a key component of many very bad governments. Currently, though there are exceptions, the societies that self-identify as least religious are healthier on many dimensions than those that self-identify as most religious.

      [Deeply Christian America leads the world in science, and the scientific revolution is a completely Christian affair.]

      Wow, what hubris! (1) Read Joseph Needham before you write off the East. (2) Please look up the history of the scientific method. (3) Just because scientific investigation was forwarded by church funding doesn't mean that the beliefs of Christianity drove science. Newton, Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin, astronomy, geology, biology, mathematics, physics - they all progressed when scientists explicitly set God aside in their calculations.

      [You live in a Christian civilization. You are ignorant of the extent to which your laws and science and ethics are informed by Christianity.]

      No I am not ignorant of the contributions of people who believed in Christ, just as I am not ignorant of the people who believed Christ was a philosopher but in no way divine, nor am I ignorant of the contributions of tens of thousands of years of social development before anyone ever heard of Israel, nor am I ignorant of the contributions of Egyptian technology, Phoenecian economics, Roman government or the overwhelming contribution of Greek ethics and philosophy, nor am I ignorant of the fact that the pages of your Bible are owe their numbering (just as we owe our modern science) to the followers of Muhammad.

      I can go on and on, but I'm "blessed" by all these groups for contributing to our society - a society so advanced in understanding of the world that we can now seek and actually FIND truth rather than inventing truths and trying to convince others by strength of arms and passion of revelation.

      [idiot atheists]

      There you go again. How often do you have to have the windows washed in that glass house of yours?

    2. Okay,

      What is being lost in this chat about a Christianity and it's inability to stop Nazism in German and other parts of Europe is the fact that it was a Christian Empire that stood up to and defeated the Nazis. She was wrecked and fragmented in doing so.

      Here is my brief two cents on the Nazi aspect:
      The largest officially Christian force to ever see action on this planet were the collective Imperial/Commonwealth, Territorial, and Royal forces of the British Empire. No Two ways about it.
      The British Empire was the largest military machine to ever be in the control of a Christian Monarch, their Lords, and Ministers.
      This Empire waged a 'Total War' on the Nazi Reich that sacrificed literally generations of young men and women from the four corners of the globe, wrecked the largest free trade zone to ever exist, and bankrupt an economy similar to the modern US or Chinese economies in size and reach...ALL to destroy the Nazis.
      A complete ideological commitment. A sacrifice for a better world 'for the kids'.
      It seems to me the crooked cross is vastly outweighed by the seas of crosses in parks, battlefields, national, and international cemeteries.
      It also seems to me that this act of altruism at the alter of civilization begs the question: Could/Would an Empire that was NOT Christian have made the same supreme sacrifice?
      Or is this act an inherently Christian one?

      I am sure there are some fairly valid comparisons that could be made with some considerable effort and academic licence, and that here and there a 'candidate Empire' may emerge. That is all, of course conjecture - as no other Empire has ever made the same gesture. Britain's Imperial sacrifice stands as unique, politically. The effects, were of course, international/global - and we are still feeling some of the shudders today, specifically in the Middle East and SWA... but the central ideological decision to achieve 'ramming speed' at the cost of shattering the fleet was utterly unique, utterly ideological, and utterly British.
      That translates, in the period, to: Christian.

      ***I do not want to end this little note without crediting also the tens of thousands of men and women of Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Hindu, and other (and none) faith that served in that struggle. Their bravery, loyalty, and service must also be remembered for what it was: A game changer.

    3. Crus - I'm no fan of Communism, but when you say "tens of thousands", I think you're undercounting the contribution and sacrifice of the Soviet Union in defeating the Nazis - unless of course you count many of those millions of soldiers as Russian Orthodox, Catholic, and the other religions within Stalin's regime. Was the Red Army, which made an undeniable sacrifice, also driven by faith? If so, which faith?

      And, just to keep balance in this conversation, I'd like to know - who do you think the soldiers in the Wehrmact prayed to when they looked across at the Christian army facing them?

      I'm not trying to beat up on Christianity - I'm trying to point out the cracked panes of Michael's glass house when he lashes out at Islam, atheism, and whatever else he finds so hateful. The issues are more complex, and no hands are clean.

  5. Michael,

    'As Christianity recedes ...'

    Yes, good, bring it on. I assume in your confused rumblings, you actually meant 'If Christianity recedes, ...'

  6. Michael (again),

    'I didn't blog when I was an atheist. Blogging requires literacy'.

    So you weren't literate when you were training to be a neurosurgeon? That would explain your total ignorance of science, logic, history and the meaning of words.

    I didn't know you could train to be a surgeon just using audiobooks.

  7. Sorry I missed the day, folks.
    It was my birthday, and I actually got to relax.
    For me that means no mobile devices or computers.
    A gorgeous radio silence combined with some family time and a nice meal or three...and so I was scarce.

    Regarding the topic of Islam I am all over the place.
    I will be the first to admit the Muslims are a force to be reckoned with.
    I will also be among the first to point out the intolerance and expansionist nature of that ideology's various creeds.
    But I will also note, from my own personal experience, the general good nature of the Muslims themselves.
    The normal folks. Most of the Muslims I have actually come to know - and I have had occasion to work in Muslim nations- have been decent, normal, law abiding folks.

    This apparent inconsistency illustrates a very subtle contrast with our own culture. Normal people quite happily living in what most of us would consider unacceptable. a system we would see as 'tyrannical' and utterly 'theocratic'.
    There are elements, beyond the scope of this response, that may seem almost identical in the Christian/Western ethos to their Islamic counterparts. They seem to serve the same function or work to the same purpose - in that they share the same ends.
    But the MEANS by which these goals are achieved are themselves vast GULF full of real differences. They alter the very meaning of the message with their 'tone'.
    A very broad example? Both the Islamic Ummah and the The West/ Chistendom seek to expand influences and spread their ideologies within those areas of influence. Both civilizations are willing to use policy, trade, and even violence (ie war) to advance those goals. One civilization is more willing to use war, and to justify war on theological grounds.
    One could argue that some, if not all, the Christian powers have used Divine authority in declaring war on their enemies. You could argue they did that, a century or more in the past - and that a thousand years ago it was not uncommon. Sure. But have a look at your calendar.
    This is the year AD 2012, not AD 1012... 0r AD 630.
    Since the Middle Ages - when such reactionary or reciprocal concepts as 'Holy War', while still controversial, were largely accepted - much has developed in our philosophical and theological approach.
    Entire 'New Worlds' of ideas and cultures were discovered and many cases assimilated. Brilliant philosophers, mathematicians, alchemists, and theologians working with these 'new' things together the wisdom of ancient periods and lost to centuries of ritualized conflict,enriched our culture for over a thousand years. We call the 'Dark Ages'?
    Well it was cool and dark for much of it, but there was no shortage of bright minds and wonderful feats.
    I digress. The Middle Ages are a passion.
    Anyway, back to Islam.
    The last observation is not so much the Islamic world itself is really about the OBSERVATION of that world. We have a total Disneyland, Wizard of Oz, Narnia version of the Islamic world sold to us in the media. Some sort of parallel civilization that is 'vibrant' and 'diverse' etc, etc.
    We have a whole 'holiday in the Ummah' industry set up, like some surreal Liberal Paese dei Balocchi (Island of Toys, Pleasure Island etc). A whole other rant...
    Anyway this last point hinges on the denial, spin, and sycophancy we see in the media and politics. I am sure some of it is necessary evil, and I am sure it is not selling to the majority populace - but it turns my gut.
    Just being honest.

    The various comments I will address in a following post.

    1. Well said, Crus. I'm reading in your post that you understand that the issues with Islam are deep, complex and diverse. You are spot on regarding the media (with false extremes presented at both ends of the spectrum). And you also point out the difficult challenge of dealing with people who seem to live happily within (and actively defend) a lifestyle many of us would consider oppressive.

      Giving credit where credit is due.

    2. Thanks, RickK.
      I appreciate the gesture. Such civility is rare in conversations on the internet.
      The observations I make are experience based.
      Such graciousness is deserving of a reciprocal tone.
      I will endeavour to perorate, bloviate, and rant LESS on my response to your comments. I cannot, however, guarantee that level of brevity for the other posters :P
      It all depends on the coffee folks!

    3. Crus - regarding the Middle Ages - I assume you've read "God's Philosophers" by Hannam? An interesting read and a handy summary - I refer to it often.

      Oh yes, and belated happy birthday!

  8. Replies
    1. Happy Birthday too crusadeRex!

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Thanks Gents,
      I posted earlier but it seems it has been bloggered.
      Oh well.
      Some good gifts this year.
      From my baby son I got a copy of Dave Berlinski's 'One, Two, Three...', from my adult son I got a super-heavy duty, booklet and all blu-ray of Dr Strangelove (he is a big Kubrick & Sellers fan too!) and from my wife I got a nice little mars site for a rifle I own and an old (1881) copy of Marlowe's Faustus.

    4. Hey Rex -

      Are you a vintage gun collector?

      I have this 100-year old Winchester Model 1897 12 gauge I've been trying to sell, basically because i need the money-it's worth about $600. I've been trying to sell it for several years, yet every time i get a bite, all they want to do is talk about it. Would yu happen to have insight on any special place I can go to sell it, without getting ripped off?