September 17, 2006

The Catholic Church, Muslims, and Jews

There has been a ton of hubbub about the Pope’s recent address at Regensburg, including a response from the Vatican, from the Pope himself, and plenty of general comments. (As pointed out, however, most of the reaction to the Pope’s speech was based on choice quotations, since it had only been available in German until just recently, and I still don’t see it available in any languages other than English, German, and Italian—certainly not Arabic.

Ironically, though, I’m not particularly interested in the Muslim reaction nor the dynamics between the Muslim and Roman Catholic worlds. (The quantity of links above notwithstanding.) I am most interested in the Nostra Aetate, a document referenced by the Vatican’s offical response.

Not being Catholic (though I have great respect for many Catholic thinkers), I am unfamiliar with the impact and purpose of this document. (Maybe many Catholics are, too, for all I know.) But I was surprised—and a little concerned—to read the part that was quoted in the official response:

The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. 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 a 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.

Looking at the rest of the document, it appears that the document is largely trying to point out that there are substantial agreements between Christianity and other religions, particularly Islam and Judaism. Fair enough: Muslims and Jews are some of Christianity’s staunchest allies when it comes to issues of culture and morality. And, I can understand, though mostly disagree with, someone who says that the Jews worship the same God that Christians do. (Though make sure you read John 14:7…it’s why I would disagree.)

But how can the official Catholic position be that Muslims “…adore the one God”?

I’ve often deeply respected Catholic thinkers…but I am completely stymied how they think this makes any sense. If Muslims worship the same God, then Jesus is His Son—but, if you admit that, you are no longer Muslim. And, even more importantly, it is a core Christian teaching that the only way to deal properly with our wrong-doing is to look to Christ. Muslims, however, teach that you must try to be as good and moral as possible, and maybe Allah will be merciful. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Arabic Christians may use the name Allah to refer to God—but that doesn’t make him the true God any more than the fact that you and I each have a friend named Bob makes him the same person.

Or am I reading this document completely out of context?

Does anyone have any insights?

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From Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth:

The very concept of being “professional” has come to have connotations of being secular. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, explains Christian Smith, there was a drive to professionalize all fields—which meant in practice throwing off a Christian worldview and cultivating a secular approach that was touted as scientific and value-free. The process was nothing less than a “secular revolution,” Smith says. In higher education, colleges that used to promote “a general Protestant worldview and morality” were transformed into universities “where religious concerns wre marginalized in favor of the ‘objective,’ a-religions and irreligious pursuit and transmission of knowledge.”

Has any one else experienced this? I know I have: to bring up one’s personal life in almost any meaningful way at work—especially in areas of faith and public policy—is frowned upon. How sad. I suspect that such a public/private, secular/religious split has almost single-handedly made the Body of Christ nearly irrelevant in today’s culture—and we have bought into it hook, linker, and sinker.

Oh, and if you haven’t read it, I recommend Pearcey’s book, even though I’m only a couple chapters in. It is excellent.

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The Surveillance Camera that Could…Talk

Does a closed-circuit television public surveillance camera that talks concern anyone else? Well, I guess it doesn’t concern me any more than the cameras would in the first place. The analogy to 1984 is quite appropriate, I should think.

Now, some clarification:

  • The cameras are only (I think) in public areas, not in private as they were in Orwell’s book.
  • I’m actually rather for the idea of using shame to help deter crime—shame is a proper response to sin and wrong-doing that, God willing, may even be turned into true repentance. (See 2 Corinthians 7:9-10.)
  • I have much less of a problem if private business owners decided to employ this kind of tactic individually. It’s part of their right to protect their business—and is probably an extension of every citizen’s responsibility to uphold peace and order.

But will a centralized “control room” monitoring the public at large really improve our society? Or will it simply make us calloused to the real Voice from Heaven?

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