As car fires (and nursery school fires, hospital fires and parish fires) still blaze in France, I'm reminded that recently, Pope Benedict XVI asked Muslim leaders to do something that many in the West have been clamoring for Muslim leaders to do: Make it very publicly clear that the kind of violence so prominent in the Islamic world is to be condemned and repudiated.
One person to respond to the Pope's call was King Abdullah of Jordan, who issued a strong statement condemning the Bronze-Age fanaticism of so many of his co-religionists, and calling for Muslims of good will to actively oppose it. It was a real step forward, and in remarks of gratitude for the king's willingness to work for peace, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, D.C., said:
“A few months ago, when I was privileged to pray for you on another occasion in this capital city, I asked Allah, the compassionate and merciful Lord of all the world, to bless you, and to help you make your country a bridge across which all nations might walk in unity, fellowship and love. As I listened to your words today, I believe my prayer is being answered.”
He then briefly thanked the king for being a courageous voice of reform in the Islamic world and closed with this brief prayer.
“Your Majesty's call and that of the Holy Father are in so many ways the same. May Allah, the merciful and compassionate, continue to guide your steps along this noble path. May he guide and protect you, your family and your beloved country and may peace and justice come to all lands and all peoples through your efforts, your vision and your courage. In the name of Allah, the merciful and compassionate God, we pray. Amen.”
The Catholic blogsophere (commonly known as “St. Blog's parish”) promptly went nuts over this. Several members of St. Blog's took it for granted that Cardinal McCarrick is an “apostate and hypocrite” and the worshipper of a “moon god.” “Diogenes,” a frequent poster on the Catholic World News “Off the Record” blog, took it as a foregone conclusion that this is grounds for dismissing the cardinal from office, and the baying hounds in the comment box growled their threats of excommunication, not only at the cardinal, but at the Holy Father himself.
Questions: Why would a successor to the apostles hide the fullness of the faith by praying as a non-Christian? In the Name of God the Father, Son & Holy Spirit, why has the Holy Father not accepted Cardinal McCarrick's resignation?
As one member of St. Blog's aptly summed up the mind of the tribunal:
“I don't buy … the Lumen Gentium version of things. We worship the Triune God, Moslems don't. And the adherents of Islam refer to non-Moslems as ‘infidels.’ (See a good dictionary here; if one isn't a Moslem, one is an infidel.) If I am an infidel, then I don't share the same faith with these folks. How, then, can anyone say we worship the same God? And, please, don't try that ‘God of Abraham’ stuff on me. That's ecumenistic tripe (in my humble opinion).”
Here are a number of basic problems with this “Fire … Aim … Ready” approach to the Church's teaching.
First, the “moon god” charge is what is known as the “genetic fallacy.” Catholics have to put up with this every time we are told “Easter” is a “pagan holiday” (because the word derives from Eostre, a pagan goddess). The reality is, whatever the obscure etymology of a word may be, the important thing is, “What does the word mean now?” Try it with the word “gay” and you'll see what I mean.
In Arabic, “Allah” does not mean “moon god.” It means, “the one God of Abraham, merciful and compassionate Creator and judge of the world.” If it was idolatrous for Cardinal McCarrick to pray to Allah, then the entire Maronite Catholic Church is likewise idolatrous, because they have prayed to Allah in Arabic for centuries.
“But McCarrick was living out the ecumenical tripe of Vatican II, which tries to pretend that all religions are the same. It's a complete departure with Tradition!”
As to Tradition, here is modernist indifferentist heretic Pope St. Gregory VII, burbling stupid ecumenical Vatican II tripe to the Muslim Sultan of Bougie in North Africa in 1076:
“Most certainly you and we ought to love each other in this way more than other races of men, because we believe and confess one God, albeit in different ways, who each day we praise and reverence as the Creator of all ages and the governor of this world.”
How could the good saint sound so much like Lumen Gentium? Because all he is doing, all St. Thomas does when he cites Muslims and pagans with approval, all the Church has ever done, is affirm what can be affirmed in common with non-Catholic religious and philosophical tradition, while being careful not to affirm what cannot be affirmed in common.
As Vatican II puts it, “The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions.” It does not therefore follow that the Church thinks all religions are alike.
“But Muslims deny that Jesus is Allah's son!” And right here's the problem.
For not just Muslims deny that God has a Son. Jews deny that Adonai has a Son too. So if we grab at the “Allah has no Son” trope to insist that Muslims worship a “false god,” we inevitably must also commit ourselves to the proposition that the Jews, too, are idolaters.
Now the vast majority of conservative Catholics retain enough sanity to reject this latter-day Marcionite theology. Most are cognizant of the long miserable history of anti-Semitism in the Church. Indeed, not a few of them say that Israel must be supported at all costs, precisely because they are allies in the war against radical Islamic terror. But because many Catholics view their faith through the lens of American politics, they find themselves in an acutely uncomfortable bind when they declare that Muslims, but not Jews, worship “another god” due to their rejection of Jesus as God's Son.
For, of course, what really drives this discussion is the simple fact that Jews did not fly airplanes into the World Trade Center. Nor did they light up the suburbs of Paris with car fires. Muslims did.
So we would very much like the Church to please stop saying that monotheists who make us angry have something in common with us, but we grant the Church our permission to say, “Monotheists who do not make us angry are fellow worshippers of the one God.”
The obvious and overwhelming danger of this approach is that, in addition to being false, this keeps Jews safe from the charge of idolatry for exactly as long as Jews do not anger Christians. Basing our theology on a mood is a very bad way to proceed. And the proof of this is precisely the sorry history of Christian persecution of Jews, which not infrequently found false justification in the charge that Jews, in not believing in Jesus, could legitimately be called the worshipers of a false god.
All Vatican II (or Pope St. Gregory VII or Cardinal McCarrick) are doing is affirming what can be affirmed in common with Muslims. To say, “We have something in common,” is not to say, “We have everything in common.” However, to cry, “Apostate! Heretic!” at one who rightly affirms such commonality is to commit a sin of rash judgment.
Mark Shea is senior content editor for http://www.CatholicExchange.com