January 9, 2006


When even the pope has to whisper (Spengler, 1/10/06, Asia Times)

Strange as it may seem, the pope must whisper when he wants to state agreement with conventional Muslim opinion, namely that the Koranic prophecy is fixed for all time such that Islam cannot reform itself. If Islam cannot change, then a likely outcome will be civilizational war, something too horrific for US leaders to contemplate. What Benedict XVI thinks about the likelihood of civilizational war I do not know. Two elements of context, though, set in relief his reported comments concerning Islam's incapacity to reform.

The first is that Benedict's comments regarding the nature of Muslim revelation are deliberate and informed, for his primary focus as a theologian has been the subject of revelation. In his 1953 doctoral thesis, biographer George Weigel reports, Joseph Ratzinger, the future pope,

... following Bonaventure, argued that revelation is "an act in which God shows himself"; revelation cannot be reduced to the propositions that result from God's self-disclosure, as certain forms of neo-scholasticism tended to do. Revelation, in other words, has a subjective or personal dimension, in that there is no "revelation" without someone to receive it. As Ratzinger would later put it, "where there is no one to perceive 'revelation', no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed".

The Judeo-Christian view of revelation, as summarized above by Father Fessio, expresses the mutual love between Revealer and recipient of revelation, a concept alien to Islam.

A second element of context is Benedict's admiration for the US separation of church and state. In an essay published in this month's issue of First Things [not yet on-line], Benedict makes the remarkable (for a pope) statement that the US model is what the early church really had in mind. He proceeds from the famous argument of Pope Gelasius I (492-496) that "because of human weakness (pride!), they have separated the two offices" of king and priest. Neither the state church model of Northern Europe nor the secular model of France, Italy and Spain has sufficed, Benedict observes. But he continues:

Situated between the two [failed] models is the model of the United States of America. Formed on the basis of free churches, it adopts a separation between church and state. Above and beyond the single denominations, it is characterized by a Protestant Christian consensus that is not defined in denominational terms but rather in association with its sense of a special religious mission toward the rest of the world. The religious sphere thus acquires a significant weight in public affairs and emerges as a pre-political and supra-political force with the potential to have a decisive impact on political life.

It is useless to bemoan the fact that Americans do not understand what they are until a European comes along and explains it to them; that has been true since Alexis de Tocqueville. It is most promising that a European, indeed one who speaks with the authority of the throne of St Peter, has explained the difference between the Christian foundation of the US political system and theocratic Islam - even if the explanation came in the form of a stage whisper. I expect this to have profound consequences.

Note how minimal is the Reformation that would be required even by Spengler's own terms: the recognition within Islam of mutual love between God and Man and elevating Islam above the State, but disestablishing it governmentally. The paucity of theocracies in the Middle East and in the history of the Islamic world suggests just how alien actual Church control of the State is in practice.

Of course, we do well to consider the possibility that even such minimal Reform could prove to be beyond the capacity of Islam, and if that were to prove to be the case the results would be dire for either Muslims or for Islam itself. The former though is why it won't likely prove impossible. Men have never had much trouble shedding unworkable ideas, no matter how fiercely they may temporarily seem committed to them.

Father Joseph Fessio, a student and friend of Pope Benedict XVI, on the problems Christianity, especially in Europe, faces with the spread of Islam (Hugh Hewitt Show, 1/05/06)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 9, 2006 8:09 AM

Of course, we do well to consider the possibility that even such minimal Reform could prove to be beyond the capacity of Islam . . .

Truer words you have never uttered, Orrin.

Posted by: Paul Cella at January 9, 2006 9:07 AM

And ... we are so lucky to have Europeans to explain who and what we are. Perhaps we should become a Monarchy and elect German Princes to rule us and show us the way. And then we could have the Grogs and home grown moores and Deans to fill the role of court jesters.

Otherwise, I am impressed with the article.

Posted by: Genecis at January 9, 2006 11:19 AM

Jews had to lose the Temple and Christians had to lose the universal church in order to re-form. Islam needs to suffer a similar setback; it must lose something close to the heart of its conception of itself. The inevitability of global Islamic secular rule would seem to be the candidate and the Caliph lives in Washington.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 9, 2006 11:46 AM

Everything written above, whether by Spengler, the Pope, oj, or any commenter, winds up in the same place: Muslims would by all right guys if they were like Christians and Jews.

Since they will not, our only hope to avoid having to kill them all is to deal with them as we dealt with the Communists. We must, by overwhelming military force, grab them by the stacking swivel* and hold them there until they accept the inevitable without Armageddon.

Pope Benedict's admiration for the American way of balancing Church and State is very consistent with the writings of John Paul the Great.

*by the throat. An old-time Marine Corps figure of speech: the stacking swivel on the M1 rifle is some 6 or so inches back from the muzzle. Someone held off the ground by the throat is reminiscent of a rifle grabbed at that point.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 9, 2006 2:19 PM

Since they will not, our only hope to avoid having to kill them all is to deal with them as we dealt with the Communists.

Well said.

Posted by: Paul Cella at January 9, 2006 2:59 PM
The paucity of theocracies in [...] the history of the Islamic world
Perhaps I misremember my history, but when prior to 1924 were there any non-theocratic Islamic governments? The paucity of them in the Middle East is an effect of conquest by Europe, not something indigenous to Islam. Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at January 9, 2006 5:07 PM

The Ottoman Empire wasn't a theocracy.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2006 5:50 PM

my understanding is that the really nasty governments (in the middle east) didn't happen until they started taking on-board fascisim in the 1930's. before that they had a more distributed system of power sharing.

Posted by: toe at January 9, 2006 7:51 PM

"Recognition of mutual love between God and man" is a "minimal" reformation? Pardon me, but some unusual events had to transpire -- YHWH had to speak to Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Jesus had to die on the Cross -- for this "minimal" idea to get across. It is the most remarkable and powerful notion in all history, namely that the Creator of heaven and earth loves the humblest of his creatures, precisely because they are humble. Islam sees matters differently.
Franz Rosenzweig understood this well: see

Posted by: Spengler at January 9, 2006 11:03 PM

Yes, but two billion Christians see it and it can't be too tough a tough sell for Muslims to come to believe that God loves them too. we've cracked tougher nuts, so to speak.

Posted by: oj at January 9, 2006 11:06 PM

But what were the Jewish and Christian reformations but the understanding that orthodoxy could be changed? Isn't saying that Islam can't be changed just another way of saying that Islam has not yet been re-formed? It doesn't have to happen but it certainly can happen and, in fact, has happened on both the individual and community level.

Posted by: David Cohen at January 10, 2006 12:09 AM

And even just reforming it back to where it was before it came into contact with the various Western ideologies of totalitarianism would be significant. We didn't have much trouble doing that to pretty nearly all of continental Europe.

Posted by: oj at January 10, 2006 12:13 AM