September 18, 2006


Jihad, the Lord's Supper, and eternal life (Spengler, 9/19/06, Asia Times)

The Islamic world now views the pontiff as an existential threat, and with reason. Jihad is not merely the whim of a despotic divinity, as the pope implied. It is much more: jihad is the fundamental sacrament of Islam, the Muslim cognate of the Lord's Supper in Christianity, that is, the unique form of sacrifice by which the individual believer communes with the Transcendent. To denounce jihad on theological grounds is a blow at the foundations of Islam, in effect a papal call for the conversion of the Muslims. [...]

God's covenant with Abraham is unique and singular in world history. A single universal and eternal god makes an eternal pact with a mortal that can be fulfilled only if Abraham's tribe becomes an eternal people. But the price of this pact is self-sacrifice. That is an existential mortal act beyond all ethics, as Soren Kierkegaard tells us in Fear and Trembling. The sacraments of revealed religion are sublimated human sacrifice, for the revealed god in his love for humankind spares the victim, just as God provided a ram in place of the bound Isaac on Mount Moriah. Among Jews the covenant must be renewed in each male child through a substitute form of human sacrifice, namely circumcision. Christians believe that a single human sacrifice spared the rest of humankind.

Jihad also is a form of human sacrifice. He who serves Allah so faithfully as to die in the violent propagation of Islam goes straight to paradise, there to enjoy virgins or raisins, depending on the translation. But Allah is not the revealed god of loving kindness, or agape, but - pace Benedict - a god of reason, that is, of cold calculation. Islam admits no expiatory sacrifice. Everyone must carry his own spear.

We are too comfortable, too clean, too squeamish, too modern to descend into the terrible space where birth, death and immortality are decided. We forget that we cannot have eternal life unless we are ready to give up this one - and this the Muslim knows only through what we should call the sacrament of jihad. Through jihad, the Muslim does almost precisely what the Christian does at the Lord's Supper. It is the sacrifice of Jesus that grants immortal life to all Christians, that is, those who become one with Jesus by eating his flesh and drinking his blood so that the sacrifice also is theirs, at least in Catholic terms. Protestants substitute empathy identification with the crucified Christ for the trans-substantiated blood and flesh of Jesus.

Christians believe that Jesus died on the cross to give all men eternal life, on condition that they take part in his sacrifice, either through the physical communion of the Catholic Church or the empathetic Communion of Protestantism. From a Muslim vantage point, the extreme of divine humility embodied in Jesus' sacrifice is beyond reason. Allah, by contrast, deals with those who submit to him after the calculation of an earthly despot. He demands that all Muslims sacrifice themselves by becoming warriors and, if necessary, laying their lives down in the perpetual war against the enemies of Islam.

These are parallel acts, in which different peoples do different things, in the service of different deities, but for the same reason: for eternal life.

Why is self-sacrifice always and everywhere the cost of eternal life? It is not because a vengeful and sanguineous God demands his due before issuing us a visa to heaven. Quite the contrary: we must sacrifice our earthly self, our attachment to the pleasures and petty victories of our short mortal life if we really are to gain the eternal life that we desire. The animal led to the altar, indeed Jesus on the cross, is ourselves: we die along with the sacrifice and yet live, by the grace of God. YHWH did not want Isaac to die, but without taking Abraham to Mount Moriah, Abraham himself could not have been transformed into the man desirous and deserving of immortal life. Jesus died and took upon him the sins of the world, in Christian terms, precisely so that a vicarious sacrifice would redeem those who come to him.

What distinguishes Allah from YHWH and (in Christian belief) his son Jesus is love. God gives Jews and Christians a path that their foot can tread, one that is not too hard for mortals, to secure the unobtainable, namely immortal life, as if by miracle. Out of love God gives the Torah to the Jews, not because God is a stickler for the execution of 613 commandments, but because it is a path upon which the Jew may sacrifice and yet live, and receive his portion of the World to Come. The most important sacrifice in Judaism is the Sabbath - "our offering of rest", says the congregation in the Sabbath prayers - a day of inactivity that acknowledges that the Earth is the Lord's. It is a sacrifice, as it were, of ego. In this framework, incidentally, it is pointless to distinguish Judaism as a "religion of works" as opposed to Christianity as a "religion of faith".

To Christians, God offers the vicarious participation in his sacrifice of himself through his only son.

That is Grace: a free gift by God to men such that they may obtain eternal life. By a miracle, the human soul responds to the offer of Grace with a leap, a leap away from the attachments that hold us to this world, and a foretaste of the World to Come.

There is no Grace in Islam, no miracle, no expiatory sacrifice, no expression of love for mankind such that each Muslim need not be a sacrifice. On the contrary, the concept of jihad, in which the congregation of Islam is also the army, states that every single Muslim must sacrifice himself personally. Jihad is the precise equivalent of the Lord's Supper in Christianity and the Jewish Sabbath, the defining expression of sacrifice that opens the prospect of eternity to the mortal believer. To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.

Spengler cuts near the heart of the matter. What's ultimately at issue is not the manner in which Islam conducts its jihad, but the felt intuition that it is doomed to be converted by Christendom.

St. Ambrose: Selected Works and Letters

Chapter XVI.

St. Ambrose assures Gratian of victory, declaring that it has been foretold in the prophecies of Ezekiel. This hope is further stayed upon the emperor’s piety, the former disasters being the punishment of Eastern heresy. The book closes with a prayer to God, that He will now show His mercy, and save the army, the land, and the sovereign of the faithful.

136. I must no further detain your Majesty, in this season of preparation for war, and the achievement of victory over the Barbarians. Go forth, sheltered, indeed, under the shield of faith, and girt with the sword of the Spirit; go forth to the victory, promised of old time, and foretold in oracles given by God.

137. For Ezekiel, in those far-off days, already prophesied the minishing of our people, and the Gothic wars, saying: “Prophesy, therefore, Son of Man, and say: O Gog, thus saith the Lord—Shalt thou not, in that day when My people Israel shall be established to dwell in peace, rise up and come forth from thy place, from the far north, and many nations with thee, all riders upon horses, a great and mighty gathering, and the valour of many hosts? Yea, go up against my people Israel, as clouds to cover the land, in the last days.”

138. That Gog is the Goth, whose coming forth we have already seen, and over whom victory in days to come is promised, according to the word of the Lord: “And they shall spoil them, who had been their despoilers, and plunder them, who had carried off their goods for a prey, saith the Lord. And it shall be in that day, that I will give to Gog”—that is, to the Goths—“a place that is famous, for Israel an high-heaped tomb of many men, of men who have made their way to the sea, and it shall reach round about, and close the mouth of the valley, and there [the house of Israel shall] overthrow Gog and all his multitude, and it shall be called the valley of the multitude of Gog: and the house of Israel shall overwhelm them, that the land may be cleansed.”

139. Nor, furthermore, may we doubt, your sacred Majesty, that we, who have undertaken the contest with alien unbelief, shall enjoy the aid of the Catholic Faith that is strong in you. Plainly indeed the reason of God’s wrath has been already made manifest, so that belief in the Roman Empire was first overthrown, where faith in God gave way.

140. No desire have I to recount the deaths, tortures, and banishments of confessors, the offices of the faithful made into presents for traitors. Have we not heard, from all along the border,—from Thrace, and through Dacia by the river, Mœsia, and all Valeria of the Pannonians,—a mingled tumult of blasphemers preaching and barbarians invading? What profit could neighbours so bloodthirsty bring us, or how could the Roman State be safe with such defenders?

Enough, yea, more than enough, Almighty God, have we now atoned for the deaths of confessors, the banishment of priests, and the guilt of wickedness so overweening, by our own blood, our own banishment—sufficiently plain is it that they, who have broken faith, cannot be safe. Turn again, O Lord, and set up the banners of Thy faith.

142. No military eagles, no flight of birds, here lead the van of our army, but Thy Name, Lord Jesus, and Thy worship. This is no land of unbelievers, but the land whose custom it is to send forth confessors—Italy; Italy, ofttimes tempted, but never drawn away; Italy, which your Majesty hath long defended, and now again rescued from the barbarian. No wavering mind in our emperor, but faith firm fixed.

143. Show forth now a plain sign of Thy Majesty, that he who believes Thee to be the true Lord of Hosts, and Captain of the armies of heaven; he who believes that Thou art the true Power and Wisdom of God, no being of time nor of creation, but even as it is written, the eternal Power and Divinity of God, may, upheld by the aid of thy Might Supreme, win the prize of victory for his Faith.

Religion of peace?

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 18, 2006 4:14 PM

To ask Islam to become moderate, to reform, to become a peaceful religion of personal conscience is the precise equivalent of asking Catholics to abolish Mass.

I believe the correct technical term for "Catholics who abolished the Mass" is "Protestants." Last time I looked, there were more'n a few of 'em running about.

It's certainly possible for Moslems to adopt an interpretation of Islam in which it is a religion of personal conscience which is compatible with civilization and doesn't require flying hijacked aircraft into buildings. (I haven't known all that many Moslems in my life, but I'm pretty sure none of the ones I met felt any particular compulsion to kill everyone around them--well, they didn't try to off me, anyway.) Whether or not that's "authentic" in terms of what Mohammed founded is not my issue, as I am not a Moslem and don't accept the truth claims of Islam.

Posted by: Mike Morley at September 18, 2006 5:36 PM

Darn! Spengler lets the conversion cat out of the "Reformantion" bag.

If Islam cannot be reformed as
Mormonism was reformed, it will have to be reformed as Shintoism was reformed.
BTW: Lutherans believe in transubstantiation, with very slight modifications of the Roman Catholic view. Luther's disagreement with Calvin over this is Reformation legend, with Luther standing on the plain words of Sacred Scripture, This is My body; this is My blood," not," This stands for my body; this stands for my blood."

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 18, 2006 6:38 PM

As Judaism and Catholicism were.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2006 6:47 PM

Lou -- I believe that it was Zwingli that had the showdown with Luther. The meeting was at Hesse in 1529. Zwingli cited John 6:63 in support of his argument that the est in hoc est corpus meum (Matthew 26:26) means "signifies."

(When I've taught the Reformation I've gotten a good laugh from the students by noting that Zwingli has a Clintonian understanding of the word "is")

Zwingli said to Luther: "This text [John 6] will break your neck." Luther replied: "Don't brag. Our necks don't break so fast. You are in Hesse now, not in Switzerland." Good stuff.

The difference between Catholicism and Islam in terms of Reformation, I'd submit oj, is that the Church's reformation was relatively simple.

And what was reformed was a 100 year detour by the Church. That is, the anti-modernity that Pius IX inaugurated after 1848, and which Vatican II renounced.

There was no great theological transformation necessary.

I'd emphasize Spengler's note about grace and Islam. That is huge. It is the Catholic conception of God's grace, offered to all, as laid out in Trent's response to Protestantism, and especially to Calvin, that is one of the great humanist statements of all time.

For Islam, it seems to me, a theological transformation would be needed of massive proportions, as this Pope has hinted at.

Judaism I can't speak for.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 18, 2006 7:17 PM

Islam has been even more easily Reformed. Tell someone who lived through the religious wars within Christianity how little cost has been incurred in this Reformation and they'd scorn you.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2006 7:42 PM

Did you even read what I wrote oj? Where dod I talk about THE Reformation.

THE Reformation was a mistake. And the Protestant Reformers --Luther, Calvin, et al., were violent nutjobs.

Or did you miss the part where I said the Catholic Church's Reformation --- by which I meant reconciliation with the modern world -- took place in 1963?

And Islam is not by any stretch reformed yet. And the bloodshed between Shia and Sunni might even mkae that in France and Germany look light.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 18, 2006 8:00 PM

And once again, citing an individual Christian thinker, even one as noteworthy as Ambrose, does not undermine the Pope's point about Christian God/logos v. Muslim God/transcendent

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 18, 2006 8:02 PM

All of Islam isn't, though much is and we've only been at it a short while and had already caused enormous dysfunction through colonization and Cold war.

The Catholic Church was Reformed by America.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2006 8:14 PM

In part. In the sense that America is the modern world made manifest. And that the Church was forced to come to terms with that. And especially to realize that the modernity didn't mean the anticlericalism of continental liberalism.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 18, 2006 8:54 PM

While you know you're my number one blogger, we continue to disagree on "Billy Ball" vs. "Money Ball" and the reformation of Islam.
As opposed to Protestant "Reformation" of Catholic thought, the reformation of Islam would/will require a denunciation of all the
"Prophet" has said, ie: The Koran.
Since there appear to be Muslims without number ready to kill/die for what the "Prophet" said "reformation" seems to be doomed from the get/go.

Posted by: Mike Daley at September 18, 2006 9:06 PM

Islam has the advantage that Mohammed was just a man. We Christians have to disobey a Christ who was God to live our lives.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2006 9:17 PM

I should add, upon consideration, that the Protestant Reformation did accomplish one important thing vis a vis Catholicism, and that is that it helped to break down the reliance of the Church on the secular arm and the sword it wielded, which was all to the good.

And of course I exaggerated with regard to Luther and Calvin, tho I'm not a fan by any means. Reading oj on this subject tends to make one exaggerate. It's catching.

Posted by: Jim in Chicago at September 18, 2006 10:06 PM

The Pope in particular understands the Church's debt to America, which is why he's a Tocquevillian.

Posted by: oj at September 18, 2006 10:09 PM

"What's ultimately at issue is not the manner in which Islam conducts its jihad, but the felt intuition that it is doomed to be converted by Christendom."


That's why I look forward to reading this blog so much more than any other. Time and time again your material and analysis are original and enlightening.

Just Great.

Posted by: Jay O at September 18, 2006 10:11 PM

Jim in Chicago: You have me on those details: I had been shooting from the hip, strainng to run out the door to a gun club meeting. Let us say that some protestants hold with transubstantiation and others do not.

Your further comments about the Catholic reformation, its detour and its resumption, are excellent.

The truth about Islam and jihad continues to be something some of us cannot handle. It is well the the Holy Father can and does.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 18, 2006 10:50 PM

Sacrifice. A concept our day does not grasp (or hold).

However, the obedience required in following the Sabbath (or in participating in Communion) is not a matter of habit. The Scriptures make it plain how rote 'sacrifice' is accepted (see Isaiah 1:10-20 and 1 Cor. 11).

"I desire mercy, and not sacrifice". Jesus quotes Hosea, and rebukes the Pharisees, who thought they were the ultimate sacrificers.

"To obey is better than sacrifice". And thus Samuel told Saul he was not fit to be King.

And yet the NT tells us to be living sacrifices, to be holy and good, because God is holy and good.

Spengler is correct - there is no Grace in Islam. The question then is whether there can be sacrifice (absent grace and mercy). Christianity (and Judaism) would say no.

If the 'reform' of Islam involves bringing grace into the equation, then perhaps the radicals are right to be afraid. But that does not excuse their incoherence (and violence), now does it?

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 19, 2006 12:29 AM

Jim in Chicago -- I don't think I've ever heard Luther and Calvin called violent nutjobs before. Seems rather more than simple exaggeration, especially since Luther decried the violence of others that resulted from his actions and Calvin established safe haven for anyone violently persecuted out of France by the Catholics.

People who publicly tried to upset the order in Geneva were burned at the stake, but they knew what they were getting into because it was a well-established punishment. (Evelyn Waugh has an interesting account of this in his book on Edmund Campion, describing how Edmund was graciously entertained in Geneva on his way to England but prevented by his companion from arguing publicly for Catholicism because of the extreme consequence of losing a public debate.)

The real point in this whole kerfuffle with the Pope's statement is that Christ sacrificed himself for others (as we are called to do), whereas the antichrist sacrifices others (sometimes along with himself) for his own gain or pleasure.

The antichrist will never reform.

Posted by: Randall Voth at September 19, 2006 4:42 AM

My guys are forceful and uncompromising. Everyone elses are violent nutjobs.

Posted by: oj at September 19, 2006 7:32 AM


If you are claiming that Christianity advanced solely because of forceful conquest, then let's just bomb Mecca today, and roll across Pakistan and Indonesia with everything we've got. Islam would be a distant memory in less than 10 years.

I suspect one reason the nutjobs are so incoherent is that they just can't seem to hit the right targets. If they hate the House of Saud, then why are they killing African embassy workers (many of whom were Muslim)? If they want to run Lebanon, then why aren't they firing into the Shouf Mountains? They are too scared to hit the real 'enemy', so they kick up a lot of dirt against the US and Europe.

And they call it 'sacrifice'.

Posted by: ratbert at September 19, 2006 8:18 AM

I have to say that I think the point here above of the difference betwen Islam vs Judaism and Christianity is hobbled severely by not achknowledging the core difference: Islam is lacking at its core Greek views, thought and thought processes.

Our US political system and the stable systems model ed after it, derive from the Greek ideal, practice, theory it its deriviatives.

Islam is in its essence Near and Middle eastern culture absent the Greek influence.

This occurs on so many levels. The essential unit of the Hellenistic world was the "polis.' The core character of the polis system all over the Near East was pluralism. This is antithetical to Islam.

As Judaism encountered the polis, it found this structure condusive as the polis by definition naturalized all peoples in it and was anti-nativist. It is during this time one finds Judaism spreading and thriving and no longer defined as 'foreign' or 'sojourners' as we had been in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia minor etc.

The critical thought within Hellenism became and still is a key enabler of Judaic thought. Our greatest Jewish philosphers and scholars come out of the Hellrnized world. Christianity is a full synthisis of Judaism and Hellenism. (That is why the ironic expression of anti-Hellenism within certain Judaic narratives is so wrong.).

The founding fathers of the US were profoundly influenced by Greek views.Both directly and those coming from the (the best aspects of) British governance. It isn't just governance and the sence of governance as a social contract between people. It goes to all aspects incldung la where the focus on a jury of peeers which inherently makes law and legal docrtrine a thinking process, as opposed to a set of inflexible laws.

Islam in essences negates and rejects the lessons of the Greeks. While in Judaism we reject certain ideas of the Greeks, the emphatic nature of the rejection should not leave the impression the rejection is broad when the opposite is true. The correlary is also true. While the Christians, whose original theologians and philopshers where Jewish Greeks and Greeks in world view rehject certain aspects of Judiams, including emphatically, they also broadly excepted most aspects.

Posted by: Jay at September 24, 2006 12:56 PM