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Theme: The Pope, Islam and secularism

January 15, 2007

CWNews: Pope meets Islamic envoys, stresses common cause

The Pope said that he wanted to express his “esteem and profound respect” for Muslims, and reminded the group that “from the very beginning of my pontificate” he had sought to continue the policies of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in making common cause with Islamic leaders. He cited his remarks to Muslim leaders in Cologne last August, when he said that cooperation between the two faiths is “a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends.”

Gently introducing a main theme of his lecture in Regensburg, the Pontiff said that this cooperation is necessary in order to counteract the growing power of secularism and relativism. Christians and Muslims, he observed, can unite in many causes, “especially those concerning the defense and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights arising from that dignity.”

In pursuing their dialogue, the Pope continued, Christian and Islamic leaders should learn from “the lessons of the past,” and recognize that it is crucially important “to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence.”

Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst (IHT): Benedict’s post-secular vision

The Pope, far from being sectarian, wants to inaugurate a new religious renaissance in Europe that opposes both secular and religious fundamentalism. This apostolic journey is of a piece with the logic of the Regensburg address, rather than a belated act of repentance for it.

Benedict opposes secularism because it is both absolute and arbitrary. In the name of being neutral with regard to values, secular ideology eliminates all rival world views from the public sphere. By denying the existence of objective moral truths, it elevates self- assertion as the measure of all things. Social life is reduced to the arbitration of conflicting self-interest — a process in which the most powerful always win.

Ultimately, this arbitrary absolutism produces a society ruled by an unholy alliance of utilitarian ethics and the proxy politics of the managerial class. This collusion destroys the very idea of common action and a binding collective discernment. Thus does the pope attribute the failure of Europe’s common political project to the growing secularization of European culture.

Benedict’s religious alternative is not some form of theocratic absolutism. On the contrary, the Pope is a staunch defender of secularity — the separation of church and state. Benedict wants to disentangle the church from the state, but without divorcing religion from politics, because only a religion freed from subservience to the state can save modern culture from itself.

Thus Benedict’s true purpose in Turkey is that of uniting all the monotheistic faiths against a militant and self-consciously destructive secular culture. To that end he will seek a new political communion with Bartholomew I, the ecumenical patriarch of Constantinople — the symbolic leader of the world’s 250 million Orthodox Christians. Even the Russian Orthodox patriarch, Alexei II, who rejected overtures by the late Pope John Paul II, has indicated that he would now welcome talks with Rome.

Nor are the pope’s attempts to produce a concerted monotheistic alliance restricted to Christians. On the first day of his visit, Benedict quoted an 11th century pope, Gregory VII, who talked about the duties that Christians and Muslims owe each other “because we believe in one God.”

Far from being anti-Muslim, the pope views Islam as a key cultural ally against the enlightenment liberalism that for him corrodes the moral core of Western society.

Michael J. Gaynor: Pope Benedict Is Right: Europe Needs to Appreciate Its Christian Roots

Pope Benedict views the rebuilding of Europe after World War II as made possible “thanks to political leaders who had strong Christian roots,” and the failure to recognize Europe’s Christian identity as a reflection of “a hatred of Europe against itself and against its great history.” As Cardinal Ratzinger, he sharply criticized what he called the “ideological secularism” of Europe–France, for example, upholds a strict separation of church and state as a pillar of the republic–as a “total profanity.” (Is it sheer coincidence that the rioting began in France?) And criticized “multiculturalism” for sometimes amounting to “an abandonment and disavowal of what is our own.”

Pope Benedict’s problem is not with Islam, which he described as a “valid spiritual foundation for people’s lives” that “seems to have escaped from the hands of old Europe,” meaning Christian Europe, but with perversions of Islam.

Justin Soutar: Islam and radical secularism: Which is the enemy?

Catholics, conservatives and neocons should refrain from denouncing “Islam” and especially Muslims collectively as evil, demonic, and the greatest enemy of America simply because a few percent of Muslims engage in acts of terrorism. The horrifying wave of civilian violence engulfing Iraq and threatening the Christian West naturally drives us to fear that Muslims hate the West, but this analysis is a standard fallacy in many respects. Its great weakness is that it is derived from anxiety and fear, not rational thinking. If we would only take to heart the great Pope John Paul II’s cry, “Be not afraid,” we could size up our situation so much better. The fallacy merely skims the surface of a deeper, more complex and more global reality. To the extent neocons deny reality, their policy is doomed to fail. Judeo-Christian Western civilization is already collapsing under its own evil; Muslim terrorists would merely finish it off. As Arthur Goldschmidt, a prominent Jewish Middle East historian, wisely reflected: “Someday, perhaps, practicing Muslims, Christians, and Jews will settle their differences–even the Arab-Israeli conflict–in order to wage war on their common enemies: secularism, hedonism, positivism and the various ideologies that have arisen in modern times.” There we have America’s real, internal enemy unmasked. The radical “Muslim” with a turban and a bomb is merely the signpost pointing to the real enemy: the pure, unadulterated evil of radical secularism swamping our own culture and foreign policy. “United we stand, divided we fall” is true, now more than ever before. United and standing together, the Western and Muslim worlds must wage war on this enemy–or both will fall.

Damon Linker: The Pope’s real enemy

Read in light of Joseph Ratzinger’s ecclesiastical career, the Regensburg address looks less like an attack on Islam and more like an attack on secular Europe. Pope John Paul II often spoke of the new millennium as a “springtime of evangelization”–an age during which the Vatican would seek to win over skeptics around the world and especially in the secular West. In Regensburg, Benedict showed that he intends to continue John Paul’s effort to turn back the advance of secularism. Unlike his predecessor, however, the new Pope rarely speaks of rebirth. Instead, he warns darkly about civilizational decline brought on by the waning of Christianity in Europe. In his view, the continent faces a stark choice: It will either reaffirm its Catholic-Christian roots or suffer cultural and demographic collapse. For Pope Benedict, the true battle is not between Islam and the West, but rather within the West. And the Church’s most potent enemy is not Muslim extremism. It is liberalism.


Convinced that Europe has reached its current state because God has become a “private question” with little relevance to European public life, Benedict proposes that the continent return to “absolute values” grounded in the doctrines of the Catholic Church. He holds out hope for the reintroduction of strict Catholicism into Europe as a cure for the “illness” that plagues it. To administer the cure, the Church needs to recruit spiritual soldiers devoted to the cause of evangelization–“convinced minorities in the Church, for the Church, and above all beyond the Church and for society.” According to the Pope, these emissaries will be instrumental in proposing a “civil Christian religion” for Europe as a whole–a public religion that will bridge the continent’s profound “separation between secularists and Catholics.”

Nicholas Rigillo: Western secularism, not Islam, is pope’s real enemy

…a closer look at the Regensburg speech, as well as statements made throughout his 20-month long pontificate, show that Benedict’s real concern is with Western secularism. In this context, Islam could even turn out to be a useful ally of the Roman Catholic Church.


On the surface, the pope’s call for a Christian alliance in defence of Europe’s Christian roots appears to fly in the face of his eagerness to establish brotherly relations with Islam.

Indeed, Benedict had even opposed Turkey’s entry into the EU while he was still a cardinal, only to backtrack in Ankara.

In fact, as Vatican expert John Allen recently noted, the two objectives are not contradictory.

‘When Benedict talks about the ‘Christian tradition’ of Europe, the alternative he has in mind is not so much Islam as the Socialist government in Spain of Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero which, in fairly short order, has moved towards liberalized positions on gay marriage, abortion and divorce,’ Allen wrote in the December 1 edition of the National Catholic Reporter.

‘Though it may seem surprising, Benedict’s conviction seems to be that Muslims ought to be encouraged, rather than threatened, by his call to defend Europe’s Christian roots. Ultimately, what it implies is the right of religious believers to shape culture, and the importance of moral and spiritual wisdom – values which, the pope believes, serious Muslims ought to share,’ Allen explained.

According to the pope, Allen argues, the real clash of civilizations ‘is not between Islam and the West, but between belief and unbelief’.

Radio Free Europe: Pope Concerned About Islam, Orthodoxy In First 100 Days

Benedict, meanwhile, has quietly begun waging what he sees as his own “just war.” In a Vatican address two days before his election as pope, Ratzinger declared war on “moral relativism” — that is, the widespread view in the West that there is no absolute truth, that morality is subjective.

Moynihan says the pope seeks to restore what he sees as Europe’s lost Christian tradition. He says Benedict is expected to address that issue in his first major writing — called an encyclical — likely to be published by yearend.

“He’ll talk [in the encyclical] about the church and its sacramental life, in the sense of bringing the transcendent down and incarnating through the sacraments in daily human life, in things like baptism and the Eucharist,” Moynihan says. “And he’ll use that as a springboard to talk about the necessity of human beings having that transcendent dimension in their cultural and political life, and if they don’t have it, he will argue that they’re missing something so profound that they lose their way — they lose their identity.”

But Benedict’s war won’t simply be a philosophical battle. John Allen is the author of an acclaimed biography of Ratzinger as well as a new book, “The Rise of Benedict XVI.”

“We have already seen some political translations of that idea [the war on moral relativism],” Allen tells RFE/RL from Rome. “The pope, for example, very enthusiastically backed the Italian bishops in their campaign to defeat an Italian referendum on in vitro fertilization. The church actually won that battle. He also very wholeheartedly backed the Spanish bishops in their attempt to block a gay marriage law in Spain, which of course the church lost. And I think what this indicates is that this is not just a philosophical exercise for Pope Benedict XVI, but it’s also a very practical political issue. I think it means this is going to be a very engaged pontificate, above all in what we in the West call the ‘cultural issues.’”

In waging his war on relativism, Benedict appears to be looking to the Orthodox churches as an ally. His predecessor, John Paul II, made great efforts to reunite the main branches of Christianity, which split in 1054. But few expected Benedict to follow him so strongly, as Allen points out.

“This is a man who in his 24 years as head of the doctrinal office in the Vatican was always very concerned about reinforcing Catholic identity and Catholic distinctiveness, and therefore was never seen as a particularly ecumenical figure,” Allen says. “And yet, he has made it abundantly clear that he sees this as a top priority of his pontificate and, above all, he wants to improve relations with the Orthodox Church, trying to heal this millennium-old split.”

Ironically, the pope also has another ally in his battle against secularism: Islam. But Allen says that for Benedict, as a cardinal who has expressed opposition to Muslim Turkey joining the European Union, relations with Islam are a balancing act.

“You know the old political adage, ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend.’ And in that sense, I think Ratzinger perceives a friend in Islam in the struggle against secularism,” Allen says. “On the other hand, he also does not want Europe to become an outpost of Islamic culture. So he’s going to try to walk this fine line between the sort of philosophical and theological common cause with Islam, while at the same time try to some extent to hold Islam at arm’s length in his own backyard, which is Europe.”

John Allen: Islam’s unlikely soul mate — the pope

Can jihad be redeemed? That is, can the religious and moral sense of purpose that often fuels Islamic extremism be leavened with a commitment to reason and peace, and can it be done without opening the door to gradual secularization? It’s the

$64,000 question facing Islam, and it is, for the most part, one that only Muslims can answer.

One could make the case, however, that if anyone in the West can help, it’s Pope Benedict XVI, despite the firestorm unleashed by his Sept. 12 comments on Islam. Benedict is the lone figure of global standing in the West who speaks from within the same thought-world that many Muslims sympathetic to the jihadists inhabit.


Fundamentally, the clash of cultures Benedict sees in the world today is not between Islam and the West but between belief and unbelief — between a culture that grounds itself in God and religious belief and a culture that lives etsi Deus non daretur, “as if God does not exist.” In that struggle, Benedict has long said, Muslims are natural allies.

Recently, for example, the Vatican vigorously protested a gay pride march in Jerusalem, arguing that such an event is “offensive to the great majority of Jews, Muslims and Christians.” It’s a classic example of an issue around which Benedict believes engagement with Muslims is possible.

Yet Benedict is also well aware that Islamic radicalism tends to discredit religious commitment in any form by associating it with violence and fanaticism. Hence, when Benedict presses Muslims to reject terrorism and to embrace religious liberty, he believes himself to be doing so not as a xenophobe or a crusader but as a friend of Islam, pressing it to realize the best version of itself.

Lee Harris: Papal Power: The new Pope is fighting for hearts and minds in Europe

Sure the Pope is concerned about Islam, as are all Europeans. His sentiments about Muslim Turkey not belonging to Christian Europe are well-known. “Europe is a cultural and not a geographical continent,” Ratzinger said back in 2004, a year before he became Pope. But he has stated repeatedly, and even in this recent address, that the major threat to Europe comes from secularism.

Here he is like many European Muslim leaders and ideologues, Tariq Ramadan for instance, who believe that the continent has been overcome with a spiritual malaise, a lack of purpose and self-esteem. Unlike secularism, Islam is a worthy competitor for men’s souls–it is just an inferior doctrine, self-evidently so because it did not produce Europe. Moreover, and this is the point of the text Benedict cites, Islam is incapable of producing a Europe because its conception of God does not assume a rational divinity.

Now the Pope says this excerpted text does “not in any way express my personal thought.” Really? So, the Vicar of Christ does not believe that Catholic doctrine is superior to Muslim teaching? Sure he does. The Pope does not want Christian Europe to regain its spirituality by becoming less rational, like Islam, but through an expanded concept of reason–one large enough to encompass a creator who is Himself rational.

George Neumayr: “Did the Pope Go East to Fight the Secular West?” – Catholic World Report, January 2007 (not available online)

The Pope’s trip to Turkey was a reminder that the spread of secularism in the West has inadvertently pumped energy into the ecumenical and inter-religious movement, creating such a formidable threat that religious rivals fund themselves on common ground. But this momentary unity leaves an important question unaddressed, a question the Catholic Church has never ignored for long: If the absence of religion can destroy charity in the souls of men, can’t false religion destroy souls, too?

While the atheism of the West produces hedonists, the flawed theology of the Islamic East produced terrorists. The Church’s post-Vatican II approach to Islam largely ignores what pope and doctors of the Church such as St. Thomas Aquinas and St. John of Damascus saw as Islam’s power to deform souls – a critique that is dismissed as over-the-top polemics by modern liberals in the Church but in fact has proven enduringly perceptive and true.

“Dialogue” with Islam may strengthen the Church’s campaign against secularism. But how does it advance the Church’s duty to dispel false religion? The media scolding of Pope Benedict XVI after his Regensburg address for destroying the “bridge” Pope John Paul II had carefully built to the Islamic community was almost comic in its obtuseness: What durable bridge were they referring to? Did the increase of Catholic-Islamic dialogue since Vatican II moderate Islam before 9/11? The age of ecumenism and religious dialogue has been marked by the rise of radical Islam not moderate Islam.

To the extent that a bridge exists, some Muslims of good will have crossed it but so too have many terrorists and Islamic opportunists, who in effect are using the generosity and doctrinal indifference of Western ecumenists as a chance to strengthen Islam while denying rights to Christians in Islamic lands.

Steven Stalinsky: The Next Pope and Islamic Prophecy

Sheikh Yousef Al-Qaradhawi, spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood and head of The European Council for Fatwa and Research and the founder of European based International Council of Muslim Scholars (Imams) posted a fatwa on the website, in 2002 about the “signs of the victory of Islam” in Europe.

Also citing a well-known Hadith, Al-Qaradhawi wrote: “… The Prophet Muhammad was asked: ‘What city will be conquered first, Constantinople or Romiyya?’ He answered: ‘The city of Hirqil [i.e. the Byzantine emperor Heraclius] will be conquered first’ – that is, Constantinople… Romiyya is the city called today ‘Rome,’ the capital of Italy … and we hope and believe [that it too will be conquered].”


Other Muslim religious figures to discuss the coming Islamic conquest of the Vatican include: the Palestinian Authority’s Deputy Minister of Awqaf, Sheikh Yousef Juma’a Salameh; Saudi Sheikh Naser Muhammad Al-Naser; and Sudanese Sheikh Muhammad Abd Al-Karim. As this discussion has been occurring, the population of Muslims in Europe has grown exponentially and as Al-Qaradhawi in fact predicted, that has happened not by the sword but by preachers.

See also:
USCCB: Vatican Council and Papal Statements on Islam
Catholic Education: Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam
Free Republic: Pope: secularism doesn’t remove the Church’s right to intervene
Andrew Purvis: Believe It Or Not
Serge Trifkovic: Faith, Logos, and Antichrist: A Post Scriptum on Regensburg
OneTrueGodBlog: John Mark Reynolds: On Islam, Secularism, and the Church

Related Posts:
Debate: The Question of Dialogue
Theme: Confronting the Past
Article: The Pope and the Prophet


From → Themes

One Comment
  1. Anonymous permalink

    “and the failure to recognize Europe’s Christian identity as a reflection of ‘a hatred of Europe against itself and against its great history.'”

    I have been pondering this thought since the beginning of December, especially in light of the first German pontificate in nearly 5 centuries.

    Pope Benedict did not grow up in a vaccuum. He grew up in Bavaria, to the rhythms of Catholic seasons and reasons.

    Having experienced first hand what seemed, to me, faintly recognizable self-loathing, it seems to me now to be all pervasive in Europe.

    Every once great empire of Europe expanded throughout the world, notably into Africa and the Middle East. Each of them has since been excoriated for pilfering national treasures, attempting to assimilate indigenous peooples, and finally, having to concede failure.

    What has this done to their national identities?

    It has left the common man confused and discouraged about his heritage at best.

    Perhaps this truly *is* at the core of the capitulation to other ideologies, which will likely end in capitulation to other theologies.

    If only they could see that human endeavors are always trumped by divine ones! Then the blame would not, could not be laid at the doors of the Church Universal, but where it belongs… in the pride and prejudices of entire eras that believed more in its “enlightenment” and the necessity of its propagation than in a spirituality that would have transcended human ambitions.

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