May the Lord protect our President, who addressed us last evening, on St.-Nicholas Day/the beginning of Hanukkah.
Am I the only one who thinks that history will look back on the United States in the first two decades of the 21st century and judge us a truly dunderheaded nation? Because we fought one war in Iraq that made no sense, and then proceeded not to fight the war that it would have made sense to fight.
Leaving that aside for a moment, I would like to focus on the idea of “religious freedom” (which phrase, as long-time readers know, I despise).
In his brief speech, President Obama insisted that we would do wrong to think of Muslims as our enemy. On that score, the Second Vatican Council got a jump on the president by fifty years. Holy Mother Church teaches us:
The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. 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.
Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this sacred synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding. (Nostra Aetate 3)
So we applaud the President for urging us to agree with the Church and seek mutual understanding with Muslims. That said, when it comes to “religious freedom,” I found the following sentence in the President’s speech rather interesting:
Muslim leaders here and around the globe have to continue working with us to decisively and unequivocally reject the hateful ideology that groups like ISIL and Al Qaeda promote, to speak out against not just acts of violence, but also those interpretations of Islam that are incompatible with the values of religious tolerance, mutual respect, and human dignity.
The President of the United States has taken it upon himself to tell Muslim preachers what to say. Not that a reasonable person could quibble with this directive, in and of itself. “Don’t incite your people to kill our people.” Reasonable enough, albeit not exactly “separation of church and state.”
What about the command to preach “religious tolerance?” What exactly does that mean? In his peroration, President Obama went on to outline what he sees as true religion:
My fellow Americans, I am confident we will succeed in this mission because we are on the right side of history. We were founded upon a belief in human dignity that no matter who you are, or where you come from, or what you look like, or what religion you practice, you are equal in the eyes of God and equal in the eyes of the law. [emphasis added]
“Equal in the eyes of God.” Yes: As Christians, Jews, and Muslims all believe, every human being comes into being because God wills it. And yes: as we Christians believe, every human being comes into being because God wills it, with love and a fatherly plan.
But God has revealed that He has criteria upon which He makes distinctions among people. He has left us in “the power of our own counsel” (Sirach 15:14), which produces moral and immoral people. In the end, God will separate sheep and goats. A lot more information about God’s criteria for distinguishing among men can be found in the Old and New Testaments and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Now, of course I am against ISIS. I think we should have given them everything we have back in July of 2014. A full-scale assault.
But isn’t this the $10,000 question right now: Why do they hate us so much? Enough to start shooting at a Christmas party in southern California? Isn’t their reasoning the really scary, apparently impenetrable mystery?
What I’m saying is: the idea that ‘religion doesn’t matter’ is itself an aggressive and dogmatic religion. And it is a false one.
That doesn’t mean it’s okay to start shooting. But is being “radically” religious in-and-of-itself dangerous? Are you “radicalized” if you pray, “Please Lord give me the strength to die at the persecutor’s hands rather than renounce Christ!” Somehow St. Ignatius Loyola managed to radicalize St. Francis Xavier; he even radicalized St. John de Brebeuf and all the North-American martyrs, and a lot of other people, from beyond the grave.
If we Europeans and Americans were better Christians and Jews, then we would find ourselves in a much better position actually to follow Vatican II and seek mutual understanding with the Muslim world. We would also have the humility to admit that we invented terrorism (the anarchist terrorist acts of the early 20th century were never perpetrated by Muslims). We would face the fact that we have given the world the devices that make contemporary terrorism possible. And if we frankly admit to ourselves that we were fools to invade Iraq in 2003, maybe we could see clearly that we have been fools not to invade during the past year and a half.
But my main point is: the empty religion of “religion doesn’t matter” gets us nowhere. Because that simply isn’t true.