|The celebrant blesses the deacon in preparation for the latter's proclamation of the Gospel|
One thing which should alert us to the problems I am going to discuss is Spencer's involvement, as co-founder of the organising group, the American Freedom Defence Initiative, with the Mohammed cartoon event in Texas at which two Muslims got themselves killed. The event, which offered a prize to the best cartoon of Mohammed and displayed the entries, had a predictable result: a murderous protest by a couple of local Muslims. Since the event was well guarded, it was the Muslims who ended up in the morgue; one of the security detail was also injured. This doesn't reflect well on Islam, but I fail to see the moral justification for making this kind of deliberate provocation. The glorification of free speech, and the carelessness about human life, are both very disturbing.
Spencer says that to understand Islam you need to get to grip with the texts which are, by a wide and historically long-standing consensus, regarded as authoritative. (The Koran is surrounded by a massive penumbra of authoritative texts, without which it is often incomprehensible.) Each generation of Muslims who are inspired to take their faith seriously confront these texts, and are drawn into a set of positions which open the way - at least - to the kinds of positions usually identified as 'fundamentalist' and the like. There are also, of course, a far larger number of Muslims who aren't educated in great detail about these texts or their implications, and there are also liberal Muslim theologians who want to explain them away. But it is certainly absurd to say that all the stuff about slaying the enemies of Islam is not 'authentic Islam'. It is there, in these texts.
|The solemn proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.|
For example, Spencer contrasts the practice of stoning for adultery recorded in Muslim sources with the story of Jesus saving the Woman taken in Adultery in John 8:1-11. Mohammed was party to the stoning of a woman, who had repented; he then said that her attitude of repentance was acceptable to Allah. This attitude is exactly the same as the historic Catholic attitude to capital punishment: appropriate in certain cases, and giving the criminal a chance to offer the punishment as a penance and achieve salvation. It was of such a case the Shakespeare coined the over-used phrase,
... nothing in his life
Became him like the leaving it (Macbeth).
Ok, so we don't stone adulterers to death; in the early Church they would have been obliged to fast rigorously, wear sackcloth with ashes on their heads, and sit at the entrance to the assembly (not go in) begging for prayers, perhaps for years. Later they might have been flogged. There is nothing in the story of John 8 that suggests Jesus' disapproved of the death penalty in general or for adultery in particular, which is, after all, commanded by Leviticus 20:10. Rejecting the divine inspiration of the Old Testament is the heresy of Marcionism. Rejecting the innerancy of any part of Scripture is contrary to the clear teaching of the Church of every age.
|The consecration of the Precious Blood, shed for all mankind by Jesus Christ on the Cross.|
The same of course is true about polygamy, slavery, and killing women and children in a holy war. There are lots of things Catholics can and should say about these issues, and the Tradition helps us to show how they are not part of an ideal or normal state of things. It is open to Spencer to say that Islam doesn't have, or has not historically employed, these kinds of arguments. The contrast with Islam is far more subtle, nevertheless, than the contrast between Islam and today's Western liberalism, and Spencer too often takes the easy route of criticising Islam from the perspective of liberalism rather than of Catholicism. In doing so, he is exposing the Church to the very same criticisms he makes of Islam.
|The Peace of Christ, from Christ really present upon the Altar.|
I can only assume that Spencer was having a really bad day when he wrote that. Have a look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 33:37:
(Cf. the Parable of the Tenants.) Oh dear, oh dear. Spencer's accusation of 'incendiary' anti-Semitism boomerangs back onto Our Blessed Lord and Saviour. As Spencer himself explains, much of the content of the Koran takes for granted a knowledge of Jewish and Christian Scriptures, even while correcting them when it deems necessary, so there is no inconsistency in referring to a tradition attested, in this case, in the Gospels. Perhaps Jesus had in mind incidents like the killing of the companions of Elijah by order of Jezebel; perhaps his remark took account of non-canonical Jewish stories like the martyrdom of Isaiah, whose being sawn in half under King Manasseh is a subject found in Christian art. It makes no difference.
Spencer appears to avoid a similar howler only narrowly when talking about the preaching of Noah, attested in the Koran but not in Genesis. After lambasting the Koran for embroidering the story, he suddenly appears to notice that the Jewish tradition that Noah preached repentance to the sinners of his day to save them from the Flood is affirmed in 2 Peter 2:5 (p76), and notes this in parenthesis.
The two most egregious examples, however, found throughout the Spencer ouvre, are those of the separation of Church and State and the place of women in society. There are certainly important differences between the classical Islamic and traditional Catholic positions on these topics. But Spencer ignores these, and instead criticises early Islam for not having anticipated late 20th century Western liberalism by fifteen centuries. I'm sorry, but this is just absurd. Ask St Thomas More or, for that matter, Bl. Charles of Austria, what they thought of the separation of Church and State or the position of women as understood by Western liberalism today, and sit back to watch the fireworks.
Spencer's championing of freedom of speech would have struck these great Catholic statesmen as equally incomprehensible. As I've noted before on this blog, it is a principle which has been consistently opposed by modern Popes; in earlier times, it would have been regarded as so laughable as not to need discussing.
I wish I had the expertise in Islam to make the argument which Spencer fails to make, about the difference between the classical Islamic conception of the role of religion in the state, and what Leo XIII called the 'harmonious union of Church and State'. What I do know is that to say that the American Constitution or - heaven help us - Feminism has grown out of Christianity is like saying that an oak tree has grown out of an abandoned cricket field.
One final point about Spencer's Catholicism. In case readers get the impression he is wedded to a 'Vatican II' perspective, he goes to extraordinary lengths (in Inside Islam) to contradict a statement in Vatican II's Nostra Aetate to the effect that Muslims and Catholics worship the same God. Spencer claims the statement is ambiguous, which is nonsense, partly because it is simply taking for granted something which has never been seriously contested in the Tradition. Of course Muslims worship the same God: 'Allah' is just the Arabic for 'God', it is used in Arabic translations of the Bible and by Arab Catholics. The Koran repeatedly identifies the object of Muslim worship with the God of Abraham and Moses, the God who inspired the Psalms of David, who created the universe and will judge it. Muslims have false beliefs about God, but the reference of the word 'God' would be sufficiently fixed by the fact that they are talking about the Supreme Being.
Reject the possibility of talking about the same being while disagreeing about some of the being's attributes and actions, and the philosophical problems open up at our feet like the Grand Canyon. If you are going to quibble with Nostra Aetate, this is a very strange place to start.
|Ecce, Agnus Dei.|
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