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Benedict XVI is the apostle of anti-fundamentalism

Muslims who oppose fundamentalism should recognise the Pope as an ally

By on Friday, 25 November 2011

Pope Benedict XVI signs Africae Munus, the Apostolic Exhortation about the future of the Church in Africa

Pope Benedict XVI signs Africae Munus, the Apostolic Exhortation about the future of the Church in Africa

It is encouraging to see that the Pope’s visit to Africa has elicited some balanced and appreciative comment in the Guardian from Andrew Brown, who highlights what the Pope has to say about Muslims in his post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Africae Munus.

The full text of the Pope’s words about Islam in Africa are to be found at paragraph 94, and they are worth quoting in full.

The Synod Fathers highlighted the complexity of the Muslim presence on the African continent. In some countries, good relations exist between Christians and Muslims; in others, the local Christians are merely second-class citizens, and Catholics from abroad, religious and lay, have difficulty obtaining visas and residence permits; in some, there is insufficient distinction between the religious and political spheres, while in others, finally, there is a climate of hostility. I call upon the Church, in every situation, to persist in esteem for Muslims, who “worship God who is one, living and subsistent; merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.” If all of us who believe in God desire to promote reconciliation, justice and peace, we must work together to banish every form of discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism. In her social apostolate, the Church does not make religious distinctions. She comes to the help of those in need, be they Christian, Muslim or animist. In this way she bears witness to the love of God, creator of all, and she invites the followers of other religions to demonstrate respect and to practise reciprocity in a spirit of esteem. I ask the whole Church, through patient dialogue with Muslims, to seek juridical and practical recognition of religious freedom, so that every citizen in Africa may enjoy not only the right to choose his religion freely and to engage in worship, but also the right to freedom of conscience. Religious freedom is the road to peace.

It is only a short paragraph but it is full of good things. To me, it seems to be making several points, quite a few of them pretty robustly too.

Firstly, the situation is complex, that is, a mixed bag. There is no denying that Christians are persecuted by Muslims in several places and the institutional Church is subjected to legal harassment. Hence the insistence in the penultimate sentence on the reversal of institutional discrimination, through legislation and the courts, and the insistence on freedom of conscience, not just freedom of religious practice. This is of course to be done through “patient dialogue”; the adjective suggests that it will not be easy. But it is encouraging that the Church is not ignoring the situation in countries that treat Christians badly. The Pope knows what is going on, and he clearly wants the Church to respond to the situation in such a way that the situation can be righted. So, he is calling a spade a spade, and I for one am very pleased about this.

The second point to notice is that the Pope adopts an evangelical mindset based on Our Lord’s teaching about turning the other cheek. He clearly wants reciprocity between Muslims and Christians; but even where this does not exist, he urges us all “to persist in esteem for Muslims”. This is clearly going to be challenging for many of us. Our goal is that Christians in Muslim-majority countries may enjoy the same rights as Muslims do in Christian-majority countries. (As far as I am aware, there is no Christian-majority country that places Muslims under any form of legal disadvantage.) But the Pope clearly states that where this is not happening, we must continue to esteem Muslims. In other words we must love our persecutors. But this is no less than what our Lord himself said when he told us to love our enemies. The hope must be that by esteeming Muslims we will win them round to reciprocity. Is this naive – or is it a bold proclamation of the essence of the Christian gospel?

Third, the Pope quotes Nostra Aetate, the document of the Second Vatican Council on non-Christian religions, which is still our ultimate reference point and authority in inter-religious dialogue. But he goes on to say that in promoting “reconciliation, justice and peace” – three good things – we need to banish three bad things – “discrimination, intolerance and religious fundamentalism”. The first two have few friends in the world, but the last represents a bit of a bombshell. The Pope is against religious fundamentalism and wants it banished. This may come as news to some, but it ought not to. The Pope has constantly advocated the path laid out by the Blessed John Paul II in Fides et Ratio (a letter that the Pope himself may well have had a hand in writing as Cardinal Ratzinger, or so it is said). Faith and reason must go together; each one without the other is impoverished: religious fundamentalism is as deformed in its own way as the rationalism that so irrationally denies the supernatural. Indeed the Church has been condemning fundamentalism for a long time now; the first Vatican Council in 1870 condemned it in the document Dei Filius. Thus it is always offensive and simply inaccurate to label the Pope himself as a fundamentalist. He is in fact the apostle of anti-fundamentalism.

Clearly, in a paragraph about Islam, the mention of fundamentalism calls to mind one particular brand of fundamentalism. On this matter the Pope is not giving an inch, and that is good. In standing up against Islamic fundamentalism, he is in fact offering himself as an ally to all those Muslims (who must constitute the vast majority) who do not take the fundamentalist path. They can take heart from this, and so can we. Note too that the Pope talks of “insufficient distinction between the religious and political spheres”. He is also standing up for a proper secularity.

Finally, with his gift for putting things succinctly, the Pope says “Religious freedom is the road to peace”. Quite so. Please God, may people hear this not just in Africa, but all over the world.

  • Anonymous

    It is interesting how we now assume that “fundamentalism” is such a bad thing.

    Before the Second Vatican Council the Catholic Church was fundamentalist. We considered other religions to be very harmful. We were not allowed to pray with other Christians, it was a sin to read the King James Bible, Catholics needed permission from their bishop before they could marry non-Catholics, and the non-Catholic had to promise to bring up any children as Catholics. Not long before that we had to accept the fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible.

    Fortunately Vatican II threw out centuries of false teaching and radically changed the Catholic Church from a fundamentalist to a truly catholic church.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Every assertion you make, Patrick, is factually incorrect….

  • Anonymous

    Name one incorrect assertion.

  • Theophile

    Fundamentalist(capitol F): A particular denomination of the Protestant following which considers scripture the authority for their belief.
    fundamental: Foundational, basic principle, truth.
    fundamentalism: strict following of the foundational, basic principles believed to be the true tenats of a religion.(some would call it “the first love” Christ directs us to return unto).

     For a history of “fundamentalism”(the Christian kind) the benchmark on the subject:
    Actes and Monuments of these Latter and Perillous Days, Touching Matters of the Church, more commonly referred to as Foxes book of Martyrs, is a must read for those that would know the truth:

  • Thomas Poovathinkal




  • Thomas Poovathinkal


  • James

    So you don’t believe Jesus kept his promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Chirch into all truth?

  • Anonymous

    Of course the Holy Spirit is still guiding the Church and leading it into the truth. Nobody thinks that the Church has always followed the Holy Spirit and was never wrong about anything, unless they are very misinformed. Do they think that it was the Holy Spirit who inspired the auto-da-fé?

    In Gaudium et Spes we read that it is the duty of the Church to “scrutinize the signs of the times and interpret them in the light of the gospel.” The Church recognises its mistakes in light of the lessons of science, and history, and God is always behind true innovations.

  • theroadmaster

    It is up to you to assert what “false” teachings were thrown out as Vatican 11 was merely an updating of Church practice and agenda for the modern world which did not compromise on any core doctrine or teaching.

  • theroadmaster

    Pope Benedict XV1 has been totally consistent during this long theological career and more recently in his papacy, concerning the emphasis on the inter-dependency between rational discourse and religious theology to make sense of the place of men and women in our world and universe.  As Einstein so aptly put it..”Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind,”.    These apposite words can be seen in the attitude of a Dawkins in relation to religious beliefs or adherents of religious fundamentalism which disregards the evidence-based approach of Science.

  • James

    Nobody thinks the Magisterium of the Church has ever been in error unless they are a non, or a cafeteria Catholic.

  • Anonymous

    I was reading today that the UN discrimanates in its laws against  persecuted Christian refugees by not allowing them into Western countries wereas Moslems are accepted are are arriving in millions into the US.

    I think we would bebefit from a bit more fundamentalism to get back the Catholics to the faith which they are leaving in droves because there are no fundamentals anymore just wishy washy, happy clappy relatavism.

  • James

    I accidentally pressed, “like,” rather than reply then.

    If there is such a thing as a, “Vatican II Catholic,” as opposed to a Roman Catholic, that’s you.

  • Anonymous

    Finally, with his gift for putting things succinctly, the Pope says
    “Religious freedom is the road to peace”. Quite so. Please God, may
    people hear this not just in Africa, but all over the world.

    ## No, it isn’t.

    1. Christ is the road to peace, and is our Peace. This diplomatic rot will get nowehere if its foundation is not Christ.

    2. “Religious freedom” is meaningless unless defined; freedom for, or from, what ?  How it compatible with the Syllabus of Pius IX, & Tradition prior to Vatican II  ?

    3. Is this freedom based on positive human law; on Divine revelation; or what ?

    4. Freedom to spread false religion gives good and evil the same rights – this is like awarding equally high marks to a child who answers one question in an exam correctly & to a child who answers all correctly. Like that, this is a refusal to discern good from evil, true from false, excrement from food, bread from stones or a viper. Such an atttitude is not only a perversion – it is disastrous for a state to be guided by such a lie.

    5. Has God revealed His Will in Christ, or not ? Apparently not, if we are free to choose any old religion we like.

    6. “What concord has Christ with Belial ?” A good deal, apparently, if one religion is as good as another. This is the polar opposite of the teaching of St. Ambrose, & it agrees very well with the tolerant theology of his pagan opponent Symmachus.  Symmachus would have rejoiced to see the apostasy of Assisi – St. Ambrose would have been incredulous and horrified, as would St. Damasus & all his predecessors and successors until Wojtyla. 

    7. Popes cannot both deplore indifferentism among Catholics, and encourage it in the world at large.

    8. Why should we except good Church architecture, good catechesis, good liturgical practice, good hymnody, & solidity in the Faith, when we are taught anti-Traditional non-sense  ?

    From C. S. Lewis,”The Abolition of Man”:

    “And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our [educational] situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement
    that our civilization needs more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or
    self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests [hearts] and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

  • ms Catholic state

    The UN is a bigoted organisation and it is time the Vatican and Catholics in general stopped relying on it to deliver for Christians and Christianity.  I think a Vatican delegation (with help from ACN etc) is needed to ensure that pro-Christian nations are willing to take Christian refugees…..especially if the West attacks Syria and replaces its present rulers with Islamist ones. 


  • Anonymous

    @Patrick Hadley “we had to accept the fundamentalist literal interpretation of the Bible”

    Traditionally, there were four recognised senses of Scripture: the literal (not the same as ‘literalist’), the moral, the analogical and the anagogical. Anyone who has the least familiarity with the Fathers of the Church will know that there are different ways of interpreting the Bible.

    So I think you made an incorrect assertion there.

  • RomNats

    The Pope just said that “Muslims, who “worship God who is one, living and subsistent; merciful and almighty, the creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity.”  How about you? Do you really believe that Allah is same as Yahweh? If you accept Allah, you must also accept its prophet Muhammad as your guide. 

  • RomNats

    Vatican II is not a dogmatic council but a pastoral one–leeways are provided for under unusual circumstances in the practice of the Faith. It gives birth, however, to many lax, mediocre Catholics.

  • RomNats

    To my understanding….Christian fundamentalism is return to the basics of Christianity; that is love of neighbor as love of Christ.

  • Peregrinus

    How would you seek Christ without the religious freedom to do so? 

    Seems to me religious freedom is the pre-condition. Unless you advocate compelle intrare in which case you cant object if others take the same approach.  

  • Anonymous

    Modernism is the enemy of the Roman Catholic Church,and the Second Vatican Council just made matters worse,or the interpretation thereof !

  • Confusedof Chi

    Pope Benedict calls
    “upon the Church, in every situation, to persist in esteem for
    Muslims, who “worship God who is one, living and subsistent;
    merciful and almighty……””. This definition of the Islamic
    faith is cited from Nostra Aetate, proclaimed Pope Paul VI who in
    turn cites Pope St. Gregory VII letter XXI to Anzir. I am no Latin
    scholar, (many around these days commenting on the new translation
    of the Mass!), but I understand the latin reads more like “by this
    charity peculiar among us compared to the remainder of the nations,
    that we believe in and confess one God, although in a different way”
    without the fusion of creeds so a to infer one source of a common