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Cardinal Turkson’s video about Muslims shows why the synod badly needs social scientists

Episcopal thinking should be rooted in empiricism rather than anecdote

By on Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Cardinal Peter Turkson with Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi (Photo: CNS)

Cardinal Peter Turkson with Vatican spokesman Fr Lombardi (Photo: CNS)

Having once spent a long evening over dinner with Cardinal Turkson I do not believe him to be a prejudiced man nor a man with an instinctive dislike of Islam. However, the very idea that this great West African prelate might even have contemplated using a video at the current synod which linked population decline to the suggestion of a putative invasion of the west by an Islamic horde is shocking for two reasons. First, it suggests that even the president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, with its grave global responsibilities, does not have access to expert advice of real quality especially when it comes to social research. Second, it unearths not a one-off lapse but actually a growing and unfounded narrative within widespread episcopal thinking.

On the first point it is striking that, of the published list of lay and other “experts” for the synod, not one is a professional sociologist of standing or emanates from one of the world’s top 100 universities. Discussion of “the new evangelisation” needs philosophers, theologians and activists but it also needs those who have assessed cultures as diverse as indigenous Indians and the habits of diaspora Chinese, so as to be able to put claims about any particular “Christian culture” in context. There are also profound inter-disciplinary challenges at stake in planning a forward path for mission where “sin” or “lack of obedience” can be grabbed as easy-to-seize totems when the real problem has been the ecclesial adoption of pedagogies proved to have failed in almost every field in which they have been tried. The flight from any encounter with empiricism leads to a theology of anecdotes. For example, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor has claimed that a programme seeking to re-energise the Arundel and Brighton diocese was a great success. But when surveyed those involved reported that those already active had simply ended up doing twice as much, actually as a prelude to burn-out and a decline in interest rather than renewal. A cardinal of Peter Turkson’s standing should have had the unfactual nonsense in his video stripped bare by an expert before it was aired. Likewise the bishops now in Rome need insights drawn from world-class sociology too.

Second, Cardinal Turkson will have found many sympathetic viewers of his video at the synod for the “green peril” of Islam has been a feature of episcopal gatherings since at least the centenary of Rerum Novarum. At a recent European bishops’ conference I witnessed the majority of those present applauding as speaker after speaker claimed that Muslims would fill the population void created by Europe’s “contraceptive culture”. After one particularly trenchant presentation from a Spanish think-tank, an adviser to a cardinal pointed out that German emigration was actually occurring faster than inward migration and that that may have something to do with population change too. The presenter responded with some fury, suggesting that “facts”, outside the morally superior prism of theological reflection, had no meaning. This “positivistic” obsession, he said, would only distract from the moral crisis, which was about birth control.

And so there we had it: in the second case an episcopal advisor gained huge applause for railing against “the facts” while in the first case a great cardinal was embarrassed because no expert advisor had engaged with the facts as a sociologist of standing would and so protected Cardinal Turkson from his public fate. Without throwing the theological baby out with the intellectual bathwater the Church needs to put this right at the highest level or else any synod on any topic risks becoming legendary in its own mind describing and responding to a social reality and mission context which never has nor never will exist. That will not unlock any form of evangelisation that will be successful on a large scale.

Francis Davis is a former advisor to the UK Secretary of State for Communities and a columnist at www.radicalcentre.co.uk. He previously taught at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     JESUS SAID, “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES….PRAY FOR THEM….

    IN EXAMPLE TOO HE DID IT FOR US.

    KEEPING UP THE HISTORICAL ENEMITY OF RELIGIONS IS FOOLISH FROM THE PART OF CHRISTIANS. IT IS AGAINST THE MIND AND EXAMPLE OF CHRIST THE LORD.

    LET JESUS DO THE WORK IN AND THROUGH US OF CONQUERING THIS OR THAT RELIGION PAGAN AND ANTI. FOR THIS WE NEED TO BE APOSTLES. LET US ALL PRAY AND ASK FOR THIS GRACE OF APOSTLESHIP.

    WITHOUT JESUS THE LORD PETER AND PARTY FISHED ALL NIGHT AND CAUGHT A BIG ZERO. DO PEOPLE WANT TO KEEP REPEATING THE SAME ALL THROUGH OUR SHORT LIFE!

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     “.. most Christians are “crusaders” who want to conquer the Arab countries by force.”

    MAY BE TRUE, FOR IT COMES AS AN EASY OPTION. BUT IN TRUTH IT IS ONLY AN ILLUSION, A PUNISHMENT FOR OUR SINFUL LIFE OF NOT  SEEKING THE LORD AND OBEYING HIM.

    BUT FOLLOWING THE TEACHINGS OF THE LORD AND OBEYING THEM IS SURE AND CERTAIN VICTORY FOR IT IS THE LORD HIMSELF WHO ACCOMPLISHES THE TASK AND NOT WE SINFUL AND FOOLISH MEN.

    LET US NOT HATE ANYBODY OR ANY RELIGION BUT FOLLOW AND OBEY JESUS THE LORD. HE WILL THEN ACCOMPLISH THE WORK OF BRINGING ALL PEOPLE TO HIMSELF.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     YES, PUNISHMENT FOR OUR SINFUL LIFE OF NOT OBEYING THE LORD WHO TOLD US , “GO TO ALL THE THE WORLD AND PROCLAIM THE GOOD NEWS…

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     “Dialogue is essential; simply telling them they are wrong and we are right is worse than useless.”

    EXERCISING APOSTLESHIP IS BETTER THAN DIALOGUE. IT IS THE LORD’S WAY A SURE AND CERTAIN VICTORY FOR IT IS HE WHO ACTS THROUGH US TO ACCOMPLISH HIS PLAN FOR THE WORLD – MUSLIMS INCLUDED.

    “simply telling them they are wrong and we are right is worse than useless.””

    CERTAINLY IT IS FOOLISH AS WELL AS HARMFUL TO THE EXTREME.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     FOR MANY YEARS I TOO HAD THE SAME.

    IT DOES NOT GO WITH THE TEACHING OF CHRIST THE LORD.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal

     

    TO BE HUMAN, ALL PEOPLE AND RELIGIONS NEED TO RESPECT FREEDOM TO SEEK THE TRUTH AND GO FOR IT.

    WHOEVER DON’T RESPECT FREEDOM WILL BE OUTLAWED, FOR IT IT IS AGAINST PURE HUMANITY.

    IF THIS OUT-LAWING BY LEGISLATION  IS NOT TAKING PLACE ANYWHERE AND EVERYWHERE…….LIE AND DEATH  COME RULE AS DUE PUNISHMENT FROM GOD THE ONE AND ONLY : JESUS THE LORD WHO HAS REVEALED IN HIMSELF THE FATHER : “I AND THE FATHER ARE ONE, THE FATHER IS IN ME AND….

    “HE WHO SEES ME SEES THE FATHER..

    NOTHING TO WORRY – BE APOSTLES OF THE LORD. YEARN FOR IT AND PRAY FOR IT AND HE WILL WORK OUT HIS PLAN FOR US AS WELL AS FOR THE WHOLE WORLD.

    APOSTLESHIP IS THE KEY.

  • Lady P

    The video does highlight in an inflammable way, the reality that fundamentalist  Muslims do have a mission to ‘Islam-ise’ the whole world.  However, showing a video about understanding WHY they want to do it would have helped the Cardinal’s case.  Perhaps this video should have preceded it.  I would like to be in contact with the Cardinal … if possible so we can discuss this further.  I applaud him for his courage and conviction that it is an issue that needs to be addressed by Catholics and Christians – how we address it is key.

    After watching this video, you will understand where they are coming from and view it with more understanding.  We will understand why the world is fearful, but we will understand why they feel the need to make the world so.  Lady P.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/PWZKI7JBARE4DDT3NQ22RWMOJE Benedict Carter

    Bollocks

  • PeterTheRoman

    The problem I have always seen here and in the west is simple. Read your Gospel. 1) there are no prophets or teachers after Christ. To say otherwise is contrary to the Gospel. (((NO PROPHETS)))
    2) beliving in Christ is a choice, pray that you KNOW Christ is the Son of God. 3) speak the truth without fear of death, since it is in him that we live. 4) stop pleasing men and money and start pleasing God.

    The will be no New Evangelization untill the Church as a whole speaks the complete truth. True all people are called to redemption, but Christ is also a division that some cannot and never will accept.
    I cannot even start to say how blessed a gift and grace it would be to be martyred in his name, be that his will, but we all have to stand up and be counted one day before his throne. Can you say lord I had a clear conscience and know that to be true? I pray you all do.

  • http://twitter.com/Oleg_AliyevEsq Oleg Aliev®

    Peter Turkson – I am the Alpha and the Omega http://www.proza.ru/2013/02/14/2360