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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 He previously taught at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

  • Dario

    How very politically correct. A gong will be sent to you by British Mail.

  • firstparepidemos

    Thank you for this sensible article which, I notice, has already drawn one knee-jerk reaction.

  • Benedict Carter

    I have an instinctive dislike of Islam. Why don’t you?

  • la catholic state

    Many Muslims will tell you themselves (online) that they want to Islamise the West…..and that it is the will of Allah.  Just as we Catholics want to re-Christianise it 

    I for one want to thank Cardinal Turkson for his boldness.  And he doesn’t hate Muslims….he just doesn’t want to live under the Caliphate.  And neither do I. 

  • Mohsin

    Perhaps the author isn’t a bigot

  • la catholic state

    The following is a comment from Youtube….

    KhilafahWorldWide (2 minutes ago)

    Remove | Block User | Spam Marked as spam

    I’m going to make a prediction. Due to the fact
    that Catholicism is dead and pseudo Catholicism remains; People will leave the
    religion of Catholicism. While the European birthrate declines and the Muslim
    birth rate sky rockets, Islam will dominate Europe through the hearts of the
    majority of Europe’s inhabitants, the Muslims. Soon, only pockets will remain
    of Christianity in Europe will remain and Europe will be left to the Muslims
    and Atheists And then just Muslims. Catholics and Christians will humble
    themselves to the Muslims, Insha’allah and will accept their dhimmitude status
    and life will be as God willed it. Muslims will practice Islam, the perfect way
    of life prescribed by God and allowing for the Jews to practice their religious
    law and the Christians will practice theirs. All under the rule of Islam.

  • karlf

    Muslims are Muslims for the same reasons that you are Catholic. Why would it be any other way?

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    The entire narrative is now controlled by anti-Europeans. The accusations of “racist”, “anti-Semitic” and “bigot” have become non sequiturs. Losing the narrative is the start of the collapse.

  • paulpriest

    Might have helped if you’d got round to saying what you actually meant – provided an argument with some sound, cogent reasons for it; instead we’ve been proffered criticisms with no substantive evidence to disprove them; appeals for sociologists without giving any reasons for their necessity, their expertise or their efficacy…

  • Benedict Carter

    Yep. All the usual soma-words of the drugged masses are now trotted out.

  • Rizzo the Bear

    There’s no such thing as British Mail.


    I didn’t see Cardinal Turkson’s video, but I think Mr Davis is taking exception to the population shift ongoing in Europe and US especially. The population decline of indigenous Europeans has fallen off sharply in the last 40-50 years. This is well known and documented. This is a “social reality and mission context” that DOES exist. Fertility rates on all European countries is below replacement level. This is not a result of disease, war or natural disaster. This is due to contraception, abortion, and misguided concerns for popuation control. The vacuum in Europe and less so in the US only due to large Latin American sector who have children, is being filled by Muslims- who also children, and not just one or two. The most popular name for boys born in England and Wales is again, Mohammed or Muhammed. Despite the author’s hyperbolic language- “the suggestion of putative invasion of the West by Islamic hordes”- to insinuate that these ideas are over-the-top, or some type of urban legend, they are in fact true. The use of quotation marks for ‘contraceptive culture’ is a hint Mr Davis doesn’t quite buy that terminology. But again, what it describes-  the widespread use of contraceptives- DOES exist in the West. The Church doesn’t need social scientists from top universities any more than we needed psychologists and therapists to treat our priests sick with sexual perversions.  As far as the “theological baby’ goes, I would beg to differ on what the Church must do: promote and explain teaching on sexuality, marriage, contraception, and life ethics, and frequenting the sacraments. These are rock-bottom issues for the Year of Faith!

  • Benedict Carter

    Great post.

    In fact, one of the banes of the Church in these last decades is that too many clerics have listened to the secular “experts” far, far too much. 

    Sexual abuse scandal and 1970′s psychologists, anyone?

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    The most interesting part of this piece is the following:

    “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.”

    Is the writer suggesting that the Cardinal is telling porkies?

  • NewMeena

    “Many Muslims will tell you themselves (online) that they want to Islamise the West…..and that it is the will of Allah.  Just as we Catholics want to re-Christianise it ”

    Exactly – spot on!

    They have the same belief in blind faith – and also of course the belief that their faith alone is the one true faith.

    I do not hate Catholics or Muslims or religious Jews… etc (of even the tiresome Jehovah’s Witnesses who ring the doorbell on a Sunday morning). I simply do not want the ideas they derive from their particular beliefs to effect my life. 

  • NewMeena

    “Fertility rates in all European countries is below replacement level.”

    Not true. France is booming because of its social care provision. The UK is well into expansion. In some other countries it is close to the growth/decline boundary. 

    Governments can, at short notice, successfully fine-tune the fertility rate by varying tax policies and social benefit provision.

    Economic uncertainties, unemployment and migration (of the young) must be taken into consideration.
    Migration from Europe:   Brits to Canada and Australia; Portuguese, Spanish, Italians and even Germans (mainly from the former GDR) to South America is rapidly increasing.

  • NewMeena

    No. This is the whole point at issue here.

    Either the data collected to evaluate the success (or otherwise) of this initiative was flawed, or its interpretation was flawed. 

    Expert help is usually (probably always) needed to extract valid information from numbers. It is not a job for amateurs.


    2009 average fertility rate in Europe 1.59 and replacement rate is 2.1.(wikipedia) When fertility rates fall below replacement it becomes more difficult and quickly impossible – within a few generations- to make a comeback. At the 1.59 rate every female child now born (roughly one half of all births) would have to each produce at least 3 or more children who would all likewise have to produce at least more than 2….or something like that. We already know that not every female child will grow into a woman who will have children. The feminist social agenda is firmly entrenched and an enormous obstacle. The point is once below replacement rate it’s pretty much over. Sorry to sound like a prophet of doom.
    That 1.59 rate is AVERAGE so France may well be above. (Italy is 1.1)I’m happy to hear France is booming. Not so happy to hear it is because of social provisions. I take that to mean the state is picking up the tab, providing childcare (what I call ‘outsourcing motherhood’), or paying out incentives (as they are doing in Holland now). Too much social engineering. The family is the domestic Church! I’m not consoled by government intervention, and see that as a grave problem in itself. I think it would conflict with the Catholic principle of subsidiarity One last point- the 75% tax on French millionaires is driving them out of France. It may help fund those social provisions for a while, but to quote Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”
    Thanks for replying!

  • Paul

    What is happening in Europe and the US is very clearly predicted in Scripture.  No need to have it checked by social scientists.  It stands written in the word of God, and it is borne out in experience again, and again.  Try this scripture:

    ‘The foreigners living with you will rise higher and higher at your expense, while you yourself sink lower and lower.  You will be subject to them, not they to you; they will be the ones at the head, and you the one at the tail.  All these curses will come upon you and overtake you until you are destroyed, for not having listened to the voice of the Lord your God.’     -  Deuteronomy 28:43-45

  • Richard Collins

    I am very surprised at the stance you have taken. Most Muslims zealously desire Caliphate rule and Sharia law. They speak admiringly of democracy but harbour opposing views. They embrace the concept of violence as being necessary to achieve their aims, they live and work in groups of brothers or sisters to the exclusion of non Muslims and rarely develop a knowledge of the history or culture of the country they live in.
    And I do mean “most”.

  • la catholic state

    I feel the same way about atheists!

  • la catholic state

    Are you sure France’s ‘high’ birthrate is not almost entirely due to its large and growing Muslim population.  I’m not.

  • Josephmatte

    I would like to thank Francis Davis for reminding us how utterly dreadful the RENEW programme which infested the Arundel and Brighton diocese was. No need to put any potential convert through that. As for Muslims, how do we help them see the light of Christ? Surely Our Lady came to Fatima to ask for the conversion of atheists and Muslims?

  • Alan

    Not relevant.  This and similar verses are directed to the Israelites of many centuries before Christ.  To think in terms of “foreigners” is wrong; there are millions of European and American Muslims, just as there are millions of European and American Christians.   Muslims are as convinced of the rightness of their faith as we are of ours, and to say this is not “relativism”.  If we want to evangelise them we have to understand them and their beliefs (and they are very heterogeneous; Turkish and Pakistani Muslims are as different from each other as, say, Scottish and Korean Christians).  Dialogue is essential; simply telling them they are wrong and we are right is worse than useless.

  • teigitur.

    Strange you spend so much time  posting on Catholic ideas on this site then, is it not?

  • JabbaPapa

    It isn’t — there’s been a national trend towards a higher birthrate throughout the population for some time now.

    Another point to consider is that while the “culturally muslim” population has been growing, great numbers of French “muslim” youth have been secularised and should really be considered as atheists.

    The French Arab who murdered all those soldiers some months ago was motivated by racism, not religiosity.

  • Dave

    Please God spare us from any more “expert” intervention or if we are going to have “consultants” don’t use the money donated by the “pew fodder”  to pay for it.

  • NewMeena

    Not at all strange (and I spend very little time). I always hope that, just possibly, some good might come of it: somebody might read an idea with which they are unfamiliar and is at variance with their Catholic (usually early childhood) brainwashing.

    The Devil whispers to me: “don’t be a silly twit”; but the earnest publicist (who is a poet) says: “you never know, give it a go”. 

  • Alan

    You would be hrd put to justify that “most”.  Ihave no known many Moslems, and most of my knowledge of them worldwide is based on wide reading (intelligently I hope), but my strong impression is that the overwhelming majority,certainly in the UK, and most certainly in Moslem countries like Turkey, do not fit your stereotype.  Your view is a mirror-image of the view of militant Islamists that most Christians are “crusaders” who want to conquer the Arab countries by force. 

  • 2_Armpits_4_Sister_Sarah

    “The French Arab who murdered all those soldiers some months ago was motivated by racism, not religiosity.”

    Phew, that’s a relief.

  • teigitur

    Of course we “read” everything posted here. Your posts and those of other non-believers are very familiar, worldy, daily at variance with the word and rule of God. But hey, feel free to waste your time trying to convince us your ways are better. Or, perhaps, you are looking for something a little higher yourself!?

  • Frankie

    I have an instinctive dislike of blind prejudice. Why don’t you?

  • scary goat

     I did read a survey recently somewhere on religious trends.  It said something like although there were high numbers who self-identify as muslim, there was a lower percentage who identified themselves as “religious” rather than “cultural” than in Christians.  Can’t remember which country. USA maybe.

  • scary goat

    More worrying than a “population void” is the “religious void”. Many if not most people need something a bit more than mind-numbing nothingness and materialism in their lives. People look for some sort of idealism or purpose. If the Church is not visible nor effective, people will look elsewhere.

    And yes, the powers that be in the Church seem to have done their fair share of coming up with ideas that are lacking in understanding of what they are talking about in recent years.  Sad.  :-(

  • Paul

    ‘This and many similar verses are directed to the Israelites of many centuries before Christ.’

    The word of God is addressed to each of us now.   If you believe it is for someone else then I suggest you are robbing yourself of its power.
    I am not and Englishman, but I feel for that great nation.  Its decline began between the world wars when its leaders turned to freemasonry to provide a bond across the classes, and so protect them from the fate of the Russian aristocracy.  In other words, they placed their trust in the devil rather than God.  It has been downhill all the way from there, exactly as the word of God predicts in countless case studies, and very few people have any clue why it has happened, because they either ignore the word of God altogether, or they have been ‘educated’ to think that it doesn’t mean what it says.

  • la catholic state

    Does it really matter how many Muslims want a Caliphate or not?!  The point is who wants the former Christendom turned into a Muslim majority demographic?!  No true Christian could ever want such a thing.  For one thing… would be insecure for Christians who would forever be appeasing the majority in what was once their own Christian lands.  That’s called Subjugation! No thanks.

  • Alan

    Not sure what point you’re making.  Of course we should want as many people to be Christians as possible, but this should be done by evangelism and persuasion.  Nor should we be “anti-Moslem” as distinct from anti-anything else. After all, Islam (along with Judaism) is closer to Christianity than is any other religion, and they mostly live very moral lives.

  • Paul

    karlf,  – Not true.  I am a Catholic because two thousand years ago the Son of God came into the world and revealed the fulness of God to man, and the Holy Spirit has empowered me to believe in him.
      Those who are not Christians are so because they reject the revelation of God in Christ, or because we Christians have failed to pass the good news on to them.

  • karlf

    and they think the same about their religion and your beliefs.

  • Paul

    You need to discover the truth, not what ‘they think.’

    You will find the truth in the Bible.  I suggest you read the First Letter of John.  It teaches on the authority of God himself that there is no comparison whatever between the spirit of antichrist and the Holy Spirit, who always bears testimony to Jesus.

    All the best on your search for truth.

  • la catholic state

    And how else did you think I was going to Christianise apart from Evangelisation…(plus our own strong Catholic families and resurgent birthratesf)?!  And while I love all people….I do think Islam poses the greatest threat to Christianity.  Just look at the Middle East and Egypt in particular which was once the vibrant centre of Christianity.  Look at the piteous state of Christians there now.

  • karlf

    I would like to discover the truth, yes. But Muslims believe the koran is the truth.
    Anyway, the Bible is packed with known untruths, such as Noah’s ark, Jonah and the whale, Adam and Eve etc.

  • JabbaPapa


  • JabbaPapa

    Your posts in here are packed with a far greater number of untruths than anyone could possibly discover in the Bible.

  • Zarasr

    It honestly doesn’t seem like it to me

  • karlf

    Don’t you think that Muslims believe in the authenticity of the Koran?

  • karlf

    Such as?

  • mary mann

    Or because they are threatened with death to even try to find out about Jesus and the Trinity? This is as much a military and political effort as a “religion.” There is no free will involved, any more than being forced to marry because you are pregnant.

  • Scyptical Chymist

     Not relevant today? How smug. Such a warning is timeless and one simply has to open one’s ears and eyes to see the similarities today when the people have been swayed to put pleasure and self indulgence to the fore. The present financial crisis fuelled by the demand for ready money to buy things beyond one’s means for instant gratification should be a warning. The “foreigners” amongst us include many dedicated sober and faith driven people who will indeed pick up the responsibilities we are so keen to drop.

  • Fr. Thomas Poovathinkal