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How, when we read of Islamist atrocities against Christians, are we to contain and overcome the temptation to turn against Muslims?

It’s not always easy or even possible. But hatred of the sinner rather than of the sin is always unChristian

By on Monday, 1 April 2013

Magdi Allam pictured shortly after his baptism in St Peter's Basilica in 2008 (AP)

Magdi Allam pictured shortly after his baptism in St Peter's Basilica in 2008 (AP)

Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) doesn’t tell us about horrific acts committed by Muslims against Christians in order to make us reject Muslims. They do it to demonstrate how much Christians in Muslim countries, where there is sometimes uncontrolled hatred by the majority Muslim population of the Christians in their midst, need our help and our support and our prayers.

I know that most of the actual violence is either incited or carried out by Islamist extremists who don’t represent the moderate Muslim majority. I know, at least, that that’s what I ought to think; and I wish I always did. But when I hear of the story of a fifteen year-old boy, hung upside down for weeks by Islamist “radicals” to encourage his family to collect a huge ransom, which made it necessary to sell everything they possessed including their house, who by the time they had handed over the ransom was in a coma and died in hospital shortly afterwards; when I consider that this family is now not only traumatised but destitute: I’m sorry, but when I hear such stories, it inspires me with feelings of total rejection of Muslims, tout court. I ask myself at such times how many “moderate” Muslims there really are: are they a huge majority? A small majority? Or actually a minority?

What ACN wants us to concentrate on, quite rightly, is the bravery of the Christians who cling to their faith despite the sometimes extreme persecution they are currently suffering. Consider the case of Fr Aysar Kesco. On Sunday 31 October 2010, 45 Mass-goers and two young priests were massacred in one of the worst anti-Christian atrocities in Iraq in recent years.

The victims died during a four-hour siege when Baghdad’s Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation was attacked by nine armed men who had suicide bombs attached to their belts.

Arriving in the parish a few days later, Fr Aysar discovered that some of his faithful had left the city for safety, but that others had stayed and were bravely continuing to attend Mass at the cathedral every Sunday.

“People asked me to pray for a miracle,” he told ACN when they visited Baghdad two years after the attack, last November.

“But for me”, he said, “a miracle has already taken place – our church did not close and people are coming back.”

There is now a double perimeter of security walls running around the entire parish site. Armed guards and security vehicles provide constant surveillance of the cathedral and its environs. The existence of frequent security checkpoints in the city does prevent some parishioners getting to Mass especially as most do not have cars and cannot afford expensive taxis. ACN has therefore provided a minibus for Fr Aysar, which he uses to collect the faithful for Mass, as well as bringing youngsters to catechesis classes and parishioners to prayer groups.

There are two conclusions I find myself arriving at. Firstly, that in an age in which we need to be very careful which charities we support (so many of them, even Catholic ones — no names, no pack drill— are implicated in providing funds for distinctly unCatholic objectives), one charity that Catholics can always unreservedly support is Aid to the Church in Need.

The second conclusion I have come to is that I need to find a way of coping with my growing tendency to Islamophobia. Strictly speaking, that word means, of course, fear of Muslims, not hatred of them. We would be fools, it seems to me, not to fear the consequences for the future, for instance, of the immigration into this country of the large Muslim minority which has already settled here, or of the sudden 20 per cent increase in the Muslim population of the European Union that Turkish accession would immediately effect.

In practice, however, the word means not fear but also rejection of Muslims: and I have to admit that I do find myself overtaken, sometimes quite strongly, by such feelings: and it does not always help that I know them to be wrong and unChristian. But it does seem to help that there are examples of Christians whose hatred of Muslims is so extreme that they make me understand how wrong I am when I give way to it myself. Consider the story on the First Things website of a prominent anti-Islam advocate’s hatred of Islam, which is so extreme that it has now led him to abandon his Catholic faith because the Church has taken too soft a stand against Islam.

Magdi Cristiano Allam, an Egyptian-born Muslim whom Pope Benedict publicly baptised at Easter five years ago in St Peter’s Basilica has announced that he is leaving the Church. “My conversion to Catholicism,” he says, “which came at the hands of Benedict XVI during the Easter Vigil on 22 March 2008, I now consider finished in combination with the end of his pontificate.”

“The thing that drove me away from the Church”, he continues, “more than any other factor was religious relativism, in particular the legitimisation of Islam as a true religion,” he said. Mr Allam said Islam was “an intrinsically violent ideology” that had to be courageously opposed as “incompatible with our civilisation and fundamental human rights.”

He doesn’t as far as I can see say where and when exactly the Church has legitimised Islam as a true religion: and how leaving the Church is going to help him is difficult to see. He says he’s still a Christian; so where will he go now? Matthew Schmitz’s response in First Things is that in seeing Islam as a mere “ideology” centered on violence he has fallen into a grievous error of his own. Like liberalism, says Schmitz, Islam owes no small debt to Christianity. Slander of one can verge into slander of the other. As Robert Louis Wilken warned in Christianity Face to Face with Islam, “Given the experience of centuries, it is tempting for Christians to see Islam as the enemy. Often it has been the enemy. But if that remains our dominant paradigm for looking at the religion, we deny something of ourselves.”

If, Schmitz goes on, we mistake Islam for a mere ideology of violence, we risk mistaking Christianity as merely an ideology that allows us to oppose that violence. “Yet Christ did not come to this earth or found his Church to oppose Islam but to propose the Gospel. Not to eclipse the moon, but to reveal the Son.”

All true, very true; and this reflection is what we need to come back to when overcome by any anti-Islamic thoughts we may harbour. So, as we celebrate Easter, support Aid to the Church in Need: not because we hate the Muslims who bombed Our Lady of Salvation Cathedral in Baghdad and massacred its congregation; but because we want to help fund ACN’s support for their brave priest and for his people, who are holding so courageously to their faith in the risen Christ. Let them, not Magdi Cristiano Allam, be our example and guide.

  • TreenonPoet

    Then I hope I can amend your view of atheism. Firstly, as an atheist, I should mention that I do not consider myself to be a relativist, and I support natural law. (That is not to say that I agree with the morals that the Vatican thinks are absolute.) Not all atheists share my view. That is because the definition of atheism does not infer such conclusions regarding morality. The corollaries of atheism do not extend very far.

    If an atheist told you he was going to put to death Buddhists and tear the tongues out of bourgeois schoolteachers, I would share your doubt that any appeal to reason and natural law would prevail with that particular atheist. Happily, most atheists are not like that.

    You said in your earlier comment ”It seems that most atheists appear disinclined to murder most of the time”. It follows that it seems to you that most atheists do not appear disinclined to murder some of the time. I hope that you no longer think so.

  • TreenonPoet

    ‘Whitewash’ because ‘judiciary’ suggests justice. I am glad that you did not intend a whitewash, and that you do not consider execution to be a just punishment for heresy.

    Since trying to show that Atheism does not encourage bad behaviour, it has been put to me that the absence of a belief in a divine judgement leads to bad behaviour. That is a candidate for the premise that I said was missing. One of the behavioural restraints that remain is the possibility of being found out, even if one feels sure that nobody is watching. (Of course, the effectiveness of this constraint is dependent on whether one cares about being found out.) Another restraint is the consideration of whether one can live with the knowledge of what one has done (but maybe some people do not have much of a conscience). One incentive towards good behaviour is the good it might do for others (even if this is only in the selfish hope of receiving some good in return).

    As an atheist, I try to base moral decisions on as many relevant factors as I can think of in the time available, but the supernatural is never relevant to me. With some people, the supernatural is so relevant that their conclusions are opposite to mine. In the extreme, this can result punishments for people of the ‘wrong’ religion or of no religion, of homosexuals, of ‘blasphemers’, and so on. You might argue that atheist leaders can be just as unreasonable. I would argue that this would be because of their unreasonableness rather than because they are atheist. In the case of a religious leader, the leader may be trying to be reasonable, but giving weight to supernatural factors (and consequently less weight to scientific factors).

    By the way, I did post a response to your comment with the three videos, but I immediately got a message that it would be moderated. That was hours ago.

  • A.Thom

    That last point does not follow from what I wrote. I’ll clarify: I do not believe most atheists are ever inclined to murder. And yes, happily, most atheists are not like that. But for the few who are, atheism plays a part in their actions and beliefs, it permits where religion would restrain. I have a feeling though that what you are getting at is that a lack of a belief in God does not necessitate immorality and I am fine with that. But I have never cared whether atheists or Catholics were more moral, only which were right.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    You said in your earlier comment ”It seems that most atheists appear disinclined to murder most of the time”.
    It follows that it seems to you that most atheists do not appear
    disinclined to murder some of the time. I hope that you no longer think
    so.

    Partial declaratives are not universally transferable — it actually follows that some atheists do not appear disinclined to murder some of the time.

  • la catholic state

    Who is we……speak for yourself.

  • la catholic state

    But you are not horrified at the prospect of insulting Catholics. Hmmm…..very telling indeed.

  • Irene

    Church in Need seems to be the most admirable aid org. in he world. We realized that several years ago.

    WHO CARES FOR SUFFERING CHRISTIANS IN IRAQ or eleswhere? Certainly not most catholics, either.

    I can understand Allams disappointment, although I deeply regret his leaving the Church. We have to understand that he has experienced the muslim violence in a completely different way than we Europeans have.

    Still we, too, know the facts: in my country, for the past 30 years, 92 % of all grave crimes, such as murder, grave assault, rape, grave theft, etc, are committed by foreigners, many of them of muslim origin. Gang rape is USUALLY committed by muslim teenagers and/or young men.

    The crucial thing is , like Margaret Thatcher said, shortly after sep 11, 2001:” I DON’T SEE ENOUGH CONDEMNATION”. The uncomfortable and deeply disturbing feeling IS there:

    most muslims are not terrorists, but all teerrorists are– muslims. The so called majority of muslims, commonly and routinely portrayed as “peace loving”, never make their voices heard.

    This cannot be misinterpreted.

    Evil is always evil. And terrorism and hatred from muslims towards christians is committed by muslims, in the name of islam.

    In this sense, the presumption that “most” muslims are supposedly “peace loving” becomes utterly meaningless.

    I agree that trying not to hate muslims but instead hating the sin, is a great challenge for all of us, catholics and non catholics.
    Irene

  • TreenonPoet

    I agree with most of your comment, but I am not sure whether I have understood your last sentence. If you are saying the important thing is that in a given situation the individual does the right thing, then I agree. The question is one of knowing what the right thing is. If two people disagree on this because their respective religions differ (Islam and Catholicism, for example), then in my view the only way to resolve this is by rational argument. It would not be helpful for the Moslem to say that Islam defines what is rational, and more than once on this site, I have been told that the Roman Catholic view is rational. By my understanding of the word ‘rational’, neither religion is.

    It can be difficult to be rational and I’m no expert; it is easy to make mistakes, especially with an ambiguous language of expression such as English and with the pressure not to be long-winded. Even if an unambiguous formal notation is used to present an argument, the definitions of what each variable represents still need to be expressed. But the rules of logic that govern the steps of an argument are as reliable as the rules of arithmetic and exemplify what I understand by rationality.

  • TreenonPoet

    I do not know what you mean by ‘transferable’ in this context, but I disagree with your conclusion.

    Here’s a question: If most atheists do appear disinclined to murder most of the time, then how do most atheists appear for the rest of the time?

    I would reply that most atheists do not appear disinclined to murder for the rest of the time.

    To put it more weakly: most atheists do not appear disinclined to murder some of the time. (Of course, I disagree with the If…)

  • TreenonPoet

    A single extract from the list of what was banned is sufficient:-

    Writings of a philosophical and social nature whose content deals with the false scientific enlightenment of primitive Darwinism and Monism

    Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection does not contradict atheism, but it does contradict the belief that God created the Aryan race to be superior to others (and therefore cannot have evolved from ancestors common to the others). Monism does not contradict atheism, but it does contradict philosophies in which God is more than just another word for nature.

    After World War 2, I can see why religious organisations would want to distance themselves from nazism. What better way (for them) than to try to conflate nazism with atheism?

  • TreenonPoet

    Where have I insulted Catholics? A single example will do.

  • la catholic state

    Here’s one…..’Perhaps if Stalin had not had the religious upbringing that made similarly flawed ideologies seem acceptable, many deaths may have been avoided’. An obvious slur on Stalin’s Catholic upbrining. In fact….it would have been better had Stalin not fallen for the atheistic principles and stuck with his Catholic Faith. A lot of people would still be alive.
    And not that I care one whit…..but somehow I can’t see you casting such a slur on a Muslim upbrining. Much tooo PC for that!

  • TreenonPoet

    Your citation is a criticism of the Catholic Church (by which I mean its mechanisms, not its followers), not an insult towards Catholics. If you count a criticism of an idea to be the same as an insult to anybody sympathetic to that idea (which is not my definition of an insult), then by your definition I have insulted many Moslems, Catholics, and others.

    My comment elsewhere in this thread that criticises the abrogated Qur’an as teaching intolerance (beginning ”Are 1.6 billion…”, third paragraph) would, by your definition, be an insult to all Moslems. I regard an insult as being something like an unfounded accusation that someone is “tooo PC”.

  • $24570317

    “Still we, too, know the facts: in my country [the UK ?], for the past 30 years, 92 % of all grave crimes, such as murder, grave assault, rape, grave theft, etc, are committed by foreigners, many of them of muslim origin. Gang rape is USUALLY committed by muslim teenagers and/or young men.”

    You make several claims here.
    Do you have any sources to support them?

  • la catholic state

    As a Catholic I can tell you…..it most certainly is an insult to Catholics. You can’t separate the two. Not that I care. You seem to be to be propelled by something not of Christ.
    And no…..I didn’t read your other comment as an insult to Muslims at all. I just can’t see you ever insulting Islam. Funny that isn’t it. But as I say….I don’t care one way or another.

  • $24570317

    ” two contradictory statements can’t both be true.”

    That’s the point I was making.

    You will therefore understand that a non-Catholic (atheist or other believer) is obliged “to reject as false anything that contradicts [their] belief” – such as Catholicism.

    Despite this the fundamentalist believes that his religion is true, lock, stock and barrel.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    You will therefore understand that a non-Catholic (atheist or other
    believer) is obliged “to reject as false anything that contradicts
    [their] belief” – such as Catholicism.

    Relativism in a nutshell.

    Did you know that theological relativism has been explicitly condemned by the Holy Catholic Church as a heresy, and that teaching heresies places you instantly out of Holy Communion with the Church ?

    Despite this the fundamentalist believes that his religion is true, lock, stock and barrel.

    No — this is what the Catholic believes.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Here’s a question: If most atheists do appear disinclined to murder most
    of the time, then how do most atheists appear for the rest of the time?

    How can you expect me to answer a question that is based on a fallacy, and then proceeds via false reasoning to an imponderable ?

    Over-use of double negatives is BTW inherently destructive of
    semantic comprehensibility.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    You really are clutching at straws to try and salvage the wreckage of your argument …

    http://www.leics.gov.uk/the_nazi_master_plan.pdf

    Hitler’s “Darwinism” : http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/tj/v13/n2/nazi

    “Much of the opposition to the eugenic movement came from German Christians. Although Hitler was baptized a Catholic, he was never excommunicated, and evidently ‘considered himself a good Roman Catholic’ as a young man, and at times used religious language. He clearly had strong, even vociferous, anti-Christian feelings as an adult, as did probably most Nazi party leaders. As a consummate politician, though, he openly tried to exploit the church. Hitler once revealed his attitude toward Christianity when he bluntly stated that religion is an:

    ‘ … organized lie [that] must be smashed. The State must remain the absolute master. When I was younger, I thought it was necessary to set about [destroying religion] with dynamite. I’ve since realized there’s room for a little subtlety … The final state must be . in St. Peter’s Chair, a senile officiant; facing him a few sinister old women . The young and healthy are on our side . it’s impossible to eternally hold humanity in bondage and lies … [It] was only between the sixth and eighth centuries that Christianity was imposed upon our peoples … Our peoples had previously succeeded in living all right without this religion. I have six divisions of SS men absolutely indifferent in matters of religion. It doesn’t prevent them from going to their death with serenity in their souls.’

    His beliefs as revealed in this quote are abundantly clear: the younger people who were the hope of Germany were ‘absolutely indifferent in matters of religion’. As Keith noted, the Nazi party viewed Darwinism and Christianity as polar opposites. Milner said of Germany’s father of evolution, Ernst Haeckel, that in his Natural History of Creation he argued that ‘the church with its morality of love and charity is an effete fraud, a perversion of the natural order’. A major reason why Haeckel concluded this was because Christianity:

    ‘ … makes no distinction of race or of color; it seeks to break down all racial barriers. In this respect the hand of Christianity is against that of Nature, for are not the races of mankind the evolutionary harvest which Nature has toiled through long ages to produce? May we not say, then, that Christianity is anti-evolutionary in its aim?’

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    it most certainly is an insult to Catholics

    Yep. But no matter how many Catholics tell him that his posts are insulting, Treeny will just completely ignore this input.

    You see we haven’t been insulted by him at all …. no, it’s because Catholic morons like ourselves suffer from a “delusional persecution complex”.

    Handy that, eh ? So he can post any old offensive rubbish he likes — and it’s *our* fault for being offended !!!

  • TreenonPoet

    You write ”You really are clutching at straws to try and salvage the wreckage of your argument …”. What wreckage? Nobody has yet made a valid dent in my argument. I supplied an extract from the document that I linked to that disproves your assertion that I am ”inventing things out of thin air” (to which you just had to add ”again” to imply that I am in the habit of lying).

    You link to a notoriously mendacious site (answersingenesis), but though I say that, there is nothing in the extract that you quote that contradicts my argument, so I have no idea why you quoted it. I should just point out that ‘indifference’ is not the same as ‘rejection’.

    This leaves the other link(PDF) from your comment to the document titled “THE NAZI MASTER PLAN” by the priest and historian Richard Bonney. I do not have the resources to check that document. If this is the document you referred to earlier, then it makes my speculation about religious organisations distancing themselves from Nazism irrelevant, and I cannot reject the document wholesale in the manner that you say other atheists have. Again, it does not contradict my argument. Although Hitler made some apparently approving references to some aspects of Christianity in his writings, the religious aspect of the Nazi ideology that I have described was incompatible with Christianity (and other religions). I can see that it was expedient to try to have the Catholic Church on his side for as long as convenient. I don’t know how the Church as an organisation would have reacted to his racist statements at the time, but I presume that they were fairly happy with his condemnation of the Jews. However the document records the opposition of the Church to the basic Nazi doctrine (though shamefully quiet about this while they thought the Concordat was genuine) and there is no way that the Church could have accommodated the unique Nazi version of creation, so the Nazi intentions regarding religious organisations are not too surprising.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    Right, and never mind good old “religiously-minded” Adolf Hitler’s comments about loathing religion, and wishing to destroy it with dynamite, eh ?

    (The Concordat was established when the Nazi Party were in a coalition government with the Conservative Party, and it was actually engineered by the leader of that Party, as an attempt to try and curb Hitler’s powers — as such, it was an instant, and catastrophic failure. But it was NOT an agreement between the Church and the Nazis)

  • TreenonPoet

    Of course, I cannot be sure about the thoughts behind the expression of loathing for religion, but I took it to refer to organised religion as it existed then, not only the actual beliefs, but the rituals and some other aspects associated with traditional religious practice. Different people have different views on what consitutes religion and perhaps Hitler did not view the Nazi doctrine as a religion. What is clear is that belief in a supernatural god is not atheism.

    Your remark about the Concordat does not seem to square with Bonney’s document, nor with this Wikipedia entry. Bonney described a more gradual realisation by the Church that the Concordat would not be honoured, but it seems the Nazis never intended to honour it.

  • http://jabbapapa.wordpress.com/ Julian Lord

    As I pointed out earlier — it has been my bitter experience that no matter how MUCH stark, incontrovertible evidence that one places before atheists of Hitler’s (and the Nazi Party’s) extremely radical irreligiosity, atheism, and pervasive loathing of anything and everything that could be described as religious, the reaction of the atheist is typically to irrationally conclude from this evidence that Hitler was motivated by religion in all of these things — up to and including the massively organised attempt to exterminate the Jewish religion via genocide.

  • TreenonPoet

    As I pointed out earlier — it has been my bitter experience that no matter how MUCH stark, incontrovertible evidence that one places before atheists of Hitler’s (and the Nazi Party’s) extremely radical irreligiosity, atheism, and pervasive loathing of anything and everything that could be described as religious, the reaction of the atheist is typically to irrationally conclude from this evidence that Hitler was motivated by religion in all of these things — up to and including the massively organised attempt to exterminate the Jewish religion via genocide.

    But you have not presented any ”stark, incontrovertible evidence” in this thread that Hitler and the Nazi party were (1) extremely, radically irreligious, (2) atheist, or (3) pervasively loathed anything and everything that could be described as religious.

    (1) and (3) are partially supported by your evidence if you say that belief in God as a creator of mankind does not count as religion. That would not fit with my understanding of what constitutes religion, but I do not deny that you could come up with a definition of religion that fitted your assertions. Since there are so many definitions of religion, that is your prerogative. To reinforce my point: if a Catholic rejects the thousands of other religions, that does not make him/her anti-religious.

    However, regarding (2), it would be ridiculous to redefine ‘atheism’ to mean the belief that no deities exist except for the deity that Hitler believed in.

    Or are you suggesting that Hitler did not believe that God created the Aryan race to be superior to others? If so, then you are dismissing a fundamental tenet of Hitler’s nazism as propaganda and it becomes almost meaningless to refer to anything at all that Hitler said.

  • Solent Rambler

    Mr Oddie: what is your evidence that “even Catholic” charities are implicated in providing funds for “distinctly unCatholic objectives”?

    Why don’t you publish what it is?

    If you won’t, then your innuendo is deeply unpleasant and unfair on many decent, kind volunteers and donors. Plus of course the drop in income that could result from your gossip that would affect the good work “even Catholic” charities do.

    If you won’t publish your reasons, you should have the decency to say why.