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Our political masters need to get this: theological problems can only have theological solutions

The Woolwich murderers were motivated by a particular brand of theology

By on Friday, 24 May 2013

British newspapers report on the Woolwich attack (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

British newspapers report on the Woolwich attack (Yui Mok/PA Wire)

In a thought-provoking piece over at Telegraph blogs, Alan Johnson tells us that we need to talk about Islamism. In this, he is completely correct. We need, among other things, to try and understand the theology (or better anti-theology) of the Woolwich murderers.

Two things happened at Woolwich: a man was cruelly hacked to death in the street, and the perpetrators shouted out “Allahu Akbar” (God is great) as they carried out their deed. But these two things are, to Christians, in clear opposition.

To proclaim the greatness of God is to reverence His creation. To desecrate the work of God’s hands, which is what murder is, is tantamount to blasphemy. Indeed, to murder a human being is the worst of sins, as all people are in the image and likeness of God. Thus to destroy God’s image and proclaim God is great as you do so is plainly contradictory. Well, at least to Christians.

In the above paragraph I have used a theological concept, namely “Creation”, and in so doing I am showing, I think, that this is the a concept that the Woolwich murderers reject. For them the world is clearly not God’s creation. If it were, it would be of value. But they reject the world in favour of a vision of God that is utterly transcendent. The world does not matter; only God matters.

The idea of God as utterly transcendent, which is something that Catholics must reject (though some Christians, Catholics included, have flirted with it), is a dangerous idea as well as a completely wrong one.

An utterly transcendent God only speaks in his own language. He is not concerned with the world and does not love the world, because the world is material, and how could he love something so very below himself in value? His Word is what counts; our words are useless. He certainly does not speak to us through nature, or through human reasoning, or through human experience. All goodness is to be found in him alone, not in the things of this world. The things that are of this world are not paths to God, but barriers between us and him; you have to overcome the world and spurn the world to find him.

And, above all, when his supposed Word contradicts the world, then the world must be wrong. In the competition between sacred text and world, sacred text wins each and every time, and is never to be submitted to the indignity of human interpretation – for what has the puny human mind to add to the greatness of God?

Now, there might be some fundamentalist Protestants, and some Orthodox and a few Catholics who would go along with the above, but the real – and, indeed, only – workable theology is one that sees God as both transcendent and immanent. God sent His Son, His Word made flesh, into the world to speak to us. In Christ we experience a conversation with God, who is so much greater than us, yet on our level too. In Christ, God has sanctified all flesh and all human experience in the flesh. This does not mean all human activity is holy. But it does mean human activity can become holy, and can become the locus for discovering truth, and the truth about God. Nothing in this world is to be rejected, apart from sin, which is the wrong use of God’s Creation, for this world is the work of God, a work that does not demean God, but which glorifies Him.

One cannot sum up the whole of theology in a few paragraphs, but I hope the above helps to show that a fundamental theological error is dangerous and needs to be dealt with. For such a theological error can lead to dreadful results.

One last thought about the victim of the Woolwich murderers: he was an ordinary and average young man, just like the rest of us. He had done what so many of us do: he had got a job, worked, married his wife, had a child. All very usual, and yet each of these acts was filled, one hopes, with the grace of God, which made these ordinary everyday acts extraordinary. His everyday life was, one hopes, suffused with love. His, like every life, was a life worth living, because this life is one in which we find an opening to meaning and truth and love. And because of this, his life was to be treasured; and now it has ended, to be mourned.

May his soul, created by God, and thus of infinite value, now rest with God, our heavenly Father.

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    When the “Salt” has lost it’s saltiness…..when Christians do not belong to Christ the Lord….What are you talking about?

  • Thomas Poovathinkal SSP

    Following Jesus the Lord and obeying him solve all problems. We don’t have to get occupied with Politicians – secular or religious.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    Very transparent dodging Jabba – When have I ever asked you that question before???

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

    More than once in that corrupted cesspit of an atheist-filled blog at the Daily Telegraph site.

  • Old Badger

    I am curious as to why anyone would vote down a post which is purely neutral and factual. Was it because you are Gramsci-ite multiculturalists who refuse to believe this? Or was it because of a visceral hostility to things Islamic and the sight of the name makes you press the ‘vote down’ button? Remember medieval armies also often went into battle chanting or shouting prayers….”Cry God for Harry, England, and St. George.”

  • Old Badger

    This post is simply disgraceful and should be removed. The solution to Britain’s problems with Jihadist terrorism is not to imitate the Serbians and their hateful and inexcusable crimes against humanity in Bosnia. Remember Sbrenica? That such a suggestion can appear in the columns of a Catholic newspaper is shameful — as too are the proposed restrictions on basic normal religious freedoms. I thought we were struggling to defend those.

  • scary goat

    Huh???

  • ExAng

    I have not read Nostra Aetate, however, I still believe that my opinion is valid: let me explain. We have just celebrated the Most Holy & Undivided Trinity; Islam teaches that God (Allah) is One, absolute, the Christian view is shirk – blasphemy. Now, logically there are only two possible conclusions from these beliefs: 1. they are both wrong, 2. one opinion is wrong and one is right. They cannot BOTH be right. Therefore, at the very least, the understanding one religion (or both) has of God is wrong. In what sense are we both worshipping the same God?
    The views I encountered were expressed thus: “We worship God in our way, Muslims worship God in their way”, simply a matter of tradition, culture or choice with a total disregard as to the question of truth. Surely this is a part of the relativism that has so corrupted western society at so many levels. It is not bigoted to say that two opposing views cannot both be right.

    As for false gods, perhaps false prophets would have been better and St Paul & St John both refer to such (see esp. 1John 2: 21-23).
    Of course none of this reflects on the morals, behaviour etc. of Muslims; having lived and worked most of my life in a town with one of the largest % Muslims in the UK, I know of what I speak! Pax tibi.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    What complete rubbish! The lengths you go to to avoid answering a question are incredible!

  • Peter

    Their denial of the Trinity does not invalidate the fact that we share belief in one merciful omnipotent Creator.

  • Tommy O’D

    Finitum capax infiniti.

    (Of Lutheran origin w/r/t Eucharistic theology debates, but convert Fr. Richard John Neuhaus loved to use this expanded to include all quotidian things.)

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

    A very accurate summary of the question, thanks.

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

    Which part of “I have become extremely bored with your incessant demands that the same 4-5 remarks need replying to on hundreds of separate occasions, and on multiple different websites” have you failed to understand ?

  • $46579571

    Politicians, media and public have turned one murder into a Shock Horror Crisis Emergency Terrorism Apocalypse Drama.
    Perhaps we need Christ’s peace: “My peace I leave with you…..”

  • Tridentinus

    Of course we can rely on the Guardian not to miss an opportunity to have a dig at Pope Benedict.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    I can honestly say I have never asked you that question before.

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

    Then you shouldn’t engage in several months-long internet campaigns obsessively focused on the same 4-5 remarks falsely posing as “questions”, given your apparent inability to keep track of what has already been said, including by yourself — because oh yes you have.

    Boring, out of here, and I do not look forward to your stalking of me to whichever new thread or website.

  • Daniel_Borsell

    Well, if you have answered the same question before, I’d be more than happy with a copied and pasted answer – and I’ll promise not to stalk you. Deal?

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