“Every high civilization decays by forgetting obvious things.”
– G. K. Chesterton
From an essay by French Bishop Jean-Pierre Batut comes a message that applies to our own time.
“‘Gentlemen, here one does not lie!’ In French high schools of long ago, even sixth grade students, barely twelve years old, were called ‘gentlemen.’ And this sentence, ‘Gentlemen, here one does not lie,’ is the first that Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger claimed to remember from his German teacher at the Lycée Montaigne at the end of the 1930s. In dangerous times when Nazi propaganda, which had made falsehood its foundation and truth its enemy, reigned in the land of Goethe, this injunction from a German professor marked a young Jewish student forever.”
However unlikely it is to reap the horrors of the last century, the culture in which we live has step by step been making truth its enemy, subordinating it to the fictions and to the moral and intellectual sleights-of-hand of secular progressivism. Outright lying abounds, but its a lie that passes itself off as a more refined form of the truth that it undermines that causes the greatest cultural damage.
If any reader unfamiliar with the story of Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger might find it incongruous that a twelve year old Jewish boy would grow up to be a Catholic Cardinal, I recommend the recent movie made for French television The Jewish Cardinal (available on Netflix).
A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 2 p.m. in Stanford Memorial Church for the renowned French theorist René Girard, who died in November at age 91.
It has been our joy in years past to share a short excerpt from the Hoover Institution’s ‘Uncommon Knowledge’ interview with René Girard and Peter Robinson. It is especially poignant this year.
Requiescat in pace René Noël Théophile Girard, Joyeux Noël!
Christmas is the traditional gift giving season. For many the gifts given and received at Christmas are heartfelt expressions of the depth of loving relationships. There are other occasions where we commonly give gifts as well such as birthdays, weddings, baby showers, graduations, housewarmings. I suppose gifts are never out of place or inappropriate and can be given anytime one is moved to do so.
But getting back to Christmas,…while cynics see the crass commercialism of the season, and sentimentalists are drawn to the stories of Santa and the reindeer, or the manger with its shepherds and angels and wise men there is a more primitive sense that I have been drawn to year after year. This sense comes from the multiple associations of the word ‘gift’. The substantive sense of ‘gift’ is ‘that which is given’, but in order for it to be meaningful it requires both a giver of the gift and one to whom the gift is given. This little word expresses the fundamental relationship that constellates the ground of human experience (and from a theological perspective the heart of the triune nature of God as the lover, the beloved and the love that unites them.) So, at Christmas we share in this divine generosity in our own funny ways and in varying degrees of ineptness by exchanging gifts. Some find the particularity of the gospel stories equally ludicrous and preposterous (a la Charlie Hebdo or Monty Python). But I find in them true stories of One who gives the gift of himself to us all, the expression of all that love can do while honoring the freedom of the beloved. For me at least, no amount of pious sentimentality or snarky cynicism, yawning apathy or hostile opposition can obscure the beating heart at the core of Christmas. I hope that you find this gift in your life and treasure it above all else.
Randy Coleman-Riese, executive director
Muslims who are working to make the characterization of Islam as a religion of peace into a reality deserve our admiration and support, all the more so inasmuch as the worldwide challenge they face is so seemingly insurmountable. To date those insisting that Islam is a peaceful religion have been more successful in persuading non-Muslims living in Western societies than in convincing Muslims in Muslim-majority societies that this is so. (A 2013 Pew survey of global attitudes found that 88 percent of Egyptian Muslims and 62 percent of Pakistani Muslims favor the death penalty for apostates. Other statistics on matters such as the stoning of adulterers and inferior status of women, etc. are equally troubling.) The underlying problem is that there are a great many texts, traditions, and historical precedents that would have to be fundamentally altered in order for Islam to shake off the perception of its intrinsically violent nature.
We non-Muslims can do little to enhance the influence that peace loving Muslims will have in Muslim-majority lands. Repeating the religion-of-peace mantra is an empty gesture, which can only reassure the most violent of the jihadist that those they see as infidels are too feckless and craven to be taken seriously. What is needed in our country is a national debate, moderated by a Western authority on Islam, between a distinguished spokesman for moderate Islam and an equally impeccable authority – of which there are many – defending, for instance, the death sentence for apostates, the perpetual war against infidels, the subordination of women, and other doctrines equally odious to Westerners but for which passages in the Qur’an, the Hadith, and the Sunnah can be quoted as sacred warrant.
If such a debate were to focus – not on the peaceful texts in the Qur’an, many of which are abrogated by subsequent texts of greater authority – but precisely on the controverted texts which not only authorize violence but which demand it – the debate would be a remarkable event. Of course, such a debate would need to address the question of what constitutes legitimate ways of interpreting the sacred texts of Islam. Unlike biblical exegesis, which approaches the text with the aid of both reason and faith, and which situates scriptural passages within the history of divine revelation, Islam insists that what was dictated to Mohammad and inscribed in the Qur’an is set in stone for all time, immune to later nuance or interpretation.
The debate therefore needs to address two features of Islamic interpretation of which most non-Muslims are unfamiliar, but on which the most respected Islamic authorities agree. The first longstanding principle of Qur’anic interpretation adjudicates the conflicting injunctions found in the Qur’anic passages from Mohammad’s earlier Mecca period, when his small and relatively weak movement was less violent and more accommodating, and those from the period after he fled to Medina, when he was militarily successful and his most violent and morally offensive behavior was solemnly recorded as exemplary. Where Qur’anic passages from the relatively peaceful and the more warlike phases of Mohammad’s life are incompatible, the passages from the later and more violent Medina period are regarded as abrogating the passages from the earlier more peaceful period.
The second key to interpreting Islam about which most Westerners remain unaware relates to Islam’s tenth century intellectual crisis, which led to the rejection of rationality and the triumph of the will – specifically the will of Allah as the normative source of all morality. On the basis of this principle, an act is not only justified but absolutely required, not because it is moral, but rather it is regarded as moral purely and simply because Allah demands it, regardless of how it might offend a morally healthy conscience. These are the things that need to be debated among Muslims and those non-Muslims who have a stake in which of these understandings of Islam prevails – which today includes most of the world. For if we are to take the measure of Islam and assess its compatibility with the moral, religious, and political structures of Western civilization, these are the issues that will have to be adjudicated.
Prominent among those Westerners who are informed enough and courageous and forthright enough to moderate such a debate are Robert Spencer, Robert R. Reilly, and Andrew McCarthy, each of whom has written extensively and lucidly on the crisis of radical Islam, the historical, intellectual, and theological sources of this crisis, and the unlikelihood that the moderate Muslims will soon prevail, their forms of interpretation being so widely rejected by Islamic authorities of the highest standing. The value of such a debate, however, will be in clarifying what stands in the way of the emergence of a more peaceful and tolerant Islam, and what obstacles moderate Muslims and their non-Muslim supporters must overcome if Islam is to become genuinely tolerant and compatible with legitimately secular political institutions.
Recipients of the annual Saint John Paul II Award for the New Evangelization are those who have demonstrated an exemplary commitment to proclaiming Christ to all peoples. This year, the Catholic Information Center is proud to honor Kevin J. “Seamus” Hasson and Mary Rice Hasson who have devoted their lives to serving their family, community, and the Catholic Church.
In these marvelous videos, my old friend, Fr. Arne Panula, presents the 2015 John Paul II New Evangelization Award to my new friends Mary Rice Hasson and her remarkable husband Seamus.
“To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, ‘When somebody says it’s not about Islam, it’s about Islam.’ Syed Farook did not go to Saudi Arabia to study Zen Buddhism.” — Roger Simon