Faith And Doubt At Christmastime

IMG_7188

 

A brief personal Christmas reflection on waxing and waning faith

At this time of year, back in England, I would often attend Christmas carol services where it was customary for an excerpt from John Betjeman’s poem “Christmas” to be read aloud from the pulpit. Chances are that if you grew up attending church in Britain in the latter half of the twentieth century, you know it too.

The well-known poem concludes:

And is it true,
This most tremendous tale of all,
Seen in a stained-glass window’s hue,
A Baby in an ox’s stall ?
The Maker of the stars and sea
Become a Child on earth for me ?

And is it true ? For if it is,
No loving fingers tying strings
Around those tissued fripperies,
The sweet and silly Christmas things,
Bath salts and inexpensive scent
And hideous tie so kindly meant,

No love that in a family dwells,
No carolling in frosty air,
Nor all the steeple-shaking bells
Can with this single Truth compare –
That God was man in Palestine
And lives today in Bread and Wine.

The poem is nice enough, and one can certainly understand why it is enthusiastically incorporated into Christmas services across denominational divides (I would often hear it at an Evangelical Congregational church the week before Christmas and again a week later at Midnight Mass).

But at present, my mind keeps returning to another Betjeman poem on the subject of faith, this one entitled “The conversion of St. Paul”. Betjeman was apparently spurred to write it as a response to the (shocking for the time) broadcast on the BBC of a humanist lecture attacking Christianity – given by the “Mrs. Knight” mentioned in Betjeman’s verse.

My personal faith has ebbed and flowed this year. Highlights certainly include attending the Easter Vigil Mass at a church in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and finding a very welcoming home at my new university’s Catholic Student Center. Meeting some good friends there, attending a Catholic Bible study (that rarest of things) and praying the increasingly rare yet beautiful form of Compline (my grandfather would have approved) have all been very happy and spiritually affirming memories.

On the other hand, my disillusionment with the Church hierarchy has grown deeper and deeper, to the point of physical disgust, and an involuntary repellence from the rituals and practices which are often necessary to maintain a healthy spiritual life.

Another explosion of child sexual abuse cases – this time implicating very senior officials across numerous diocese in the coverups after the Church in America supposedly cleaned house after the 2001 scandals – make it increasingly hard to believe that many of those in positions of leadership within the Church are doing anything more than securing power and status for themselves, while placing the stability of the institution over the flock it is supposed to serve. Only recently, the Cardinal Archbishop of my new home diocese, Washington, D.C., was finally forced to resign under a cloud of scandal and suspicion.

The author and blogger Rod Dreher has written frequently and movingly of his disillusionment and eventual detachment from the Roman Catholic Church over the same issues, though Rod as a journalist had far better knowledge of what was going on and the depth of depravity and corruption within the hierarchy. In one piece (I forget which – if I find it I will update this piece with the link) he talked about the way that skepticism about the human institution can easily bleed into skepticism about the doctrine and theology which its leaders proclaim, and so works as a kind of metastasizing cancer throughout the faith. I must confess that I have not found myself entirely immune from this syndrome.

I have not yet taken the plunge of leaving the Church as Rod Dreher did, and have no current plans to do so. But this has been a year of waxing and waning faith, even more than usual for me. And it is this experience which finds resonance in Betjeman’s other poem, which I have reproduced in full below.

The last two paragraphs in particular resonate with me at this time and in this unusual Christmas season, my first spent as an expat, immigrant and permanent resident of the United States. Much like Betjeman, “no blinding light, a fitful glow is all the light of faith I know”; yet even now, we “stumble on and blindly grope, upheld by intermittent hope”.

 

The Conversion of St. Paul

Now is the time when we recall
The sharp Conversion of St. Paul.
Converted! Turned the wrong way round –
A man who seemed till then quite sound,
Keen on religion – very keen –
No-one, it seems, had ever been
So keen on persecuting those
Who said that Christ was God and chose
To die for this absurd belief
As Christ had died beside the thief.
Then in a sudden blinding light
Paul knew that Christ was God all right –
And very promptly lost his sight.

Poor Paul! They led him by the hand
He who had been so high and grand
A helpless blunderer, fasting, waiting,
Three days inside himself debating
In physical blindness: ‘As it’s true
That Christ is God and died for you,
Remember all the things you did
To keep His gospel message hid.
Remember how you helped them even
To throw the stones that murdered Stephen.
And do you think that you are strong
Enough to own that you were wrong?’

They must have been an awful time,
Those three long days repenting crime
Till Ananias came and Paul
Received his sight, and more than all
His former strength, and was baptized.
Saint Paul is often criticized
By modern people who’re annoyed
At his conversion, saying Freud
Explains it all. But they omit
The really vital point of it,
Which isn’t how it was achieved
But what it was that Paul believed.

He knew as certainly as we
Know you are you and I am me
That Christ was all He claimed to be.
What is conversion? Turning round
From chaos to a love profound.
And chaos too is an abyss
In which the only life is this.
Such a belief is quite all right
If you are sure like Mrs. Knight
And think morality will do
For all the ills we’re subject to.

But raise your eyes and see with Paul
An explanation of it all.
Injustice, cancer’s cruel pain,
All suffering that seems in vain,
The vastness of the universe,
Creatures like centipedes and worse –
All part of an enormous plan
Which mortal eyes can never scan
And out if it came God to man.
Jesus is God and came to show
The world we live in here below
Is just an antechamber where
We for His Father’s house prepare.

What is conversion? Not at all
For me the experience of St. Paul,
No blinding light, a fitful glow
Is all the light of faith I know
Which sometimes goes completely out
And leaves me plunging round in doubt
Until I will myself to go
And worship in God’s house below –
My parish Church – and even there
I find distractions everywhere.

What is Conversion? Turning round
To gaze upon a love profound.
For some of us see Jesus plain
And never once look back again,
And some of us have seen and known
And turned and gone away alone,
But most of us turn slow to see
The figure hanging on a tree
And stumble on and blindly grope
Upheld by intermittent hope.
God grant before we die we all
May see the light as did St. Paul.

– John Betjeman.

 

Additional: If you are a regular reader, derive value and enjoyment from my writing and have not yet contributed to my Christmas fundraising drive (particularly important now that I am an impoverished student once again!), please consider doing so here.

 

John Betjeman statue

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Advertisements

Music For The Day

Kyrie, from Mass VIII, de Angelis.

Performed here on the organ. Sung version here.

I used to enjoy singing this at the Latin Mass at Corpus Christi church in Boscombe.

 

kyriale-kyrie-mass-viii-8-kyrie-eleison

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Tales From The Safe Space, Part 46 – Purging Catholicism From A Catholic University In The Name Of Social Justice

hammerton-college-1751689_960_720

When academic or religious freedom is at stake, principled pro-free speech professors can expect no cover or support from their spineless university administrations

We have already seen how the leaders and administrators at one American Catholic university – DePaul University in Chicago – have demonstrated that they would sooner purge their own faith from campus than do anything which might risk upsetting the SJW cultists and their new secular gods of social justice and identity politics.

And now Rod Dreher brings us news of another persecution taking place, this time at Providence College in Rhode Island, where literature professor Tony Esolen finds himself besieged by vengeful students and hung out to dry by his superiors for having written a thoughtful essay for Crisis Magazine, questioning the current cult of Diversity At All Costs.

Was the essay rather provocative? Well yes – it was titled “My college succumbed to the totalitarian diversity cult”. But at one time university professors were expected to do and say provocative things. It was part of creating a climate of no-holds-barred intellectual debate, the kind which seems to have become so unfashionable of late.

But Esolen made a compelling argument in his essay – writing, remember, from the perspective of an orthodox Catholic teaching at a supposedly Catholic educational institution:

I understand what it is to have a Greek festival or an Italian festival, or a parish festival where fellow Catholics come out to enjoy good high-calorie food, play some innocent games of chance, and try to get the priest to sit in the dunking machine. For man is always united from above, not from below, and that includes even the make-believe transcendence of the local baseball team, which is harmless enough if not taken too seriously. When Catholics come to Mass to pray, they do so as members of one Church, not ten, not fifty, praying the same prayers all over the world, because they give thanks to the one Lord and Savior who died for them on one cross, on the one hill of the Skull, on that one Friday long ago. This was the same Lord who prayed that we would be not ten, not fifty, but one, even as he and the Father are one.

But the watchword at Providence College right now is not unity, but “diversity,” as is made evident by the four-page Diversity Program featured prominently on our website. When I see the word “diversity” in its current use as a political slogan, I ask myself the following questions:

What is diversity, as opposed to divergence?
What is diversity, as opposed to mere variety?
What goods, precisely, is diversity supposed to deliver?
Why is intellectual diversity not served by the study of a dozen cultures of the past, with their vast array of customs, poetry, art, and worship of the gods?

Immediately one can see how this would offend the SJW ideological enforcers, who preach that we are not one, but many, and that we must continually emphasise and acknowledge our differences – often to the extent of resegregation – rather than highlight our common bonds.

Esolen concludes his essay:

But there is no evidence on our Diversity page that we wish to be what God has called us to be, a committedly and forthrightly Catholic school with life-changing truths to bring to the world. It is as if, deep down, we did not really believe it. So let us suppose that a professor should affirm some aspect of the Church’s teaching as regards the neuralgia of our time, sex. Will his right to do so be confirmed by those who say they are committed to diversity? Put it this way. Suppose someone were to ask, “Is it permitted for a secular liberal, at a secular and liberal college, to affirm in the classroom a secular view of sex and the family?” The question would strike everyone as absurd. It would be like asking whether we were permitted to walk on two feet or to look up at the sky. Then why should it not also be absurd to ask, “Is it permitted for a Catholic, at a college that advertises itself as Catholic, to affirm a Catholic view of sex and the family?” And I am not talking merely about professors whose specific job it is to teach moral philosophy or moral theology. I am talking about all professors.

In my now extensive experience, Catholic professors in Catholic colleges have been notably tolerant of the limitations of their secular colleagues. We make allowances all the time. We understand, though, that some of them—not all, but then it only takes a few—would silence us for good, if they had the power. They have made life hell for more than one of my friends. All, now, in the name of an undefined and perhaps undefinable diversity, to which you had damned well better give honor and glory. If you don’t—and you may not even be aware of the lese majeste as you commit it—you’d better have eyes in the back of your head.

So naturally, outraged SJW students at Providence College went running to the college president in tears, claiming that they had been “harmed” by these thoughtful and completely non-malicious essays.

Equally predictably, the university authorities rolled over in the face of this tyrannical power play by the band of wobbly-lipped permanent victim students, and effectively censured Esolen. As Esolen recounted to Rod Dreher:

My friends of course were outraged, and I was stunned — basically, I had been singled out and exposed before the whole faculty, very few of whom were probably even aware that there was such a thing as Crisis Magazine; and of course they and the students are not my audience when I write for Crisis or whatever. Then, as if that were not bad enough, the President met with faculty on Wednesday afternoon, and all they did for a solid hour was to revile the evil Professor Esolen, with a few old-fashioned liberals defending my right to express my opinions, and several of my stalwart friends from philosophy and theology defending me personally and criticizing the president for his decision and for his handling of related matters. When the president said that he believed that he had to act “for pastoral reasons,” they replied that it was a strange form of pastoral care that pits every member of a community against one.

And it is still not over. The faculty have circulated a “petition,” or a resolution, or something neither flesh nor fowl, to the effect that though we all have academic freedom, it has to be exercised responsibly, and reviling “some part of the PC faculty” that is “unabashed” in publishing articles that are racist, xenophobic, sexist, homophobic, and religiously chauvinistic. The petition has been signed by various faculty members and students. And STILL I hear that they are not satisfied, but are trying to figure out if they can use my articles to nail me for “bias” and hate, basically asserting that I am not capable of teaching certain categories of students — gay, female, and so forth.

Though he remains able to appreciate the bitter humour in the situation:

As I’ve said to people, authors don’t choose the titles for articles for Crisis Magazine; the editor does that, for the sake of “traffic” on the page. His title was a bit provocative. But everything that has happened since then has shown me, alas, that the editor saw more than I did, or more than I have been willing to admit. The irony would seem to be obvious: “How DARE you suggest that there is a totalitarian impulse in our behavior? You should be FIRED!” And then of course there is the brazen cheering of the faculty when it is proposed that we should not be Catholic after all.

The strange irony of it all is that I’m the one who believes that a wide diversity of cultures and of institutions is a good thing, and they really do not. I do not WANT all colleges and universities to be basically the same; they do.

The list of demands presented to Providence College by the student protesters is full of all the demands for compulsory re-education (of students and faculty), gutting the core undergraduate curriculum to de-emphasise the Western Canon and make it more SJW-friendly, pumping more money into ethnic and gender studies, aggressive hire of minorities on an affirmative action basis, trained counsellors to minister to the delicate emotions of the student snowflakes, the building of a “multicultural center” and – naturally – the hire of new dedicated Diversity Professionals to oversee the new regime.

We are becoming accustomed to reading these laughably impertinent demands, but this document really does take one’s breath away with its sheer scope. And given the fact that the president (Fr. Brian Shanley) folded faster than Superman on laundry day when students first protested professor Esolen – sending them a grovellingly conciliatory letter which basically threw Esolen under the bus – I would not bet against the list of demands being implemented in full, unquestioningly, within the space of a decade.

When spineless university administrators are forced to choose between academic freedom or facing down the minority of SJW agitators who are determined to turn academic life into a pointless, totalitarian dystopia of identity politics totalitarianism, academic freedom loses every time. And when Catholic university administrators are forced to choose between defending the right of orthodox Catholics to express their faith or bowing to endless demands from the most privileged generation of college students in history, again there is no question. The demands are implemented and Catholicism goes out the window before you can say “that’s oppressive”.

Hopefully the new attention focused on this case – plus the fact that Professor Esolen has tenure – will mean that his job remains safe. But the long term outlook is bleak. Academia having nearly completely fallen to the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics, Catholic universities across America may soon become safe spaces for everyone and everything, save Catholicism itself.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: Pixabay

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

Tales From The Safe Space, Part 43 – DePaul University Censors Pro-Life Conservatives To Placate Black Lives Matter

depaul-university-college-republicans-unborn-lives-matter-blm

Appeasing the gods of social justice and identity politics now overrides a Catholic university’s commitment to Catholicism itself

It is now indisputable: Black Lives Matter are rapidly becoming the one absolutely holy and inviolable interest group on American college campuses, a favoured priesthood of living saints who must be protected from blasphemy and offence at all costs.

There really is no other way to describe the privilege enjoyed by this organisation following the news that DePaul University in Chicago – a Catholic institution – recently banned a poster produced by the DePaul College Republicans because their catchphrase “Unborn Lives Matter” is supposedly deliberately provocative and hurtful to the delicate Black Lives Matter snowflakes.

I repeat: the president of a Catholic university actively suppressed the free speech of his own students because they dared to publicly support traditional Catholic teaching on the sanctity of life and the rights of unborn children – which might have offended a group of people who are supposedly concerned about racial justice, not abortion rights.

Campus Reform reports:

The DePaul College Republicans chapter has been censored yet again, this time over promotional flyers proclaiming that “Unborn Lives Matter.”

According to University President Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, the club was forbidden from using the flyers because they were “bigotry…under the cover of free speech,” meant to “provoke” members of the Black Lives Matter movement.

DePaul College Republicans Vice President John Minster told Campus Reform that his group wanted to use the “Unborn Lives Matter” flyers to draw members to their club meetings, but had to submit the design to the Office of Student Involvement for approval.

OSI Director Amy Mynaugh was out of town during the approval process, however, and the design proposal made it all the way to President Holtschneider.

Holtschneider not only declined to approve the flyers, but sent a letter to the entire university body explaining that the pro-life posters constituted “bigotry” and were not considered free speech.

The letter from President Holtschneider reads in part:

DePaul is a private Catholic institution, and we also are part of the academy.  By our nature, we are committed to developing arguments and exploring important issues that can be steeped in controversy and, oftentimes, emotion.  Yet there will be times when some forms of speech challenge our grounding in Catholic and Vincentian values.  When that happens, you will see us refuse to allow members of our community to be subjected to bigotry that occurs under the cover of free speech.  In fact, you have seen this in past months, as we have declined to host a proposed speaker and asked students to redesign a banner that provokes the Black Lives Matter movement.

Some people will say that DePaul’s stance unfairly silences speech to appease a crowd.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  As we experienced last spring, it’s not difficult to agree that there is a difference between a thoughtful discussion about immigration and a profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the Quad; or between a panel on racial climate and a noose — a powerful symbol of violence and hatred — outside a residence hall.  In both recent cases, the first, we encourage; the second, we abhor.

Because co-opting a topical phrase to express support for the Church’s pro-life stance is apparently “provocative” – the “provocation” outweighing the moral question at stake in the eyes of DePaul University.

And putting up a poster declaring that “Unborn Lives Matter” – the clearly stated and strongly affirmed position of the Catholic Church, the institution with which DePaul is inseparably affiliated – is not a statement of moral purpose, but is instead deemed the equivalent of a “profane remark about Mexicans scrawled in the Quad”.

The letter continues:

If you read DePaul’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression, you will see that our Vincentian values were in the forefront six years ago when these guidelines were developed.  Though a group of your own DePaul colleagues are giving them a fresh look for updates, the current guiding principles still apply.  I encourage you to read the entire document to gain a better understanding of the balance between our values and speech.  In particular, I ask you to reflect on these sentences: “We accept that there is a distinction between being provocative and being hurtful.  Speech whose primary purpose is to wound is inconsistent with our Vincentian and Catholic values.”

More:

Disagreements will happen on important issues—many that are personal to members of our community for whom race, immigration, gender disparities, religious beliefs and economic privilege are more than conversation topics; they are part of an inescapable lived experience.  Students and others will almost certainly continue to explore and seek the exact limits of our tolerance for free expression when that expression is meant to cause distress.  Certainly, everyone is allowed to have their opinions on these topics.  I simply ask when you are expressing your opinion that you respect the difference between a reasoned discussion and words whose primary purpose is to wound.  I also ask that the university community refuse to “rise to the bait” in those moments when speech may become uncomfortable or even exasperating, but falls within the bounds of the academy’s commitment to full and robust debate.

Because hurt feelings are far more important than abortion. And the omniscient president and administrators of DePaul university can look clearly inside the human heart and discern whether a given student intends to provoke, offend or hurt when determining their right to speak.

This is ludicrous. Holtschneider made no attempt to speak with the DePaul College Republicans before censoring their poster and banning it from campus – he high handedly presumed to know what motivated them to speak out in favour of the rights of the unborn, and then publicly find them to be morally deficient and their motives cynical. That is effectively the judgment on their character that Holtschneider passed by revoking their right to express themselves – that they are Evil Racists more interested in “provoking” certain members of the black community than witnessing to their faith and speaking their consciences.

The National Review rages:

As a private, Catholic university, DePaul is not explicitly obliged to respect students’ free-speech rights like a public university would be. But it is disturbing that the university would choose not to do so, and even more disturbing that DePaul’s administration justified their decision by invoking the university’s “Catholic values.” It is hard to believe that the phrase “Unborn Lives Matter” is in violation of a Catholic university’s values when, in fact, this phrase ought to embody them.

This is not the first time that DePaul’s administration has been confused about the proper application of its Catholic guidelines. For instance, one of the university’s 2016 commencement speakers was Martin Castro, chairman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who in his professional capacity has advocated same-sex marriage and radical gender theory, and opposed religious-freedom legislation that would have enabled Catholic institutions to uphold their values. DePaul was also found to have referred students to jobs and internships at Planned Parenthood, and to have promoted social-media posts celebrating the Supreme Court decision recognizing same-sex marriage nationwide.

While it is the university administration’s prerogative to take these actions — even though they openly conflict with established Church doctrine — it is appalling that the same administration would invoke its Catholic principles to ban pro-life flyers from campus. It is evident that Holtschneider and his staff are intent upon silencing conservative student voices, even if they must wield their Catholic identity as a cudgel to do so.

It is particularly depressing that the SJW snowflakes of DePaul have their grubby hands on the university’s Guiding Principles on Speech and Expression – we can safely assume that the next version of this document will be even more restrictive, and prioritise the feelings and “identities” of coddled students even more strongly over the imperative for debate and the quest for truth. Which will be some achievement, considering the current version already draws a specious “distinction between being provocative and being hurtful.

But one can only be so angry at the students themselves. As this blog has explored repeatedly, these thin-skinned students are very much a product of their environment and their upbringing. They are the result of Everyone Wins A Prize schooling, parental paranoia about a child abductor lurking on every corner and the endless, nauseating praise for the most pedestrian of accomplishments and the corrosive idea, inculcated at every stage of their academic lives, that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will kill me stone dead”.

Far more to blame are the adults – the liberal college professors now struggling to stay ahead of their students in the race to be ever more strident, intolerant and authoritarian in response to ideas they dislike, and the spineless university administrators who would sooner collaborate with the new regime and stab academic freedom in the back than push back against their millennial masters.

But special criticism has to be levied at the leader of a Catholic educational institution – somebody with Reverend in their title – who prioritises the prickly feelings of Black Lives Matter (and their proprietary sense of ownership over the phrase “[insert interest group] lives matter”) over and above the Church’s teaching on a core social issue.

I happen to be Catholic myself. Personally, I do believe that All Lives Matter. I believe that life begins at conception, and that therefore abortion inherently means the taking of a life. But I also believe that this is also sometimes the lesser of two evils, or an understandable choice in an impossibly difficult situation. As well as the commonly given exceptions – rape, incest, the life of the mother – I believe that abortion should be a legal, safe and much, much rarer. And part of making abortion much rarer must surely involve easier access to (and education about) contraception. One of the best ways to stop new lives being discarded before they begin is to prevent the hideous situation from arising in the first place.

I recognise that all of the above places me in conflict with the church’s teaching, and that is something which I have to wrestle with. I’m reasonably sure that I am right, and that my viewpoint will be vindicated and adopted by the Church in the fullness of time, but that doesn’t lessen the sense of unease at being out of communion with my religion on such an emotive issue.

But here’s the difference: I don’t expect external authority figures to step in, suppressing the free speech of others to prevent my guilty conscience from being pricked. Nor do I expect them to do so because the language they choose to use in affirming traditional Church teaching “appropriates” the name of another cause I happen to care about, or which impacts me. I can think and write what I want – I have no business limiting the freedom of others to do the same.

And students at a Catholic university, of all places, should be free to affirm Catholic teaching through articles, peaceful protest and harmless posters without fear of censorship by craven university authorities – spineless, degenerate cowards who would sooner suppress freedom of speech and publicly reject their own religion’s teaching than risk the slightest offence to their new deity: the Cult of Social Justice and Identity Politics.

Bigotry “under the cover of free speech”? That is to be DePaul University’s sneering, dismissive and hostile attitude toward young conservative Catholics who dare to affirm the teachings of their faith?

People of faith should pray for the censored College Republicans (whether or not you agree with their cause), and for DePaul University. Because religion counts for nothing if it has to disregard doctrine and bend the knee to social fads and new secular shibboleths.

And I don’t know how much longer the academy can plausibly survive the continued ruthless letting of its most vital lifeblood – the right to free speech.

 

Safe Space Notice - 2

Top Image: National Review

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.

The Pope Is Dangerously Naive To Absolve Islam Of Responsibility For The Islamist Murder Of A Catholic Priest

Pope Francis - Aeroplane Press Conference

Islamist terror alone cannot defeat Western civilisation. Only we have the power to do that – and some of us are doing our darnedest to try

It is difficult to see how Western civilisation and enlightenment values can fight back against the forces of fundamentalist, Islamist terrorism when the spiritual leader of 1.27 billion Catholics worldwide – my spiritual leader – desperately refuses to accept that Islam is connected in any with with Islamist terror attacks, and doggedly insists that there is no real difference between “Catholic violence” and Islamist violence.

From the Huffington Post:

Pope Francis said on Sunday that it was wrong to identify Islam with violence and that social injustice and idolatry of money were among the prime causes of terrorism.

“I think it is not right to identify Islam with violence,” he told reporters aboard the plane taking him back to Rome after a five-day trip to Poland. “This is not right and this is not true.”

Francis was responding to a question about the killing on July 26 of an 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest by knife-wielding attackers who burst into a church service in western France, forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat. The attack was claimed by Islamic State.

“I think that in nearly all religions there is a always a small fundamentalist group,” he said, adding “We have them,” referring to Catholicism.

“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptized Catholics,” he said.

“If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent,” he said.

The Pope, like every apologist for Islamist terror, is arguing against a straw man here – nobody but people on the lunatic fringe believes that all Muslims are violent. This is simply not an argument being advanced by any serious person or organisation, yet time and again the forces of denial (particularly strong among the political Left and the church) seem to feel the need to waste precious time reminding us of the fact that most Muslims are immensely peaceful and decent.

Newsflash: we get it. Unfortunately, that does not erase the fact that the small proportion who harbour violent and murderous intentions are called to do so by a highly literal and entirely valid (if not mainstream in the West) interpretation of Islam. To take the actions of Al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists and strip them of their religious justification is to remove the only context in which they make sense and can be properly understood.

The people who flew airplanes into the twin towers, blew up the London Underground, killed the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, massacred Parisian concertgoers at the Bataclan, used a truck to mow down families celebrating Bastille Day in Nice and who last week slit the throat of an elderly Catholic priest while he celebrated Mass did not commit these barbaric acts because of social isolation or economic deprivation. Other people bear far worse isolation and deprivation stoically, and do so without resorting to mass murder. Religion is the catalyst – in this case, a fundamentalist and literalist interpretation of one religion in particular. To deny this much is insane.

And yet Pope Francis proceeds to do just that. “I think it is not right to identify Islam with violence,” he tells us. Well nobody is seriously suggesting that all Muslims are violent, or indeed that Islam has a monopoly on violence. But to deny the causal factor which links hundreds of deadly terror attacks across the world over several decades is sheer lunacy.

Of course all religions have a fundamentalist sect within them, Christianity included. But in the year 2016 there are no armed groups of fundamentalist Christians seizing sovereign territory and declaring their own theocratic state in which horrendous Biblical punishments are meted out to gay people, adulterers, shellfish eaters, blasphemers, those who work on the Sabbath or those who are rash enough to wear clothing made from more than one type of cloth. And while you might get the odd lone wolf deciding to blow up an abortion clinic, there is no worldwide Christian jihad underway – despite Christianity being less favoured and more under threat in Western societies than has been the case for centuries.

Most concerning, though, is when Pope Francis says “if I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent”. Firstly, it is not necessary to balance any criticism of Islam with an equal measure of Christian self-flagellation. This isn’t a children’s party game, ensuring that everyone gets equal time is not an important prerequisite. So no, on does not have to speak of Catholic violence when one speaks of Islamic violence.

Francis then goes on to literally equate “someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law” with Islamist terror attacks. Now, of course murder is murder in God’s eyes, just as all life is sacred. But murder and domestic violence have sadly been with us for as long as humans have existed – since Cain killed Abel, in the Bible. Islamist terror, on the other hand, is not an inherent part of the human condition. It is a political and religious phenomenon which must be closely examined and confronted in isolation, not merely swept up together with all the other violence in the world.

By and large, Catholics who kill do not attempt to use their faith as a pretext or justification for their actions – their faith is incidental to their crime. But with terror attacks and honour killings it is quite the opposite. Islam is placed front and centre as the justification for the crime, not by the evil Islamophobic media but by the expressed words and sentiments of those people who carry out the attacks. It is they who insist that they murder in the name of their Islamic faith. It is they who bring death to those they regard as infidels based on the literal teachings of their holy books. It is they, not the racist and Islamophobic media, who call their organisation the Islamic State.

Why are we so unwilling to take the actions of these mass murderers at face value? If a man turns himself in to a police station and admits killing his neighbour for having an affair with his wife, after corroborating the basic facts we would take the man at his word as to the motive. We would not waste endless days and column inches wringing our hands trying to come up with other, far-fetched reasons why the defendant might have killed the man he caught sleeping with his wife. And so it is with radical Islam.

When Islamist terrorists force an elderly priest to kneel at the altar of his own church before slitting his throat in front of his congregation and do so in the name of the Islamic State, we should accept their sincerity (and their declared religious motive) just as we accepted that those terrorists who brought death to civilians, politicians and soldiers during the Troubles did so because of their desire to bring about a united Ireland. To stubbornly refuse to accept the reality of Islamist terror direct from the mouths of the terrorists is to patronise and condescend to the Islamists, stripping them of agency (and responsibility) for their own actions and turning them into helpless pawns, “forced” to commit their terrible atrocities by dark and mysterious outside forces.

This is dangerous nonsense, which would be bad enough coming from the mouths of cookie-cutter leftist politicians. But coming from the heir to St. Peter and the ultimate boss of the slain Abbé Jacques Hamel – the man who more than anyone should be pained by his murder and determined to confront and root out the violence which caused it – it is doubly depressing. When Islamist terrorists strike, we must take their declared motives at face value just as we would do for any other terrorist or criminal. And then we must harden our resolve to destroy the scourge of fundamentalist Islamism once and for all.

To do anything else is not only to bury our heads in the sand as to the nature and severity of the threat that we face, but it is also to dishonour the memory of the many victims of Islamist terror attacks. For they are casualties in a clash of ideologies and cultures – progessivism versus fundamentalism, moderate Islam versus militant Islam, the enlightenment versus the dark ages – which too many people, nominally on “our” side, seem more than willing to deliberately lose, so long as they can avoid giving offence to certain mystifyingly protected classes and ideas.

 

Postscript: It appears that the Spectator’s Damian Thompson has been thinking along the same lines:

In the 21st-century Middle East, Christianity has been suppressed on an astonishing scale. Countless atrocities have reduced ancient Christian communities to shrivelled and terrified ghettoes or underground churches. Although this persecution has been reported in the West, it is of no great interest to secular politicians or the media. It is, as Neville Chamberlain said in a different context, part of ‘a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing’.

On Tuesday, the blood of a martyr was spilled at the other end of the Channel Tunnel. Now Christians in the West have had a glimpse of what it’s like to be a follower of Jesus in the lands of the Bible and many other countries — not all of them Muslim, but a troubling number of them ‘close allies’ who benefit from British trade deals, foreign aid and general diplomatic brown-nosing.

Will the murder of Father Hamel awake Christendom from its torpor? Let me refer you to the Twitter account of one Dr Austen Ivereigh, hagiographer of Pope Francis and former spokesman for the English Catholic Church. He referred to the ‘pointless banality of the Rouen murder’ and urged us not to glorify it by ‘ascribing religious motives’. There’s your answer.

God help us.

 

Fr Jacques Hamel - Catholic Priest

Top Image: NCR

Support Semi-Partisan Politics with a one-time or recurring donation:

Agree with this article? Violently disagree? Scroll down to leave a comment.

Follow Semi-Partisan Politics on TwitterFacebook and Medium.