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This Should Be Obvious, But Islam and Catholicism Are Very Different

Arian Zwegers

William Kilpatrick - published on 11/18/13

Evangelicals and Jews get it, but most Catholics don't. It doesn't help that our Church's most authoritative documents are vague.

Have you heard of the counter-jihad movement? It’s not an official organization, but simply a loosely connected collection of individuals and groups who are concerned about the dangers of Islamic expansion. One of the interesting aspects of the movement is that although its members are often invited to speak to evangelical and Jewish groups, they are rarely invited to speak to Catholic groups.

Do evangelicals know something about Islam that Catholics don’t know? Or do Catholics already know all they need to know about Islam? Or, to put it another way, why are Catholics seemingly less worried about the threat from Islam?

The answer, I believe, is that although Catholics don’t know much about Islam, they are pretty sure about what they do know because it comes with an official stamp. The treatment accorded to Islam in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and in two Vatican II documents (Lumen Gentium and Nostra Ætate) is quite brief, but at the same time reassuring. A quick read of these documents gives the impression that Muslim beliefs are just like ours. Therefore, one can safely conclude that there is nothing inherently threatening about Islam.

Or perhaps not so safely. Considering that Christians are the most persecuted religious group on the globe and that most of the persecution comes at the hands of Muslims, it might be time for Catholics to reconsider their rush to non-judgmentalism.

Catholics who jump to conclusions based on these three documents are jumping from a relatively small knowledge base.  For example, the statement about Muslims in the Catechism of the Catholic Church is only forty-four words in length, which is about eighty words less than the warning label on a bottle of Tylenol. However, it contains no warning. Given the risks involved in getting it wrong, a slight paraphrase of Churchill’s famous reference to the RAF might be in order – something along the lines of: “Never in the field of interreligious endeavor was so much staked by so many on so few words.”

As noted above, those few words emphasize the similarities between Muslim beliefs and Catholic beliefs. And for many Catholics, that seems to be enough to calm whatever doubts they may have about Islam. As Islam scholar Robert Spencer observes, “[t]he idea that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are sister faiths, differing but closely related elaborations of the same religious tradition, is so commonplace today that for many Catholics, it is essentially everything they know about Islam.”

This is curious. Catholicism is supposedly the religion of faith and reason par excellence, but when it comes to Islam, Catholics seem to be relying far more on faith than on reason. Reasoning usually begins with facts, and the more facts you have at your disposal about a particular subject, the better you can reason about it. But by and large, Catholics don’t know much about Islam. The fact that “The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems” () seems to have provided an excuse for putting off the acquisition of further knowledge on the subject.

Reasoning also requires logic, and according to Aristotle the first principle of logical reasoning is the law of non-contradiction. One version of the law says that “opposite assertions cannot be true at the same time.” Without the law of non-contradiction, said Aristotle, it would be impossible to make distinctions or to engage in rational discussions. In the case of Islam, however, many Catholics seem to have suspended the principle of non-contradiction. Indeed, they seem to have flung it to the ground and trampled on it.

For example, if one religion says that God is a Trinity and another religion explicitly says that he is not a Trinity, one of them has to be wrong (technically, of course, both could be wrong). If one religion says man fell through Original Sin and another religion says there was no fall of man, one of them has to be wrong. If one religion says Jesus is divine and the other explicitly denies his divinity, one of them has to be wrong. If one religion says Jesus was crucified and the other religion says he was not, how can they both be correct? And since we’re on the topic of reason, how can it be the same thing to say that God always acts in accordance with reason (the Catholic position) and to say that God is not bound by reason (the Islamic position)?

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