These are not minor differences that can be ironed out in dialogue sessions; moreover, there are many other areas in which Muslim beliefs and Catholic beliefs contradict each other – for example, on divorce, polygamy, and the equality of men and women. Why, in light of these numerous contradictions, do Catholic educators, academics, and prelates keep emphasizing the commonalities between the two “Abrahamic” faiths? A quick inventory suggests that there are at least as many differences as similarities. If the similarities outweigh the differences, what are the reasons for believing they are more significant?
Where, in short, is the intellectual curiosity that Catholics usually display when faced with theological difficulties? “Together with us they adore the one, merciful God”? It doesn’t seem to be the same God. Please explain. Muslims “value the moral life”? Is it the same moral life that Catholics value? Again, it doesn’t seem to be. Please elaborate.
It’s been 50 years since the Second Vatican Council, yet too many Catholics are content to simply parrot rather than parse the statements on the “Moslems” in Lumen Gentium and Nostra Ætate. It’s as though the doctrine “extra Ecclesiam nulla salus” (outside the Church there is no salvation) were proclaimed but never explained or elaborated, leaving the faithful with nothing but a simple formula easily subject to misinterpretation.
Even Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, who is no slouch when it comes to reasoning, falls back on the argument from authority when it comes to Islam. In his 2010 debate with Robert Spencer on Islam, he opened by quoting the two sentences in the Catechism pertaining to Muslims, and observed, “I think this quotation is just about the most important one we can use about Islam.” But he doesn’t say why, other than that this is “the ‘opinion’ of the Catholic Church.”
In other words, “The Church has spoken. What better argument can there be?” The argument from authority is, of course, a valid argument, but it’s not what one expects from a philosopher who has written extensively and intelligently about Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Aquinas. Most of the rest of Professor Kreeft’s debating points were simply anecdotes about a devout and intelligent Muslim who had been a graduate student in one of his classes at Boston College years ago. Much of Kreeft’s case could be boiled down to the proposition, “I once
knew a Muslim and he was a good person.”
The tradition of careful intellectual inquiry, of which Catholics are so justly proud, comes to an almost full stop when it approaches the precincts of Islam. Too many Catholics are content to simply invoke the Catholic Catechism. Others are satisfied to know that Jesus and Mary are mentioned in the Koran, as though that fact somehow resolves all problems. Still others – those of a more pragmatic bent – realize that there are certain hazards involved in probing too deeply into Muslim theology. When Pope Benedict XVI suggested in his Regensburg address that Islamic beliefs should be subject to reason, the result was global rioting.
And so, instead of a reasoned analysis of Islam’s claims, what we get are repeated assurances that Muslim believers and Christian believers are brethren under the skin. How do we know? Well, you’ll just have to take it on faith.
William Kilpatrick taught for many years at Boston College. He is the author of several books about cultural and religious issues, including Psychological Seduction, Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right From Wrong and, most recently, Christianity, Islam and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West. Professor Kilpatrick’s articles on cultural and educational topics have appeared in First Things, Policy Review, American Enterprise, American Educator, the Los Angeles Times, and various scholarly journals. His articles on Islam have appeared in Catholic World Report, National Catholic Register, Investor’s Business Daily, FrontPage Magazine, and other publications. He is on the Board of Experts at Aleteia.org.