I must admit being slightly confused and frustrated when I saw a headline today that quoted our Holy Father, Pope Francis, as saying that “Muslim Terrorism Does Not Exist.”
I was watching television at my Father’s house in Southern California on 9/11 when at 8:46am in the morning a Boeing 767 (American Airlines Flight 11) was hijacked and flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.
I continued to watch as the second hijacked Boeing 767 (United Airlines Flight 175) was flown into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03am. Then a hijacked 757 into the Pentagon, and another hijacked 757 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
I will never forget this day, it is etched into my memory so vividly. I remember every detail about this window in time because of the immensity of the tragedy and the trauma it inflicted upon our nation. It was the gravest evil I have ever directly experienced.
And it was indeed a coordinated terrorist attack orchestrated by the Islamic terrorist group al-Qaeda. It killed almost 2,996 people.How could our Holy Father say that there is no such thing as Muslim (or Islamic) Terrorism?
I was grateful that the Breitbart article by Thomas D. Williams linked to the original address, which was given for the occasion of the World Meetings of Popular Movements in Modesto, CA from February 16-18, 2017 – I had to read the address for myself.
The address is no doubt reflective of Pope Francis’s own commitments as a Pastor and spiritual leader. His emphasis on social justice is evident as well as his reticence of the free market economy. His ongoing concern that is expressed in this address is that it is largely an enterprise that exploits peoples and the Earth, being centered in the worship of money.
I am speaking of a system that causes enormous suffering to the human family, simultaneously assaulting people’s dignity and our Common Home in order to sustain the invisible tyranny of money that only guarantees the privileges of a few.
He is especially focused in this address on the tendency for us to see our neighbor as our enemy. Using the Gospel of Mercy, Luke, Pope Francis reminds us of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. It was the Samaritan who acted with mercy, not the priest, nor the Levite. He was able to have compassion on the stranger. And of course this parable is meant to impart the truth of who God is, and how man is to act in the image of God, by listening to the Eternal Wisdom, and watching it incarnate in the Son, the Christ. Christians are called to a radical compassion, a level of compassion that transcends culture, nation, or other identities.
It is in this context where Pope Francis makes the point that Muslim terrorism doesn’t exist. I don’t think, if you read this in context, the Holy Father is denying the reality that people do indeed commit horrific acts of violence in the name of Islam. Rather, I think he is seeking a higher good: that of reminding us of the danger of categorizing an entire people or culture as unclean or evil. I believe his intuition is correct that this is a very dangerous thing to do, first of all, because no culture is ever purely evil or purely good. Humanity and cultures tend to be a mix, they have their good members, their dangerous ones, and a lot of us who are somewhere in the middle.
This brings me to an aim of this article: to express disappointment in the ongoing attacking and mischaracterization of Pope Francis. I see Thomas D. Williams and Breitbart doing something here that lacks integrity. Their article lends the reader a perspective that I would call hyper-critical, looking for the aspects of the address that will reinforce their perspective, rather than reporting on the address as a whole. I am not saying there is no place for editorialization, I just wonder if articles like this are healthy for the Church, or for culture. More importantly, I ask myself, “is this article reflective of the truth of what it is reporting on?”
I would characterize myself as someone more closely aligned with those members of the episcopacy who tend to have more traditional leanings. Some people might call me a crunchy conservative. We seek to live Christian faith and morals, but we also aren’t in denial that human sin is destroying our relationship with the Earth, or that some American values are really bad for the soul. We don’t fit real well in the Democrat or Republican mold. That said, I personally will always place more fundamental values, such as life itself, as of higher importance when I am voting than those decisions which are a matter of prudence (such as a policy on immigration law).
So, I am not going to take a position that everything Pope Francis has done or said ought not to be questioned, or challenged. I don’t think blind loyalty is God’s will for us in relationship to the Pope in any age. Every member of the Christian faithful has an important voice that should be listened to carefully by those who are tasked with Church governance and leadership. I also am with those on both sides of the aisle who think there has been some real harm done to the unity of the faith due to what appears to be a haphazardly put together footnote (351) in what is in many respects a beautiful and insightful reflection on married love, Amoris Laetitia. Clarity is needed here, and I pray that this clarity is expressed in a way that is in continuity with the teachings of Christ and deepens our unity with Him.
Nevertheless, I think it is important that Pope Francis is respected and honored, especially by Catholics. He is our Pope, he is the Vicar of Christ. I don’t have to agree with everything he does. I have never agreed with every decision or policy that a superior or boss puts into place. But, I respect the fact that I am subordinate to this person, I work to humbly accept that. This doesn’t mean that I always sheepishly keep my mouth shut (sometimes I wish I could!) but instead that I simply realize the limitations of my position and seek to grow in the theological virtues.
I must always remember that sanctity alone renews and reforms the Church according to Christ. I also must continually address my temptation to look at the speck in my neighbor’s eye rather than the block in my own. Part of the human condition is to find a way to channel how awful we feel on the inside onto a scapegoat. We think the problem is out there, when there is a major problem within, in the heart. Focusing on the perceived faults of others keeps us from addressing our own lack of virtue and need for repentance and faith.
I also think that Pope Francis deserves respect and dignity as a member of the human race. Are we not to be the Samaritan even to the man who is our Pope? Is he meant to be excluded from our compassion, understanding, and love? Of course not!
Indeed, we should be working just as hard, if not much harder, to find those aspects of his teaching that inspire us and that, even in challenging to us, allow us to reflect more deeply about what he is saying and why he is saying it.
In the address in question here, and Thomas D. Williams report of it, I don’t sense this was done. It seems to mischaracterize the Roman Pontiff and even implicitly slander him. This is troubling to me.
I want this to be an article that people who are angry with Pope Francis and those who are very happy with him can both relate to and gain insight from. To help with that, I will close with a section of a post I made on Disqus, which was my original response to this Breitbart article. This is meant to bring us full circle to the question of whether there is such thing as Muslim Terrorism.
In responding to this question I follow the lead of Benedict XVI, in his Regensburg Address.
Here is that response (please stay with me):
It is true that it is imprecise to say that the Muslim religion, or that “religion”, as such, causes violence (first of all because of the difficulties among scholars around an agreed upon definition of what “religion” is. People often mean different things when using this one term).
However, it is entirely accurate to see theological errors, i.e. believing things about the divine reality we call God that aren’t true, as a major cause of terrorism in the name of Allah.
In his Regensburg address Benedict XVI located these errors in what is called theological voluntarism. This is a notion that emphasizes the primacy of the divine will in a way that exalts it over logos or reason, thus separating the will of God from the wisdom of God (and hence rational, moral, human acts). That means that evil can be justified in God’s name, or that I can make the claim that the evil I do is the will of God or Allah.
A correct theology of God recognizes that in God logos and will are a unity, thus it could never be claimed that an immoral act (such as homicide) was the will of God.
Yet Benedict’s argument, if you read between the lines, is that this devastatingly wrong understanding is not able to be confronted in the West because the West itself is in the third of 3 stages of dehellenization, ushered in by reformation thinkers but with ancient roots.
The dehellenization of Christianity in the West led to the separation of faith from reason, leaving in its wake fideism and rationalism, neither of which are equipped to confront questions that demand a rational and scientific approach to theology.
I conclude this essay then in agreement with the Pope that we have to be so careful that we do not characterize an entire people, culture, or ethnicity as terrorist (which is the epitome of evil). My sense is that this is his motivation in writing what he wrote in that address from which Breibart extracted the sensational title, “Muslim Terrorism Does Not Exist”.
And I agree with Benedict XVI that without a doubt there is a theological dimension to violence in the name of Allah, or any time irrational violence is committed in the name of God. This always, at least in part, accompanies and is inspired by a harmful and ultimately wrong conception of God. I realize there are other factors that contribute to the violence that we call terrorism as well, but that this fundamental one is lost on most of the West. Thus our intellectual response is incoherent, it is unscientific, it lacks truth, and sadly, reinforces rather than constructively address the ignorance of God that so gravely diminishes humanity.