Fort Hood, Vatican II, and Regensburg

What do Fort Hood, Vatican II and Regensburg have in common? More than you might think.

As details continue to emerge surrounding last week’s massacre at Fort Hood, which wounded nearly  three dozen people and left thirteen others dead, the consequences of a hyper-sensitive kid glove approach to Islam is being brought into increasingly sharper focus.

According to coworkers, the accused gunman, U.S. Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had plainly divulged his anti-American, pro-jihadist sentiments over a period of years, but rather than confronting Hasan’s radical Islamic hostility head-on, his military superiors chose to tread lightly.

“They don’t want to say anything because it would be considered questioning somebody’s religious belief,” one of Hassan’s former classmates, Lt. Col. Val Finnell, told Fox News.

“The issue here is political correctness,” he concluded.

This tiptoe-through-the-minefield approach to addressing Muslims isn’t confined to the diversity mongers of the U.S. military I’m afraid, nor is it anything new.

Enter the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, Nostra Aetate, which had this to say on the topic:

“The Church regards with esteem also the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin Mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.” (NA 3)

It’s not very difficult to understand, especially given the stark realities of life in the post 9-11 world, why so many Catholic eyebrows have been raised by this rather sanguine assessment. I will admit that I don’t much care for the approach taken here — not because it is necessarily incorrect, however, but because it strikes me as incomplete to the point of practically inviting confusion.

If I may play armchair quarterback for just a moment, the Council Fathers would have served all of us well to include some clarifying statements in order to preempt the false interpretations that are so commonly posited on the matter. Thankfully, Pope Benedict XVI provided some much needed clarity four decades after the fact, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves…

At the risk of offending the ecumenically squeamish, we need to be very clear about what the Council Fathers are saying, as well as what they are not saying, in Nostra Aetate. A careful review of the text reveals that the Council is simply acknowledging that to the extent that Muslim persons adore the “merciful, all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth,” they do indeed worship the God of Judeo-Christian tradition; a fact that is self-evident since there is only one Creator God “living and subsisting in Himself.”

It is crucial to realize that the Council Fathers are not saying that God as defined by the tenets of Islam — a faith tradition that is replete with many grave errors — is indeed the God of Judaism and Catholicism. Nor are they suggesting that the Allah of the Qur’an is also the God of the Old and New Testaments. One will notice in fact that the Council had very little to say about “the faith of Islam” itself beyond the notion that it “takes pleasure in linking itself” with Abraham while deliberately leaving the validity of the claim unaddressed.

So why was the Council’s approach so nuanced on these points? In spite of the title to the Declaration, the Council Fathers appear to be speaking not so much about the non-Christian religion known as Islam as they are about human beings who call themselves Muslim. Evidently the Council’s intent was to draw attention to the building blocks of shared convictions such as they may exist in individual Muslim persons.

While finding common ground might be a good conversation starter, on its own it can hardly suffice as the actual substance of authentic ecumenism. True ecumenical dialogue requires what my Jewish friends would call chutzpah, (something we Italian-Americans know by a slightly more colorful name, but we’ll just stick with chutzpah.) Whatever you happen to call it, it’s the conviction of faith and the intestinal fortitude to meet error and evil head-on — in spite of those worldly voices that are so quick to label such behavior “bad manners” — even when it’s difficult, and, yes, even when it appears to be dangerous.

When it comes to confronting the view of Allah as the impetuous God who commands the killing of innocent lives many people seem far more inclined to simply walk on eggshells and hope for the best, but not His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

During an address given at University of Regensburg in September of 2006, the Holy Father recounted a dialogue that took place between a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor and a Persian defender of Islam, and he quoted the emperor as saying to his Muslim counterpart, “Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Worldwide reaction to this one solitary quote ranged from self-righteous indignation in the politically correct media of the West, to outbursts of violent public protest in many segments of Islam. Read in context, however, one finds that the Holy Father never actually endorsed the emperor’s assessment; rather he used it to challenge those who embrace the strategy of evangelization-by-sword, ultimately suggesting that such an approach contradicts both human reason and the very nature of God Himself.

For Benedict’s Muslim listeners, it was an invitation to either join him in confronting the notion of an irrational God, or to dare an attempt of its defense through rational thought. You see, the fertile intellect of Pope Benedict XVI had determined that common ground was most usefully constructed, not upon flowery language, but upon the divinely given gift of human reason that can serve as the launching point for true interreligious dialogue — if only the parties are willing.

So, the Holy Father proposed to the Muslim world from the lectern in Regensburg, are you willing?

No small number of observers, Jews and Catholics included, entirely missed the point and condescendingly questioned the Holy Father’s religious and diplomatic acumen. Many claimed recourse to the mistaken notion that Vatican II had ordained the Allah of Islam as one and the same as the God of Judeo-Christian belief.

While the most widely publicized immediate result of the Regensburg address was condemnation and unrest, we can now see these knee-jerk reactions for what they largely were: the predictable recoiling of those who “hate the light lest their deeds should be exposed” (cf John 3:20).

Three years after Regensburg the Holy Father’s challenge to Islamic leaders is beginning to bear fruit as sincere Muslims are slowly emerging from the shadows while those bent on evil and destruction are paradoxically revealing their motives as they scurry further into the darkness. Therein lies a valuable lesson; boldly confronting error with truth not only serves to make Christ known, it also serves to make the heart of man known as each is compelled, with the gratuitous aid of God’s grace, to “choose this day whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).

One can discern in these events nothing less than the natural progression of evangelization; when Christ is proclaimed, the Truth confronts, and a choice demands to be made: “one is either with Him or against Him” (cf Mt. 12:30).

So what do Fort Hood, Vatican II and Regensburg have in common? Each in its own way demonstrates the importance of straightforwardness, intrepidness and honesty in the matter of Judeo-Christian-Muslim relations.

So what now?

No, Nidal Hasan’s military superiors can’t turn the clock back and rethink the “political core-weakness” (a phrase newly coined right in this very space) that may have contributed to the Fort Hood tragedy. Nor can the Council Fathers go back and rewrite Nostra Aetate with an eye toward offering a greater degree of clarity. All of us, however, can learn a valuable lesson from the Holy Father’s example of what it means to answer the Lord’s call to carry the truth to all peoples, including the Muslims.

This article was previously published by Catholic News Agency and is used by permission of the author.

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  • Joe DeVet

    Thank God for the Holy Father’s shining the light on the self-contradictions in a faith which seeks to spread itself by the sword.

    I take a certain issue with a point in the article, though, if I have read it correctly. “The God of Islam” and “The God of Christianity” are not the same, I think the author said. However, there is no God of either one–there is simply the God who Is. We understand God in the way that our revealed faith instructs us (which understanding we must always grant is incomplete while true), while Islam understands Him in an erroneous way. That having been said, however, we both do worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ie, the God who Is.

    I do believe this better reflects the Catholic understanding of things as of Vatican II and as of today. Am I wrong?

  • KMc

    It boggles my mind that everytime a Muslim commits ANOTHER atrocity we all jump all over ourselves saying it was an isolated incident of an extremist…when isolated incidents of Muslims keep happening guess what? It is their beliefs not an accident! How many people have to die before anyone in authority will state this fact? If all these isolated incidents over the past 40 years were committed by CATHOLICS folks would have stormed and destroyed the Vatican (and likely imprisoned the pope) by now because it would have been considered a premeditated act of oppression designed to forcibly convert millions thru fear and intimidation. But because Muslim’s do this we all cower and apologize to them for their own teachings which breed this mindset – no one will say anything because they know they become a target for a suicide bomber or shootout if they do – the media won’t say anything or their offices and reporters become prime targets for violence. You can desecrate a picture or statue of Jesus or the Blessed Mother with every vile thing imaginable but you CANNOT even speak about Allah or the negative teachings of Islam without knowing a Fatwah is coming. Read some history…Muslims are perfectly content to take over your country incrementally and kill off any opposing faiths in the process…they will take hundreds of years or decades to do this. Look at laws that are now being catered to Muslim’s int he US….look at the demographics of Europe – Muslims will accomplish with babies what they could not do by the sword: they will take over by sheer numbers. And do not expect them to care as much about your feelings as we presently cater to theirs.

  • Thanks for your comments, Joe. They point to the fact that trapped as we are within the confines of human language and understanding our attempts to speak of God will always be wanting.

    That said, for the sake of communication in a venue like this it’s reasonable to accept the colloquialism “the God of Judeo-Christian belief” as synonymous with the everlasting God; the God who revealed Himself to Abraham; the God who spoke to the prophets in the Old Testament, etc., or as you rightly express it, the God who is.

    In contrast I wrote of “the Allah of the Qur’an” and “God as defined by the tenets of Islam.”

    It would hesitate to say without serious qualification that “we both worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, i.e., the God who is,” as you stated. (Your wording, incidentally, is not uncommon of the way that many Catholics might articulate the Church’s understanding, which points to the value of this discussion.)

    Your statement beginning with “we both worship,” standing alone, strikes me as incomplete to the point of inviting error. Complicating matters further is the fact that it is unclear what is meant by “we both.”

    In short, some individual Muslims may worship the God of Abraham, while others may not.

    For example, when a Muslim worships a deity that directly commands the murder of innocents to spread the faith, he cannot be said to be worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

    If by “we both” you mean to say “Catholicism and Islam,” the need for clarification is greater still.

    Islam is a far broader and more complex concept than “Muslims,” and we should take note that the Council says little of Islam beyond the notion that it “takes pleasure in linking itself” with Abraham. That Vatican II avoided general statements concerning Islam should make sense to us given the fact that the Council’s “expertise,” if you will, is Christianity, not Islamic doctrine. I think we too should avoid generalizations about Islam since they often lead to confusion.

    Another way of approaching this is to consider two things: one, God has no darkness within Himself at all, and secondly there are varying degrees of misunderstanding when it comes to our incomplete knowledge of God.

    It is one thing to believe “God commands us not to invoke the Saints,” and quite another to believe “God commands me to carry out acts of terrorism on his behalf.” The former can perhaps be said to be worshipping the true God imperfectly, the latter cannot.

    For this reason, saying of Islam or the Muslim population in general “we both do worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is insufficient, and so I would avoid making that statement.

    The tenets of Islam do claim to accept the “God who is” as revealed to Abraham, but only as something of a starting point. Once one considers the errors that Islam imputes to God via what they consider divine revelation from this point in salvation history forward; the idea that we both worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is unsustainable.

    Part of the difficulty here is the sheer complexity of the subject. General statements will usually fall so short as to invite confusion, and so we are best served by following the Council’s example of avoiding them.

    I hope this helps. Thanks again for commenting. God Bless!

  • Let’s try closing seditious Muslim prayer centers and deporting Muslim non-citizens who actively militate against the United States.

  • elkabrikir

    To PrairieHawk:

    What is “seditious”?

    I love the Holy Father!

  • plowshare

    I am reminded of the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams’s time, which almost caused Kentucky and Virginia to secede. Let’s be careful about how far down that path we go.

  • mark7

    Any so-called “prayer center” that lauds the atrocity of the 14 killed at Ft Hood is seditious. Seditious against Divine Authority. Woe to anyone who worships there!

    PS – There were 14 killed at Ft Hood not 13! One woman was pregnant.