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Violence Against Christians and the Waning of Reason

By far the most persecuted religious group in the world today are Christians, and they are dying by the thousands especially in the Middle East and in Africa.

Young people light candles near the closed door of a church in Colombo, Sri Lanka, April 28, 2019, during a vigil in memory of the victims of a string of suicide bomb attacks across the island on Easter . (CNS photo/Thomas Peter, Reuters)

There were more Christian martyrs in the twentieth century than in all of the previous nineteen centuries combined.

Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and many of their lesser-known totalitarian colleagues put millions of Christians to death for their faith in that terrible hundred-year period. One of the saddest features of the still-young twenty-first century is that this awful trend is undoubtedly continuing.

By far the most persecuted religious group in the world today are Christians, and they are dying by the thousands especially in the Middle East and in Africa.  Though Hindus and Buddhists have indeed been targeting Christians, their most egregious aggressors, by leaps and bounds, have been radicalized Muslims, the recent mass-killings in Sri Lanka being but the most recent example of this kind of violence. I have stated this fact simply and bluntly, because I am convinced that no solution can be found unless and until, at the very least, we speak truthfully.

As many commentators have pointed out, the cultural and media elites in the West have been comically dissembling and obfuscating in this regard. The statements of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton regarding the Sri Lanka bombings, which referred to the victims, not as Christians or Catholics, but as “Easter worshippers,” are a particularly pathetic case in point. But little better are the hundreds of editorials, opinion pieces, articles, and books that characterize these attacks as, primarily, economically and politically motivated, or the fruit of cultural resentment.

I have no doubt whatsoever that all of these factors have played a role, but we are blind not to see that the chief driver of this violence has been, first and foremost, religion. Now I certainly understand it is to no one’s advantage to stir up religious tensions, especially in pluralist societies, but the denial of religion as the chief cause of these outrages is disingenuous at best, dangerously stupid at worst.

A good deal of this is due to a theory, still stubbornly persistent among the elite commentariat in the West, that religion is (or at least ought to be) fading away. The “secularization hypothesis,” proposed from the time of Comte, Nietzsche, and Marx, is, despite significant evidence to the contrary, widely subscribed to among Western opinion-makers. On this reading, the religious is never what is “really” going on; rather, it is a super-structural cover for economics or politics or race relations or the struggle for cultural hegemony.

But until we see religious disagreement as indeed what is really going on in the present violence, we aren’t going to solve the problem. Hans Kung is a theologian I rarely agree with, but he was dead right when he commented that there will be no peace among the nations until there is peace among the religions. And there will be no such peace until the religions find some common ground on which to stand, some context in which a real dialogue and conversation can take place.

But what could possibly constitute such ground? Aren’t Christianity and Islam—to stay with the two faiths that are clashing most dramatically today—simply incommensurable and mutually exclusive systems of belief? Aren’t they based on revelations repugnant to one another? Might I suggest an answer to these questions by hearkening back to an earlier time?

In the thirteenth century, Thomas Aquinas constructed an intellectual system, cathedral like in its beauty and complexity, on the basis of both faith and reason. As he articulated the meaning of Christian revelation, he used the tools provided by the science and philosophy that were available to him. In constructing this rational edifice, he relied on pagan, Jewish, and Christian philosophers, but among the most important of his influences were philosophers and theologians of the Islamic tradition. Aquinas’s metaphysics is, quite simply, unthinkable apart from the work of Averroes, Avicenna, and Avicebron, Muslim theorists all.

During the high Middle Ages, Christians and Muslims did indeed dialogue on the basis of a shared intellectual heritage, but it is precisely the waning of the influence of these great philosophic masters within Islam and the rise of a will-based, positivistic approach that has contributed mightily to the conflicts we witness today. And if we might set aside the passions roused by his admittedly awkward use of an example of a dysfunctional Christian/Muslim conversation, it would be helpful to return to the famous Regensburg Address of Pope Benedict XVI.

What the Pope was calling for in that speech was an enthusiastic retrieval of a tradition embedded deep within Christianity, namely, the use of reason, grounded in the conviction that Jesus is the incarnation, precisely of the Logos (reason) of God. As long as religion is marked primarily by will (and he was indeed critiquing contemporary radical Islam on this score), it will tend to resort to violence. And in bringing forward the Logos tradition, he was summoning Islam to return to a perhaps forgotten or underutilized dimension of its own heritage.

Are certain Muslim attacking Christians today on religious grounds and for religious reasons? Yes. Is at least a significant part of the problem a strain of voluntarism and irrationality within Islam? Yes. What’s the way forward?  If I might cite a prophet sacred to both Christianity and Islam: “Come, let us reason together.”


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About Bishop Robert Barron 164 Articles
Bishop Robert Barron is an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and the founder of Word on Fire Catholic Ministries. He is the creator of the award winning documentary series, "Catholicism" and "Catholicism:The New Evangelization." Learn more at www.WordonFire.org.

9 Comments

  1. Bishop Barron writes: “Aquinas’s metaphysics is, quite simply, unthinkable apart from the work of Averroes, Avicenna, and Avicebron, Muslim theorists all.” A good point, and provocative. . .First, some notes about “unthinkable” and then two follow-up ideas. . .

    Aquinas also worked with another translation of Aristotle, done by the Dominican William of Morebeke possibly at Aquinas’ request. (Ask any Dominican!) Morebeke translated directly from the Greek (Politics, Rhetoric). Spanish copies of Aristotle had been translated to Latin from Arabic, and first had been translated in Syria from Greek into Arabic (by Christian converts to Islam in the 7th century, etc.). First, Greek to Arabic, then centuries later Arabic to Latin.

    The Arabic in Spain would not have even existed except for the work of earlier Christian-convert scribes.

    In his metaphysics Aquinas departed fundamentally from both Aristotle and any later Arabic overlays, both of which held (a) that the universe is moved by absolute determinism, (b) that human liberty is an illusion, and (c) that there is no immortality of the soul since intelligence is not personal but impersonal and held in common.

    AN IDEA: Torrell reports that the Muslim Averroes is misrepresented by medieval translators—-he says that Averroes did not hold that there is only one intellectual soul for all men (Thomas Aquinas, [Catholic University of America Press, 1996], Vol. I, 192-3). Greater precision, as with Averroes (and the nature of Christianity!), might very-marginally advance a climate for more-focused dialogue.

    ANOTHER IDEA: All of the perplexities of an exploratory Augustine, e.g., “predestination”, still lurk in the backs of ever-finite, pre-modern (Muslim) and post-modern (e.g., Marxist) minds. . .

    Muslims are admonished to always (fatalistically) add “in sha’a’ Llah” (if Allah wills). Does this phrase actually echo, however incompletely, Christian humility as expressed in a more nuanced and fecund way as in the Epistle of James (?): “You have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow . . . [you should say] ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that’” (James 4:13-15).

    And then there’s Blessed Duns Scotus, a near-contemporary of Aquinas, who was smitten not by divine Reason but (somewhat like Islam) by the divine Will—-in some way perhaps mutually-inclusive (?) with the self-disclosing Logos (and the historical Incarnation).

    • Currently Muslims don’t care about Averroes, except for maybe a few who exist in academia but they hold no religious authority.

      For Christians, God’s love always works in tandem with God’s wisdom — we can trust that God wills what is good.

  2. Hard to reason with people who cut off your head and are happy to do it. The actual truth is that souls are in danger of perishing without conversion to Jesus Christ as taught by the Catholic Church. The lack of zeal for converts is emblematic of the lukewarm crappy theology that has brought us among other things fanny sports in the Vatican and at the Cardinal level. Time to preach the full truth and stop selling out for the sake of false peace. I for one am sick to death of the BS that eminates from popes singing lying documents about God’s will as in will, “will” and or some other Jesuit deconstruction of truth and equivocation. If the Pope wants to lead, he can start by answering the dubia and stop putting the screws to people that dare to ask a question. Maybe if he was not so conflicted as an Italian-Argentinian-Jesuit who collected rubber bands and apparently got elected by the likes of McCarrick and or his demented associates, who busy themselves by engaging in “clericalism” by conducting sodomy to the tune of billions on law suits and countless scandalized people,he would have the man-berries to answer some questions. Incredible, the surrender at all costs attitude among bishops these days. Under bishop B. the temple at Athens would still be operational, the druids would be in Ireland all along, instead of on the way back, and the Aztecks would be congratulating Cuomo for making the sun god happy. There’s quite enough chicken shit in the hen houses we don’t need any in church leaders, grow a pair.

    • The Catholic Catechism states “… it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow”. In the past, Christians have resorted to violence to defend their faith, family, and themselves. Are you saying that Christian self-defense is now immoral?

  3. I would strongly recommend Fr. Schall’s essays on Islam…and the Regensburg Address.

    Again, I suggest to everyone the book Reality by Garrigou-Lagrange.

    The Catholic Faith DOES include a belief in predestination…with two particular schools of thought considered Catholic, that of St. Augustine/St. Thomas and that of Molina (scientia media).

    No mention of Aristotle in Bishop Barron’s essay…

    He uses the phrase (and overview statement): “the two faiths that are clashing most dramatically today.”

    Were the Christians who were bombed in Sri Lanka “clashing” with Muslims or ISIS…or were they just simply being martyred as Catholic Christians? Is the “clashing” part because it was done in response to the Mosque attack in NZ ?

    Feel free to put “Easter worshippers” and “clashing” in the same garbage can. That’s what I did.

    • “No mention of Aristotle in Bishop Barron’s essay…”

      The named Islamic scholars worked largely from Aristotle. Their versions–based on Greek-to-Arabic translations made in Syria–became available to the West (e.g., Aquinas at the University of Paris) only after the liberation of Toledo in 1085 A.D. and eventual translation by Christians into Latin.

      The challenge then taken up by Aquinas was to reconcile the Christian worldview with a very different and functional worldview coming from the pagan, pre-Christian, Classical world of Aristotle, delivered by the (not entirely accurate) Islamic conveyor belt from the early Middle East into Moorish Spain. Aquinas’ genius then gives us the coherence of Faith with Reason.

      On a second point, some argue/explain that we do not really have “two faiths that are clashing,” but rather that we have Faith in the person of the incarnate Jesus Christ compared to the Belief of Islam and its Qur’an which is held to be “uncreated”.

  4. I’m well aware that that the named Islamic scholars worked from Aristotle. My point, and my apologies, not well made at all: why not “mention” Aristotle directly.

    The Bishop wants to emphasize the Islamic scholars vs. that they “worked largely from Aristotle” or include in his essay that they “worked largely from Aristotle.” The Bishop is also well aware of that, I am sure that they “worked largely from Aristotle.” Is it fair to conclude all this about his essay? I think so…though it not be a proven “fact.”

    Again I would refer readers here to Fr.Schall’s many essays on Islam (and the Koran itself). I have nothing better to say about Islam than what is in those remarkable, scholarly and perceptive essays.

  5. Kudos to Brumley and Fr. Fessio for their response and video.

    Could someone on that side get them a couple of beers…some decent Pilsners? They both seem parched like they were talking for three hours before recording that.

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