Thursday, January 7, 2016

Liberalism and Islam

Note: What follows is pretty long, especially if you think of it as a blog post.  So think of it instead as an article.  The topic does not, in any event, lend itself to brevity.  Nor do I think it ideal to break up the flow of the argument by dividing the piece into multiple posts.  So here it is in one lump.  It is something of a companion piece to my recent post about whether Christians and Muslims worship the same God.  Critics of that post will, I think, better understand it in light of this one.

In an article in The New Criterion over a decade ago, the late political scientist Kenneth Minogue noted a developing tendency in contemporary progressivism toward “Christophobia,” a movement beyond mere disbelief in Christian doctrine toward outright hostility.  The years since have hardly made Minogue’s observation less timely.  The New Atheism, the first stirrings of which Minogue cited in the article, came to full prominence (and acquired the “New Atheism” label) later in the decade in which he wrote.  The Obama administration’s attempt to impose its contraception mandate on Catholic institutions evinces a disdain for rights of conscience that would have horrified earlier generations of liberals.  Opponents of “same-sex marriage” have in recent years found themselves subject to loss of employment, cyber-mobbing, and even death threats -- all in the name of progressivism.  If contempt for Christian moral teaching still hides behind a mask of liberal neutrality, Hillary Clinton let that mask slip further still when she recently insisted that “deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed” in order to accommodate easy access to abortion.  Not all liberals approve of these developments, of course.  But demographic trends indicate that a Christophobic brand of progressivism may have little difficulty finding new recruits.

Now, how do contemporary liberals view Islam?  How would one expect them to, given their principles, and given the principles and practice of Islam?  Consider that, like Christianity, Islamic moral teaching unequivocally condemns homosexual behavior, extramarital sex, and the sexual revolution in general.  Feminism has, to put it mildly, had little effect on Islam, which is traditionally highly patriarchal.  In Islam, men can have multiple wives, but wives cannot have multiple husbands.  Men can marry non-Muslim women, but women cannot marry non-Muslim men.  The authority of husbands over wives goes far beyond anything feminists objected to in 1950s America.  Rules governing divorce, custody of children, inheritance, and legal testimony all strongly favor men.  In many modern Muslim countries, the implementation of this patriarchal system takes forms which modern Western women would find unimaginably repressive.  Women are expected to cover their bodies in public to a greater or lesser extent, the burqa being the most extreme case.  In Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive, to go out in public without a chaperone, or to interact with men to whom they are not related.  In some Muslim countries, husbands have a right to discipline their wives with beatings.  In some, female genital mutilation is widely practiced.  “Honor killings” of women thought to have brought shame upon their families often occur not only in Muslim countries, but in Western countries with large Muslim populations.  Of course, not all Muslims approve of all of this.  Nor or is it by any means the whole story about women in Islamic society, and Muslims emphasize the way Islam improved the situation of women compared to pre-Islamic Arabia.   The point, though, is that it is far from being a marginal part of the story.  
Consider also that the punishments for crime traditionally sanctioned within Islam can be unbelievably harsh by modern Western standards -- cutting off the hands of thieves, whipping fornicators, stoning adulterers, and so forth -- and while such punishments have been abandoned by most Muslim countries, there are a few in which they are still employed.  Liberal standards of freedom of thought and expression have no echo in traditional Islamic doctrine.  No Muslim is permitted to convert to another religion, and apostasy may be punished with death.  There is nothing comparable to the liberal separation of religion from politics, and Islam is expected to dominate the public sphere no less than the private.  While Jews, Christians, and other “People of the Book” are afforded some liberty of religious practice, historically they were expected to obey the Islamic political authority and to pay a special tax.  Adherents of other religions, particularly polytheists, had no rights.  Again, not all Muslims would agree with every aspect of traditional practice.  Moreover, modern Muslim countries do not all implement this privileging of Islam to the same extent.  Still, in some -- Saudi Arabia being a notorious example -- the freedom of non-Muslims to practice their own religion is severely restricted.

Consider too that theological liberalism has few takers in contemporary Islam.  In particular, historical-critical methods of studying scripture, and accommodations of theological doctrine to philosophical naturalism, modern science, and post-Enlightenment moral and political sensibilities, have had little influence within the Islamic world.  Then there is the fact that the history of Islam from its beginnings through the medieval period and down to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire is unambiguously imperialistic and militaristic.  Modern terrorism is largely (even if not entirely) a jihadist phenomenon, just as public perception would have it and occasional spin to the contrary notwithstanding.  As in other contexts, so too where war is concerned, not all contemporary Muslims would approve of every aspect of traditional Islamic practice.   Certainly many contemporary Muslims would condemn terrorism and attacks upon civilians.  Still, and needless to say, the antiwar idealism that has been so much a part of liberal rhetoric (if not always of liberal practice) since the 1960s finds little echo in the Islamic world.

All of this is, of course, well known.  My point in rehearsing it here is neither to compare Islam unfavorably to other religions, nor, for the moment, to suggest that any of the facts rehearsed reflects inherent (as opposed to historically contingent) features of Islam, though I will address that question below.  The point is rather this.  Western Christianity has largely accommodated itself to liberalism.  Give or take a few standout episodes (such as the French Revolution), it has less political power now than at any time since before Constantine.  And the more any of its tenets are out of sync with liberalism, the less likely even prominent churchmen are to talk about those tenets in public or to put much emphasis on them in private.  Christianity, in short, has effectively been “tamed” by liberalism.  And yet liberal Christophobia has only increased.  You might think, then, that Islamophobia would be an even greater tendency within liberalism, given how very much farther out of sync contemporary Islam is with contemporary liberal mores and policy.  And a few prominent left-of-center voices -- Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Bill Maher -- have indeed been highly critical of Islam.

But in fact most liberals exhibit exactly the opposite tendency.  Probably many liberal readers of this article, including those happy to rehearse the purported sins of Christianity, will have been made uncomfortable by the list of facts about Islam rehearsed above.  To say anything which might seem in any way to put Islam in a bad light is to risk having flung at one the now-routine accusation of “anti-Muslim bigotry.”  The tendency is to downplay every aspect of historical and contemporary Islam which is irreconcilable with liberalism, to search out and call attention to aspects which are (or can be interpreted as) favorable to or at least compatible with liberalism, and to insist that the latter alone are representative of “genuine” Islam.  In his New Criterion article, Minogue noted how Christophobia has been conjoined with an “extraordinary solicitude for Islamic sensibilities in Western states since 9/11” -- since 9/11, take note.  Despite 9/11, and indeed, one is tempted to say even because of 9/11.  Every new jihadist attack seems, as if by a kind of reverse inductive reasoning, to make some liberals even more confident in their judgment that there is no essential connection between Islam and terrorism, and that Islam and liberal values are ultimately reconcilable. 

The concomitant of Christophobia, then, seems to be not Islamophobia but rather a kind of Islamophilia, and the condemnation of Islamophobia as itself a manifestation of the purported evils of traditional Christianity.  Nor is it only in liberal perception of current events that Christophobia and Islamophilia are conjoined.  As Minogue also observed, one of the ritualistic liberal expressions of Islamophilia is an incessant “apologizing for the Crusades” -- this despite the fact that the Crusades, while far from morally spotless in their execution, were essentially defensive responses to medieval Islamic aggression, as actual historians of the Crusades like Jonathan Riley-Smith and Thomas Madden never tire of demonstrating.   Modern Westerners apologizing for the Crusades is like Eliot Ness’s descendents apologizing to Al Capone’s descendents for some of Ness’s men having gotten a bit rough with some of Capone’s men. 

So, we have a paradox.  Considered both historically and in terms of its contemporary manifestations, Islam would appear to be the least liberal of religions.  Nor is it easy to see why any devout Muslim would want to accommodate his religion to liberalism -- especially when he sees how liberals have come to treat Christianity after having tamed it.  Yet liberals by and large seem to think such an accommodation is not only possible but highly likely.  Why?  Is there something in Islam that liberals have seen that others have not?  Or are liberal hopes delusional?

The answer, I would say, is that liberal hopes are delusional, breathtakingly delusional, almost preternaturally delusional.  There is no hope whatsoever for any accommodation between Islam and liberalism.  Since I am neither a liberal nor a Muslim I do not mean this either as criticism or as praise of either system of thought, but just as a straightforward statement of fact grounded in an analysis of the nature of each of the systems. 

The key to understanding the nature of each system, and to seeing why they are incompatible, also happens to be the key to understanding why liberalism is prone to both Christophobia and Islamophilia.  That key is to see that each of these systems is a kind of heresy.  The term may seem polemical, but I am using it in an analytical rather than a polemical sense.  “Heresy” derives from the Greek hairesis -- a “choosing” or “taking,” from some system of thought, one part of it to the exclusion of the rest.  For example, monophysitism is a Christological heresy which “chooses” Christ’s divine nature to the exclusion of his human nature; Sabellianism is a Trinitarian heresy which “chooses” the unity of God to the exclusion of the distinctness of the divine Persons; and so forth.  As these examples indicate, a heresy typically involves taking an aspect of a system of thought that also includes another, crucial balancing aspect, and leaving out the balancing aspect.  When I say that liberalism and Islam are heresies -- and I do mean Christian heresies, specifically -- what I mean is that each has, in effect if not in explicit intention, “chosen” or “taken” certain aspects of Christianity to the exclusion of other, balancing aspects.

Which aspects?  Christianity draws a clear distinction between the natural order and the supernatural order, and between the sacred and the secular, and has tried to maintain a proper balance between each side of each of these distinctions.  Islam, by contrast, tends to emphasize the supernatural and the sacred to the exclusion of the natural and the secular.  Liberalism, at the other extreme, tends to emphasize the natural and the secular to the exclusion of the supernatural and the sacred.  I don’t mean to say that the exclusions are always thoroughgoing; they are not.  There have, in the centuries since Muhammad, been Muslim thinkers who take the natural and the secular seriously, and there have in the centuries-old liberal tradition been thinkers who have taken the sacred and the supernatural seriously.  But the exclusionary tendencies are real and they are strong, and that they are tendencies in diametrically opposed directions should give some clue as to why any attempt to harmonize liberalism and Islam is doomed to failure.  But let’s examine all of this more closely, beginning with the Christian balance which each of these other systems upsets.

Church and state

Christianity arose in a position of extreme weakness relative to the state, and remained in this position for centuries.  Moreover, despite unambiguously affirming the state’s legitimacy (as in chapter 13 of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example), the early Church was subject to relentless persecution by the state.  These contingent historical factors might have been enough to guarantee that Christianity would come to regard Church and state as having fundamentally different missions.  But Christian doctrine entails that in any case.  Though the Jews of his day hoped for a political Messiah who would take up arms and free them from Roman domination, Christ famously declared: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).  He also commanded: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's” (Mark 12:17), indicating that the political and religious orders are distinct.  The letter to the Hebrews teaches that the patriarchs of old -- who are models for the Christian to follow --  “were strangers and foreigners on the earth” who “desire[d] a better country, that is, a heavenly one” and that God has indeed “prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11: 13, 16).  The letter to the Philippians says that “our commonwealth is in heaven” (3:20).  St. Augustine distinguished between the “earthly city” and the City of God.  And so forth.

There has from the very beginning of Christian teaching, then, been a clear distinction between the religious and the political, between the sacred and the secular, between Church and state.  (Notice that I said a “distinction” between Church and state; I did not say a “separation,” which is a very different idea, to which I will return below.)  The distinction would eventually come to be given a theoretical articulation in terms of a further distinction between the natural order and the supernatural order.

The natural order of things is just the world of creatures acting in a way that reflects their natures.  Lions hunt their prey, birds fly, trees grow, water flows, and so on, just by virtue of being lions, birds, trees, water, etc.  It is just natural for these things to act in those particular ways.  “Natural” here contrasts both with what is contrary to nature and with what is beyond the power of nature.  For example, a lion’s lacking four limbs or having no desire to eat would be contrary to nature in the sense that these are not the sorts of things that would be true of a mature and healthy lion.  A lion which has fewer than four limbs or which has no desire to eat would be defective in some way, would fail to manifest the characteristics that naturally flow from having the nature of a lion.  A lion which could fly through the air, on the other hand, would be acting in a way that is beyond the power of nature, since there is nothing in the nature even of mature and healthy lions which would give them such an ability.  Only something outside the lion -- a human being strapping a jet pack onto the lion, say, or God causing a miracle -- could impart such a power to it.

What is “natural” in this sense determines what is good or bad for a thing.  Given its distinctive nature, a lion has to hunt and eat if it is to survive and flourish; given its distinctive nature, a tree has to sink roots and take in nutrients through them if it is to survive and flourish; and so on.  Lions or trees that failed to do these things would be defective qua lions or trees, would in that sense be bad specimens of their kind.  Lions and trees which do realize these ends are to that extent good instances of their kinds. 

Human beings are also part of the natural order.  Their nature is that of rational animals, and so not only their corporeal activities (eating, sleeping, reproducing, walking, seeing, hearing, and so forth) but also their intellectual and volitional activities (i.e. thinking and willing) are natural in the relevant sense.  Now, being rational animals, human beings can (unlike inanimate things, plants, and non-human animals) understand their nature and choose whether or not to pursue what that nature determines to be good for them.  This is why their realization of that good, or failure to realize it, can be morally good or bad.  And because we can therefore know what is morally good or bad for us just by virtue of knowing our nature, there is such a thing as a natural law, a body of moral knowledge that is available to us apart from any special divine revelation. 

Now for the Christian tradition, just as for the classical Western philosophical tradition that Christianity incorporated, human beings are also by nature social and political animals.  It is natural for us to form families, larger communities, and governments to administer the affairs of those larger communities.  The state is in that sense a natural institution.  It is something the need and legitimacy of which can be known as part of the natural law.  Part of what that entails is that it is not something that is entirely our invention, any more than our natures are our invention.  We determine the specific forms the state may take, but the need for and legitimacy of some state or other is not something we determine, but flows from nature.  That the state is a natural institution also entails that it is not something which exists only as a result of some special divine action, like the sending of a prophet.  It could and indeed would exist even if no prophets had ever been sent.

To be sure, the natural order of things is by no means to be understood in atheistic terms.  On the contrary, nothing could exist or operate even for an instant without divine conservation of things in being and concurrence with their every activity.  Moreover, for the mainstream Christian tradition, this is something which can be known via purely philosophical arguments, i.e. by way of natural theology.  And a complete system of natural law would take account of the truths of natural theology.  Hence it would include, as part of our natural obligations, the duty to worship God, both individually and communally.  To that extent, even the state as a purely natural institution would be obliged to recognize and honor God.  And it would uphold other aspects of natural law as well.

However, it is only God as understood by way of natural theology, the God of the philosophers, that the natural law teaches all human beings to recognize, and that the natural law directs the state to recognize.  Special divine revelation -- the sort of theological knowledge which Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all claim to have, and which goes beyond anything which natural reason or philosophy could arrive at -- has nothing to do with it.  And thus the Church has nothing to do with it.  Given just the natural law, there could -- in principle, at least -- have been a situation in which the state exists, and in which the state even recognizes the God of the philosophers, but in which there were no prophets sent, no miraculous suspensions of the natural order, no special divine revelation, no divinely inspired books, no Church founded.  This would not have been an atheistic order of things, but it would not have been a Christian order of things either.  It would have been a purely natural order of things, and in that sense (even if not in the modern, desiccated sense) a purely secular order.

What Christianity introduces, and what the Church introduces, is something supernatural -- “supernatural,” not in the idiotic sense modern people associate with that word (having to do with ghosts, goblins, werewolves, etc.), but rather in the original sense of something that goes beyond, exceeds, and adds to a thing’s nature.  In particular, Christianity teaches that God has in his grace opened to us the possibility of knowing Him in a far more intimate way than we would ever naturally be able to via mere philosophy.  It promises the possibility of the beatific vision, a direct knowledge of the divine essence which the unaided human intellect could never even in theory attain.  God gives us a small foretaste of this knowledge by specially revealing to us his Trinitarian nature, something we could not possibly have arrived at through natural theology alone.  He has become Incarnate to remedy the loss of this supernatural end suffered by our first parents, to whom it was offered.  To the virtues of which human beings can have knowledge via natural law (such as justice, temperance, courage, and wisdom) he adds the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity).  And so forth.  He institutes the Church -- a supernatural institution in the sense that it is founded by a special divine act and did not arise merely in the natural course of human affairs -- to assist us in realizing this supernatural end, by means of the sacraments, by means of her teaching authority, etc.

Now, our supernatural end, and the Church’s supernatural mission in helping us to achieve it, do not negate the natural law or natural institutions like the state.  Grace raises nature to something it could not have otherwise achieved, but it does not destroy it in the process.  The state remains a natural institution, the Church a supernatural one.  The state is still grounded in natural law, the Church in special divine revelation.  The state retains its mission of facilitating the realization of our natural ends, the Church her mission of facilitating the realization of our supernatural end.  Hence the state and the Church remain distinct.  Are they separate, though?  That is to say, though different institutions with different origins and different missions, should they work together and assist one another in realizing their respective purposes?  Or should they run on parallel and completely disconnected tracks?

That depends.  In the Catholic context, the traditional teaching, vigorously and repeatedly upheld by the 19th century and pre-Vatican II 20th century popes, is that ideally Church and state ought to cooperate.  Contrary to an annoyingly common misunderstanding, these popes were not teaching that non-Catholics ought to be coerced by the state into becoming Catholics.  Nor were they teaching that non-Catholics should be forbidden from practicing their own religions in the privacy of their own homes, their own church buildings or synagogues, etc.  Rather, the issue was whether, in a country in which the vast majority of citizens were Catholic, non-Catholics ought to be permitted to proselytize and thereby possibly lead Catholics to abandon their faith.  It was not denied that there can be circumstances in which such proselytizing might be tolerated for the sake of civil order.  The question was whether non-Catholics have a strict right in justice to proselytize even in a majority Catholic society.  And the pre-Vatican II popes taught that they did not have such a right, and that in a Catholic country the state could in principle justly restrict such proselytizing (even if there are also cases where the state might not exercise its right to such restriction, if this would do more harm than good). 

This was the teaching which Vatican II seemed to reverse, though the relevant document, Dignitatis Humanae, explicitly taught that it was “leav[ing] untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ.”  Yet whether the principles set out in Dignitatis Humanae really can be reconciled with the principles set out by the pre-Vatican II popes, how exactly they are to be reconciled if they can be, and which principles are more authoritative and ought to be retained if they cannot be reconciled -- these have all been matters of controversy.  They are controversies most Catholics, including conservative Catholics, have avoided.  The reason, it seems to me, is that the older teaching is extremely unpopular in modern times, and thus whatever its current doctrinal status, most Catholics are happy to let it remain a dead letter and leave its precise relationship to Dignitatis Humanae unsettled.  Yet a question unanswered and ignored is still a real question, and there are scholars who have in different ways attempted to apply to this one a “hermeneutic of continuity,” including Thomas Storck, Fr. Brian Harrison, and Thomas Pink.

But this is not a question which can be, or needs to be, settled here.  What is clear even on the most conservative interpretation is that since the state is a natural institution and the Church a supernatural one, it is possible for there to be states which are not per se unjust even if they do not give any special recognition or assistance to the Church.  For of course, it could have turned out that there was no divine supernatural offer to us at all, and thus no Church at all, but in which the natural law, and thus the state, still existed.  And of course, there were states in existence before the Church existed, and they weren’t per se unjust merely because there wasn’t yet any Church around for them to recognize and assist.  Furthermore, there are and have been since the time the Church was founded states in which few or none of the citizens are Christian, and thus in which the Church has no presence at all.  And not even the most conservative Catholic position on matters of Church and state would say that such states are intrinsically unjust merely for that reason.

The bottom line, then, is this.  According to Christian teaching, Church and state are irreducibly distinct institutions, each with its own unique foundation and mission.  They may assist one another and in that sense not be “separate.”  On the most conservative interpretation of Catholic teaching, under some circumstances they ought to assist one another and thus not be “separate.”  But a circumstance in which the state does not give special recognition or assistance to the Church -- or, more generally, to some theological doctrine specially revealed via a prophet, sacred book, etc. -- is at worst not ideal.  It is not per se abnormal, unnatural, or unjust.  The secular order (which, you’ll recall, is not the same thing as an atheistic order, even if it is not a Christian order) has a legitimacy of its own.  This, as we will see, is very different from the way Islam views things.  But first let’s look more closely at liberalism.

Liberalism and religion

The liberal tradition essentially begins with Hobbes and Locke.  What it inherits and preserves from Christianity is the idea that Church and state are distinct and have different missions, and that the state’s mission is something which can be determined from natural law or unaided reason rather than special divine revelation.  But it departs from the Christian tradition in several crucial ways.  First, it introduces a highly desiccated notion of the “natural” and thus a highly desiccated notion of reason and natural law.  Second, it does not regard the state as natural but as entirely man-made, though it still regards the state as rational insofar as it takes us to have good rational grounds for creating it.  Third, it tends to regard revelation, and indeed religion in general, not only as distinct from the order of natural or unaided reason, but as positively at odds with reason.  Fourth, for that reason it regards the Church as something which is not only distinct from the state but which ought always and in principle to be kept rigorously separate from the state, or indeed even subordinate to the state.  Fifth, given its desiccated notion of “nature” and tendency to pit religion in general against reason, it also has a tendency to exclude even the generic theism of natural theology from the political order.  In short, from Christianity, liberalism “chooses” or “takes” the natural and secular, radically redefines them, and excludes the supernatural and the sacred.  And in that sense it is a kind of “heresy.”

But let’s walk through this more slowly.  In Hobbes we see the transformation of the natural law tradition into “state of nature” theory.  In Hobbes’s state of nature, there is no state, and there is no nature either, not in the sense in which the ancients and the medievals understood “nature.”  For Hobbes rejects the classical philosophical categories in terms of which natural law had traditionally been understood.  As a nominalist, he denies that there are any universal natures or essences of things.  As a mechanist, he denies that there are in nature any final causes, any ends towards which things are by nature directed.  So, there is for him no such thing as any good toward which all human beings are naturally directed.  There are just the individual human beings and the diverse desires they actually happen to have, and that’s that.  Reason is not a faculty by which we might discover what we should desire given our nature or essence qua human, but just a tool we use to calculate the best way to get what we do in fact desire as individuals.  For Hobbes, then, our natural state is just to do whatever it is we want to do.  The “state of nature” is a state of perfect license.

Hobbes was well aware that this by no means entailed a hippie paradise.  On the contrary, he famously judged in Leviathan that the inevitable result of everyone pursuing his idiosyncratic desires would be complete chaos, with “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”  So, though we’re naturally not social or political, but rather just individuals pursuing our idiosyncratic desires, it is in our self-interest to “contract” with one another to form the state, as an instrument by which the chaos might be prevented.  Laws which we are obliged to obey come into existence with the state, and we are obliged to obey them only because we have contracted to do so by virtue of having contracted to form the state.  But part of the deal is that this state must have absolute power, because if it does not -- if there is a separation of powers within the state, or institutions of civil society which might balance state power, and in particular a Church which is not subject to the state -- then the chaos will simply be relocated rather than eliminated.  Rather than individuals with their idiosyncratic aims -- none of which is objectively better than any other -- constantly in conflict with one another, we will have institutions with their idiosyncratic aims -- none of which is objectively better than any other -- constantly in conflict with one another.  So, everything must be subject to the state, including the Church.

Locke was, to say the least, not happy with the more illiberal consequences of Hobbes’s liberal premises.  So he tinkered with the premises to get a happier outcome.  (Call it an early exercise in John Rawls’s method of “reflective equilibrium.”)  Like Hobbes, he rejects the classical metaphysics of the medieval natural law tradition, and like Hobbes, he does not regard the state as a natural institution but a man-made one.  But unlike Hobbes, he thinks there are laws binding on us even in the state of nature, before governments are founded and even apart from our consenting to those laws.  Since, given his metaphysics, he cannot ground these natural laws in human nature in quite the way the medievals did, he grounds them instead in God’s ownership of us.  That is to say, even in the state of nature, there are moral grounds for us not to harm others, since to do so would be to damage God’s property.  Hence the state of nature is not as nasty as Hobbes made it out to be, and the remedy to its defects therefore needn’t be as drastic as Hobbes’s remedy.  That is to say, it needn’t be an absolutist state, but a far more limited government.

So far Locke might seem much closer to the medievals than to Hobbes.  Indeed, so central is natural theology to his conception of natural law that he took the view that atheism should not be tolerated even by the liberal state, since he regarded it as inherently subversive of the moral and political order.  However, appearances are deceiving.  First, and again, like Hobbes, Locke does not regard the state or the social order as natural to us but as man-made.  Second, he conceives of the rights we derive from God as essentially a kind of property rights over ourselves.  God may own us ultimately, but for everyday practical purposes we can treat ourselves and others as self-owners.  Third, his natural theology notwithstanding, Locke does not think of social and political life as essentially geared toward anything especially noble, such as facilitating our adherence to natural law and thus fulfilling our social nature and attaining moral virtue.  As he makes clear in the Letter Concerning Toleration, the state exists only to enable us more easily to pursue the private earthly individual interests that would have been our focus in the state of nature:

The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests. Civil interest I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like.

Fourth, Locke’s natural theology, stripped as it is of the classical philosophical foundations to which ancient and medieval natural theology appealed, is in any case underdeveloped and problematic, and had little influence on the later liberal tradition. 

Fifth, Locke’s position on relations between the state and revealed religion (as opposed to natural theology) is far from the medieval Christian position.  For one thing, not only are Church and state distinct, but they must in his view be kept separate, and the state not only need not but may not offer any special recognition or assistance to any religious body, even if its citizens were to consent to this.  For another thing, while the state must therefore tolerate various competing religions, this toleration is to be extended only to those religions compatible with the liberal conception of politics.  Locke goes so far as to work this into his conception of true religion, claiming in his Letter Concerning Toleration that “toleration [is] the chief characteristic mark of the true church.”  And for these reasons Locke held that Catholicism should not be tolerated.  For Catholicism does not hold (and certainly did not hold in Locke’s day) that religions other than itself must be tolerated, and it requires that Catholics’ first loyalty be to the pope rather than to the liberal state.  (See my book Locke for more detailed discussion of the various aspects of Locke’s philosophy.)

So, what survived from Locke is essentially the idea that we are self-owning individuals who create society and government for the purpose of facilitating the pursuit of our private earthly interests, and that religions can be tolerated only to the extent that they conform themselves to this liberal conception of the social and political order.  The “selective toleration” side of Lockeanism today echoes most loudly in the work of John Rawls, who insists that the liberal state be neutral between all “comprehensive doctrines” -- religions, metaphysical systems, systems of morality, and so forth -- but only insofar as they are “reasonable.”  And what makes a comprehensive doctrine “reasonable” is that it endorses liberal egalitarian political institutions, and grounds its public policy recommendations exclusively on premises constituting the common ground or “overlapping consensus” that exists between itself and other such liberal-friendly doctrines.  In short, Rawlsian liberalism is “neutral” between all and only religions and philosophies that are willing to conform themselves to Rawlsian liberalism. 

The “self-ownership” side of Lockeanism has been especially influential in contemporary libertarian versions of liberalism, which seek to “privatize” as much of human life as possible, shrinking the state further or even eliminating it altogether, and modeling all human relationships on contractual agreements or market exchanges.  Libertarians and Rawlsians alike would also strenuously object to any suggestion that the state might in any way officially recognize even the generic theism of natural theology, or uphold natural law moral principles. 

Whether in its Hobbesian, Lockean, Rawlsian, or libertarian form, then, liberalism “chooses” or “takes” from its Christian inheritance the secular aspect of public life, radically redefines it, and excludes entirely from public life, in principle and not merely pragmatically, the sacred and supernatural.  In this way it is from the point of view of Christian political thought a kind of “heresy.”  (And notice that I have been talking here about the Anglo-American liberal tradition, which is typically regarded as less hostile to religion than the continental liberal tradition.)

Islam and the state

Let us turn now to the opposite extreme point of view represented by Islam.  That Islam is a kind of Christian heresy is a thesis put forward by Hilaire Belloc in his book The Great Heresies.  Belloc wrote:

Mohammedanism… began as a heresy, not as a new religion.  It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was -- not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most heresiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with.  He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world -- on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel -- which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans' while.

He took over very few of those old pagan ideas which might have been native to him from his descent. On the contrary, he preached and insisted upon a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from the paganism which it had conquered in the Greek and Roman civilization. Thus the very foundation of his teaching was that prime Catholic doctrine, the unity and omnipotence of God. The attributes of God he also took over in the main from Catholic doctrine: the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone.  The world of good spirits and angels and of evil spirits in rebellion against God was a part of the teaching, with a chief evil spirit, such as Christendom had recognized. Mohammed preached with insistence that prime Catholic doctrine, on the human side -- the immortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.

If anyone sets down those points that orthodox Catholicism has in common with Mohammedanism, and those points only, one might imagine if one went no further that there should have been no cause of quarrel. Mohammed would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the Desert. (pp. 42-43)

As Belloc goes on to note, what Muhammad rejected -- the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Eucharist and with it the priesthood, theological matters which have led to so many doctrinal quarrels in the history of the Church -- amounted to a drastic simplification of Christian teaching.  And this simplicity is a key part of Islam’s success.  This is why it is by no means a mere academic quibble, or a concession to political correctness, to argue as I did in a recent post that Christians and Muslims are, despite their deep theological differences, talking about the same God.  For unless one understands this, one will fail to understand the true nature of Islam as a kind of “heresy,” a transformation of Christianity rather than an entirely novel religion.     

Plato famously distinguished three parts of the soul -- the rational part, the spirited part, and the appetitive part.  You might say that Christianity, with its highly complex system of theological doctrine and otherworldly ethos, appeals most strongly to the rational part of the soul.  Liberalism, which promises material security and license, appeals most strongly to the appetitive part of the soul.  And Islam most appeals to the middle part of the soul, the spirited part -- the part moved by anger at perceived injustice, by honor and shame, by the martial virtues, by command and submission rather than endless talk and theological hair-splitting. It is best understood as a streamlined variation on Christianity, a kind of “Christianity lite,” and in particular a Christianity tailor-made for the man of action. 

And Muhammad and his followers were definitely men of action.  This brings us to the political side of Islam, which is our main concern here.  Muhammad’s program was religious, to be sure, but by no means merely religious.  Or to be more precise, he did not regard the cultural, moral, legal, economic, military, and political spheres as something distinct from the religious sphere, to which religion may or may not be applied.  They were all just parts of one sphere, the religious sphere, from the get go.  Muhammad was prophet, statesman, legislator, general, and cultural and moral exemplar, all rolled into one.  And Islam was, accordingly, not merely a program of religious reform, but a program of complete social and political reform, every aspect of which -- not merely the theological aspect -- was grounded in the revelation Muhammad claimed to have received from God.

Not that everyone got with the program, at least not initially.  Muhammad faced opposition, so much so that he famously had to flee from Mecca to Medina.  But this opposition did not succeed for long, and soon the entirety of Arabia, as well as North Africa, the Levant, Mesopotamia and Persia, knew the power of Islam -- its temporal power, its political and in particular its military power, no less than its spiritual power.  Muhammad’s kingdom, unlike Christ’s, was from the start very definitely of this world, and his servants certainly fought.  And unlike the Church during the first centuries of Christianity, Islam was not in a weak position relative to the state.  That is not because Islam controlled the state.  It is because Islam was the state.  The caliphate was not a secular power over which Islam had acquired an influence, not a state to which a distinct Islamic “Church” had been annexed.  It was “Church” and state in one.  Or rather, it was all just Islam, because there is in Islam no such thing in the first place as the notion of a “Church” understood as a purely religious institution, which might be distinguished from some other institution called “the state,” to which it may or may not be fused.

It is a fundamental error, then, to try to understand Islam or its history on the model of the relationship between Church and state in Christian history.  To do so -- and to suggest on the basis of this analogy that the separation between Church and state that liberalism achieved might be duplicated in the Muslim context -- is simply to ignore the actual history of Islam (and, ironically, to impose alien Western categories on Islam in the very act of trying to defend it against its Western critics).  It is particularly absurd to propose, as some Western liberals do, a “separation of mosque and state,” as if the notion of the mosque were the Islamic equivalent of the notion of the Church.  For one thing, the word “church” is ambiguous in English.  It can mean a certain kind of building, or it can mean the Church as an institution, distinct from other institutions like the state, the family, a business corporation, etc.  There is no parallel ambiguity in the word “mosque.”  It’s just a building.  For another thing, it is not a building devoted merely to what Westerners think of as purely religious affairs.  Rather, it is a place wherein the Muslim preacher might also just as well discuss politics, culture, economics, etc. -- because, again, these are all just as much a part of the concerns of Islam as purely religious matters are.  The idea of a “separation of mosque and state” is therefore a muddle.

Another part of the radical simplification of Christianity represented by Islam, then, is the collapse of the distinction between the sacred and secular spheres, but in a direction opposite to the collapse to be found in liberalism.  It is a “choosing” or “taking” of the sacred to the exclusion of the secular, what Roger Scruton calls in his book The West and the Rest Islam’s “confiscation of the political” (p. 91).  And it is also, at least for the most part, an absorption of the natural into the supernatural.  For law, in Islam, is essentially the divine law given through the Prophet, and especially through the Quran.  There is no natural law in the sense in which Christianity affirms a natural law.  That is to say, there is no moral and political sphere grounded in a purely natural order distinct from the supernatural order, knowable in principle by unaided reason from the study of that natural order, and having a legitimacy of its own whether or not God specially reveals a distinct supernatural end to which the natural order might be raised.

(To be sure, occasionally one hears of “Islamic natural law theories,” as in the recent book Natural Law: A Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Trialogue, by Anver Emon, Matthew Levering, and David Novak.  But they turn out on closer inspection to be rather anticlimactic from a Christian point of view.  Emon, a Muslim, acknowledges that pre-modern Muslim jurists were “somewhat nervous” about granting unaided reason authority where law is concerned, and even where they do apply it, it is to questions not already addressed by the Quran or hadith (pp. 148-9).  Furthermore, the approach does not involve appealing to the natures of things, including human nature, considered by themselves, but rather starts with God’s goodness -- something primarily known from revelation -- and infers to the goodness of his creation, from which further conclusions relevant to law might be inferred.  All of this is very different from the idea that there is a natural order entirely independent of divine revelation from which very general moral and political conclusions might in principle be drawn by unaided reason.)

As I have said, for Christianity, a social and political order that exists utterly independently of special divine revelation in general or the Church in particular is at worst less than ideal.  It is not per se evil, abnormal, or unnatural.  Accordingly, it can have of its own nature a legitimate authority over the Christian, and we can owe our allegiance to it even if our first allegiance is to the Church.  But for Islam, things are very different.  A social and political order that exists utterly independently of Quranic revelation is deeply unnatural and abnormal.  We cannot regard it as having any authority of its nature, but at best as something we might put up with for the time being for pragmatic reasons.  Our only truly binding allegiance is to Islam, understood as a single complete religious, social, political, economic, and cultural system.  And the thing to do with non-Islamic political and social orders in order to make them healthy and normal is, ultimately, to convert them to Islam. 

Now, just as it is only the naïve reading of Western categories into Islam that could lead one to compare Islamic history to the history of relations between Church and state, so too only a naïve reading of Western categories into Islam could lead one to think that a historical-critical reading of the Quran might lead Islam to liberalize its conception of the political.  For the Quran is not to be understood on the model of the Bible as Jews and Christians understand it.  The Bible was written by human beings, and bears the marks of the personalities of its authors and the historical and cultural contexts in which they wrote.  No Jew or Christian, no matter how theologically conservative, denies this.  They merely claim that these human authors were divinely guided in writing in such a way that they were preserved from error. 

That is not how the Quran is understood in Islam.  It is not in any sense the work of Muhammad.  He did not write it, not even under divine inspiration.  Rather, it is the direct word of God himself, eternally pre-existing its revelation through Muhammad, which “came down” to him from heaven.  To say that the Quran somehow got things wrong is not, for the Muslim, like saying that there are errors in the Bible.  It is more like saying that Christ himself got things wrong.  And to suggest that Quranic teaching reflects a merely contingent historical epoch is like saying that what Christians call the Word, the second Person of the Trinity, reflects a merely contingent historical epoch (whatever that could mean).  For the Muslim to give up this view of the Quran would be like the Christian giving up the infallibility and divinity of Christ.  It would be to give up the religion itself.

The inclusion within the sacred of what Westerners regard as the secular is therefore not the “fundamentalist” Islamic position, but simply the Islamic position full stop.  The illusion that things are otherwise no doubt stems in part from the fact that there are secular states in the Islamic world today.  But this is a historically contingent and highly artificial circumstance that has nothing to do with Islam itself.  It is a holdover from colonial powers like the English and the French, who imposed Western-style systems on the Muslim populations -- systems which have been preserved after the departure of the colonial powers, not by the consent of the majority of these populations, but by secularizing autocrats like Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, and the like.  Hence, as Muslim scholar Muzammil Siddiqi notes, “there is a de facto separation of religion and state in the Muslim world,” which is an inheritance from the colonial period:

But the whole legal system of these states, their economic system, political system, educational system are not Islamic.  There is no caliph ruling these states… People have very little say on who runs the government and how.  Muslim countries are divided on ethnic, racial, tribal, linguistic and nationalistic lines.  These are not the principals of an Islamic state… In the Muslim countries today, governments are quite free to interfere in religious matters, but religious people are not allowed to criticize political leaders and governmental authorities. (The Abraham Connection: A Jew, Christian, and Muslim in Dialogue: David M. Gordis, George R. Grose, Muzammil H. Siddiqi, edited by George Grose and Benjamin Hubbard, at pp. 140-41)

Asked whether the American model of separation and Church and state might nevertheless be a model for Muslim governments to adopt, Siddiqi comments:

I do not think that can be done because Islam has its own political system… In order to secularize a society, you have to privatize its religion.  You have to say that religion is a private matter and it is something that a person does with his solitude, between him or her and God.  A state should have its own rules and should function on those principles without any reference to God or a higher authority.

But Islamic law is comprehensive and covers all aspects of life.  It deals with economy, politics, education, international relations, etc.  How can one privatize this religion without reducing it considerably?  Muslim societies have refused to become secular in spite of all the attempts and pressures from inside and outside during the past two centuries.  People do not consider religion as a private matter.  So how can one establish a secular state among Muslims? (p. 141)

It should be noted that this is the opinion of a mainstream American Muslim scholar who was twice invited by President George W. Bush to represent Islam at national prayer services, at Washington National Cathedral and Ground Zero in New York.  (In the interests of full disclosure, I suppose I should also note that Siddiqi was a professor of mine when I double-majored in philosophy and religious studies at California State University, Fullerton, in the early 1990s.)

Religion of peace?

Now, Siddiqi also says that the Islamic political system “guarantees the religious freedom of all people without separating the religion from the state” though he allows that “on the issue of religious freedom, I believe there is need for… further elaboration and refinement by Muslim jurists” (p. 141).  That is putting it mildly, since religious freedom is not the first thing one thinks of when reading the history of Islam.

To be sure, a famous Quranic text declares that “There shall be no compulsion in religion” (The Cow 2:256, Dawood translation), and Jews, Christians, and some others are given a special regard as “People of the Book.”  Then there is the idea that the word “Islam” has the same root as the Arabic word for “peace,” so that Islam can be characterized as a “religion of peace.”  It is also often said that jihad is really about one’s spiritual struggle with himself rather than war with non-Muslims.  Robotically citing such factoids -- and thereby essentially engaging in the method of “argument by proof-text” they would dismiss as shallow if employed by a fundamentalist Christian -- some liberal Westerners feel justified in rolling over and resuming their dogmatic slumbers.  And taken in isolation, these do seem to provide materials by which a Muslim thinker might develop a justification for some kind of religious toleration. 

The problems come when we do not take them in isolation but instead look at them in the context of Islamic teaching as a whole.  Start with the “There is no compulsion in religion” passage.  As is well known, there are also Quranic passages that point in the opposite direction, such as:

Fight against such of those to whom the Scriptures were given as believe neither in Allah nor the Last Day, who do not forbid what Allah and His apostle have forbidden, and do not embrace the true faith, until they pay tribute out of hand and are utterly subdued. (Repentance 9:29)

“Those to whom the Scriptures were given” are Jews and Christians.  That they are not quite as highly regarded by the Quran as some Western liberals suppose is also evident from this passage:

Had the People of the Book accepted Islam, it would have surely been better for them.  Few of them are true believers, and most of them are evil-doers. (The Imrans 3:110)

Then there are those who are not “People of the Book,” the polytheists:

Tell the unbelievers that if they mend their ways their past shall be forgiven; but if they persist in sin, let them reflect upon the fate of their forefathers.

Make war on them until idolatry is no more and Allah’s religion reigns supreme. (The Spoils 8: 38-39)

We need to take account also of the haditha or sayings of Muhammad outside the Quran, which carry a high degree of authority in Islam.  A famous saying from the hadith collection of al-Bukhari is:

I have been commanded to fight people until they testify that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, and perform the prayer, and pay zakat [religious tax].  If they say it, they have saved their blood and possessions from me, except for the rights of Islam over them.

And on the subject of apostasy from Islam, another famous hadith from the same collection says: “Whoever changes his religion, kill him.”

As to the idea that “jihad” pertains to a spiritual struggle with oneself, the problem is that while the word can mean that, that is simply not its only meaning nor its usual meaning.  Its usual meaning is “holy war” in the sense of military struggle against the enemies of Islam.  Neither the Quran, nor the hadith, nor Islamic history and tradition as a whole give any grounds whatsoever for claiming otherwise. 

As to the “religion of peace” idea, while it is true that “Islam” has the same root as an Arabic word often translated “peace,” this has nothing whatsoever to do with pacifism, or a hippie “live and let live” ethos, or anything else some liberal Westerners apparently want to read into Muhammad’s original message in the face of all the overwhelming evidence.  “Islam” means “submission” or “surrender,” and the idea is that we are not at peace either with ourselves or with each other because we resist the will of God.  To be at peace, then, requires ceasing this resistance, and submitting or surrendering to God’s will.  Which, of course, for Islam means accepting Islam. 

This is why, in Islamic tradition, the world is traditionally conceived of as divided up between the “House of Islam” and the “House of War,” between those peoples who have submitted to the Muslim religious and political order and those who have not yet done so.  Historically, non-Muslims within the borders of Islamic countries who were willing to accept dhimmi status -- a second-class citizen arrangement which entails paying a special tax not imposed on Muslims, a lack of some of the political rights Muslims have, and refraining from proselytizing or practicing non-Muslim religions in a conspicuous way -- were often tolerated.  But non-Muslims who refused to do this, and peoples outside the boundaries of the Muslim world, were regarded as a threat in principle to the Islamic order and at least technically, even if not always in practice, in a state of war with Islam.  And what might count as a “threat” to Islam can be construed fairly broadly.  It might include attempts to convert Muslims, attempts to introduce a secular political order in Islamic countries, and so forth.

So, is there a sense in which Islam has historically been concerned with securing peace?  Absolutely.  Does this entail that Islam has historically been concerned with securing peace as Western liberals understand it, viz. achieving a pluralistic society in which people of all religions and none, and adhering to radically different philosophies and moral codes, live together on equal terms, freely exchanging ideas?  Absolutely not; exactly the opposite, in fact. 

It is quite absurd, then, for Western liberals to cite proof texts and factoids like the ones referred to above as if they were evidence that Islam is reconcilable with liberalism.  To be sure, this does not entail that a devout Muslim might not make a principled case that in the present age, military struggle is not the appropriate means by which either to propagate Islam or to defend it against its enemies.  And it certainly does not entail that a devout Muslim could not condemn terrorism and attacks upon civilians.  It is simply unjust, uncharitable, and ignorant to insist that any Muslim would, to be consistent, have to approve of the tactics and program of al-Qaeda or ISIS.  A devout Muslim may, consistent with the principles of his religion, advocate an entirely peaceful approach to furthering Islam -- through proselytizing, voting, getting legislation passed, and so forth.

However, it simply doesn’t follow that Islam is compatible with liberalism -- with the separation in principle of religion and politics, with the Lockean conception of toleration, with Rawlsian or libertarian neutrality, etc.  It also simply doesn’t follow that a more belligerent approach is not also at least equally defensible given Islamic premises.  For example, a Muslim could perfectly well argue that the “no compulsion” passage in the Quran was meant by God only to apply to circumstances like the specific one Muhammad faced when he was in a weak position relative to his enemies.  Or he could (as J. Budziszewski has noted) argue that the passage has wider application than that, but that in light of other Quranic passages and hadith, the toleration the passage requires has to be understood very narrowly, i.e. that it rules out forced conversions, but still allows for punishment of apostasy and of non-Muslim proselytizing, and is consistent with imposing dhimmi status on non-Muslims.  There are no grounds whatsoever for regarding such positions as somehow less authentically Islamic than a more moderate interpretation would be.  Moreover, if the examples of Muhammad himself and of the earliest Muslim communities are regarded as normative for Muslims of all eras, then the more hard-line interpretations might claim to have a stronger case for being regarded as authentically Islamic.

Of course, many liberals would respond by citing Old Testament passages commanding conquest of non-Israelite cities, brutal suppression of idolatry, etc.  If most modern Christians advocate religious diversity despite such passages, why (the liberal asks) couldn’t most modern Muslims come to advocate religious diversity despite the rougher Quranic passages and haditha?  But the comparison is specious, for three reasons.  First, more or less all Christians agree that the Mosaic law was intended only for a limited time, as preparation for the Incarnation, and does not in any direct way apply to Christians.  Hence there are principled grounds in long-standing Christian doctrine for denying that the passages in question have any relevance today.  There is no parallel to this in Islam, no precedent in Islamic history for regarding the harsher Quranic passages as somehow no longer having any application. 

Second, the Catholic tradition has, in the Magisterium of the Church, an authoritative interpreter of scripture, which can decisively settle disputes among Catholics about how to understand and apply various biblical passages.  And neither the Church nor any Catholic would hold that the Old Testament passages in question require Christians to make war upon non-Christians, to execute idolaters, etc.  By contrast, there is no authoritative interpreter in Islam, no Magisterium which can require all Muslims to read Quranic passages in a certain specific way, etc.

Third, while it is true that Protestantism also lacks such an authoritative interpreter, it is also the case that the idea of religious toleration has a long history and central place within Protestantism.  Indeed, liberalism and its doctrine of toleration were precisely outgrowths of Protestant Christianity, spurred by Protestantism’s conflict with the Catholic Church.  This deep and longstanding tendency in Protestant thought counteracts any possibility of reading the Old Testament passages in question as having application today.  But there is no corresponding tendency or tradition in the history of Islam, which might counteract the possibility of reading the harsher Quranic passages and hadith as having contemporary application.

Oil and water

This last set of issues illustrates one of the reasons so many Western liberals have such difficulty seeing the incompatibility of liberalism with Islam.  Many of them simply have too little respect for religion to bother studying it very carefully, and thus end up saying silly and ill-informed things when they do comment on it.  This is as true of touchy-feely Islamophilia-prone liberals as it is of shrill New Atheist-type liberals.  Their idea of “religion” is determined mostly by whatever it is they know about Christianity -- which often isn’t much -- and they suppose that other religions are more or less like that but with the names changed.  Hence they suppose that the Quran is more or less like the Bible, that a mosque is more or less like a church, that Muhammad is more or less like Jesus or at least like an Old Testament prophet, and so forth.

A second problem is that when educated liberals encounter non-Christian religious believers, they are often likely to encounter the most liberal adherents, and wrongly to generalize from the impressions they get from those adherents.  Hence if (while in college, say, or at an academic conference, or working at an NGO) they encounter individual Muslims who happen to have liberal or even secular attitudes, they might infer that Islam in general and considered as a system must be compatible with liberalism and secularism.  But that simply doesn’t follow, and the sample isn’t necessarily representative. 

A third problem is that the workability of liberalism as a system requires that all “comprehensive doctrines,” or at least all those with a large number of adherents within a liberal society, are compatible with basic liberal premises (and thus “reasonable,” as Rawlsian liberals conceive of “reasonableness”). If there is a “comprehensive doctrine” with a large number of adherents which is simply not compatible with basic liberal premises, that will be a very serious problem for the entire liberal project.  Hence there is tremendous reluctance to conclude that there is any such “comprehensive doctrine,” or to look for evidence that might support such a conclusion.

Fourth, egalitarianism is one of the dogmas of modern liberalism, just as the divinity of Christ is a dogma of Christianity or the divine origin of the Quran is a dogma of Islam.  Many liberals find it almost impossible to understand how anyone could rationally deny it, and thus how such denials could be anything but expressions of unreasoning hatred.  Hence epithets like “bigot” play, within liberalism, the same role that words like “heretic” often do within religion.  They are a means of silencing dissenters and sending a warning to anyone even considering dissent from egalitarianism.  Many liberals are inclined a priori to suppose that any suggestion that Islam and liberalism are not compatible simply must be an expression of bigotry.

Fifth, liberalism is heavily invested in a narrative according to which the pre-liberal European civilization against which it reacted -- that is to say, medieval and early modern Christian civilization -- was especially oppressive, both to Europeans and non-Europeans.  Now, historically Islam has been the great political and military rival to Christianity.  Hence, even though that history has largely been a history of Islamic aggression against Christian states, it is extremely tempting for the liberal to pretend that the Christian side was as aggressive, or even more aggressive.  Hence all the absurd apologizing for the Crusades.  It is also extremely tempting for the liberal to regard contemporary Muslims as allies in liberals’ political disputes with conservative Christians (even if Muslims are far closer to conservative Christians where “social issues” are concerned than they are to liberals).

In short, liberal attitudes about Islam and are -- ironically, given liberals’ self-conception -- often shaped by prejudice, stereotypes, wishful thinking, dogmatism, and partisanship. But not entirely.  For there really are critics of Islam who say stupid, ill-informed, and bigoted things, and seem willing to believe only the worst of it.  Such hotheads give aid and comfort to those who would dismiss any critical analysis of Islam as “bigotry.”  And they should learn that you cannot effectively counter a rival unless you are willing to understand it and acknowledge its strengths as well as its weaknesses.

In any event, as opposite departures from Christianity -- one in the direction of emphasizing the sacred to the exclusion of the secular, the other in the direction of emphasizing a desiccated notion of the secular to the exclusion of the sacred -- Islam and liberalism agree only in their insistence that the moral and political order has no foundation in nature.  For liberalism it derives from us, for Islam from special divine revelation, and the Christian middle ground disappears.  In every other way, Islam and liberalism are like oil and water. 

A further difference between them, I think, is that Muslims see this in a way liberals do not.  Nor is this the only respect in which liberalism is prone to delusion.  Materially, liberalism is at the apex of its strength.  But spiritually it is at its lowest ebb.  It has lost all confidence in the superiority or even the basic goodness of the civilization from which it sprang.  It has lost any sense of limits, any awareness that moral and social institutions cannot be molded and remolded at will, any thought that one cannot borrow and spend indefinitely, any ability to think beyond election cycles and what the mob happens to be demanding at the moment.  It is Hubris that cannot see Nemesis implacably speeding toward it.

Materially, Islam is at an historical ebb.  But spiritually -- now, as when Belloc marveled at the fact in the 1930s -- it is undiminished, as confident as it ever was in the basic rightness of its cause, the inevitability of its victory, and the vast numbers of human beings it can call upon to live by it, suffer persecution for it, and fight and die for it.

This should not be surprising.  Liberalism appeals to our animal side, to our craving for physical comfort and pleasure, which always get us into trouble in the long run.  Islam appeals to our social and religious side, to the call to self-control, sacrifice for the community, and submission to God, which seem onerous only in the short run but invariably guarantee that something larger than ourselves will survive into the future when we as individuals are long dead.  That is to say, Islam simply preserves more of its Christian inheritance than liberalism does.

As a Catholic, I have no doubt that the Church will survive the various crises through which she is currently suffering -- just as it survived Roman persecution, the Arian heresy, wave after wave of jihadist onslaughts, the Reformation, the French Revolution, Stalin and his legions, and all the rest.  Which of its two ancient rivals -- liberalism or Islam -- is more likely to survive alongside it into the future?  The smart money’s on Islam.


  1. Christ famously declared: “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

    My understanding is that the meaning of the original Greek phrase is Christ's kingdom does not originate in this world. He was not suggesting his kingdom doesn't encompass the world, far from it.

    I would also be interested in understanding how historically Islam has been less liberal than Christianity. In terms of women's rights, I can't see much of a difference between pre-modern Christianity and Islam. Christendom was, it seems to me, more intolerant to unbelievers and heretics than Islam, though the latter has certainly been intolerant at times.

    Also, I'd be interested in learning in just what sense the Crusades were a reaction to Muslim aggression. Does this mean a delayed reaction to the conquests of Islam in the early centuries of its existence? You could argue that I suppose. But it is slightly strange to claim the Crusades as defensive if they are trying to retake territory lost centuries before. And the early Islam conquests occurred under complicated circumstances. The Byzantines and Persians were not faultless. They had long meddled in the affairs of and oppressed the Arabs. The Byzantines at least, were not well liked by this time by many of their Christians subjects in Egypt and the Levant, especially non-Chalcedonians, Jews, and Samaritans. The Arabs were welcomed as looked on more favourably as rulers by many of these.

    Yes, in the intervening centuries between the end of the great conquests in the West (say around 800AD), there had been continued aggression by Muslims, but there had been counter attacks by Christians. It was very much a two-sided contest by this stage.

    I also think it is a little odd to think of the Crusades as a defense of Christians, if we talking about anything but keeping the heartlands of Western Christendom safe. The Crusaders often were not especially good-willed and tolerant to Eastern Christians, whether Chalcedonian or not. Many no doubt looked on the Muslims, or at least the Saracens, if not the Turks and Mongols, as better protectors than the Franks. The fiasco of the Fourth Crusade underscores this.

    I don't consider the Crusades as some simplistic example of Western, Christian aggression. They were complex events in complex times. Great heroism and piety was shown on all sides. There is much to celebrate and remember, as well as lament and rebuke. But I find it hard to see the Christians as simply defending themselves.

  2. "That is not how the Quran is understood in Islam. It is not in any sense the work of Muhammad. He did not write it, not even under divine inspiration. Rather, it is the direct word of God himself, eternally pre-existing its revelation through Muhammad, which “came down” to him from heaven. To say that the Quran somehow got things wrong is not, for the Muslim, like saying that there are errors in the Bible. It is more like saying that Christ himself got things wrong."

    I believe this is the modern dominant Sunni position, but not the Shiite one (and there was a group of Sunnis, the Mu'tazilites, who believed the Quran was created rather than eternal, and this book mentions that Mu'tazilite theology "has been preserved primarily among some Shiite theologians and more progressive Sunni intellectuals"). I'm sure plenty who believe it was created will still argue that it is guaranteed by Allah to be free of error, as in this page from a Shiite encyclopedia:

    Some claim that every created things has flaws in it and thus Qur’an should be ethernal since it is without flaw. This argument is baseless since we Muslims believe that angels, though created, are flawless, otherwise how can we trust Gabriel when he brought Qur’an to the Prophet? How can you trust Prophet himself? Is Allah unable to create a flawless creature? As such, we believe that Qur’an as well as all other things in the universe are all created. Nothing is eternal except Allah. There is a tradition from the Prophet (S) which states that:

    "(There was a time when) Allah existed, and there was nothing beside Him".

    But is this any different from the view of conservative Catholics (and many other Christian sects) that God has ensured that the Bible is "inerrant"? And just as those Christians who believe strongly in inerrancy are still usually willing to accept that others can disbelieve in inerrancy and still be considered Christians, so I would guess the same is true for many Muslims who have this sort of belief about the eternity or perfection of the Quran. For example I found this page from which says "The Qur'an does not require a Muslim to believe that the Qur'an is eternal. In view of this fact, I do not hold the referred belief regarding the Qur'an to be among the essential beliefs that a Muslim must ascribe to." (this answer is credited to Moiz Amjad, and googling some of the teachers listed in his bio suggests he's Sunni)

  3. Great article. Agreed with almost every last bit of it.

    One thing that is missing from the five reasons liberals have a hard time understanding Islam: their nominalist view of religion, that is the contention that Islam or Christianity or whatever have no stable nature. For many liberals, Islam is simply whatever Muslims want it to be. This tends to go along with a reduction of religion to motives that the liberal can understand: hence, the tendency to interpret religion as a cover for material desires, or the desire for community simply as community, the latter being particularly common among the mushy kind of liberal.

    The nominalist view of religion is quite wrong, but it isn't totally preposterous. It is based on several true things:

    1. The content of various religions, at least of religions that aren't true, is historically contingent to a high degree. If Mohammad had left out verses X, Y and Z, Islam could have been a very different beast.
    2. Very few people carefully examine the merits of the various religious options available to them and choose what they think are the best. In fact, very few people are capable of making such a comparison. So, they tend to just go along with what everyone else in their main social group is doing. Content doesn't seem to matter much to them.
    3. There are quite a large number of not-particularly-devout hangers on in most religions, even in highly devout societies, perhaps especially in highly devout societies. They mostly seem in it for the social benefits: the sense of community and identity and such. And, of course, religion often does create robust sense of community and identity.

    The problem with point 1 is that he did include verses X, Y and Z. The problem with points 2 and 3 is that they see religion primarily as a matter of individual choice rather than a complex social phenomenon, where if you downplay certain things too much, the system doesn't work anymore.

    With point 2, sure, whatever religious symbol (such as a scripture) a particular community may rally around may be fairly arbitrary and contingent, but the symbol does need to actually be held in common for there to be a real community. If you disrespect the symbol too much (by, for example, ignoring the teaching of a scripture too much, or insisting that there is no real content to the symbol) the community will tend to fall apart.

    As for point 3, there is an analogy. Some people would look at a softball league, and all the social activity that goes on around it, and conclude that it isn't really about playing softball, but about community and togetherness and whatnot. And there would be a lot of people, particularly many of the women, who were much more interested in the picnics and parties than the actual sporting events. But the fact is that you really do need a certain critical mass of people who are actually interested in the softball. Otherwise, the community stuff won't happen. You can't just have community be about community, as the attempt of many mainline churches shows.


    James Kalb had some related thoughts here.

  4. I'm not generally a fan of Sam Harris, but his book on Islam with Maajid Nawaz is actually very good. Nawaz is a perfect example of the kind of religious nominalist I talk about above.

  5. Good essay, but I think there is perhaps a problem in the discussion of Islam and the state. The implication seems to be that Muslims treat morality as divine commands that can only be found in the Quran and Hadith. This seems to be required to claim that Muslims refer all ethical and social questions to divine law. Certainly, this view of morality is important in Islamic history. But it is far from the only position in Islamic moral thought. It isn't even the obviously dominant one, I would say. There are plenty of those Muslims who have argued against voluntarism and against those who have claimed human reason has no role to play in ethics. The Quran itself talks of virtues like justice as if they were objective and understandable, even by non-Muslims. Such Muslims would look to the Quran and Hadith as important sources of moral law though, as they are divine revelations for them and the prophets are held to be the embodiment of human morality, as Jesus is for Christians. But they would take much the same position on the morality of non-Muslims and their polities as the Christians you describe.

  6. Ed,

    I appreciate the post you wrote. I don't agree with some parts of it but it is a genuine attempt to spend time to understand the issues and to write carefully about it. Thanks for that.

    However, you write,

    "Every new jihadist attack seems, as if by a kind of reverse inductive reasoning, to make some liberals even more confident in their judgment that there is no essential connection between Islam and terrorism, and that Islam and liberal values are ultimately reconcilable."

    I think you are missing the whole point.

    There are some liberals who are uncomfortable with Islamophobia and the unjust reactions we are engaging in our foreign policy in addressing terrorist attacks.

    I think the giant elephants that is missed in this discussion is one the roots of terrorism and secondly the scale of the terrorism attacks and the scale (and at many times the wrong-headed approach) of our reactions.

    For example, in early 2015, the Noble peace prize winning group, Physicians for Social Responsibility, wrote a 97 page report that the death toll of the so-called "War on Terror" is at least 1.3 millions but could be as much as 2 million.

    Please see the liberal website's post

    I did not look at the literature but I think that liberals by and large supported us to go after Al-Qaeda in wake of their 9-11 attacks on us. However, liberals were against our invasion of Iraqi and liberals are against many of our other foreign policy and other policies that out govt engages in response to terrorism.

    In other words, if our reaction was measured and not disproportionate, if it was directed better at actual terrorists and not against whole populations, and so on, then I don't think liberals would be complaining much.

    Regarding Islam per se, the Quranic verse you cited with respect to paying tribute is not necessarily directed towards the entire world but it was in the context of the minority People of the Book communities which in the context of the revelation but dealing with Jewish tribes which were helping the pagans annihilate the Muslims.

    The hadith you cited is only in one Sunni collection. It is NOT in the Shia Muslim hadith collections.

    There are many Quranic verses where the Prophet is told categorically that his remit is to proclaim clearly the Qur'an.

    Had the Prophet Muhammad lived today, I think it is presumptuous to think that he (peace be upon him) would not want to be at peace with nation-states that allowed freedom of expression of the Qur'an being available to the public.

    Please notice a few of many relevant Quranic verses.

    You have NO duty EXCEPT DELIVERING the message. [Quran 42:48]
    Your ONLY duty is delivering, we will call them to account. [Quran 13:40]
    The messenger has NO function EXCEPT delivery of the message. [Quran 5:99]

    “Fight in the way of God against those who fight against you, BUT BEGIN NOT hostilities. Lo! God loveth not aggressors.” (2, 190)

    “But if the enemies incline towards peace, do you also incline towards peace. And trust in God! For He is the one who hears and knows all things.” (8:61)

    It is true that traditional Muslim understanding is that before the end-times Islam will be ascendant throughout the world.

    However, Jews also believe that their Messiah will have control (economic control, political control, etc) over the world.

    Christians also believe this endtime I incorrect in this regarding Catholic understanding?

  7. Another reason many liberals are reluctant to credit any criticism of Islam is that they perceive Muslims as a disliked and discriminated against minority in the West, as well as people whose countries were subject to European imperialism in the recent past.

    And those things are not entirely untrue. Muslims are a minority in Western countries, and many times do face unjust discrimination and mistreatment. And the record of Western intervention in the Middle East is often quite appalling.

    Though this does rather leave out the possibility that Muslims in the West and elsewhere, as a group, are often justly disliked and discriminated against, or should be.


  8. Ed,

    Regarding your statement,

    "As to the idea that “jihad” pertains to a spiritual struggle with oneself, the problem is that while the word can mean that, that is simply not its only meaning nor its usual meaning. Its usual meaning is “holy war” in the sense of military struggle against the enemies of Islam. Neither the Quran, nor the hadith, nor Islamic history and tradition as a whole give any grounds whatsoever for claiming otherwise,"

    you are correct that the word jihad is also meant to be holy war in certain verses. However, please note that the word not only "can," mean spiritual struggle, but it literally only means that in some verses.

    "We have enjoined on people kindness to parents; but if they STRIVE (Jahadaka) to make you ascribe partners with Me that of which you have no knowledge, then obey them not..." [Noble Quran 29:8; also see 31:15]

    In the above two Quranic verses of the Quran, it is non-Muslim parents who strive (Jahadaka) to convert their Muslim child back to the pagan religion.

    The verse below tells the audience to strive agains (the pagans who were trying to undermine and eventually annihilate the monotheist followers of the Qur'an) to strive (jihad) against them using the arguments in the Qur'an:

    "So obey not the rejecters of faith, but strive (Jahidhum) against them by it (the Quran) with a great endeavor." [Noble Quran 25:52]

  9. I am really suspicious of blaming Western foreign policy for the behaviour of Muslims. There are lots of places around the world where Western interventions have screwed things up, but it is only among Muslims that you get this kind of terrorist reaction.


  10. Dear Thursday,

    When I talk to Muslims when the topic of terrorist attacks is in the news, at least for the past few years, if I notice them in denial about the problem of extremism in Muslim countries in the Middle East, I spend most of my time saying that Muslims need to stop blaming foreign I talk to different audiences based on the medicine that is needed.

  11. Thank you for an other well-written article, although I would disagree as a Muslim to some points you raised:

    Rules governing divorce, custody of children, inheritance, and legal testimony all strongly favor men.

    The divorce system for men is that if a man declares a divorce, a period of 3 month separation is applied with chance for reconciliation before it is applied. If a man declares divorce in three different settings (with no reconciliation made) a special type of divorce that is instantaneous is applied, however the couple cannot remarry each other unless the wife does marry and divorce an other man; so it is not a decision taken lightly.
    The female system of divorce "khula" simply requires the wife to give a good reason as to why the husband is at fault during the relationship such as being neglectful or abusive in order to maintain her dowry, if no good reason is giving she can divorce while returning her dowry.

    The female is favoured regarding custody, and the husband has an obligation to financially support them; how does this favour men?

    Female relatives are more likely to receieve more inheretance money than their male relatives. An exception would be the son/daughter, but it is balanced out since the male has an obligation to financially support the household, while the female doesn't have an obligation to spend a dime with her own money.

    The legal testimony is based on credability; the Quranic verse talks about financial transaction when it is the male who mostly involves self on those things per obligation, however in other instances a male's testimony can count for nothing or equally count.

    husbands have a right to discipline their wives with beatings.

    Beatings are something symbolic causing no pain; a precussion. Abusive beatings gets the husband into court.

    ‘Ata’ said: I said to Ibn ‘Abbaas, what is the kind of hitting that is not harsh? He said, Hitting with a siwaak and the like. [A siwaak is a small stick or twig used for cleaning the teeth - Translator]

    The purpose behind this is not to hurt or humiliate the woman, rather it is to establish authority.
    Taking note that Christianity puts zero restrictions on that.

    In some, female genital mutilation is widely practiced. “Honor killings” of women thought to have brought shame upon their families often occur not only in Muslim countries, but in Western countries with large Muslim populations.

    Cultural violations of religion. We have to realize that there is no 1/1 relationship between what one religion teaches and the adherents of that religion.

    Consider also that the punishments for crime traditionally sanctioned within Islam can be unbelievably harsh by modern Western standards

    And the standard of evidence is even harder and the conditions required to apply them are even harsher; any doubt would cancel their application. Cutting the hands of thieves requires breaking into somewhere you are not authorized to (pick pocketing or shoplifting wouldn't count) and taking a tradable commodity (~50$) from a closed container, and that the thievery be motivated by greed (not applied if motivated by hunger or poverty). Demonstrating fornication requires an unretracted public admission or four pious witnesses (meaning no spying or invading privacy) who saw the "ink enter the pot" directly with their own eyes; makes sure the fornication is never publicly accepted.

    Modern terrorism is largely (even if not entirely) a jihadist phenomenon

    Sociopolitical phenomena; whether mob mentality compels people to go with the text-only approach to justify their desire for violence isn't relevant to the religion. Suicide attacks and civilian terrorism are ancient tactics used by desparate nationalist and religious zealots alike throughout history.

  12. Islam, by contrast, tends to emphasize the supernatural and the sacred to the exclusion of the natural and the secular.

    Disagreed; worship in Islam is every internal and external action and saying that pleases Allah. This includes rituals, avoiding what has been prohibited, beliefs, social activities, and legally contributing to the welfare of self and others. Excluding the natural is literally anti-Islamic.

    But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters." (Quran 28:77)

    In Christianity deeds are not relevant to faith, and Paul made it clear that the law have been cancelled. So are you arguing that the perfect balance is to be secular and having certain supernatural beliefs? Atheists are polytheists for they too believe in creators and imbuing them with the attributes of God to explain the temporal things they see around them ("matter is eternal"/"Nature has done this and that"/"Evolution has replaced god"); not much difference between Einstein's Spinoza god and Hawking's "a definition of God as the embodiment of the laws of nature". However what they see worthy of worship are their whims or the whimsical ideology of others. Do neo-pagans strike a perfect balance by your criteria?

    in Arabic the word "religion" could mean "way of life", what you are accustomed to, or law; whether those are inventions of man or divine. The Quran uses the last meaning here:
    So he began [the search] with their bags before the bag of his brother; then he extracted it from the bag of his brother. Thus did We plan for Joseph. He could not have taken his brother within the religion of the king except that Allah willed. We raise in degrees whom We will, but over every possessor of knowledge is one [more] knowing. (Quran 12:76)

    I don't consider secularism a religion, however I consider every indvidual secular constitution a separate religion. Modern Secularism is based on the paradoxical principles of personal freedom + majority opinion.
    If we accept that there is no basis for values except individual or majority opinion (lets ignore the large assortment of contradictions those two produce together), that it is therefore possible for every single value to change from one era to another, and from one society to another, it would mean that there is no connection between values and what will benefit or harm people in their material and spiritual lives, which in turn means that all values are equally valid and it doesn't matter which values a given society accepts or rejects. This also means that all behaviour considered abhorrent by secular societies today such as sexual molestation of children and rape of women which hold serious penalties are only considered repulsive because of current inclination, which has the potential to change in a decade or two, so certain serious crimes and policies such as military colonialism, may become acceptable based on the principle of individual freedom.
    Nonetheless, secularists do attempt to find a basis of repugnance toward such crimes beside these two principles, which would be confusing as they are the only accepted basis for argument in societies dominated by secularism. The only way I can see sense through that if the secularists believes in some supernatural values (ex. golden rules) that for example makes humans equal and make the crimes inherently repugnant regardless of what everyone thinks (lots of potential for discussion if we ask the questions: "Is there a source for these incorrigible truths, and if so what is it", but I'll skip). Otherwise the only options left would be ideological support based on personal preference and inclinations (instead of reason and evidence), or in cultural chauvinism.

  13. The existence of purpose, freewill, and morality would make it very plausible for God to send messengers with commandments (which Paul cancelled). If God is to be wise, then would He send a message and a doctrine for humanity, or would it be wise to leave them abandoned with no goal or known destiny? If it is the later, then what mind should we follow? Person X? Lawrence Karuss'? John's? George's? My mind? Yours? That would be entirely based on whims and pure subjectivity, which would be chaotic and would be falsified by morality.
    If it is claimed that God is not wise, then He would be chaotic, which would lead to the created mind to be dispositioned to bring false results (like a calculator producing 645 for 6+5). Thus such a machine would be worthless and can't be trusted, ergo there would be no meaning for an argument or evidence since the results can't be trusted regardless. The claim that God would be chaotic in everything except the mind is special pleading.


    As for the no compulsion in religion verse.

    The verse doesn't talk about the freedom to express disbelief, but the existence of disbelief in heart. Denying expressing disbelief is different than expressing it, just like someone having a belief that someone committed a crime is very different than the person expressing and going to court (which can get him charged for slander if the accusations are baseless), or that if a Muslim saw a collogue of his committing adultery he cannot publicize this and would get punished if there are no other three witnesses who saw the act themselves. If a Muslim apostates and keeps it to himself, Allah is who judges him, however his apostasy is not acknowledge by the Islamic state; otherwise it would have to acknowledge someone saying "I am a Muslim and I don't care what the Quran and Sunna says; Alcohol and adultery is allowed". It is not for theological reasons; a minority are under an obligation to show respect and follow the applied law the majority believe in, and government officials must pledge allegiance to that law first and foremost.


    I have been ordered to fight people...

    Dissappointed to see litearlism from a Catholic.

    He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous." (Quran 3:46)

    Did Jesus (as) talk to every single person on earth? Scholars concluded that the people meant in the hadith are the polytheists in Mecca. I believe the crust of the problem is misidentifying peace with pacifism.
    Islam does have a scholarly community (otherwise known as 'ulama') and schools of thoughts and methodologies; people aren't supposed to do literary gymnasitcs to get an interpretation that suits their whims, but to seek the interpretation of the founder since it is logically and empircally the correct one while avoiding biases (something Protestants often fail to realize). Our infallability and True Scotsman is the Prophet himself, and anyone's else's statements about religion can be accepted or rejected based on evidence.


    As for the Prophet being 'heretical'

    We can technically say we worship the same God based on reference, however the same could apply to many polytheists and idol worshippers. No insult intended, but I personally would have to put Christianity on the same ground of polytheism and idolatry as it is the case that the trinity is logically incoherent, and that 'God manifestation and has two natures' (which are too logically incoherent) are the main arguments given to justify idol worship.

  14. @ Dragon fang
    If the trinity is logically incoherent, then so is quark theory (mutual mereological dependence of parts and whole).

  15. Professor Feser,

    I don't want to waste your time. My question concerns belief in and worship of God by specifically Muslims and Christians. Here's my question, since Islam involves understanding Allah in voluntaristic way, at least according to Fr. James Schall, does Islam align with classical theism? Can Islam and therefore Islamic religious belief be classified as classical theism?

    Here's Schall:

    "When we try to explain this religion in economic, political, psychological, or other terms, we simply fail to see what is going on. From the outside, it is almost impossible to see how this system coheres within itself. But, granted its premises and the philosophy of voluntarism used to explain and defend it, it becomes much clearer that we are in fact dealing with a religion that claims to be true in insisting that it is carrying out the will of Allah, not its own.

    If we are going to deal with it, we have to do so on those terms, on the validity of such a claim. The trouble with this approach, of course, is that truth, logos, is not recognized in a voluntarist setting. If Allah transcends the distinction of good and evil, if he can will today its opposite tomorrow, as the omnipotence of Allah is understood to mean in Islam, then there can be no real discussion that is not simply a temporary pragmatic stand-off, a balance of interest and power."

    I have commented quite a bit over at thecatholicthing in regards to Professor Beckwith's articles on worship. I just see a problem with categorizing without exception Islam as a classically theistic religious belief system. If Allah is mutable, which is how I read Schall, then he is not changeless - a key aspect in classical them (God is impassible, immutable, changeless). How I am wrong? What do I not get, sir?

  16. Well-wrought, Ed. Good luck!

  17. Regarding some of the points the previous poster raises:

    Islam is no more innately Voluntaristic than Christianity is Intellectualist: there have been 'orthodox' schools which upheld Intellectualism in the former just as there were Voluntaristic movements in the latter. True Voluntaristism did come to predominate in certain periods but that was more akin to the rise of Nominalism in the late Middle Ages than any doctrinal revision.

    It's note worthy that Voluntaristism tended to find favour whenever there was felt hostility towards 'traditional' philosophy, that is Aristotle and Plato. In the main though Islamic Theology* is unsuited to thorough going Voluntaristism however as it is primarily based on Neoplatonic ideas.

    *I think that phrase highlights the underlying problem, that is that as the Fundamentalists (remember that Fundamentalism means returning to what is perceived as the foundations - one thinks of a certain movement which tore Christianity apart) verge on active hostility towards extra-scriptural religious ideas what hope is there for philosophy?

  18. Edit: my apologies for the 'Voluntaristism' - am typing on a phone which has the nasty habit of trying to autocorrect every other word I type.

  19. Does Catholicism (I mean the magesterium basically) really accept historico-critical methods of interpreting scripture because I ten to notice that Catholic scholars that use the method end up in heresy like Raymond Brown.

  20. @seanrobsville
    The logical incoherence I've seen mentioned with the Trinity is that each person is supposed to be identical to God, but they are not identical to each other, which seems to violate the notion that in ordinary logic identity is always transitive (if A is identical to B and B is identical to C, then A is identical to C). This isn't really analogous to quark theory, where each quark can only exist within a grouping like a proton, and gets some of its properties from the whole (like the "color" property as discussed here), but there's no basis for saying that each proton is identical to the whole, especially since each one has properties different from the whole (for example, the whole contains multiple quarks while each quark does not, and the whole must be "color-neutral", while each quark has a "color", though the color is not intrinsic and can change).

    It may be that not all Christians would actually say each person is identical to God--the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on the history of the Trinity here says the doctrine is that each person is "fully divine" but that "nearly all trinitarian theories decline to identify more than one of the three persons with God" (though I'm not sure if 'trinitarian theories' refers to mainstream teachings or just to attempts by philosophically-minded Christians to come up with metaphysical theories to interpret the teachings). Perhaps some would also say that "identical to" is being used in somewhat different senses when one talks about each person being identical to God vs. the persons not being identical to each other (an obvious way out would be to say they are not identical in their relations to each other and the world but identical in their intrinsic properties, but it seems that this is considered a heresy). But another Stanford Encyclopedia article on the Trinity here notes an example of a Christian philosopher, James Anderson, who would affirm the seemingly contradictory claims: "Orthodox belief about the Trinity, Anderson holds, involves one in believing for example, that Jesus is identical to God, the Father is identical to God, and that Jesus and the Father are not identical."

  21. "Why?  Is there something in Islam that liberals have seen that others have not?  Or are liberal hopes delusional?"

    Whether they are delusional or not, they have no doubt seen something simpatico in the fundamental political attitude, in the form if not substance, of Islam.

    Modern Liberalism is of course, and no news to anyone here, essentially, illiberal. Liberalism is in fact a kind of totalitarian ideology which minimizes freedom of conscience - except when it is in opposition to Christianity - and emphasizes self-realization through submission, not through actual knowledge and freedom.

    Islam and Progressivism share traits, deep philosophical anthropology assumptions concerning "social man" and underlying any particular manifestations of behavior, of the kind which make the term left fascism, meaningful rather than oxymoronic.

    Ok. Enough ... I'll go back to reading.

  22. Thursday:

    "Another reason many liberals are reluctant to credit any criticism of Islam is that they perceive Muslims as a disliked and discriminated against minority in the West, as well as people whose countries were subject to European imperialism in the recent past.

    And those things are not entirely untrue."

    Indeed. There's some real confusion between the propositions The majority of terrorists are (or claim to be) Muslims and The majority of (those who are or claim to be) Muslims are terrorists. The former is demonstrably true; the latter is demonstrably false. There's a legitimate concern that the "profiling" engendered by this confusion will generate lots of false positives, so to speak.

    Knowing that someone is a terrorist greatly increases the probability that he identifies himself as a Muslim—from one in five (assuming about 20% of the world's current population is Muslim; the actual figure, I gather, is slightly higher) to, say, nine in ten (assuming about 90% of today's terrorists are Muslim; I don't know what the actual figure is).

    However, although knowing that someone is Muslim does apparently increase the probability that he's a terrorist (because the proportion of terrorists among Muslims is somewhat higher than it is among everyone generally), it still leaves it very, very low. The number of terrorists is surely minuscule in comparison to the world population; it's at most slightly less minuscule in comparison to the world's Muslim population. It would be an egregious mistake, a failure of both intellect and charity, to infer from the fact that most terrorists are Muslims that any given Muslim has even the slightest sympathy for terrorists.

    Please note that this concern remains legitimate even if liberals are wrong that there's no connection between "true" Islam and terrorism.

  23. @Scott

    It would be an egregious mistake, a failure of both intellect and charity, to infer from the fact that most terrorists are Muslims that any given Muslim has even the slightest sympathy for terrorists.

    Fortunately, that's an empirical question, which has even been answered!

    So what percentage of Muslims around the world believe, to one degree or another, that “suicide bombing/other violence against civilians is justified to defend Islam from its enemies”?

    Palestinian Territories: 59%
    Egypt: 59%
    Lebanon: 54%
    Jordan: 44%
    Bangladesh: 61%
    Israeli Muslims: 46%
    Tanzania: 45%
    Malaysia: 33%

    What is the level of support for suicide bombings among young Muslims (18 to 29 years old) living in non-Muslim nations?

    U.S.: 26%
    Great Britain: 35%
    France: 42%
    Germany: 22%
    Spain: 29%


    (BTW, much more of interest, and even some real good news amid all the Kool-Aid rhetoric, in these reports).

  24. Al:

    "Fortunately, that's an empirical question, which has even been answered!"

    Good, thanks. And I think that's the right way to answer the question although I'm of course in no position to hold an opinion about those specific results.

  25. Scott:

    It's also a mistake to think of the Muslim community merely as the aggregate of a bunch of individual opinions. It is a whole social ecosystem: the terrorists are supported by people who don't commit terrorism themselves who in turn are supported by people who want nothing to do with terrorism and so on. We are our connections, so the mere likelihood of someone supporting terrorism is not the whole point.

    And it is really hard to delegitimize the terrorists and their supporters in the Islamic community because they are following a plausible interpretation of Islamic traditions and texts.


  26. A lot of surveys on these type of questions are very misleading and very unscientific.

    The key things for surveys is that they need to be representative and they should not be after a key event...for example it is not smart to do such a survey after the Abu Ghraib photos were seen in the Muslim world.

    Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think is a book that presents the findings of a six-year, 50,000-interview Gallup survey of Muslim populations in 35 countries.

    The Gallop survey was scientific because it was based on a much, much larger sample size and also it was over six years and covered 35 countries.

    the following is a discussion with the co-author of the book on the gallop survey.

    Also, we have to not be naive and miss the giant elephant in such public surveys. For example, the poll numbers in Pakistan would be dramatically different if our drones were not bombing their citizens any given day.

    If China was using drones and picking off "bad Americans" in Pasadena, California and a survey was done on what citizens of Pasadena think of China, it is obvious what the results would be.

    Let's stop missing the giant elephants in the room.

  27. Daniel is correct. The voluntarism in Islam seems to have been motivated by the same reasons as Christian voluntarism: the mistaken belief it was necessary to uphold the absolute omnipotence of God. It is a pitfall common to all monotheism and not something peculiarly Islamic, nor necessary to be a Muslim.

    Omer, I don't think you can blame the West for Islamic terrorism. No doubt the West has helped fuel it, as it helped fuel third world communism at one point. But it is elements within the Islamic world that have given birth to the particular phenomenon. This is complicated by the fact that Islamic fundamentalism, like Christian fundamentalism, was decisively influenced by modernity and modern thought. Traditional Islam was pluralist. Even deeply traditionalist versions recognised legitimate difference in opinions on philosophy, theology, sharia, etc. Wahhabism and other kinds of Islamic fundamentalism have a modern ideological bent. But still they are a combination of modern thinking with Islam. You cannot separate Islam from Islamic terrorism, but neither can you find a simple connection between this terrorism and traditional Islam. You certainly cannot blame Islam as a whole, or the Quran, for this terrorism.

    I think the support for terrorism in those polls is not real. Most of those just don't like the West, as is common throughout the third world, and from a distance don't much care if it gets attacked. They blame the West for some of their problems (partly correctly, partly not) They might even cheer some attacks. But it is all from a distance. Face to face with the carnage and evil of such attacks, only a slim minority would support terrorism.

    1. If the causes of Islamic terrorism were reducable to the effects of Western Imperialism, then there should be many other countries with the kind and amount of terrorism in the Islamic world.

      Christi pax.

  28. Also, I do wander how many Americans, especially Catholic Americans, were somewhat indulgent towards IRA terrorism. Congressman Peter King, was a prominent IRA apologist, and yet it now a warrior against Islamic terrorism.


  29. And it is really hard to delegitimize the terrorists and their supporters in the Islamic community because they are following a plausible interpretation of Islamic traditions and texts.

    I don't think this is correct. Some sort of resistance to the West, even war with the West can be supported by some interpretations. Much of the rest of the terrorist acts and beliefs are less well supported. Suicide has traditionally been viewed in Islam much as it is in Christianity. There is little support for blowing yourself up, even in the cause of real jihad, and much against it. Similarly, there isn't much support for indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and much against it. Just about all the more brutal and inhumane actions of the terrorists, especially ISIS, are not easily squared with the Quran and the Hadith.

    Also, the very rigidity and narrowness of fundamentalist interpretations of the faith is in tension with the traditional pluralism of Islam.

  30. "Islam and liberalism agree only in their insistence that the moral and political order has no foundation in nature."

    Nonsense. Nature--the creation--is a Divine manifestation, a theophany, in relation to which the Divine is both transcendent and immanent. The Islamic revelation, as regards morality, al-ihsan, merely confirms the profound and primordial nature of things: ad-din al-hanif. It expressly sees itself as the continuation of the original Abrahamic monotheism. Morality is necessarily rooted in the Good, the Divine Attributes, and therefore also in the human theomorphism. As with Christianity, man is made in the image of God, and is primordially pontifex--the ISlamic version is that man is God's vicegerant (khalifatu fi'l-'ard). The Prophet defined virtue as follows: "Adore God as if you were seeing Him, and if you do not see Him, He nonetheless see you." No Christian could object to this formulation. You seem to know the tradition only superficially; and with prejudice--which as a Christian is your prerogative, to be sure. Every religion is "the best" or even "the only true one" for its more or less exoteric followers: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.

    It goes without saying that the formal distinctions between religions are of Divine origin and must be respected, and "liberal' ecumenism completely rejected. QAuite different however, is the truth of the Divine and therefore transcendent origin of all authentic Revelations and their respective millenial civilizations, which are at the antipodes of the modern world. In our day, however, in which different religions are colliding, it is in the interest of all men who affirm the Divine ranscendent reality to make common cause in the face of the errors and false ideals of the diabolical and essentially atheistic secular world.

    Every religion has its degrees of depth and scope. St. Bernard is one thing, while Billy Graham is quite another, let alone the 700 Club. Dante and the Philokalia represent one thing, and "The Purpose Driven Life," another. Mutatis mutandis in regards to Islam or Hinduism or Buddhism.

  31. Islam-American consciousness:

    It is by now standard for U.S. liberals and Democrats to blame former Republican United States president George W. Bush and the top 9/11-exploiting neocon champions of aggressive, regime-changing American imperialism (Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz et al.) for the rise of the barbaric Islamic State (IS) and the remarkable spread of extremist Islamist jihad in recent years. There is obvious justice in the charge. The monumental devastation caused by Bush’s arch-criminal and deceptively sold invasion of Iraq contributed significantly to those developments.

    Still, recalling that it was a Democratic U.S. president (Jimmy Carter) who first provided the resources that made Osama bin Laden a force to be reckoned with and that leading Democrat Hillary Clinton voted (as a U.S. Senator) for Bush’s invasion, responsible observers of U.S. policy need to give the current Democratic president, Barack Obama, and the next one, his former Secretary of State, Hillary, equal credit for growing deadly Sunni extremism. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have pursued aggressive policies of regime change that have opened the door for jihadist expansion. They have done so over and against the opposition and warnings not just of peace activists but also of top U.S. military analysts and officials.

    Meanwhile, Obama’s multinational drone assassination program (justly described by Noam Chomsky as “the most extreme terrorist campaign of modern times” and endorsed by Bernie Sanders) has done more to spread the geographical scope of extremist Islamic jihadism than George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion. As the Clinton money and empire machine gears up for a return to the White House, however, Hillary’s murderous imperialism takes on greater relevance for the future. Liberals and Democrats (two overlapping but non-identical categories) are justly aghast at Donald Trump’s chilling and idiotic call for a ban on Muslim immigration “until we can figure out” why so many Muslims are angry at the U.S.

    Regime Change Madness: Hillary, Obama and Murderous Mayhem in the Muslim World

  32. I would love to learn more about Islam, but it seems like it suffers from the same authority problem as Protestantism - i.e., there is no final, living authority that specifies divine revelation from human opinion. It makes studying it a nightmare.

  33. In response to the question about the Crusades being a response to Muslim aggression, when Muslims had been in control of Palestine and Egypt since the early part of the seventh century. The proximate cause was the catastrophic defeat of the East Roman emperor at Manzikert in 1071 by the Seljuk Turks and their invasion and overrunning of Asia Minor, which had been Roman for 1100 years and was the heart of the East Roman Empire. It was this that provoked calls from the East Romans, from Alexius, to the Christians in the West. And this led to the call to arms by Urban II.


  34. Dear Anonymous @ 4:18 pm,

    If you would love to learn more about Islam, it is really easy.

    Islam is based fundamentally on only one book, The Qur'an which was revealed to only one man, Prophet Muhammad.

    Although there revelations came over a period of 23 years and over a great variety of circumstances and difficulties in the Prophet's life which would make one expect variation and even contradictions, there is great consistency, clarity, eloquence, and majesty throughout the Qur'an regardless of the topic discussed.

    "Then do they not reflect upon the Qur'an? If it had been from [any] other than God , they would have found within it much contradiction." (4, 82)

    Harper Collins, one of the world's leading publishing companies just published a critically acclaimed The Study Qur'an which was written by a team of Western Academic professors.

    Please see below...I don't know if he is a monk...I don't know if his garb reflects his devotion to a Catholic order or if he is in a seminary school or a young priest but please see this devoted Catholic urge his viewers to study the Qur'an and in particular this new, The Study Qur'an.

  35. tolkein, I'm aware of that. But the wars in question were part of a constant back and forth in that region by this time (cf. the wars of Macedonian dynasty with the Sacracens). The crusaders were not the Byzantines. Alexios did invite the original crusaders (though the Peasant's crusade leaders did not know about this invitation), but the crusaders hardly endeared themselves to Eastern Christians, Chalcedonian or otherwise. Also Asia Minor is not the Levant. The Levant had been under Muslim control for centuries by this point. The crusaders went with the intent of not just of helping the Byzantines but of conquering Palestine, at that time (at least after 1098) ruled by the Fatimids and not the Turks (let alone the same group who had been at war with the Byzantines).

  36. Both the Islamic and Christian traditions are, in their "official" formulations, thoroughly exoteric or publicly oriented in their nature and context. And each of them has always tended toward the status an function of an "official" State religion.

    Both are composed of 3 principal elements: the Book, the Teacher, and the Religion.

    For Christianity it is the New Testament (especially the Four Gospels); Jesus the presumed Savior or the Christ; the Religion being the cult of the Eucharist, both as the ritual of the perpetual (presumed) Sacrifice of Jesus as the Savior-Christ, and the ritual of the perpetual re-Ascension of Jesus to the throne of cosmic Kingship as the presumed exclusive Son of God.
    For Islam it is the Koran; Mohammed the Prophet;the Religion being the cult of the Doctrines and Traditions of Mohammed, the Revealer of the Book.

    Furthermore, in Christianity the Teacher (Jesus) is the Revelation. In Islam, the Religion in its totality is the Revelation.
    For Christianity, the Teacher or the presumed Incarnation of the Divine Word must achieve Final Victory, whereby, at the "end of time", the politically established sacramental tradition of Christianity will Rule the world.
    For Islam, the Religion, or the politically established movement presumed to be Inspired by the Divine Word (of the Koran), must achieve the Final victory, whereby, at the "end of time" the authoritarian religio-political tradition of Islam will Rule the world.
    Fundamentally, among all the religious traditions of humankind, ONLY Christianity and Islam are inherently and aggressively associated with an expansionist ideal, and an attitude of not only cultural, but also social and political superiority, that irreducibly intends and actively pursues, the destiny to which these two tradtions appoints ITSELF, of total world-domination, or global totalitarian rulership.
    Likewise, by their very nature, these two religions, and their comprehensively and irreducibly cultural, social, AND political traditions are, perpetually, in an intentionally performed state of competition, that always seeks (and frequently achieves) conflict, confrontation, and even aggressive warfare with one another, and even with all other religious, social, and political traditions, systems and institutions in the world.
    Via their political association with the powers of various nation states these two world dominant religions now presume that they can wage Final War and, thus and thereby, establish, Final Rule - and they are both now actively moving themselves on that basis.


  37. Dear Annonymous @ 9:13 pm,

    Human beings have been employing conflict for their goals since they were homo sapiens.

    Humans like to use unconsciously, sub-consciously, and even concsiously like to lofty reasons (like religion) for their base desires...

    Atheist Steven Pinker has shown that statistically violence has been going for the past thousands of years.

    Graham Fuller has intimate expertise on Islam and geopolitics and extremism.

    He speaks several languages of the Middle East as well as Russian and Chinese.

    He was formerly Vice-Chair of the National Security Council, Station CIA Chief at Kabul, and was posted as a CIA operations officer in many Muslim countries.

    Fuller says that if there was no Islam, then geopolitics would not be much different from today.

    Below is from

    What would the world be like without Islam? In A World Without Islam, former CIA official and historian Graham Fuller says it wouldn't be much different from the world today.

    According to Fuller, the West's fraught relationship with the Middle East isn't really about religion — and actually predates the spread of Islam.

    Fuller tells NPR's Neal Conan that he found "deep-rooted conflicts that still exist over ethnicity or economics or warfare or armies or geopolitics [that] ... really don't have anything to do with Islam, and indeed, existed long before Islam came into existence."

    One of those conflicts can be traced all the way back to antiquity.

    "The ancient Greeks fought wars with the ancient Persians for several hundred years, from about 500 to 300 B.C., struggling over the same turf," Fuller says. "The people who came to occupy them later, the Byzantine Christians, fought the same wars, and then the Turkish Muslims came and they fought the same wars."

    Cover of 'A World Without Islam'
    LIST PRICE: $25.99

    In his book, Fuller says, "I try to run through a whole lot of events and take Islam out of the equation, and see what we're left with."

    And what was left was the idea that the continuity of geopolitics and grievances across the Middle East doesn't need Islam to explain it. Rather, he sees Islam — and religion in general — as a banner in that Islam provided the organizing principle for the Muslim empire that took over much of the world.

    "I'm not arguing that Islam has not had great impact on the Middle East region and its cultures and civilization," he says. "But I'm arguing that the nature of conflict between the West and the East does not depend on that, and precedes Islam."

    Consider, for example, the struggle over oil and energy in the Middle East.

    "If the area were Christian, would the region be any more accepting of big Western oil companies trying to come in and dominate those things?" he asks. "I don't think so."

    Fuller says that while he finds imagining the world this way an important and informative exercise, he is in no way advocating for a world without Islam.

    "I'm really focusing on the nature of struggle between the East and the West," he says, "and whether Islam plays a significant role in that."

  38. Dear Ed,

    All people tend to minimize problems in their respective in-groups.

    There is a clear extremism problem in Muslim societies but I find it simplistic and inaccurate to say that Islam per se is the problem.

    Among extremists, zero or virtually zero are non-Salafi-Wahabi Muslims. Virtually all are self identify as Salafi-Wahabi which is traced to an 18th century movement in central Arabia (this region historically was in war with Prophet Muhammad and tends to have since pre-Islamic times, during the Prophet's time when they waged war against him (peace be upon him), and since then to have a tribal, narrow-minded, literalist mindset. The Qur'an even specifically mentions many of the "Arabs" which in the verse meant bedouins to have a narrow-minded and intolerant perspective.

    I don't want to stigmatize Salafi-Wahabis since the vast majority are strongly against the extremists and their leaders speak against extremism like other Muslims.

    Surprisingly, most Salafi-Wahabis are political quietists and are also not seeking to impose their ideology on others.

    However, there is a clear tendency of takfirism (excommunication against other Muslims) among many of them that leads to an intolerant perspective which then provides a foundation for extremism and eventually terrorism when there are grievances.

    Here is an interesting article from a Muslim's personal perspective about takfirism

    My point in this specific comment is that since only a minority of Sunnis are Salafi-Wahabis, it is too generalizing to speak of Islam per se as potentially incompatible in a liberal modern society.

  39. Some suggestions for reading about Islam:

    Do Muslims and Christians Believe in the same God?--

    What Does Islam Mean in Today's World?: Religion, Politics, Spirituality--William Stoddart

    Islam and the Destiny of Man--Charles Le Gai Eaton (Author)

    The Vision of Islam--Sachiko Murata & William Chittick

    Understanding Islam-Frithjof Schuon (by far the most profound book on Islam; but it's a good idea to read the preceding books first).

    The Study Quran: A New Translation and Commentary--Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet's Legacy
    --Jonathan A.C. Brown

    The Book of Hadith: Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad from the Mishkat Al Masabih --Charles Le Gai Eaton

    Also of interest:

    Haremlik : some pages from the life of Turkish women

  40. Ed,

    So do you think Muslim theologians could find within Islam arguments for:

    1) religious tolerance, including tolerance for converts to other religions?
    2) distinguishing between religious and political authority?

    Echoes of the questions Benedict XVI asked in the Regesburg Lecture. You seem to answer both with a no.

  41. @Alexander
    Thanks for the reading list, but life's too short. I don't need to plough all the way through Mein Kampf to know that Nazism is a heap of crap. I'm afraid I find all this theological apologetics irrelevant. As someone once advised, in religious matters we should judge the tree by its fruit, not by minutely observing whatever convoluted shapes its roots and branches may take.

    In the case of Islam, we in Europe are currently being force-fed bunches of toxic fruit in the form of Islamic pedophile gangs and rape packs, devoutly following the example of 'the Perfect Man', who raped a child young enough to be his granddaughter.

  42. Keeping aside all the apologetics from both sides. Follow the steps below.

    Step1: look objectively at the life of historical Muhammad.
    Step2: look objectively at the life of historical Jesus.
    Step3: objectively compare the two.
    Step4: Objectively come to the conclusion that Jesus's life and teachings are a class of its own.
    Step5: Follow Jesus.

  43. Scott:

    While the number of Muslims who are terrorists is quite small, the number of sympathizers is larger, and the number of people who oppose it but who look the other way is higher. The head of the FBI (I believe) said recently something to the effect that the larger Muslim community was doing very little to provide intelligence on Muslim terrorism. The San Bernadino couple had a bomb making factory in their garage (albeit separated from the main residence).

    And a small percentage of people (such as criminals) can have a great effect on a society. Just look at any large city. Or with Muslims, just look at Rotherham England. A small percentage of the population is Muslim but they have a disproportionate ability to silence people through claims of "racism" for example.

    The influence of Muslims is in a sense already greater in Europe and the US than Catholics it seems to me. Looking at Germany, I think the future belongs to Muslims. When a once great nation has lost even its desire to protect its women and daughters it's game over.

  44. @seanrobsville

    "As someone once advised, in religious matters we should judge the tree by its fruit, not by minutely observing whatever convoluted shapes its roots and branches may take."

    "In the case of Islam, we in Europe are currently being force-fed bunches of toxic fruit in the form of Islamic pedophile gangs and rape packs, devoutly following the example of 'the Perfect Man', who raped a child young enough to be his granddaughter."

    I think this may proves too much. For instance, many governments around the world have been involved in atrocities including the US and European nations. This would mean these governemnts have produced bad fruit. If we follow your reasoning, then having a government would be a "heap of crap". And hence no one should want a government. Yet obviously premise is true but the conclusion is downright absurd.

  45. I have a few questions for those who think that Islam is, at least deep-down, a peaceful faith, whose main problem is being misunderstood world over:

    Why are Muslim-majority countries all over the world such oppressive places to live in, particularly for non-Muslims, who are officially documented as second class citizens and whose rights are curtailed? Why is it a criminal offense punishable by public lashing or by death to engage in homosexual activity, to not cover the head, to leave Islam, to "insult" Muhammad, etc.? Why is a woman's word in court worth half that of a man's word, and if she's raped why does she need 4 male eye witnesses in order for her charge to stand up in court? Why do the individuals who make all of these laws invariably reference back to the Islamic texts to substantiate their validity, and why do these same people continually find support in legal scholars and theologians at prominent schools of Islamic jurisprudence and theology?

    To the untrained eye, it seems that wherever Islam is in the majority, freedom dies (a fact not at all based on terrorist activity), and that Muslims who claim Islam's main problem lies with Western non-Muslims who "misunderstand" the faith are not directing their frustration towards its proper target.

  46. In Europe the Muslim apologists are apparently driven by guilt regarding the Holocaust, while in the USA the apologists are driven by guilt regarding Slavery. European apologists are even eager to adopt the American guilt regarding Slavery. A very Calvinistic notion, all that guilt. Neither European Liberals nor European Communists are that guilt-driven.

    So I don't think the Classical Liberal angle is the right one. The Europeans most likely to be Muslim apologists are the Bourgoisie-Left, i.e upper middle-class who vote Social-Democrat, Liberal-Democrat, Green. Lower-class and lower middle class Left voters are now Nationalist voters. Liberals have been as critical of Islam as they have been of Christanity.

  47. Is nobody interesting in discussing liberalism's nominalism when it comes to religion? That is Christianity or Islam not having any stable nature, but simply being whatever self-identified Christians or Muslims say it is.

    (Not the exact same thing as metaphysical nominalism, BTW, though related.)

    1. Dear (the man who was) Thursday:

      Do you think the nominal view of religion stems from Protestantism?

      Most Protestants would argue that their beliefs stem from the Bible, and that's true for many things, but with the parts of the Scriptures where one can draw out multiple interpretations, the only deciding factor (for the Protestant) seems to be an act of will or an appeal to esoteric Revelation (with such Revelation tending to reduce to/cover up an act of will anyway). Since the boundaries that seperate Protestant denominations (and the Catholic Church) are all based on a seemingly arbritary choice between interpretations, then Protestants and liberals (I see liberals as another kind of Protestant) started to view other religions as being similar (whih might be a similar case with Islam, actually). Or that is my reasoning anyway.

      Christi pax.

  48. Christians in the US are more likely to support terrorism than Muslim Americans.

    I don't think this has anything to do with Christianity or Islam--Muslims in the US are in all likelihood connected more closely to people in other parts of the world who are victimized by terror of both the individual kind as well as war crimes committed by governments. They probably have a greater appreciation of liberal principles (on average) than American Christians.

    I also think it is stacking the deck to look at terrorism in isolation. The US government itself kills civilians, either through its own actions or via Its close allies. Right now we are supporting the Saudis as they bomb civilian targets in Yemen. Most Americans could not care less or might actually defend the policy depending on which political party happens to be in office. Attitudes towards violence among ordinary people probably depend much more on their circumstances than on what religion they ostensibly follow. If you are American, you can choose to ignore the violence we inflict on others and only notice the crimes committed by our enemies.

    This particular anonymous person is named Donald.

  49. I am a nominalistic when it comes to religions other than Christianity. I think Christianity is true and therefore it makes sense to talk about it having a fundamental nature or whatever the correct philosophical term would be. I don't think other religions (except Judaism, which is a special case) are based on true revelations from God. Since they are largely human inventions, their content is whatever their practitioners say it is. So Islam is a religion of peace for many Muslims (including those I know personally), but it is a religion of hate for ISis members and it can be all sorts of other things, depending on how people choose to interpret it.

    To some degree you could also say this about Christianity, except that if Jesus truly is God's son, then there are actual facts about what true Christianity really is. But Christians can and often have turned their version of Christianity into a religion of hate.


  50. Oil and Islam:

    James Corbett on Guns and Butter

    James Corbett joins Bonnie Faulkner of Guns and Butter to discuss his documentaries “How Big Oil Conquered the World” and “9/11 Trillions: Follow the Money.”

    From James Corbett’s two documentaries are discussed, beginning with “How Big Oil Conquered the World”; the rise of the oiligarchy; the Yom Kippur War and subsequent 1973 oil shock; petro dollars and the monetary system; the creation of modern education, medicine, the green and gene revolution; control of the food supply, and the interrelationship of the global petrochemical industry with all of the above. “9/11 Trillions: Follow the Money” is analyzed as a crime and follows the money through the Silverstein heist, the secret heist of Marsh & McLennan, et al., put and call option insider trading on many corporations; and the Pentagon’s missing trillions.

    There is also a bonus 15 minutes of interview available from Guns and Butter here.

  51. Sorry, main interview is here:


  52. Interview of Michael T. Flynn, retired United States Army lieutenant general, former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

    US Seeks Syria Regime Change By Any Means Necessary

    Saudi Arabia’s Growing Body Count

    NATO’s Terror Convoys Halted at Syrian Border

    Why the West Won’t Hit ISIS Where it Hurts

  53. I see those attacking Islam by blending enlightenment liberal and traditional Christian criticisms are back (unless some aren't Christians at all). Again, I'd love to see how they justify this blend of criticisms. Otherwise, I think it would take a lot of work to show traditional Christianity (or often Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism) are much different to Islam in general principles when it comes to treatment of women, unbelievers, forgiveness, and so on.

    1. Dear Anon (1/9 at 15:00):

      I don't think Dr. Feser's post explicitly critizes Islam much at all. Rather, the goal of the post is just to explain that liberalism and Islam are incompatible, and then propose some reason why liberals nevertheless believe otherwise.

    2. Daniel, sorry I wasn't accusing Feser himself.

  54. The Deceptive Debate Over What Causes Terrorism Against the West

  55. Ed,

    Fascinating post -- you were right, I liked this one a lot more than your other Islam post :-)

    For now, I'm particularly interested in your discussion of liberalism as a Christian heresy. Have you ever heard of Mencius Moldbug? He is infamous as one of the first bloggers who started the entire "neo-reactionary" blogosphere and is known for writing about how he thinks Progressivism is a Christian (specifically, Puritan) heresy:

    Food for thought -- some people tend to consider Moldbug crazy, I myself think he can be interesting.

  56. Here's why Islam can't just be whatever people who call themselves Muslims want it to be: there are aspects of human nature which mean that only certain combinations of beliefs will be able to function as religions over time. Islam is one of those combinations.

  57. I don't think nominalism applied to religion is much derived from Protestantism.

    While there are certainly some things in the Bible that are open to different interpretation, the latitude is not infinite.

    I think that liberal just have a hard time believing in stable natures of any kind, and the exact nature of patterns among social groups are harder to pin down than many.

  58. "Modern terrorism is largely (even if not entirely) a jihadist phenomenon, just as public perception would have it and occasional spin to the contrary notwithstanding."

    Actually, in some perspective (such as factual perspective), modern terrorism largely consists of Western (primarily U.S. and its NATO allies) active attempts at regime building all across the world and of local response to regime building. Occasionally the terror spills over and the response is felt in NATO countries directly (9/11, bombings and shootings in London and Paris).

    The problem with the common perception in the West is that only the overspill gets labelled "terrorism" while constant Western invasions and occupations do not. From the local perspective, however, Western military meddling is perceived as terrorism and as extension of colonialism. Which it is.

    Also, let's not forget the long-time Hollywood glorification of suicide bombings, such as in the film Leon. Everybody knows Hollywood/Western films, so you can find your own examples. This glorification of suicide bombings started here, not there, but we have never addressed the problem, have we? We don't even notice we've been doing it since forever, much less acknowledged that it's a problem.

    1. Dear E.Seigner:

      Acts of violence are not all acts of terrorism.

      Contemporary Western "invasions and occupations," for example, do not seem to target innocent civilians, while terrorist almost certainly do.

      Christi pax.

  59. The REAL Reason Sunni Governments Like Saudi Arabia Are At War Against the Shias
    Posted on January 9, 2016 by WashingtonsBlog
    The Shias Are Sitting On All of the Oil and Gas

    Dr. Daniele Ganser : NATO's Secret Armies - GLADIO & The Strategy of Tension


  60. Scott’s rant January 10th, 2016
    January 10, 2016

    In today’s Scott’s rant:

    • the US & EU Power Structure
    • How ‘Obscure’ US Bureaucrats Foment Wars
    • How the myth of American “exceptionalism” is perpetuated
    • Is allocation of Developed vs Developing permanent?
    • What the fate of Russian teenagers of the “Young Guards” at the hands of Germans in 1943 has to do with the Islamisation of Europe in 2016?
    • The West had a perfect plan, until Russia interfered and everything went horribly wrong
    • Humor and Rumor


  61. Is Government Propaganda Illegal?

  62. Anonymous says Muslims and Christians are ultimately confrontational. I assert this is fundamentally false despite the numerous conflicts that have occurred over the centuries between Muslims and Christians for a multitude of various reasons, and reproduce here a translation of Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai by the prophet of Islam himself:

    This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.
    Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by God! I hold out against anything that displeases them.
    No compulsion is to be on them.
    Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries.
    No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims' houses.
    Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God's covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.
    No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.
    The Muslims are to fight for them.
    If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray.
    Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants.
    No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant through the Last Day (end of the world).

  63. "Also, let's not forget the long-time Hollywood glorification of suicide bombings, such as in the film Leon. "

    This is a facetious remark I trust.

  64. My personal experience does not square with what you have to say in this article, Dr. Feser. I've read plenty of liberal articles and blog posts condemning how women are treated in the Islamic world.

    As to the lenient attitudes towards Islam here at home -- my theory is that it's because here the Muslims are a minority. And the Liberals love minorities. It's a historical truth that if you're in a minority, your interests are bound to be oppressed in some way at list a little. Case in point -- that young boy who brought a bomb-looking clock to school. The liberal media jumped to his defense because they felt that he was treated unfairly by the majority, which is Christian.

    1. Case in point -- that young boy who brought a bomb-looking clock to school. The liberal media jumped to his defense because they felt that he was treated unfairly by the majority, which is Christian.

      This isn't an example of class struggle. I would be considered in the majority, and I haven't ever meet this boy.

  65. @Joaquin:

    Interview With Random Political Figure Who-Knows-How-This-Is-Connected-To-God-Knows-What

    Ominous Sounding Political Development Don't Look Too Close Or You'll Destroy The Resemblance To Some Other Ominous Sounding Thing

    People Somewhere Else Are Doing Bad Things

    People Like Us Are Doing Bad Things

    Make It Stop, Make It Stop, Make It Stop

  66. "The problem with the common perception in the West is that only the overspill gets labelled "terrorism" while constant Western invasions and occupations do not. "

    That's because Western invasion and occupation is not terrorism. We judge those that overspill as terrorism because they are terrorism. What is terrorism to you, because invasions and occupations are not necessarily the same.

    "Actually, in some perspective (such as factual perspective), modern terrorism largely consists of Western (primarily U.S. and its NATO allies) active attempts at regime building all across the world and of local response to regime building."

    Are you saying that the US, and it's allies have, more so than anyone else, explicitly targeted non-combatants for violence to further ideological purpose? Not denying that things have been done by the West, but "largely consists"?

    "From the local perspective, however, Western military meddling is perceived as terrorism and as extension of colonialism. Which it is."

    'Perceived' as terrorism, and actual terrorism is not the same thing.
    Also, there is colonialism occurring, but colonialism is not necessarily a bad thing, and its not necessarily terrorism either, so I don't see how you are making any valid points here. Do you wish to expand on any of this to clarify?

  67. @Omer:

    Hi. Yeah, Anonymous January 8, 2016 at 9:13 PM is nuts. (A useful criterion [five for five so far] when diagnosing such crunch is the Use of Unnecessary Capitalization.)

    Also, (e.g., in "Fundamentally, among all the religious traditions of humankind, ONLY Christianity and Islam are inherently and aggressively associated with an expansionist ideal...") he ignores some signal counterexamples (such as Judaism and Buddhism).

    That said...

    "Human beings have been employing conflict for their goals since they were homo sapiens."


    "Humans like to use unconsciously, sub-consciously, and even concsiously like to lofty reasons (like religion) for their base desires..."

    Also irrelevant.

    "Atheist Steven Pinker has shown that statistically violence has been going for the past thousands of years."

    Still irrelevant...

    (And did you need Steven Pinker to make *that* point? [Did some space cadet say that violence has been going on for *fewer* than several thousand years?]

    How would someone show *statistically* *how long violence has been going*?

    Steven Pinker is brilliant. But he ain't always deep, or thorough.)

  68. @Omer: "Fuller says..."

    That's an awful lot of confusion. (I'm referring to your use of the article, not the book about which the article was written.) What exactly do you intend to claim there? (Not, I presume, and although it appears otherwise, either that Islam does nothing in the world, or that the East = the Middle East = the Persians = the Turkish Muslims = the 'Middle East region and its cultures and civilization' = oil and energy.

    That Islam was a [mere?] "banner" would of course be contrary to its being the "organizing principle for the Muslim empire that took over much of the world".)

    BTW, I read the article you recommended about the Qur'an. Have you a better one?

  69. @Omer:

    I went and got the HarperCollins *Study Qur'an*, after your recommendation. I'll read it when I can.

    @Anonymous January 11, 2016 at 5:42 PM: "This isn't an example of class struggle. I would be considered in the majority, and I haven't ever meet this boy."

    Where did your reference to "class struggle" come from? And what does it matter whether you've met that boy?

  70. A response to the naive comment of Daniel D D.

    The PEOPLE, and not merely the national armies and other representative warrior-heroes of nation states, are now the direct and specific targets of ALL wars. The PEOPLE, or the totality of humankind are now UNIVERSALLY regarded and treated as the principal and specific contextual ENEMY and "fair game" of all nation state institutions in the exercise of all of their expansive and acquisitive aggressions. This is now regarded and exercised as a working principle and policy of virtually ALL national governments, including the USA.

    This policy of deliberately targeting civilians began to gain increasing traction during the American Civil War. It was exercised by all sides during WWII. It was deliberately exercised by the USA against many Japanese cities. It was exercised by the USA via their carpet bombing of North Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia. And it was exercised by the USA in their initial shock and awe bombardment of Baghdad and other parts of Iraq prior to the land based invasion/occupation of Baghdad and Iraq altogether. The invasion of Iraq also involved the deliberate systematic destruction of much/most of the Iraq infrastructure, including its water supply systems. It was also essentially a pre-planned exercise of the grand large theft and plunder of the resources of Iraq.

    Meanwhile check out references to the book Rogue State by William Blum and the contents of this website too:

    1. Dear Anon (1/12 at 0:25):

      The second source you provided is a bunch of socialist conspiracy theorists who speak in Newspeak. The website doesn't provide resource to anything outside itself.

      Are you saying that I don't think the US has ever targeted civilians? That would wrong, and just one event show this; the Japanese bombings in WWII.

      Does the US deliberately target noncombatants today? I haven't found the evidence yet.

      Christi pax.

  71. If something is natural, doesn’t it always or for the most part come to pass in the same way? If the state is natural, then why do we find such a large diversity of states in history or even only among those that currently exist? Is it that this diversity is due to each state being defective in some way, such as if all the horses in the world that exist had a peculiar defect, for example one having only three legs, another blind, and so on? Can you name to a “healthy, mature” state? Can you name another? Are their differences only accidental?

    What about the vast amount of time before we have any evidence of states? If Adam and Eve were created, say, 200,000 years ago, what about the 194,000 years or so the interluded between when they lived and before the first states—what we call states in ordinary language, such as the ancient Egyptian kingdom or Mesopotamian city-states—appeared? Were people living in an unnatural way (for lack of a better expression) over all that time? Alternatively, if we accept the hypothesis that the prehistoric way of life was by and large lived in semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer bands, can we call those bands “states”? If yes, how can we say that such a “state” is by nature the same state as for example the German federal state in 2016? It seems absurd. Could you please give a definition of "state" so we can better understand your argument?

    1. Dear Theistogenes:

      I think that Thomist think that families coming together as communities is what Thomist think is natural. I don't know if the natural law is clear on how the power in these communities are to be distributed, though.

      Christi pax.


  72. A Terrorist Under Every Bed
    Media hypes the terrorism panic
    Philip Giraldi • January 12, 2016

  73. "The PEOPLE, and not merely the national armies and other representative warrior-heroes of nation states, are now the direct and specific targets of ALL wars. The PEOPLE, or the totality of humankind are now UNIVERSALLY regarded and treated as the principal and specific contextual ENEMY and "fair game" of all nation state institutions in the exercise of all of their expansive and acquisitive aggressions. This is now regarded and exercised as a working principle and policy of virtually ALL national governments, including the USA."

    Where do you get this stuff?

    "This policy of deliberately targeting civilians began to gain increasing traction during the American Civil War. It was exercised by all sides during WWII. It was deliberately exercised by the USA against many Japanese cities. It was exercised by the USA via their carpet bombing of North Vietnam, Laos & Cambodia."

    No one is denying that civilian targeting has been committed by the US. The point is to make sure you don't confuse civilian targeting with collateral damage. Bombings, although not the most efficient option, but by far the most effective, is usually focused on specific targets, those targets not being civilians. If a solder kneels down and surrounds himself with children, and starts firing a gun at you, and you fire back and end up killing some of the children, you are not a terrorist, nor have you perpetrated civilian targeting. Know the difference. Those that are labelled terrorists specifically target civilians (although terrorism is not limited to civilians) for violence.

    Unsure if you are the same Anon as I previously replied to, but you still haven't provided any reason to think that terrorist acts are "largely" perpetrated by the US, and its allies.

  74. The Proof Is In: The US Government Is The Most Complete Criminal Organization In Human History

    Paul Craig Roberts

    Unique among the countries on earth, the US government insists that its laws and dictates take precedence over the sovereignty of nations. Washington asserts the power of US courts over foreign nationals and claims extra-territorial jurisdiction of US courts over foreign activities of which Washington or American interest groups disapprove. Perhaps the worst results of Washington’s disregard for the sovereignty of countries is the power Washington has exercised over foreign nationals solely on the basis of terrorism charges devoid of any evidence.

    The rest:

  75. Re:Contemporary Western "invasions and occupations," for example, do not seem to target innocent civilians, while terrorist almost certainly do.

    Hmm. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, Laos, Vietnam, Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq (Falluja, etc.,etc), Libya, Sudan.


  76. Anonymous Joaquin said...

    The Proof Is In: The US Government Is The Most Complete Criminal Organization In Human History

    Paul Craig Roberts

    Unique among the countries on earth, the US government insists that its laws and dictates take precedence over the sovereignty of nations. Washington asserts the power of US courts over foreign nationals and claims extra-territorial jurisdiction of US courts over foreign activities of which Washington or American interest groups disapprove. Perhaps the worst results of Washington’s disregard for the sovereignty of countries is the power Washington has exercised over foreign nationals solely on the basis of terrorism charges devoid of any evidence.

    The rest:

    January 12, 2016 at 2:34 PM"

    Not much of a supremacist when it won't even try and apply US antitrust standards to foreign powers because of sovereignty issues.

    Course we put up with a lot of crap from annoying people. Should have destroyed North Korea years ago for counterfeiting.

  77. Jaoquin,

    No one here is denying that the West has targeted civilians in its past. That article you noted states, "America has engaged in wars in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Kosovo [since World War II]. It has never again targeted civilians as it did during World War II, but many civilians have died in these wars."

    The point we are making is that modern terrorism has never been largely committed by the US and its allies. It's enemies have been the biggest perpetrators. Yet, no matter how much this is true, people such as yourself wish to claim that any act of violence that the US and its allies commit is deemed terrorism. I'm guessing you think that the bombing of the Afghan hospital recently, which was not on purpose, also counts as civilian targeting and terrorism?

  78. Donald: Christians in the US are more likely to support terrorism than Muslim Americans.

    Of course, the problem is that we have results but can't know what to conclude from them. Well, we can conclude that the questions didn't use the word "terrorism". Still, it is surprising that so many people apparently gave the wrong answer to whether it is ever justifiable to kill a civilian when virtually everyone agrees that yes, it is. Perhaps many of them were assuming that "civilian" meant "innocent civilian" or something like that. As is often the case with lies, damned lies, and statistics, we know what was said to the respondents, and what they said back, but we are seriously handicapped when it comes to knowing what they actually meant.

  79. Anonymous: [Re "that young boy who brought a bomb-looking clock to school"]
    This isn't an example of class struggle.

    Well, if he hadn't brought his fake bomb to class, there would have been nothing to struggle about, would there?!

  80. @MR. Green: "Well, if he hadn't brought his fake bomb to class, there would have been nothing to struggle about, would there?!"

    Heh. :)

    I hope Anonymous was joking, too, and I just missed it...

  81. I don't think there was any struggle in the classroom.

    And it wasn't a "fake bomb", it was (to begin with) a fake "homemade" alarm clock - i.e. a factory manufactured alarm clock that was taken apart and then wired together with a new case, faked enough to be called a "homemade clock" but not really one. What it was in addition to being a fake homemade clock is a REAL clock. And since a bomb - real or fake - relying on time detonation requires a timepiece, it was a REAL component piece of a bomb. But then, so is my watch. Which is a classy watch. And I struggle to set it after daylight savings.

  82. I read something on Breitbart about shocking practices in that boy's town in Texas. Apparently, these started even before grade school. First, the administrators instituted a class snuggle. Then they cut back on portion sizes in the elementary cafeteria, claiming leftover deviationism. Next, recess was replaced by running dogs back and forth for a local walking service, with the proceeds of course being pocketed by the teachers. They sacked the van guard that kept watch at the street crossing used by the kids on long rural routes, and hired a cowboy to open the school kitchen in the morning. (I know, right? Who sends into the thick of tater tot shift a pro get with a lariat?)


    Andrew Cockburn has written a must-read book. The title is Kill Chain: The Rise Of The High-Tech Assassins. The title could just as well be: How the US Government and US Military Became Murder, Inc.

    The US military no longer does war. It does assassinations, usually of the wrong people. The main victims of the US assassination policy are women, children, village elders, weddings, funerals, and occasionally US soldiers mistaken for Taliban by US surveillance operating with the visual acuity of the definition of legal blindness.

    Obama Vows Escalated War OF Terror

    The Proof Is In: The US Government Is The Most Complete Criminal Organization In Human History

    A Tangled Web: How the Media Misleads the Public on Terrorist Threats

    War, Terrorism and the Global Economic Crisis in 2015: Ninety-nine Interrelated Concepts

    Global Crises 2016: Western Media, the Public Interest, Corrupting Youth, the Real Terrorism, Collective Consciousness

    Why WWIII is on the Horizon

    Saudis Form Pro-ISIS Bloc

    Turkey Smuggled Sarin Gas to Terrorists in Syria

    Turkey Concealed Its Oil Smuggling Complicit with ISIS

    Erdogan’s Big Lies About Russia and Iran

    Towards a new Arab cultural revolution

    For some people, the wars and bombings--the unprovoked and illegal invasion and destruction--of foreign countries, killing countless civilians, do not count as "terrorism." The creation and funding and arming of terrorist-mercenary proxies such as al-Qaidah and ISIL do not count as terrorism, nor do drone bombings from Arizona, nor do the concomitants of nearly 1,000 overseas bases, etc., etc. Operation Gladio is not "terrorism." Only car bombs and such are "terrorism."

    The true "axis of terror": US-Israel-S.Arabia-Turkey. This is where the money, the training, the arms, and protection come from.

  84. Here is the URL for this:

    The US military no longer does war. It does assassinations, usually of the wrong people. The main victims of the US assassination policy are women, children, village elders, weddings, funerals, and occasionally US soldiers mistaken for Taliban by US surveillance operating with the visual acuity of the definition of legal blindness.

    Sanctioned Terrorism

    From The Saker Combox on above article:

    not only is the USA the greatest state terrorist in history, it is also the greatest sponsor of state terror by its allies (Israel, Saudi Arabia et al) and creator and sponsor of death-squads (Daash, al-Qaeda, The Contras, Kopassus, Operation Condor, Operation Phoenix, the Colombian paramilitaries, Greek colonels, the graduates of the School of the Americas etc)in history. In short the ultimate, the greatest Evil in all human history. Not to forget its genocidal aggressions, its ‘Special Forces’ death-squads, its genocidal economic sanctions and the genocidal impact of the brutal neo-liberal capitalist order that spreads poverty, misery and death throughout the global South. And the War on Drugs, designed to worsen drug addiction, destroy countries, imprison the US underclass and provide tens of billions in ‘black money’ for US banks to launder and the CIA etc to dip into. And then there is torture, as American as apple-pie, practised in US prisons, police lock-ups and secret torture centres and even schools. And 100,000 rotting in solitary confinement, some for decades. Yet this evil empire still screeches incessantly about its ‘Moral Values’, as if it were the conscience of the world. For a pithy summation, read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech.

  85. Turkey is not the only "western" country that is still actively supporting the Jihadidsts:

    In a statement Monday to Foreign Policy, the Syrian Emergency Task Force said Russian planes bombed one of its offices in central Idlib province in a strike that “completely destroyed” the facility and equipment. The staff — which host civil society workshops, helps distribute U.S. humanitarian aid, and documents atrocities — was not present during the incident, and no one was killed, according to SETF.

    Can someone explain why and how the U.S. Syrian Emergency Task Force, which is financed by the U.S. State Department, can continue to operate in al-Qaeda occupied Idleb?

    When the Russian air support in Syria started and the Syrian army went on the offense a large number of U.S. provided anti-tank guided missiles where used by the terrorists. The number of such missile attacks has now significantly decreased. The Russian bombing broke the logistic lines of the various groups and ransacked their headquarters and support areas. The four month bombing campaign is now showing real results.

  86. "For a pithy summation, read Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech."

    Harold Pinter

    When I was a kid, I asked my Dad why they didn't just kill communist spies when they caught them in the act. After all, the left are mortal enemies of edified and truly free men; another moral species altogether. Although I did not phrase it that way at the time.

    He replied that we had standards regardless; the rule of law, a belief that all men even those who denied it, had inalienable rights. And that if we killed them in the act rather than capturing and interrogating them, we would not get the bigger picture as to what they are up to.

    It seemed like a good explanation at the time. Not so sure now.

  87. @StephenC: "For some people, the wars and bombings--the unprovoked and illegal invasion and destruction--of foreign countries, killing countless civilians, do not count as 'terrorism.' The creation and funding and arming of terrorist-mercenary proxies such as al-Qaidah and ISIL do not count as terrorism, nor do drone bombings from Arizona, nor do the concomitants of nearly 1,000 overseas bases, etc., etc. Operation Gladio is not 'terrorism.' Only car bombs and such are 'terrorism.' / The true 'axis of terror': US-Israel-S.Arabia-Turkey. This is where the money, the training, the arms, and protection come from."

    This is of course a philosophy blog. Oh, sure, we get sidetracked a lot. But in practice being here means trying to give reasons for what you think, and moreover trying to be careful with what your words mean.

    So I'll bite:

    What force, beyond the merely rhetorical, do you think lies in the formula "For some people, [a, b, and c] do not count as [x]"? (Here, try it yourself with something you're less upset about: "For some people, red, blue, and green do not count as numbers." "For some people, salami, bologna, and roast beef do not count as fish.")

    What is it about the examples you mention that makes them "terrorism"? (Is it that they're really bad? Is it their performative aspect? Is it their lack of sanction from some particular legal body? Is it the innocence of those killed who were not themselves targeted?)

    "Only car bombs and such are 'terrorism.'"

    What exactly do you think the folks you criticize include in the scope of "and such"? (Do you suppose they define terrorism by, say, *proximate cause of death*?)

    "Can someone explain why and how the U.S. Syrian Emergency Task Force, which is financed by the U.S. State Department, can continue to operate in al-Qaeda occupied Idleb?"

    Nuh-uh. Ain't gon' be your trained monkey.

  88. And I'm not interested in your mental masturbation.

  89. Stephen C,

    "The US military no longer does war. It does assassinations, usually of the wrong people. The main victims of the US assassination policy are women, children, village elders, weddings, funerals, and occasionally US soldiers mistaken for Taliban by US surveillance operating with the visual acuity of the definition of legal blindness."

    Its good to know you recognised these as "mistaken". You can't commit a terrorist act by mistake. A terrorist act is like murder, or theft, or lying. Your intentions means all the difference. What you have shown here is not terrorism, not that I defending these actions.

    All those trying to make out that US is the biggest or worse perpetrators of terrorist acts are still failing to actually realise what a terrorist act is. A terrorist act is not a mistake, it is not collateral damage.

  90. Stephen C,

    as for the rest of you comment. Since you can't understand the difference between a terrorist and non-terrorist act, how can you even argue that the US is "the greatest state terrorist in history"?

  91. a.It's not my comment, it's that of Paul Craig Roberts.

    b.Believe what you please. "The dogs bark, the caravan passes."

  92. Dear laubadetistre,

    I hope you find the Harper Collins The Study Qur'an useful.

    Sorry, I have been busy lately.

    I will try to get you a few more article(s).


  93. @laubadetistre,

    I will get back to you soon.

    Thanks much for engaging.


  94. Tony: I don't think there was any struggle in the classroom.

    Ah, with lowered standards and grade-inflation, hardly any effort is demanded of the students at all, eh?

    And it wasn't a "fake bomb", [...] it was a REAL component piece of a bomb.

    Now that's a question of reference. Or a question of referents. Or of questionable relevance. But if a real piece of a real bomb is intended as a real piece of a fake bomb by a student, while a teacher thinks it is a fake piece of a fake bomb that other people might mistake for a real fake bomb, and so advises the student that discretion is the better part of keeping folks at ease, yet the student ignores what the teacher taught, are they referring to the same thing?
    As A-kill-ease said to the Taught-us.

  95. Mr. Green,

    Ah, with lowered standards and grade-inflation, hardly any effort is demanded of the students at all, eh?

    Why, it takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to successfully be bored without going out of one's mind while doing nothing to "earn" a good grade.

  96. (Sorry; listening to an iPod and texting count as doing something, so that s/b, "...while doing nothing of substance...")

  97. @Omer: "Sorry, I have been busy lately. / I will try to get you a few more article(s). [...] I will get back to you soon. / Thanks much for engaging."

    No worries. You don't owe me squat. You've already contributed more interesting matter than half a dozen other folks. Do take care of more important things first.

    (BTW, it wasn't *more* articles I asked about, but *better* ones. The one you mentioned just isn't very good. It reminds me of some of the cheaper Christian and New Age apologetics I've read. But it isn't short--so why start in on it when you might very well have something more substantive?)

    I imagine it must be disorienting, and perhaps somewhat painful, to see things of great value to you treated frankly, plainly, and sometimes even with bigotry. Believe it or not, I have some experience here on the receiving end of such regard. :) I assure you that in the main (which is to say, with certain obvious exceptions), people here mean well, and desire the truth. You can profit a great deal by hanging around--and who's to say we couldn't use a regular Muslim contributor or two?

    (Yes, yes, now some doorknob is gonna pipe up and say "*I* say we couldn't...!")

    Should I call you "Omer," or "grateful to God"?


    As the US grows desperate to re-establish credibility in the Middle East, having failed to stem the rise of terrorism across the region, and in response to Russia’s intervention in Syria, Washington is now clearly in danger of losing the plot.

    Evidence for this comes on the back of the recent airstrike carried out by US jets over Mosul, targeting an ISIS facility allegedly containing a huge amount of cash intended to pay its fighters and finance future military operations. According to a CNN report on the Mosul airstrike, “US commanders had been willing to consider up to 50 civilian casualties from the airstrike due to the importance of the target. But the initial post-attack assessment indicated that perhaps five to seven people were killed.”

    This is an astounding statement, cynical in its disregard for civilian lives and dripping in hypocrisy when we consider the efforts that have been made by Western ideologues and their governments to demonize Russia over its intervention in Syria, accusing it of striking civilian targets with blithe disregard for the consequences.

    Imagine if a Russian military commander made a statement such as this, openly acknowledging that civilians would be killed in future Russian airstrikes. The uproar across Western media platforms would be off the scale. There would likely even be attempts to convene an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council in order to censure the Russian government, along with a concerted attempt to isolate Moscow and reduce it to pariah status.

    Yet, when US officials make such statements it’s reported as if it was just another day in the Empire.

    In the same CNN news report, we are informed that, “In recent weeks, the US has said it will assess all targets on a case-by-case basis and may be more willing to tolerate civilians casualties for more significant targets.”

    The rest:

  99. Pssst. ↑Joaquin is a bot, bleep, bloop. Pass it on.

  100. @Joaquin Re: the RT article

    It's only US war crimes, not terrorism.

  101. Why, it takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to successfully be bored without going out of one's mind while doing nothing to "earn" a good grade.

    Define "without going insane". Clearly, many such are not in contact with reality. They think impossible things, such as that you can have a sound society without its citizens having good morals.

  102. >> Why, it takes a tremendous amount of self-discipline to successfully be bored without going out of one's mind while doing nothing to "earn" a good grade.

    > Define "without going insane". Clearly, many such are not in contact with reality. They think impossible things, such as that you can have a sound society without its citizens having good morals.

    True. And just as true, those "many such" likely are incapable of even minimal self-disciple (of the meaningful kind); so, clearly, they not the ones I had in mind (during my poor attempt at being dryly humorous).

    (And I don't mean to intimate that those "many such" are forever incapable of even minimal self-discipline, only that they've been so conditioned as to be presently incapable of it.)

  103. Christianity, Islam, and Liberalism, the three religions battling for world supremacy, have a rock-scissors-paper relationship:

    Christianity defeats Islam by producing smarter offspring. Though Islam keeps its females pumping out babies from puberty to menopause, those kids receive so little parental investment that they aren’t good for much besides raping and pillaging soft targets.

    Liberalism defeats Christianity because it’s a heresy of Christianity, a cluster of quasi-Christian memes selected for their ability to undermine and destroy Christian faith from within.

    Islam defeats Liberalism by beheading its men and raping its women. Liberal mind tricks don't work on Muslims, but liberals don't realize this until they start bleeding out.

  104. Funny, Gottfried said the other day that, "Reading the comments generated by the recent spate of posts on this topic, I've had to grudgingly admit that leftist accusations of widespread 'Islamophobia' among conservatives and Christians are not entirely unfounded. Indeed, arguing that Christians and Muslims worship the same God seems almost as reliable a method as arguing against gay marriage for generating emotionally charged responses that have little, if anything, to do with what was actually being argued."

    He sure had a point.

    Of course, Dave's ↑comment goes beyond that. Always marvelous when someone attempts to mix several immiscible flavors of nonsense, producing an emetic. If I read that right, Dave analyzes the the conflict between Christianity, Islam, and Liberalism, into a sort of soft eugenicism on the part of Christianity (irony, that, with so many enthusiasts of Chesterton here), matched against sexual selection seemingly understood via Reddit, and against a heresy which advances through the glorified hand-waving that is memetics. In the course of doing this, he employs a Star Wars metaphor the force of which undercuts the idea of meme selection, introduces some in-group machismo ("soft targets," "bleeding out"), and glosses the conflict in terms of "defeating" an opponent in a childhood game.

    Of course, the truth is not just drowned out in all this, but held underwater and beaten until it stops struggling.

  105. Hello,

    Does anyone know the name of the author of Atheism and the City, and, since I'm sure some of you must have read and discussed his review of Dr. Feser's book, does anyone have a link to those discussions of it?

    Christi pax.

  106. By the way: Belloc's "Great Heresies" is going to be published in German translation by Renovamen-Verlag.

  107. Dr. Feser, thank you for this excellent post, my favorite from your blog. For me, the best part of it is where you write about what the Catholic Church has always taught about the way she and the state need to cooperate with each other. I could hardly have written that eloquently about anything.

    But please let me remind everyone here at your blog of some important points you might want to write about in another post. First, in his Encyclical Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII teaches that the Church of Christ the Catholic Church. But Vatican II says that the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic to suggest that the Church of Christ is bigger than the Catholic Church. So in your post, the phrase "Church of Christ" seems ambiguous.

    Second, in Libertas Praestantissimum, Pope Leo III teaches that the state should adopt Catholicism as its official religion. For it to do that, most people in it would need to be Catholic partly because the Church teaches that it's immoral to force anyone to become a Catholic.

    Third, Fr. John Courtney Murray patterned Vatican II's teaching(?) about religious liberty after American religious liberty. That's why believe that for the U.S. to become a Catholic country, which I think it ought to do, Congress would need to delete the first amendment from the Constitution.