In Jerusalem, on the Dome of the Rock — situated on top of what is almost certainly the Holy of Holies, within the ancient Temple precincts — is an inscription, in their earliest angular Kufic script, on what was also the earliest monument the Arabs caused to be erected in a conquered land. It reads, in its most significant part: “Praise to Allah who begets no son and has no associate in power and who has no surrogate for humiliations.” The point is sustained by repetition, together with the contrary assertion that Mohammed alone can provide intercession on the day when the Muslim community is resurrected.
That is on the outside of the Dome. On the inside, there is a further long inscription, which mentions Jesus and Mary by name; states that Jesus was an envoy of Allah; that the religion of Allah is Islam; and that Allah will reckon with those who dissent.
Nearly 14 centuries have passed since this challenge to the existence of Christianity was made; and indeed, we are living in the fallout of certain manifestations of it today.
Yet we have today, at least in the more progressive and nominal Christians of North America and Europe — most certainly including Catholics — the curious notion that Christianity is compatible with Islam. That it is likewise compatible with all other religions. That it is compatible with a Darwinian cosmology, and therefore with atheist materialism. That it is part of “diversity”; and so on.
I have a day job writing newspaper columns. I make clear that I am a Catholic. (“The worst kind, a convert,” as Marshall McLuhan used to say.) I get a lot of mail. And whatever our bishops and bureaucracies may think they have achieved, in the way of teaching the faith, I get to see their results.
For sure, some of the Catholics who write to me are well-educated and well-formed. But on inquiry, I find a large proportion of these are also converts; and that even among those who are not, most have learnt the Faith by their own efforts. Many of these are, as one can see by the way they phrase religious ideas, careful to avoid heresies.
But many other correspondents, declaring themselves to be cradle Catholics, are at no pains at all.
I often wonder what the Church is for such people. A nice venue for a wedding, to be sure; a bit of formal “closure” for a funeral. A building that may be worth including on an architectural preservation list, since no one is ever going to build another like it. Beyond this, some vague sense of an ethnic identity.
“I was born a Catholic,” someone wrote to me recently (already in error: Nobody is born Catholic), “unlike you. Don’t you dare tell me what a Catholic should believe!”
The sense of some Catholic ethnicity — hyphenated Irish, Polish, or whatever — goes with other sentimental thoughts. But Catholic means “universal,” so there is a problem when we find nostalgic mush on both sides of the hyphen. They may or may not vaguely remember a rather cumbersome Catechism.
But the whole thing may now apparently be reduced to a “bottom line.” It comes down to being nice to people and trying not to notice if anyone is mean. It is about being open-minded, and accepting people as they are, unless they happen to be very religious.
Indeed, whatever else Christ may have done, according to this very common view, He reduced all the Ten Commandments to just One Commandment: that “you mustn’t judge people.”
I wish that were a parody of what I am told in e-mail so often, by self-described Catholics — who then go on to judge me. I’ve been told these things not only by the laity, but even by several “modern” Catholic priests, one of whom was clever enough to add the word “misogynistic” to describe my opposition to abortion.
“We should keep an open mind.” And we ought to look with especially open minds at those who chisel the words of Christ off public buildings. Or those who teach our children in school that the whole history of our Church consists of the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, and (let us not forget) the trial of Galileo.
Likewise, we are asked to keep open minds toward those paragons of art and style who, say, put a crucifix in a vial of urine, or display a statue of Mary smeared with cow dung. For these people are only “expressing themselves,” and ours is not to judge them — for Christ, I have been told condescendingly by a Catholic, self-described art critic, was all about “expressing yourself.”
There are quite a few places in the Gospels where Jesus says things that cannot be squared with the smiley-face icon. But faced with any of the 99 in 100 Gospel passages that will come as a surprise to the postmodern reader, he can always allow that Jesus had a right to His opinions. He was, as one “Catholic-born” atheist acquaintance put it, probably no more crazy than many of the people we see walking the streets these days.
I myself often ride the Queen Street trolley in Toronto, and there’s a man who regularly boards it proclaiming that he is, in point of fact, the son of God: not only on his way to outpatient services at Queen Street’s famous mental health facility, but also on his way back home to Parkdale. Clearly, by analogy, Christ is to be tolerated, for his own unique point of view.
There are quite a variety of points of view, and it has become policy in every jurisdiction of which I am aware, throughout the Western world, never to prefer one to another. For each is a valid statement of a point of view. And while the Catholic Church is evidently failing to inculcate its own “point of view,” the State has no difficulty teaching multiculturalism.
It simply is not possible — not humanly possible, and not possible in logic — to make every point of view equal to every other. So that if you have, as a governing principle, the proposition that “all points of view are equal” — in other words, the defining dogma of multiculturalism — you must perforce walk into the hell in which that dogma becomes juxtaposed with the elementary facts of life.
I do not doubt that God will take care of this, in the fullness of time. But for the foreseeable future, I would like to see some evidence that our bishops and bureaucracies are panicked on the matter.