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Service and Freedom

A revised and edited version of this page appears in my book
"New Skins for Old Wine"

Contents

Introduction

This essay deals with the relationship between "Obedience to God" and "Self Fulfilment". I shall attempt to compare and contrast Platonic, Jewish, Christian and Islamic accounts of the matter. I believe that this is a crucial issue and one which is much misunderstood and misrepresented, along the "Conservative" vs "Liberal" fault line characteristic of the Modern Age. I believe that the solution to the apparent conflict is, as put to me by a dear Anglican friend, that in submitting to the (true) Will of God we "are submitting to our true nature - thus there is no heteonomity - autonomy truly is theonomy" [D.J. 2002].

The Problem

In many religions and philosophical systems, submission to an external authority is recommended: whether this be God or some wise soul or abstract principal, e.g. Justice. In practice, such advice comes into conflict with the "self serving" tendency in (wo)man. It is seen as being contrary to the freedom of the individual and apt only to frustrate his/her self-fulfilment and/or happiness. In extreme cases, what is to be submitted to can seem inhumane. A direct contradiction is then set up between, on the one hand: any obvious personal gratification, fun, happiness and joy; and, on the other: what is supposed to be right. Those that recommend obedience are liable to rejoin that the only path to inner peace, true fulfilment and so lasting joy is via a strict and thorough submission to whatever authority they particularly recommend.

The issue is this: which is prior,good or God? If good is prior, then it means something to say that God is good: namely that God is benevolent towards us and wants for us only those things that will enable us to live, flourish and prosper. In this case, God's will for us is like the expert advice of a knowledgeable, wise and trusted friend. His commands are to be obeyed not out of fear of punishment or because they are commands, but simply because we have a rational confidence that they will prove in practice to be for our fulfilment.

Contrariwise, if God is prior, then it means nothing very much to say that "God is good": for good is then whatever God is, and we have no reason to believe that this good has anything to do with our practical and objective benefit. In this case, God's will for us is like that of a despot. His commands are to be obeyed either simply out of fear of malign consequences explicitly attached to them or for hope of some arbitrary reward (bribery).  It might seem better to defy such commands: at least then one is sure of pursuing the objective values of freedom, personal responsibility and independence!

"The dilemma explored in Plato's Euthyphro.  Are pious things pious because the gods love them, or do the gods love them because they are pious? The dilemma poses the question of whether value can be conceived as the up-shot of the choice of any mind, even a divine one. On the first option the choice of the gods creates goodness and value. Even if this is intelligible it seems to make it impossible to praise the gods, for it is then vacuously true that they choose the good. On the second option we have to understand a source of value lying behind or beyond the will even of the gods, and by which they can be evaluated. The elegant solution of Aquinas is that the standard is formed by God's nature, and is therefore distinct from his will, but not distinct from him."
[Simon Blackburn, "Euthyphro dilemma" in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (1994)]
Put this way, most proponents of religion will chose the first option. "Of course God is good, loving, merciful and compassionate!" they will say. However, as they then start to present the prescriptions of their faith, these will often be found to include arbitrary norms and doctrines. As long as these are just "things that we do for the sake of good order", like driving on the left side of the road, or "optional acts of devotion", like making pilgrimage to the Holy House of Loretto or Lourdes or wearing the brown scapula: there is little harm in them and there may be much utility. However when they are logical nonsenses at the heart of theological systems, such as "Justification by Imputation", or the imposition almost as a necessity for salvation of superstitious rituals, such as making the hajj, it is difficult to see how these are traceable to the objective good of the individual. Their proponents are liable to argue that such things are understood only by God, and that if He commands them, who are we to dispute His Will? Of course, this is to revert to the second option outlined above. It is good to make the hajj pilgrimage because Allah commands it: it is not good in itself, neither is it good because (though arbitrary) it tends to have salutary effects. Similarly, the wearing or doffing of hats in church. Similarly, the rejection of blood transfusions and organ transplants.

Train or Bike?

I have heard evangelicals make the following false analogy: (wo)man's "obedience to God" and "freedom" correspond to the railway train's conformance to the track on which it conveniently runs back and forth. The railway train soon becomes mired if it leaves its tracks. Moreover, it has no self steering capability and so depends on its tracks for direction. This picture suggests that the scope of (wo)man's true freedom is minimal. It proposes that the choice is between one sensible option: going forward along the single track, and many reckless and futile options.

It is simply not fair to compare a (wo)man to a railway train: (s)he does have a self steering faculty! A better analogy might be with a bike, which can reach its destination by following one of any number of alternative roads. The choice of route is rightly at the discretion of the biker: dependent on their perspective, priorities, outlook, skills, interests and character. Some routes are more generally suitable than others. Some are scenic, others express. Some involve detours required to satisfy a secondary objective. Some routes are only to be risked in necessity, or only on the right vehicle. Others are to be avoided altogether as simply too dangerous.

Fixing an objective does not necessarily fix the means of its attainment. Moreover in the Kingdom there are "many mansions", so it is not at all clear that all of God's friends rightly aspire to exactly the same end-point on the spiritual map!

"The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves than by compelling each other to live as seems good to the rest."
[John Stewart Milne "On Liberty"]

Plato

Plato taught that lasting happiness could only be attained by the just man: he who earnestly sought knowledge of what was good and then lived his life in accordance with the truth that he found. A crucial aspect of  such a life was that the just man should continually subject his best understanding of  what was true to scrutiny and debate. Failure to do so is characteristic of
fundamentalist bigotry: the conceit that one possesses the truth, accurate in every detail and exclusive of any other insight.

Plato was painfully aware that such a life-style would not necessarily bring success in secular terms, but rather more plausibly attract suspicion, hatred, abuse, persecution and death. He had seen this happen to his beloved master, Socrates. Nevertheless, he thought that to deviate from the path of justice was to build an essential flaw into one's life, with devastating psychological results. Without personal integrity there could be no sense of personal meaning. Without this, no inner peace, but only discord. Without inner peace there could be no happiness. For Plato, therefore: to pursue objective justice was to find oneself; to obey its precepts was to seek one's own happiness. To either give free reign one's own uninformed will, or conform to the common sense views of society, was to start out on a process of self-destruction.

Plato further thought that justice was not something arbitrary or extrinsic to mankind's reality. He did not accept that it was imposed after the fact by some capricious deity: as a human experimentalist might impose a puzzle or regime upon laboratory mice for his own purposes, foreign to the well-being of the mice. Instead, he taught that justice was objective and intrinsic: the expression of what actually worked, gave happiness and fulfilled the rational aspirations and practical needs of humanity. God could no more change this than make a two-dimensional square circle. Perhaps God could have constituted mankind differently so that an alternate form of justice would correspond to and so govern men's lives: but given that man is made what and how he is, then justice is fixed and irreformable. Moreover, the most abstract principles of justice (such as symmetry: as in equal recompense for equal effort) are plausibly independent of the human condition and strictly universal. These may well bind God in relationship to the Cosmos, and in the last analysis be grounded in the inner Life of the Trinity, which not even God HimSelves can vary!

The Torah

At first sight, the Torah could be understood as portraying a very different view. The Ten Commandments, still more the Levitical code, have all the appearance of "positive law": regulations crafted by an arbitrator, at his discretion, to address particular situations. Moreover, the Torah can be construed as a covenantal system along the lines of "If you obey these arbitrary regulations that I have put together for you, then I shall prejudicially favour you". Certainly, God's command to Adam and Eve: "Don't eat of the tree of knowledge" [Gen 2:17] was of this form. Of course, it is plausible that God specifically concocted that command just so that our first parents would infringe it and so "win" their independence from Him [Sir 17:6-7].
The Children of God.
The form that the Levitical code takes can be understood in terms of the parent-child kind of relationship that characterized the early period of the Hebrew People's journey with God. While Abraham and Moses were friends of God: intimate with the Almighty and both able and expected to dispute with Him, the Hebrew people as a whole was as naive as the Catholic laity is today. The most that they could aspire to be was children of God. Before a child is capable of understanding some issue, the parent has no choice but to say: "do as you're told, later on you'll understand, but for now trust me", or even "....or else I'll punish you!." This is more or less exactly what God said to his Chosen People: "if you obey these commandments, you will live" [Lev 18:5]. This is not a threat of divine retribution in vengeance of infringed regulations, it is a simple warning that to deviate from the life path indicated by the Torah was to wander into unsafe territory, where danger lurked and death was not far away. The issue is not punishment for self-will or non-conformance: but God's concern for the well-being of His Chosen People [Ex 23:12 & Deut 5:14].
The Game of Life
Of course, much of the Levitical code is concerned with the ordering of society. A good deal of this is arbitrary. Living with others is something like playing a game. That game needs rules. The exact formulation doesn't matter as much as the existence of some formulary. The problem with any society-game is that the rules have to be sufficiently simple that everyone understands them. This means that they cannot possibly be sufficiently sophisticated to sensibly deal with all situations that arise, even on a day-to-day basis. This means that they have to be applied with a certain reluctance and hesitation. Where the situation corresponds closely to the exact circumstances envisaged in the rule, then it is to be strictly applied: where it diverges greatly, then wisdom, circumspection, discretion and - above all - compassion are called for.
The Heart of the Matter
At the heart of the Torah is the dual principal of love: Love God utterly [Deut 6:5], and Love your neighbour as your self [Lev 19:18]. This is the interpretative norm that has to be employed in applying simple general rules to complex or anomalous individual cases.

The Prophets

For the prophets, the relationship between service and freedom is complicated by their experience of vocation [Is 6:1-13, Jer 1:5], a call from God which simply cannot be ignored, no matter how much the prophet might wish to! Elijah [1Kings 19:4, 9-18], Jonah [Jon 1:1-4; 3:1-3; 4:1-4] and Jeremiah [Jer 1:18-19; 15:10; 17:15-17; 20:7-9,14-18; 38:6,15 Lam 3:1-27] found to their cost that God wouldn't let them be, and that their only real option was to give way to His "bullying". Nevertheless, the import of the message given to them was always "do justice and live: sin no more, repent and God will forgive and rescue you" [Hos 11:1-4; 14:1-7]. Though good and evil come from the mouth of God [Is 45:7, Lam 3:38-39] God's punishments [Lam 3:31-33] and commands [Is 1:16-17; 28:23-29; 48:17, Lam 3:34-36] are never arbitrary. God's testimony is objective [Is 45:18-19]. He is only concerned with the well-being of His people [Jer 32:38-41]. He does not seek any kind of service proper to Himself, but only that His people act justly [Hos 12:6] towards each other and the foreigner who sojourns in their midst.

The Sages

The sages teach that man's well-being, happiness, success and fulfilment is dependent on the pursuit of wisdom. They understand wisdom variously as:
  • beginning with "the fear of God" [Ps 110:10, Pr 1:7,9:10, Sir 1:14],
  • being a practical life skill [Pro 8:14],
  • based on experience and instruction [Pro 9:9],
  • flowing from devotion to the Law of God [Ps 118], and
  • being a sharing in the Divine Activity of creating and sustaining the Cosmos [Pro 8:22-31, Wis 7:26, 8:4,9:9].
Wisdom is something that merits divine favour [Sir 4:14], endearing its possessor to God as his friend [Wis 7:27]. Wearing her fetters and collar gives rest and joy [Sir 6:23-28, cf Mt 11:29-30]. He who finds Wisdom finds life [Pro 8:35], those that do not attain Wisdom do themselves injury. Those who hate Wisdom love death [Pro 8:36]. Man has free will, to either abide by God's life preserving commands or to perversely choose death [Sir 15:14-17].

The Gospel

Jesus makes it very clear that He did not come to be served, but to serve [Mk 10:45, Mt 23:11, Lk 22:27, Jn 13:12-17]; not to impose regulations but to liberate captives [Lk 4:18] and unburden the overwhelmed [Mt  23:4]: to enable those who respond to his message to live abundantly [Jn 10:10]. He reminded his listeners that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath [Mk 2:27]: the Law of God is purposed to help and relieve mankind [Ex 23:12, Deut 5:14], not be a burden or imposition that results in the complication and impoverishment of life.

Whereas He says that those who do not obey him attract the "wrath of God" [Jn 3:36], he is clear that God's approval is not to be won by obeying instructions [Lk 16:29-32; 17:7-10; 18:9-14] or by conforming to some template of life, but by  repentance and love [Lk 16:13]. Of course, anyone who loves Him will obey his commandments [Mt 28:20, Jn 14:15,21, 23-24; 15:10], yet He gives only three: love God without reserve [Mt 22:37 cf Deut 6:5]; love those you despise most as much as you love yourself [Mt 6:44,22,37 Lk 10:30-37 cf Lev 19:18]; and love each other as much as He loves - unconditionally, to the death [Jn 13:34-35; 15:12-3]. He says that while the faithful disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow his Master [Mk 8:34-37], yet his yolk is easy and burden is light [Mt 11:29-30 cf Sir 6:23-28]; for the Truth - which He came into the World to proclaim [Jn 18:37] - sets its possessor free [Jn 8:32].

Of course, as pointed out to me by Dr Paul Miller, the three commands of love imply a fourth: "Love yourSelf unconditionally": there is no room in the Christian religion for self hatred or self despite. A true selfishness or egoism is at the heart of the Gospel.

"But as not to love oneself at all is brutish, or rather absurd and stonish (for the beasts do love themselves),
so hath God by rational methods enabled us to love others better than ourselves,
and thereby made us the most glorious creatures.
Had we not loved ourselves at all, we could never have been obliged to love anything.
So that self love is the basis of all love.
But when we do love ourselves,
and self love is satisfied infinitely in all its desires and possible demands,
then it is easily led to regard the Benefactor more than itself,
and for His sake overflows abundantly to all others.
So that God by satisfying my self love, hath enabled and engaged me to love others."
[Traherne (1636-1674) "Centuries of Meditations" (pub 1908 ed B. Dobel)]
Christ's true disciples are not his servants, but his friends [Jn 15:14-17] because they are privy to the councils of God [Mt 13:11]. To know Jesus is to know the Way [Jn 14:6] to the Father [Jn 14:9]. For them Jesus' command to love is not arbitrary, but the manifest solution to the human predicament: based on a knowledge of the basis of being: the Trinitarian Life of God [Jn 17:20-24].

The Apostle Paul was quite clear that God requires no service [Acts 17:25, Php 2:7] as also that the Mosaic Law was in essence no more than a codification of the Natural Law  [Rom 2:14-16] that is written in the heart of every (wo)man. It is summarized as "love thy neighbour" [Rom 13:8-10, 1Cor 13:1-13, Eph 3:17-19; 4:32-5:2, 1Thes 4:9 cf Lv 19:18]. While he speaks of Christians as "slaves of God" on one occasion [Rom 6:22], he does so only to contrast the new life of grace with their previous predicament. In agreement with Jesus' teaching, he later says that Christians are not properly thought of as God's slaves, but rather as His children [Rom 8:12-17 Eph 2:19; 3:6] with a promised inheritance of "Glorious Liberty" [Rom 8:21, 2Cor 3:17].

St Paul describes the Law as "holy and just and good" [Rom 7:12] which would be meaningless if it was extrinsic and arbitrary. He also says that the sinner of himself wants to obey the Law [Rom 7:16,22], because he can appreciate that it is sensible: but finds it beyond his capacity to do so consistently [Rom 7:15,23].

As far as proscriptive uniformity is concerned, St Paul is clear that (wo)men naturally differ from each other and have differing roles to play in the Body of Christ [Rom 12:3-8, 1Cor 12:4-31]. He explicitly condemns submitting to regulations, even when this has "an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self abasement and severity to the body"[Col 2:23] at least in the context of  the "worship of angels" [Col 2:18].

St John reiterates in his Epistles the message that fills his account of Jesus' life: that the heart of the Gospel is love:

"....love one another, and this is love: that we follow His commandments; this is the commandment, as you have heard from the beginning, that you follow love." [2Jn 5-6"]

Islam

According to a helpful correspondent who is a practising Muslim:
"For someone to understand the definition of Islam one needs to appreciate the Arabic language because in arabic a word can have plural meaning. The word islam has a two-fold meaning, firstly: peace, and secondly: submission to God. This requires a fully conscious and willing effort to submit to the one Almighty God. One must consciously and conscientiously give oneself to the service of Allah. This means to act on what Allah enjoins all of us to do (in the Qur'an) and what His beloved Prophet, Mohammed (pbuh) encouraged us to do in his Sunnah (his lifestyle and sayings personifying the Qur'an).
Once we humble ourselves, rid ourselves of our egoism and submit totally to Allah, and to Him exclusively, in faith and in action, we will surely feel peace in our hearts. Establishing peace in our hearts will bring about peace in our external conduct as well.
Islam is careful to remind us that it not a religion to be paid mere lip service; rather it is an all encompassing way of life that must be practised continuously for it to be Islam. The Muslim must practice the five pillars of the religion:
  1. the declaration of faith in the oneness of Allah and the prophet hood of Mohammed (pbuh),
  2. prayer,
  3. fasting the month of Ramadan,
  4. alms tax, and
  5. the pilgrimage to Makkah;
and believe in the six articles of faith:
  1. belief in God,
  2. the Holy Books,
  3. the prophets,
  4. the angels,
  5. the Day of Judgement
  6. and God's decree, whether for good or ill.
There are other injunctions and commandments which concern virtually all facets of personal, family and civic life. These include such matters as diet, clothing, personal hygiene, interpersonal relations, business ethics, responsibilities towards parents, spouse and children, marriage, divorce and inheritance, civil and criminal law, fighting in defence of Islam, relations with non Muslims, and so much more.

In conclusion the Qur'anic definition of Islam is referred to as 'deen' Ideology. A rational doctrine from which a system emanates. The doctrine (Aqeedah) is a comprehensive idea about the universe, man, life, what preceded this life, what is to follow it, and the relationship of this life with what preceded it and what is to follow it. As for the system that emanates from this doctrine, it is the solution for man's problems, the method for implementing those solutions, preserving the doctrine, and conveying the ideology to others."

A lack of animating principle
This is a very helpful and clear statement. The final paragraph is most important. The Aqeedah is, I understand, the Islamic theological system or "philosophy of life". It plays the role of Plato's notion of Justice and the Torah's principle of Love, however it does not seem to be reducible to such a simple principle, unless it be "submission to God". The system that "emanates" from this doctrine purports to be the practical implementation of the Islamic "philosophy of life" in terms of what a western mind might term a "life-style". It is delineated and proscribed by the "five pillars", "six articles" and "injunctions and commands". The feel is that of a Levitical style code, but one with no core principle to interpret it.
Law, Justice and Nature
The very idea of "service of God" is contradictory. God has no need of servants. My correspondent explicates it by saying that it means "to act on what Allah enjoins all of us to do". This sounds very much like "doing what one is told": submission to an extrinsic and arbitrary positive law, though this might be escaped by the remark that God only enjoins on us what is in any case in our own good. According to my correspondent:
"God, in the Quran says that he created humans so that they may worship and obey him. So the purpose of life is to worship God and obey the commands of God. Any other objective in life will cause failure in the hereafter (i.e. the real life). But it happens to be (by design) that the system which God chose for mankind, i.e. Islam is indeed complimentary to his being, and elevates him. God says to the Muslims in the Quran:
'Perhaps you like something which is bad for you, and hate something which is good for you, Allah knows and you  know not'
We should move our thoughts and emotions to the commands of God and not be rebellious. The only people who would question God's commands are those who do not really believe, but who just pay lip service to a label.

If God wishes for your torture or if God wishes for your pleasure:
who is there to stop him; who is there to question him?
God can wish what he wishes and not tell anybody.
Are you in a position to question God?
God can give a reason or not.
It all comes down to whether we believe in God and
are we willing to sacrifice our lives for what he wants?
Look at all the bounty and pleasure of this earth.
God says in the Quran he will give more than the whole earth to a single person for obeying his wishes.
Self-interest is there: avoiding punishment from God.

A Muslim has three objectives for fulfilling a command of God. They are,

for the love of God,
the hope of his reward,
the relief from his punishment.
God does not take delight in punishing us and does wish us to avoid it.
But it is merciful that evil be punished and good be rewarded.
Evildoers will get what they deserve. If not in this life, then the next."
It seems from the above that there is a contradiction and confusion at the heart of Islam. The simple view is clearly that Allah's commands are extrinsic positive law and are not to be questioned or analysed by human reason. On a deeper level there is a notion that the laws of God are for mankind's good. However, I suspect that if it was established that some aspect of Islam was contradictory to some supposed human "good", then the supposed "good" would always be jettisoned and said to be not "truly good". Hence, it is not possible to conduct the kind of ethical debate within Islam that is common-place within Catholicism, with its commitment to the Natural Law and the supremacy of conscience. The presumption would always be that the received interpretation of Islamic ethics was correct, no matter how much it was shown to infringe some principle of "human rights" or equity or natural justice. What seemed to human understanding to be evil, wicked or oppressive would be in fact good, equitable and just: because Allah says so!
"The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature..... Theodore Khoury, observes: For [Emperor Manuel II Paleologus], as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry." [Pope Benedict XVI "Faith, Reason and the University: Memories and Reflections" (Meeting with the representatives of science in the Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg, 2006)]
Rules for daily living are unexceptionable in principle. Indeed, the coherent application of shared objective principles of Justice throughout society is an aim much to be desired. Problems only arise when rules become claustrophobic, with the effect of imposing a "one size fits all" pattern on the individual that does not correspond to his true form, and so violates his being. If human nature was truly universal, then this difficulty might be avoided: if only the Truth of Man was accurately represented in the rule set. Personally I doubt that:
  1. human nature is sufficiently uniform;
  2. any absolute "once and for all" rule system could ever deal adequately

  3. with the multiform and evolving ethical context of Mankind;
    the apparently arbitrary stipulations of Islam have got much to do with "the solution for man's problems".
Stability and Dynamism
Islam contrasts favourably with Christianity in having a thoroughly worked out blue-print for society. However, this blue-print is proscriptive in detail and hence historically static. Christianity has the advantage of only proposing a small set of principles, arguably only one: "Love and do as you will" [St Augustine]. This means that various attempted implementations, claiming to be informed by the same ideals, can compete with and be evaluated against each other: according to Jesus' criterion of judgement "by their fruits ye shall know them." Christendom is not as stable or monolithic as Islam, but has proved itself to be more adaptive and inventive.
Inner Peace
The idea that "establishing peace in our hearts will bring about peace in our external conduct as well" is sound. This wholesome sentiment would, I am convinced, be equally agreeable to Plato, Moses and Jesus. Asserting that the route to interior peace is via humbling oneself and overcoming egoism, is contentious, depending on exactly what is means by such words.

In my experience, humility and pride are much the same thing: honesty, a recognition of the truth about oneself.

"Meekness in itself is naught else but a true knowing and feeling of a man's self as he is. For surely whoso might verily see and feel himself as he is, he should verily be meek. And therefore, in all that thou canst and mayest, swink and sweat for to get thee a true knowing and a feeling of thyself as thou art; and then I trow that soon after that thou shalt have a true knowing and a feeling of God as He is. Not as He is in Himself, for that may no man do but Himself; nor yet as thou shalt do in bliss, both body and soul together. But as it is possible, and as he vouchsafeth to be known and felt of a meek soul living in this deadly body."
[Anon "The Cloud of Unknowing"]
This contrasts with unctuousness, hypocrisy and conceit, which are forms of dishonesty.
"We are apt to seek praise, but not deserve it. But if we would deserve it, we must love virtue more than that. Be not fond, therefore of praise; but seek virtue that leads to it. And yet no more dissemble thy merit than overrate it; for though humility be a virtue, an affected one is none."
[William Penn "Fruits of Solitude"]
As for overcoming egoism, if by this is meant avoiding conceit: then this is fine. If on the other hand it signifies giving up one's individuality and self identity by accepting the imposition of some normative extrinsic script: then this is the heart of evil!

The only peace that can result from the death of self is that of the grave.

"The Islamic Question" extracted from a scholarly document in the italian journal “Studium” by Roberto A.M. Bertacchini and Piersandro Vanzan S.J who is a professor of pastoral theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University.
"Moderate Islam, properly so called, does not exist because there is no institutional and moderate form of Islamic theology. There are moderate Muslims, and some of them see things with a clear and long-term perspective. But Islam itself, or rather the institutional religious culture of the Muslims, has reacted in its encounter with modernity by entrenching itself in fundamentalist positions.....

Fortunately, not all the imams have the same zeal for jihad, but the problem is that there is no moderate Islam, or rather there does not exist an Islamic theology that has integrated modernity. This is why it would not only be prudent, as cardinal Giacomo Biffi has suggested, to discourage Islamic immigration in Europe, it would be masochistic to encourage it without demanding reciprocation in terms of integration.

Islam is not compatible with liberal democracies for stronger and deeper reasons than those that usually come to mind.... it is true that the Church did not abolish the index of prohibited books until Vatican II, but before it was abolished this institution did not carry any weight in civil affairs. That’s not how it is in Islam. Religious censure is ipso facto civil censure, because the religious authorities have civil authority, and vice versa. The entire spectrum of these and other related facts calls for intellectual honesty on our part, because we cannot interpret them as isolated cases devoid of general significance. And if these are not isolated cases, only one conclusion can be drawn:

the word 'freedom' did not exist in Arabic for centuries
because Islamic civilization simply makes no provision for it

(it was introduced with the word 'hurriyya', meaning 'entitlement', only in 1774, and out of the necessity of signing treaties with Westerners). So the absolutism of Saudi Arabia or other emirates, the legal inferiority of women and so forth, are not correctible eccentricities. They are the effects of a deep-rooted cause, which cannot be removed without destroying Islam. And this is why these eccentricities are so fiercely defended: because they have an intrinsic relationship with Muslim identity. And therefore

integration can be achieved with Muslims on an individual basis, but not with Islam.

Unfortunately, open and liberal society becomes paralyzed when it encounters a closed and incompatible civilization. The problem of tolerance was worked out within Christian civilization in order to defuse its internal conflicts. But its introduction made sense, because tolerance was a value recognized by all parties, in that it was able to find a theological foundation. But in Islam, there is no foundation for tolerance in the broad sense that characterizes our secular societies. Freedom of the press does not make sense. The Middle Ages had Boccaccio, and the Renaissance had Pietro Aretino. But in a much less offensive case, Islam censured the mathematician and poet Omar Khayyam (1048-1122) for talking about wine and drunkenness. And the fact that he was rehabilitated to some extent in Iran at the end of the twentieth century does not represent the sort of openness that one would like to believe it does.....

Dialoguing with those who have, in the back of their minds, the idea of Islamizing us and reducing us to dhimmi status, as subjects of an inferior order, simply makes no sense. Dialogue with moderate Muslims should not only be pursued; it should be increased, and the moderates supported in every way possible, even more so than the support that was given to the anti-Soviet resistance....."

Conclusions

Core Values of Islam and the Gospel

I suppose that the dual meaning of the word "Islam" signifies the notion that peace only comes through subjugation to the extrinsic "will of Allah". This is in stark contrast to the Gospel. In its authentic interpretation, this is the "Good News" of Glorious Freedom, made possible by Righteousness (Right-Wiseness, Episteme: true knowledge of reality). It involves the unbinding of heavy burdens of Law in favour of the single principle of Justice and single rule of Love. It leads to the Kingdom of God's Friends.

I believe that the root cause of the impoverishment of Islam compared to Christianity was Mohammed's rejection of the Doctrine of the Trinity. Instead of God who is Love HimSelves, Islam knows only of a god, Allah, who fortunately happens to be merciful and compassionate.

Equivalent errors in Christianity

This may be prejudiced comment, but it is not without basis. Islam has the appearance of a proscriptive legalism. Moreover, there are large numbers of Christians who mistakenly hold similar views.
  • The Lutheran doctrine of "Utter Depravity" means that the only way to salvation is for the individual to surrender to God's extrinsic and arbitrary judgement and passively accept the "imputation of Christ's righteousness". Immediate intimations of fulfilment and happiness, still less pleasure, are no guide as to what is right. This is because objective justice cannot be understood by a human nature that has lost all integrity since the Fall.
  • I have encountered Catholic devotional material which explicitly advocated the destruction of the personality in favour of an ideal personality, supposed to be that of Jesus. The same literature favoured the idea that one should become a slave (not even servant!) of God. In practice, of course, this meant unthinking obedience to hierarchical authority! "Do as you're told" has been the frequent refrain of the Catholic hierarchy through the ages.
  • Recently, I received the following diatribe from Thomas Sparks, my comments are indented:
  • "As a Catholic I cannot tolerate any situation apart from complete Catholic domination of the world. Christ is Rightful King and He must reign. All nations must be subject to His rule. No government has a right to govern contrary to the Catholic Principles of Christ. No "democratic majority" can ever justify a policy contrary to the Will of Christ. No jew or liberal or heretic has any right to enact laws contrary to the Catholic Faith."
    This is all true, but not generally in the sense that Mr Sparks means it. "Catholic domination" should mean freedom and liberty and justice! I am fairly sure that Mr Sparks envisages a rather "Islamic" version of Catholicism.
    "All of creation is there to give glory to God, to manifest His goodness, no other reason. All of creation must be subject to God. Human society must give worship to God in the One True Faith. I cannot tolerate any "society" that does not give glory to Our Lord JESUS Christ in the True Faith. The Glory of God must be increased
    and all His enemies must be deposed and silenced."
    Once again, Mr Sparks language is "Islamic". I believe that creation exists to rejoice in and enjoy its God given being. In doing so it manifests His goodness. Creation cannot avoid being subject to God, but this is not the subjugation of a slave. Rather it is the relationship of a beloved child with his/her parent. Absolute toleration of injustice and wickedness is obviously wrong, but a provisional toleration of honest mistakes; confusion and limited understanding is needful. God's glory is not subject to increase or decrease. Those who are God's enemies will necessarily bring their own judgement upon themselves, at the Last Day: until then the "tares" will be left to grow among the wheat.
    "The Historic Destiny of the Church must be to strive to re-establish Christendom and to expand it to all of the gentiles. The Church is Rightful Mistress of the nations. Every politician is entirely subject to the Roman Pontiff as absolutely necessary for his salvation. All rulers must kiss his ring and enact his reign. We must plan and organize a reconquest. We must be cleverer and more organized then the jews have been, and must take the world for Our Lord, Whom they murdered."
    This is again, largely true (I except the antisemitic sentiments!), but again not as the writer intends it. Christendom should be a commonwealth of friendship, not a tyrannical hierarchical dictatorship as Mr Spark's tone suggests! Being subject to the Roman Pontiff should only be a light burden, not a heavy yolk of oppression and direction.
    The difference between the error of Islam and these Christian errors is, I propose, simple. Whereas the Christian aberrations are exactly that: deviations from the Gospel, the religion of Mohammed is founded upon the principle of subservience to God: as indicated by it being named ISLAM for this very principle. Of course, I can only say this from a Catholic  perspective, in which the Living Tradition interpreted by and interpreting Magisterial definitions clarifies the Gospel.

    Institutional illiberalism.

    Historically, Islam can make some claims to be tolerant and liberal in practice. It is well known that adherents of "religions of the Book" are supposed to be allowed to practice their faith in quietness. In Egypt and Iraq, indigenous Churches survive and Christians occasionally play significant roles in society. In this practical regard, Islam compares favourably with Catholicism, which has never been truly tolerant of the Jews: though it has good reason to be so; and has always been hostile to Islam: seeing it as an extreme heresy.

    Muslim scholars did much to preserve the work of Greek philosophers (especially Aristotle) and scientists which would otherwise have been lost. However, they did little to progress it. According to my correspondent:

    "The Muslim scholars did not progress the Greek knowledge purposefully. They studied it and refuted it in many of their books, as they did with other false philosophies .... Some Muslims did try to reconcile some aspects of Greek philosophies, but they were intellectually dealt with."
    On the other hand, Islam is clearly a militaristic religion; akin to the pre-exilic Judaism of Moses, Joshua, Saul and David. Moreover, its track record of suppressing, stifling and "converting en mass" christian populations (e.g. in Egypt, North Africa, Asia Minor and the Balkans) and its current campaign to impose its religious law on Christian and Animist populations in Africa do not have the appearance of liberality. In Saudi Arabia it is illegal to display any indication of adherence to Christianity and in many Muslim states, conversion from Islam to any other faith is punishable by death. According to my corespondent:
    "In the Islamic state a person who leaves Islam is given three days to consider his/her understanding. If (s)he wishes to leave Islam completely (s)he is executed. For a Muslim it is a legal injunction, so they have to carry it out. For the killed person, if (s)he did convert to Christianity or Hinduism etc. (s)he will go to heaven or be reincarnated into a better life according to his/her understanding as (s)he died for his/her faith, so I don't see the problem. Do you?"
    It is certainly true that Catholicism has at times acted similarly: putting into practice the kind of program that Mr Sparks would advocate. The Spanish despoiled the Incas and Aztecs, destroyed their societies and cultures and imposed Catholicism as a state religion. The Spanish Inquisition persecuted Jews, supposedly for reverting to their national religion after being forcibly baptized. The Church has routinely had heretics and apostates executed. Only in the novel teaching of the recent Vatican Synod has a place of respect been found for human conscience when it deviates from the teaching of the Magisterium.

    However, I assert that these policies were misguided and foreign to the Apostolic Tradition. Whereas Jesus enjoins that the first stone to be thrown at an execution must be cast by a sinless participant: muslim religious law explicitly stipulates severe corporal punishment, maiming and death as the appropriate punishment for quite minor offences. According to my correspondent:

    "The purpose of them is indeed deterrence. Those who commit crimes do and must get punished. Otherwise there will be chaos in society, as we can see in the ‘developed’ world. Rape, stealing, family breakdowns etc., beyond acceptable levels. Having said this, in the Islamic state it is mandatory for the rulers that people are provided for. That is housing, food and clothing. The state is responsible if people have to steal food to satisfy their hunger.
    There should be no sexual provocation with society. Men and women should dress according to sharia and there will be no posters/films/adverts etc. that would provoke the sexual instincts. It is the complete system. You cannot implement part of Islam and leave another part.
    A principle in Islamic judiciary, ‘It is better to free the guilty than to punish the innocent’ exists so that there is no doubt about an individual guilt. If we find a thief or a fornicator for example he will indeed get the punishment. But this is after the system is in place.
    To deny a human his rights, to let people oppress or hurt other people unjustly are all serious crimes which deserve punishment. This has always been the case … even in the earlier revelations, the Torah and the Gospel."
    So the justification for the extreme penalties of sharia law is:
    • In a muslim society, no-one can have even a half sensible motive for committing a crime.
    • Hence it is reasonable to impose punishments out of proportion to the offence to deter those set upon irrational wickedness.
    Catholicism is both explicitly hierarchical and yet formally committed to the equality of all. Islam, by contrast, has no formal clerical structure and yet is dominated by the personal authority of various spiritual leaders who tend to exercise this in a tyrannical manner. Many muslims prefer to live under "secular governance", as in Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Jordan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Pakistan - though this is at variance with the theocratic society enjoined by Mohammed - in order to moderate the form of their religion and weaken the influence of its clerics.

    Catholicism is essentially a tolerant and liberal religion. It admonishes rulers to understand their role in terms of service of those they rule and not to use their office for self aggrandizement. It brings together the God inspired wisdom of the Greeks and Jews (and via the Jews, also that of the Babylonians, Persians and Egyptians) in the person of Jesus Messiah: God Himself. At its core is the doctrine of Love and respect for human Free Will and conscience, without which faith is impossible. Obedience is very much a secondary virtue!

    Obviously, Catholicism is corruptible by sinful adherents. Often it has been corrupted almost into the opposite of itself. Always it rediscovers its roots. It is not proscriptive. It is concerned only for Justice, Love and Beauty. As was made clear at the time of the renascence, it is the friend of the imaginative, the creative, the questioner the wonderer and wanderer: of all who seek for Truth and Wisdom, who hunger and thirst for Justice.

    Islam is essentially an intolerant religion. It proposes submission to Allah as the core virtue and proscribes in detail what this means in daily life. It has done little to advance the populations that adhere to it. Conformity is central to its world view, so originality and invention are discouraged. The known and safe is preferred to the novel and strange. It is a direct, clear and present danger to the "Western Liberal Democracy" that has evolved out of the heritage of Athens, Jerusalem and Rome.

    "O God, who art the light of the minds that know thee,
    the life of the souls that love thee,
    the strength of the thoughts that seek thee:
    help us so to know thee that we may truly love thee,
    so to love thee that we may fully serve thee,
    whose service is perfect freedom."

    Gelasian Sacramentory C5/6th

    Appendix: Some thoughts of Lord Carey of Clifton

    By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, and Richard Owen, in Rome

    THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey of Clifton has issued his own challenge to “violent” Islam in a lecture in which he defends the Pope’s “extraordinarily effective and lucid” speech. Lord Carey said that Muslims must address “with great urgency” their religion’s association with violence. He made it clear that he believed

    the “clash of civilisations” endangering the world was not between Islamist extremists and the West,
    but with Islam as a whole.
    “We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times,” he said. “There will be no significant material and economic progress [in Muslim communities] until the Muslim mind is allowed to challenge the status quo of Muslim conventions and even their most cherished shibboleths.”

    Lord Carey’s address came as the man who shot and wounded the last Pope wrote to Pope Benedict XVI to warn him that he was in danger. Mehmet Ali Agca, the Turkish gunman who tried to murder John Paul II in 1981 and is now in prison in Turkey, urged the Pope not to visit the country in November. “I write as one who knows about these matters very well,” Agca said. “Your life is in danger. Don’t come to Turkey - absolutely not!”

    Since the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor as saying that the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad were “evil and inhuman”, a nun has been shot dead, a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda has vowed to kill the Pope, churches in Palestinian areas have been attacked and security at churches and mosques in London and elsewhere has been stepped up.

    This morning the Pope, who has already apologised for the offence caused by his words and distanced himself from the sentiments of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, will elaborate further on what he intended by last week’s address at Regensburg University in Germany. At his weekly audience at the Vatican the Pope is expected to emphasise the dangers of violence and fundamentalism in all religions, not just Islam, and reiterate his call for a dialogue of faiths based on “mutual respect”. The pontiff will explain why he has been “misunderstood”, Vatican sources said.

    Lord Carey, who as Archbishop of Canterbury became a pioneer in Christian-Muslim dialogue, himself quoted a contemporary political scientist, Samuel Huntington, who has said the world is witnessing a “clash of civilisations”.

    Arguing that Huntington’s thesis has some “validity”, Lord Carey quoted him as saying:

    “Islam’s borders are bloody and so are its innards. The fundamental problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilisation whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power.”
    Lord Carey went on to argue that a “deep-seated Westophobia” has developed in recent years in the Muslim world. Lord Carey was delivering a lecture titled The Cross and the Crescent: The Clash of Faiths in an Age of Secularism, at Newbold College, Berkshire. Lord Carey, who has continued to work in interfaith collaboration since his retirement in 2002, said that
    the relationship between Islamic countries and the West was “the most dangerous, most important and potentially cataclysmic issue of our day.” He described the two civilisations as “polarised and uncomprehending” and said that the Danish cartoons controversy last March showed “two world views colliding in public space with no common point of reference”.
    He said the West had been largely responsible for “redrawing the map of the Middle East” and it was the “moral relativism of the West” that has outraged Muslim society. Most Muslims believe firmly that the invasion of Iraq is 2004 was solely about oil, he said.

    He went on to defend the Pope’s fundamental thesis, that reason and religious faith can be compatible. “The actual essay is an extraordinarily effective and lucid thesis exploring the weakness of secularism and the way that faith and reason go hand in hand,” he said.

    He said he agreed with his Muslim friends who claimed that true Islam is not a violent religion, but he wanted to know why Islam today had become associated with violence. “The Muslim world must address this matter with great urgency,” he said.

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