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‘A Common Word’ in the News

B. Thornton on Common Word

Matthew linked to this series on National Review’s Uncommon Knowledge (link is to pt 2 of 5) with Bruce Thornton a Professor of Classics at Cal-Fresno. He discusses his new book Decline and Fall Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide. Thornton is interviewed by Peter Robinson (from Hoover) who imo is one of the best interviewers out there.

Thornton echoing arguments of Mark Steyn and Samuel Huntington argues that because Europe has abandoned its Judeo-Christian roots embracing secularism it is headed to both demographic winter and will be unable to stop the inevitable Islamicization of Europe.

I’ll deal with what Thornton says in the interviews in a separate post, but since I had never heard of this man before I googled him and found this interesting piece he (BT) wrote in the City Journal entitled Epistle to the Muslims.

The background to this piece is a letter written in Oct 2007 signed by 138 Muslim clerics (from both branches, first time this has ever happened) calling for a Common Word between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Recall the furor over Pope Benedict’s citation of a Byzantine Emperor from the 14th century who called Islam an irrational faith and the dust up over that episode. The Pope went to Turkey and called for Turkish admission into the EU and pushed for the rights of Christians and minority religious groups in Turkey.

You can download and read A Common Word here. A Common Word argues that all three Abrahamic religions (Christ, Jud., and Islam) have at their core two central propositions: Love/Devotion to God and Love of Neighbor.

Citations from the Quran, the New Testament, and the Torah are amassed to ground this claim.

This is actually quite an interesting document. Politically as well as theologically. So conservatives have been railing for the voice of (so-called) moderate Islam since 9/11 and here it would seem is a perfect example–something to be cheered right?

Well according to Thornton no.

After a Common Word, a number of Christian theologians (principally emanating from Yale Divinity School) took out a full page letter/ad in the NyTimes to welcome the letter and call for further dialogue and action on this front.

You can read their letter here. Scroll down to #32 Nov 18th, 2007. You can also read a number of Christian responses all helpfully linked their on the site–particularly interesting is the Pope’s response (#34).

So Thornton calls this Christian response The Epistle to the Muslims (disparagingly).

Here’s Thornton’s take:

“But if it [the Nov. NyTimes Christian response] accurately represents the thinking of mainstream Christian leadership, then Christianity in America is in deep trouble.”

Why exactly would Christianity be in trouble?

The response opens on a familiar self-loathing note, in the therapeutic style that has convinced jihadists that Christianity in the West is an empty shell, a mere lifestyle choice. Noting that Muslim and Christian “relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility,” the letter professes “that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the ‘war on terror’) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors,” and so “we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”

Wow you might be thinking to yourself (or not), pretty good take down.

Except for that little ellipsis in his quotation of the text. He’s down a nice little slice and dice job so it looks like his argument about the “self-loathing” and “therapeutic style” hits home.

Except….

If you read the (NyTimes) text it states as follows:

“Since Jesus Christ says, ‘First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (Mt. 7:5),’ we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in the excesses of “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors.”

Now it may be self-loathing therapeutic postmodernist secularism infecting and eroding “liberal” Christianity from within–so the jihadis (where the hell did they come from again–are the Muslims scholars who signed A Common Word de facto supporters of terrorism—nice smear job by the Prof.) should rightly see us as paper tigers–OR

Or:

They were following the duty of Christians as laid about by their Savior Jesus Christ recorded in Holy Writ. Which is clearly what they cite (not Chomsky) as guidance for the point they make.

Thornton again:

The groveling self-abasement of this language, particularly its begging forgiveness of Allah, is matched only by its remarkable historical ignorance. “Outright hostility” has indeed existed between Muslims and Christians, for the simple reason that for 13 centuries Islam grew and spread by war, plunder, rapine, and enslavement throughout the Christian Middle East. Allah’s armies destroyed regions that were culturally Christian for centuries, variously slaughtering, enslaving, and converting their inhabitants, or allowing them to live as oppressed dhimmi, their lives and property dependent on a temporary “truce” that Muslim overlords could abrogate at any time.

Newsflash Professor. The word Al-lah (the god in Arabic) has been used by Arab Christians for God for centuries and continues to be so used today. Not sure that Arab Christians have been groveling for oh these long years. Funny, I thought they were dignified human beings.

Also they recognize the “excesses” of the war on terror which is actually a carefully worded phrase leaving open some validity (it would seem) to the (so-called) war on terror. Not totally self-abasing language it would seem.

On this other point of the Islam is a religion of rape and murder theme. It is certainly true that Islam built an empire quickly and empires are built with military prowess. See Britain in the 19th century, or America in the 20th for other examples.

Islam’s empire came from within as it were. Christianity converted a pre-existing (without) Empire, The Roman, and then proceeded to oppress Jews and Pagan slaughtering God only knows how many thousands in the process.

This is why Empires are very bad by today’s standards: Christian, Islamic, or otherwise. They were better than tribal arrangements which fought one another otherwise. Empires unify tribes which on the positive side decrease intra-tribal warfare at the cost of projecting more violence at enemies beyond the empire. And any conquered group not considered within the bounds of the Empire are relegated to minority/oppressed status–e.g. dhimmitude in the Islamic Empire.

That’s why modern social contract liberal democratic governments are to be preferred–and globalization which creates economic warfare between the nations (which not without serious problems is probably to be preferred to imperial conquests and wars).

And there are elements that seek a renewed Islamic Empire while generally Christianity is not in such a phase. (Though the War on Terror is seen by many as Christian–both pro and con it). But even that could change with a renewed Christianization of Sub-Saharan Africa or China or South Korea.

But there is no argument that a modernized post-imperial Islam (like a truly modernized Christianity) is any threat to world peace.  And A Common Word might better be viewed as a very small start in that direction.

After going on to try to semi-defend/apologize for the Crusades as a proper self-defense against Islamic aggression and then defending the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza because Jews have had “a 3,000 year old connection to the land”—-uh like Arabs don’t as well???–Thornton actually makes a decent point:

For its part, A Common Word makes no apologies for the violence that Islam has perpetrated against Christian people up to the present day.

This is true and a deficiency of the Common Word text. For Thornton it is proof that the West (particularly given his book Europe) is heading to a neo-dhimmitude.

The Christian letter does quote from Common Word and highlights a call for religious freedom everywhere. The classic Qu’ran line on this is: “There is no compulsion in religion.” This is a shrewd move on the part of the signatories–which as I read it involves a little bit of theological elbow to the ribs and some “talk the talk, walk the walk” to it. Maybe my reading of that is incorrect. It’s open to interpretation. But I think it has more to say for it (and again is shrewder just as Benedict’s more recent calls for reciprocal religious freedom) can slowly start to shift the moral high ground.

Common Word correctly states that 1/2 humans on this planet are either Christian or Muslim.  The religions have a long history of mutual violence.  If some resolution is not reached between the two, then the world will not see peace.

That fact is indisputable.  The divergence comes in how then to deal with that fact.

On the one hand is the way of reciprocity, dialog, and a Common Word (common values to promote like justice and mercy).

On the other hand the (I believe) dark road of Thornton, which is what–renewed imperialism and control of the Muslim world and Christian supremacism?

http://indistinctunion.wordpress.com/2008/03/15/b-thornton-on-common-word/

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