Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Weep for slaughtered Christians, not for dialogue with Islam

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 29, 2014

Faced with the savage violence of the Islamic State (ISIS), Christians can be tempted toward two unhelpful emotional reactions.

On one extreme is the thirst for vengeance. If Muslims extremists kill innocent Christians, intemperate voices suggest that we should kill innocent Muslims. Then we, too, would be terrorists. I trust that rational readers recognize the problem here.

But at the other extreme is another irrational urge: the desire to overlook the violence, an inclination toward the mawkish hope that we might “just all be friends.” No doubt motivated by an ardent desire for peace, and steeped in the practices of irenicism, the Christians who fall into this trap probably confirm Islamic terrorists in their belief that the Christian West is too weak to resist them.

Thus last week Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said that he feared the brutal persecution of Christians by the Islamic State “may push back advancements in the Christian-Muslim dialogue.”

No doubt that’s true. But the leaders of the Islamic State don’t care.

The public statements released by ISIS leaders do not mention any desire for dialogue, to put it mildly. And their reprehensible policies match their bellicose statements. They have no desire to share ideas with Iraqi Christians; they want to annihilate them. Their ultimate goal is not reach a peaceful understanding with the Western world, but to subjugate it.

At a time when Islamic militants are engaged in the wholesale slaughter of their Christian neighbors, a Catholic prelate who worries aloud about setbacks to “dialogue” seems grossly detached from reality. Dialogue and negotiation are always preferable to open warfare. (It was Winston Churchill—no pacifist, he—who observed: “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”) But once the bloodshed has begun, it is inane to suggest that the negotiations are not going well.

Unfortunately that vapid statement by Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga cannot be dismissed lightly. At the time he was speaking as the president of Caritas International, but he is also the chairman of the Council of Cardinals, and his public statements might be taken (or mistaken, I hope) as indicative of Vatican policy. Muslim militants would no doubt be delighted to think that when shown the severed heads of their brethren in Iraq, leaders of the Catholic Church can respond only by fretting about missed opportunities for dialogue.

And the Honduran cardinal was not finished. In fact, the quote above is cut off in mid-sentence. He went on to lament that the bloody advance of ISIS could “destroy the peaceful coexistence…enjoyed by many Muslims and Christians in all parts of the world, but most especially in the Middle East.” Here the poor cardinal comes completely unmoored from reality. It is “most especially in the Middle East” that Muslims and Christians have not lived in harmony in recent years.

For decades Lebanon furnished a model for Christian-Muslim coexistence. But that arrangement broke down 30 years ago, and the country remains in chaos. In other countries of the region—Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, for instance—Christians have worshipped freely, with only occasional troubles, in the past. But with the rise of militant Islam the peace has been broken. What Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga says could happen, actually has happened, many months or in some places many years ago.

Pope Benedict XVI recognized the problem when he delicately suggested, in his Regensburg address, that in order to engage in productive dialogue, Islam must overcome its tendency toward the irrational use of force. The violent reaction to that speech proved the Pope’s point. Even “moderate” Islamic leaders slammed the door on the Vatican, refusing to engage in discussions with an institution that might hold them accountable.

In the eight years since the Regensburg address, the continued rise of militant Islam—invariably linked with violence, and with the denial of fundamental human rights—has underlined the concerns that Pope Benedict expressed. Yet rather than pressing the argument that the Pontiff raised, Church leaders have generally backpedaled away from it. Rather than demanding that responsible Muslim leaders join in the campaign against terrorism, prelates pretend that there is no connection between Islamic faith and terrorist violence.

Cardinal Rodriguez Maradiaga is not alone in this respect. The US bishops’ conference, in statement released shortly after the brutal murder of James Foley was posted on the internet, reiterated the desire for dialogue with Islam and lamented that some Catholics have lost interest in that inter-faith conversation. The statement continued:

We understand the confusion and deep emotions stirred by real and apparent acts of aggression and discrimination by certain Muslims against non-Muslims, often against Christians abroad.

Would it be possible to state the case in milder, meeker—or more to the point, weaker—terms? To speak of “confusion” and “real and apparent” violence, at a time when hundreds of Christians are dying and the decapitation of an American is playing on YouTube, is a disservice to the truth. It is, moreover, a sure-fire way to convince any listening terrorists that the Catholic Church lacks the will to resist them, and most Americans that the hierarchy has nothing useful to contribute to this discussion.

To be fair, the bishops’ statement did eventually get around to mentioning “our sadness, even our outrage,” at the violence in the Islamic world. But even in that sentence, the representatives of the US bishops’ conference could not resist saying that Muslims, too, are the targets of extremists, and mentioning “the harmony that binds us together in mutual support, recognition, and friendship."

If there is to be harmony between Islam and Christianity, it must indeed by based on mutual support. And today, “mutual support” requires, at a minimum, a loud, firm, unequivocal, and sustained condemnation of all those who kills Christians in the name of Islam, and all those who support them.

In today’s Wall Street Journal the paper’s former publisher, Karen House, argues that American should expect more from her allies in the Middle East. The title of her editorial colum tells the story: “It’s time for the Saudis to Stand Up.”

Leaders of the Catholic Church should take a parallel approach in conversations with their Islamic counterparts. Tell Muslim clerics that it’s time to stand up. Tell them that we are interested in dialogue, but only if they disassociate themselves completely from those who incite, commit, or justify sectarian violence.

It’s easy enough to say that Islam is a religion of peace. But sometimes, paradoxically, it is necessary to fight for peace. Once the fight has begun, it’s time to choose sides.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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Show 7 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: matthew.buckley1558 - Sep. 15, 2014 12:33 AM ET USA

    I think you need to read your history John3822 and check out what Mohammed and his early leaders did. The comparison you make doesn't stand to scrutiny.

  • Posted by: John3822 - Sep. 03, 2014 12:23 AM ET USA

    ISIS is no more representative of Muslims than the KKK is representative of Chrisianity. And if you had bothered to read the news, you would have seen the denunciations from various Muslim sources. Very biased and sloppy, I'm sad to say.

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Aug. 30, 2014 10:50 AM ET USA

    A Muslim, alone will not threaten a non Muslim. He will say "Allah is merciful" and, "What they did to X was awful". With his fellows he would not dare challenge inhuman behavior or risk losing his own life. Muslims are unable to talk with anyone - Jew, Christian, even secular humanist for at least 4 reasons. They: reject God as a Father of love; believe God transcends good and evil; have no center of interpretation of the Koran; reject reason if opposed by Koran verses said to be God's will

  • Posted by: skall391825 - Aug. 29, 2014 5:59 PM ET USA

    Phil, you opened with two reactions by "Christians" (read: your readers) to ISIS barbarism. But, the majority of us don't want to "kill innocent Muslims" and we don't think we should 'just all be friends'. My good-hearted friend, the obvious truth is that the great majority of your readers stand with the Holy Father in wanting those who are perpetrating unspeakable evil to be stopped militarily (by a coalition if possible) because there is no other way.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 29, 2014 5:42 PM ET USA

    These recurring symptoms are profoundly basic at their roots. We might go on and on about prelates' problematic statements on marriage, homosexuality, ecumenical dialogue etc. But fundamentally the problem involves reality. The reality is the truth- the witness of Christ's Gospel through the Church. In some cases dream worlds have replaced doctrine and even basic reality. The reality is that dream worlds do violence to reason and to faith. Thus Dr. Mirus and Phil Lawler are moved to write.

  • Posted by: james-w-anderson8230 - Aug. 29, 2014 5:26 PM ET USA

    Pope Benedict gets it and I think Pope Francis does (though he is not mentioned)but the rest of the hierarchy can't see the forest for the trees.

  • Posted by: jg23753479 - Aug. 29, 2014 12:28 PM ET USA

    My personal disposition is automatically to dismiss as wrong any pronouncement about Islam coming from Catholic prelates until I am convinced otherwise. They have too often proposed what I know to be inanities concerning the matter, and they seem totally incapable of ever addressing the clear teachings of the Koran and other Muslim texts where violence is heartily and frequently recommended. Their unwarranted irenicism has exhausted my patience finally.