instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Who's your daddy?

Gerard Serafin links to a John Schmitt opinion piece in the National Catholic Reporter arguing for Catholic "openness" to Islam along the model of the rapproachment with Judaism:
But Judaism is not the only monotheistic religion that Christianity has suspected and persecuted. Logic and charity seem to demand that such openness be extended to another Abrahamic faith: Islam.

Islam has been the subject of some statements issued by the pope and the congregations, but there is no major text that asserts the essential ties among Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Even the current Catechism of the Catholic Church seems to rank Islam lower than Judaism as an Abrahamic faith....

One wonders if this is the divine view. Does God see Christians and Jews having a close relationship, while Muslims -- who worship the same God -- are off to the side? Do we recognize that Islam, too, is a response to God’s revelation?
I think Schmitt, associate professor of theology at Marquette, accepts Islam's claims far too uncritically for his opinion to have much value in guiding Christian-Muslim relations.

Let's start with the notion of an "Abrahimic faith." What is an Abrahimic faith? How long has such a notion existed? What makes Abraham the cut-off point for "essential ties" between faiths, rather than Moses or David -- or Noah, for that matter?

Certainly Abraham is "our father in faith." But we claim to worship the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Muslims do not, as I understand it, but believe Abraham was himself a Muslim, as was his son Ishmael, whose heirs bore the divine blessing Jews and Christians believe passed through Isaac and Jacob.

To say that Islam is an Abrahimic faith is to say that Muslims believe some of the same things about God's covenant with Abraham that Jews and Christians believe. At the same time, though, Muslims deny many of the things, and arguably the most important things, Jews and Christians believe about Abraham.

It's simply false to picture Christianity, Judaism, and Islam as three paths splitting off of the Abrahamic covenant. After all, the death of Abraham is recorded in Genesis 25, yet Christianity acknowledges several dozen other books of Hebrew Scripture as Divine revelation. Islam does not even accept Genesis.

Finally, we could ask, "But is it true?" Is it true that Islam is a response to God's revelation? Does Islam really descend from a covenant with Abraham?

About two thousand years separate the death of Abraham and the birth of Mohammed. Islam is "Abrahimic" in the same sense that a newly-created New Age religion that regards Jesus of Nazareth as an Enlightened Spirit is "Christian."

For the purposes of promoting peace, we may certainly stress the shared claims of paternity through Abraham. But from a Catholic perspective, Islam is no more a response to God's revelation than is Mormonism.

The differences in the Church's relationship to Judaism and to Islam are real, and they should endure. There is an essential tie between Christianity and Judaism that does not exist between Christianity and Islam. Islam does "rank lower" than Judaism as an "Abrahimic faith." Islam is not a response to God's revelation in the same way Judaism and Christianity are; it is a human response to God's revelation to Jews and Christians. Logic and charity demand that we acknowledge this, even as we work for cordial and productive relationships with Muslims.