Saturday, September 16, 2006

Not to cast aspersions on the thin-skinned...

There are days when I see Islam as a serious spiritual threat. And then there are days like today where after the Holy Father apologized for any hurt feelings he may have caused (without withdrawing the sentiments expressed, mind you), that I see Islam for the fragile player it is. Granted I was whipped into a frenzy after the Da Vinci Code hit the streets, but that doesn't equate with the worldwide Islamic response. It seems that in some sectors (and again, I stress, some sectors) violence and vituperation is the only response they know or can go with. Perhaps those vocal dissenters would like to show us how the words of an emperor dead for over 600 years were wrong. Built any hospitals lately?

It's probably impolitic of me to say this but it highlights the difference between a religion and the culture within which the religion grows. As a religion, Islam has many commendable aspects, including but not limited to monotheism. As a culture, however, that seems a different story. In certain sectors of the world, it looks like (again, I stress, it looks like) Mohammed and the caliph have shaken hands and decided the world's ways are our ways. That simply won't do.

I could make similar observations about Catholics in America. Fr. H and I were discussing last night the difference in importance in people's priorities between high school football, those elusive Friday Night Lights, and Sunday Mass attendance. As a religion, the Catholic faith has much to commend, including but not limited to the fullness of Christian faith. As a culture, people need to decide whose side they are on. The repeated refrain is "We can't make it on Sunday; we're too busy," is drowned out by the chanting, lightly beer-soaked crowds arriving at the local high school, cheering on their son to "murder the bums" so that a lucrative college scholarship is in the offing. (By the way, that notion of a sports scholarship has struck me lately as contradictory. Are they getting the money for school because they are an athlete or because they are a scholar?) Suggest to the parent, however, that little Billy might have a priestly vocation and they cover their faces with horror. "He can't become a priest?! I have to have grandchildren!" And then I note in my head that they have two kids only -- the rest is better left uncommented upon. I would like to hope that it is some sort of organic infertility issue. Then again, contraceptive sales top over a billion dollars each year. You do the math.

If Islam is going to survive, it has to allow criticism and a recognition of the past. The problem here, I suspect, lies with a defective, virtually absent notion of forgiveness in Islam. I don't claim to be a religions of the world expert but my limited reading suggests that this is at the heart of the matter. You can't accept criticism if can't seek forgiveness.

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