Last year Jorge Mario Bergoglio won the Vatican’s Got Talent contest for the most idiotically infallible (or should it be infallibly idiotic?) papal pontification of the year. Pope Francis told the world that atheists would go to heaven if they did good works. What if Richard Dawkins doesn’t want to go to heaven? Will God override Christopher Hitchens’s free will and force him into heaven using a lateral vascular neck restraint? Is Pope Francis finally making peace with the English monk Pelagius who taught that we are saved by our good works and not by grace through faith?
Now Francis, the Patron Saint of Knee-Jerk Papal Pronouncements, has secured a place at the ‘Top of the Popes’ chart for shooting from the lip ex cathedra and granting a papal indulgence to the holy warriors of the religion of peace. Last week on a five-day trip to Poland, after berating the nation for not undertaking a kamikaze mission of accepting more immigrants, Pope Francis uncorked the most fruity proclamation of his pontificate thus far. “I am not speaking of a war of religions. Religions don’t want war. The others want war,” he said.
Hours before the Krakow trip, Fr Jacques Hamel an elderly priest had been brutally killed in France by Islamic extremists while celebrating Mass.
At the end of his trip while returning to Rome, Pope Francis put the ripest cherry on the icing of his theological fruitcake: “I think it is not right to identify Islam with violence. This is not right and this is not true…. I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy—someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptised Catholics. If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence,” the Supreme Pontiff of Holy Naïveté told reporters aboard the plane.
Religions don’t want war? That is a revelation from outer space! The very first act of violence in the Bible is motivated by religion. In the world’s first fratricide, Cain murders his brother Abel, because the ‘Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard.’
Wars between the gods are a ubiquitous feature of polytheistic religions from ancient Greece to popular Hinduism. The very act of creation is an act of divine violence in many religions. It is this ‘myth of redemptive violence’ that the creation story of Genesis 1 seeks to repudiate when it declares that the God of the Hebrew Bible creates through the sheer fiat of the spoken Word. As an Old Testament scholar I have to explain Israel’s holy wars against the Canaanites in context both to skeptics and Christians who are troubled by these texts of terror.
No doubt, such thorny Old Testament texts are descriptive rather than normative and are abrogated by later Jewish writings and supremely by our Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament, but the prescriptive nature of Holy War becomes a bigger hermeneutical problem in Islamic texts like the Koran and Hadith.
Is Pope Francis suffering from historical amnesia? Has he not heard of Europe’s Wars of Religion? Is he not aware of the numerous military expeditions led by Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam, which became a template for the more zealous of his followers? Does he not know that Islam divides the world into Dar al-Harb (territory of war) and Dar al-Islam (territory of Islam) and that the peoples of Dar al-Harb are called to convert to Islam? ‘I was ordered to fight all men until they say, “There is no god but Allah,”’ said Mohammed in his prophetic farewell address in March 632. Even the Muslim writer M J Akbar calls jihad ‘the signature tune of Islamic history.’ Jihad can mean inward spiritual struggle but the military meaning of jihad dominates the understanding of the classical Islamic theologians and jurists and is normative for today’s holy warriors.
In his book Islamic Imperialism: A History, Professor Efraim Karsh, founding director and emeritus professor of Middle East and Mediterranean Studies at King’s College, London, traces ‘a deep imperialist undercurrent that has characterized the political culture of Islam from the beginning.’ ‘Though tempered and qualified in different places and different times, the Islamic longing for unfettered suzerainty has never disappeared, and has resurfaced in our own day with a vengeance,’ he writes.
Contrary to the Hobbesian fallacy that ‘religion has nothing to do with war or evil’ former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in his recent book Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence argues, ‘When terrorist or military groups invoke holy war, define their battle as a struggle against Satan, condemn unbelievers to death and commit murder while declaring “God is Great,” to deny they are acting on religious motives is absurd. Religions seek peace, but on their own terms. This is not a recipe for peace but for war!’
To compare baptised Catholics killing their girlfriend or mother-in-law with the terrorism perpetrated by Islamic jihadists is so bizarre that one wonders what Holy Smoke the Pope was inhaling when he made that claim! My Anglican clergy friends cloistered in the cocoons of woolly liberalism parrot the Pope’s argument ad nauseam. My response has always been: ‘When Christians commit violence in the name of their founder they are acting in direct contradiction to and flagrant defiance of the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. When Muslims commit violence in the name of their founder they are acting in slavish obedience to and uncritical imitation of the life and teaching of the Prophet Mohammed.’
So when did Italian Catholic Mafiosi go on a spree bumping off Catholics because they rejected transubstantiation? When did a baptised Catholic kill his girlfriend because she rebuffed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception? Mario Puzo’s Godfather wasn’t particularly about killing people in the name of God our Father.
The story is told of Pope John Paul II fasting during Lent for forty days. At the end of his fast God appears to him and says: ‘Hiya Karol! Ask of me two questions and I will grant thee an answer.’ Wojtyla asks God his first question. ‘Lord, when will we have world peace?’ God replies, ‘Not in your lifetime.’ Wojtyla asks God his second question. ‘Lord, when will we have our next Polish pope?’ God replies, ‘Not in my lifetime.’ If I fasted for forty days and God appears to me I’d like to ask God, ‘Lord, when will Bergoglio be healed of this foot-in-mouth disease he is suffering from?’ I suspect God will reply and say, ‘Not in Bergoglio’s lifetime.’
(Image: Long Thiên)