Saturday, September 3, 2011
Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships: What we have learned since September 11th, 2001
Preface: I am reposting a series of blogs on "Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships" in commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11. For those who are favorably disposed to short blogs, feel free to read the first part. And for those who want an in depth analysis of the conflict between Islam and Christianity, I combined several posts into one for the second part. The insights provided below go beyond political considerations you might read about in the news media. Instead, they are more historical and theological in nature which is designed to give the reader a much broader context and an alternative view point.
“Islam and Christianity clashed not because they failed to understand each other but because they understood each other perfectly well.”
Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About America?
An excerpt from an article on how Constantinople was lost to Islam in 1453 after having belonged to Eastern Christianity (Byzantine Empire) for over a millennium:
“Wherever nature is fairest and most beneficent, there man is frequently most feeble or most degraded. All history warns us that we are not made to pass our days amidst the sweets of a fertile garden, inhaling its odors, plucking its flowers, and tasting its luscious fruits. It is in the struggles against difficulties that all that is best in man is nurtured into vigor and preserved from decay. Through labor we live, in enjoyment we die. The thorn of a rose tree is a better friend to us than all the perfume which exhales from its blossoms.”
Catholic Periodical: The Rambler, 1854
The Byzantine Empire, with Constantinople as its capitol, was softened by comforts of prosperity before falling to the Muslim Turks of the Ottoman Empire. In modern times, while Islam was politically on the decline- especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries -the Christian West was on the ascendancy. But with progress and political power what inevitably followed was moral dissolution. Western Civilization is going the way of the Byzantine Empire. As Arnold Toynbee once said, “Civilizations die from suicide, not from murder.”
Guglielmo Ferrero, who wrote the book Ancient Rome and Modern America in 1914, warned us of the following paradox which very few people understand when they are at the height of prosperity: “A civilization is not always in reality richer and stronger in times when it bears the most visible marks of so being. We are rather apt to find that when it is most dazzling and outward seeming, its decadence has already begun.” Certainly, we have seen the apex of America’s political power and technological progress in the twentieth century only to be followed by a steep moral decline among the people.
As bleak as that may sound, Christianity is still a live option; at least in America. If we are serious about receiving the wise counsel the Scriptures, the Saints and the Catholic Faith has to offer, then we will be in a position to see Islam, Christianity and the political world as it really is. And even more importantly, we will be in a position to do something about it. But first, we have to begin by giving religion its due.
Before September 11th, 2001:
Prior to September 11, 2001, America, along with Western Civilization at large, had become secularized and therefore a good number of its citizens had become indifferent to religion. But after the terrorist attacks on that sunny September Tuesday morning, at least some Americans were forced to reacquaint themselves with the religion of Islam, its impact on international politics and how it differs from Christianity. There is a long historical tension between these two religions. And this tension can be best understood in a religious context. After all, Islam and Christianity are the only two universal religions that aspire to convert the world to their cause. Indeed, they are applying for the same job. This evangelical mandate, incumbent on Muslims and Christians, explains why there will always be a tension between the Middle East and Western Civilization.
Yet, there is another reason why Muslim nations are contentious with Western democratic nations. And that reason is that the theology of Islam lends itself to dictatorships and theocracies. For that reason, democracies are hard to come by under Islam and to be sure, there are theological reasons for this. However, to entertain this possibility one has to be willing to brave the accusations of being intolerant from politically correct sectors of society; most notably, the media and academia. Bill O'Reilly learned this the hard way on The View. Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind that institutions which are inspired by secular principles are in no position to see the crisis in the Middle East for what it really is; and this because religion is dismissed as inconsequential.
Putting any secular bias aside, it is an historical fact that religion has been the foundation of all great civilizations throughout history. Whenever religion was uniform and strong among the people, cultures solidified and grew prosperous. On the other hand, with the decline of religious belief and practice came cultural disintegration. By accepting the premise that religion is a decisive factor in cultural growth, we can then begin to understand just how influential Islamic theology is on the political state of affairs in Muslim countries.
Consider the following: At the end of World War I the Ottoman Empire (Islamic Empire 1299-1922) came to end and its demise left the Islamic civilization politically impotent; but only temporarily. Between the two World Wars, Europeans and Americans had forgotten all about Islam. Indeed, they had forgotten that for centuries it was poised to wipe out Christian civilization. Yet even in the decades that followed World War II, Islam was a footnote in history books and on the back page of newspapers. Nevertheless, for those who understood the history of Islam and Christianity, and just how important religion is in shaping international politics, the return of Islam was foreseeable. One such man who anticipated its return was Hilaire Belloc, a Catholic historian. With an uncanny premonition, he wrote the following in 1938.
"[Islam] very nearly destroyed us. It kept up the battle against Christendom actively for a thousand years, and the story is by no means over; the power of Islam may at any moment re-arise...The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable."
Belloc understood that although the political dominance of Islam faded, the religious intensity among Muslims did not. And with that religious intensity, the political reemergence of Islam was inevitable. This religious principle was something that totally escaped the secular world view in the West. And I fear it is underestimated today.
To begin with, there are three characteristics of Islam that differentiates itself from Christianity. These characteristics, which are theological in nature, shape the political science of Muslim nations and how they govern their own.
1. The religion that Mohammad founded was fashioned in likeness of Old Testament Judaism; thus putting a strong emphasis on the masculine dimension of God. This lent itself to male dominance in Islamic civilization (its counterpart is to be found in Western Civilization where a feminization is pronounced).
2. The theology of Islam, that is, what the Koran teaches about God's rule over the human race, is essential in understanding whether or not Islamic civilization is adaptable to democracy.
3. Mohammad, the founder of Islam, was a religious and political leader wrapped in one. It followed, therefore, that in the religion of Mohammad there is little distinction between Church and State.
Part II: Islam, Democracy and Dictatorships: Ishmael the Father of Arab Muslims
“That land which as the Scripture says ‘floweth with milk and honey,’ was given by God into the possession of the children of Israel Jerusalem is the navel of the world; the land is fruitful above others, like another paradise of delights. This, the Redeemer of the human race has made illustrious by His advent, has beautified by residence, has consecrated by suffering, has redeemed by death, has glorified by burial.”
An excerpt of the speech that began the Crusades by Pope Urban II in 1095
The religion Mohammad founded has long been considered by Catholics as a heresy; and not as a foreign religion. This was especially the case from the seventh century up to the Middle Ages. Mohammad simply accepted some Catholic doctrines and rejected others. By not accepting the fullness of God’s Revelation, his followers were to be deprived of the sanctifying effects of the Holy Spirit. As such, Islam would take on the likeness of Judaism as it existed in the Old Testament.
Arab Muslims claim to be the racial and spiritual descendants of Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar. Both Jews and Christians have had no reason to challenge this claim. Given this, the three great monotheistic religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam all see the patriarch Abraham as their founder and common father. Nevertheless, with the Jewish people, Christians believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac (not Ishmael) and Jacob.
As you may recall, Abraham was married to Sarah. However, Sarah was barren and they desperately wanted a son. Hence, Sarah decided to have her servant from Egypt, Hagar, to serve as a stand in “surrogate mother.” Hagar conceived from Abraham’s seed and was then pregnant with child. Sarah, being jealous of Hagar, sent her packing. During Hagar’s exile in the desert, and Angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, "You are now pregnant and shall bear a son; you shall name him Ishmael, For the LORD has heard you, God has answered you. He shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone, and everyone's hand against him…" (Genesis 16:11-12) This message from the Angel seemed to be prophetic. Indeed, it foretold the militant-like nature of the Arab people and the enmity that would exist between them and other nations.
This brings us to the first characteristic of Islam; one which makes it markedly different from Christianity. This distinguishing trait further shapes how Muslim nations govern their own.
Important Factors: The first religious consideration
1. The religion that Mohammad founded was fashioned in likeness of Old Testament Judaism; thus putting a strong emphasis on the masculine dimension of God. This lent itself to male dominance (its counterpart is to be found in Western Civilization where the feminization of men is taking place).
If you know your Old Testament, you will also know that women were marginal (or second class) and the feminine principle in general was repressed. What was left remaining was a heavy dose of testosterone in Judaism. This was even more the case in the ancient pagan world. Indeed, in the world before Christ the masculine principle was untamed and it often manifested itself in violence, aggression and sexual exploitation. In the absence of grace men could go the way of the bachelor who, without regard to marital or family obligation, indulged in sensual pleasures. And/or he go the master who sought to lord over others so as to dominate and conquer other men. Women were too much under the shadow of men to be his equal or “better half.” As such, the feminine principle was in no position to temper and refine man’s coarseness and incivility. Even among God’s chosen ones men practiced brutal warfare and applied severe disciplinary measures. The prophet Elijah, for instance, after winning a contest against 400 other false prophets with the help of God’s intervention, had “their throats slit” as a punishment (I Kings 18:40).
Yet, there is a biblical reason why the world, including Judaism, had extraordinarily high testosterone levels. This gender imbalance can be traced to Eve’s punishment. And its remedy did not come until the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which was but the prelude to the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
What was true in the Old Testament is also true in Islam. Before Christ, the full force of masculinity was unleashed and untempered. It could not strike the balance that it was created for because it was deprived of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, as stated previously, it did not benefit from the strengths of womanhood mostly because women were suppressed in one way or another. As James Cardinal Gibbons said, “In Ancient Greece, women were in an unending tutelage, slavery, instrument of man’s passion.” In ancient Judaism, women fared a little better but even there women took a back seat to men. A passage from Sirach seems to represent the attitude of Jewish men towards women: “In woman was sin's beginning, and because of her we all die.” (25:23) Of course, he was referring to Eve.
Yes, Eve did initiate the rupture with God but there is a reason why she was targeted by the Serpent; it was due to her moral superiority as a woman. Despite conventional wisdom, the proposition that “morals are the work of women” is a truth of human nature, statistically demonstrated, biblically confirmed and it was taken for granted by our ancestors. For this reason, fair or unfair, she is held to a higher standard.
Satan, as an angel of pride, targets only the best. He knew that if he took down Eve, Adam would fall without a fight. And yet, that is exactly what happened. Because Eve was an instrument of the Serpent in bringing down Adam, God saw to it that her punishment involved Adam. The Lord said, “...and he shall be your master.” With these words, Eve and her female descendants were knocked down a couple of pegs. She was originally given the name of “Woman;” a name signifying her individuality and one who was to be an equal companion with Adam. But that was before her sin. Afterwards, Adam renamed her Eve, that is, "mother of the living."
The companion of Adam went from being identified as an individual to being identified by her role; which is a kind of curse. Indeed, it was the worst plight for a woman up to the time of Christ to be barren; incapable of fulfilling the role as a mother. For instance, when St. Elizabeth finally was able to conceive St. John the Baptist, she proclaimed, “So has the Lord done for me at a time when he has seen fit to take away my disgrace before others.” (Luke 1:25) Before her Sarah, Rebbecca, Rachael and Hannah, once barren themselves, all felt that same disgrace.
Symbolic of this malediction was the prescription given by God in Leviticus 12. For in the purification rite, when a mother gave birth to a daughter, she was ritually unclean for fourteen days; whereas if she were to have a son, it would only be seven days. The purification rite would also be twice as long for a mother who gave birth to a daughter, in contrast to a son. Now, certainly this is not indicative of God loving male infants more than female infants; rather, it is symbolic of the dark shadow Eve would cast over all women to come. To be sure, ancient pagan civilization and even Judaism reflected this by the low status they assigned to women. It cannot be denied, therefore, that Eve’s punishment weighed heavily on women.
With the coming of Christ, however, things would change. The dignity of women was restored; restored in a special way through Mary, his mother. After all, she was the first woman (and person for that matter) to be conceived outside of Satan’s dominion and Eve’s shadow. Beginning with her Immaculate Conception (which was the first effect of Christ’s saving grave), God redeemed the human race in general and women in particular. Indeed, as “Blessed among women,” Mary would be God’s instrument is restoring the female sex to its proper place.
This New Covenant grace began to have its social effect during our Lord’s public ministry. The inclusion and honoring of women by Jesus was in stark contrast to the social norms of his day. In the centuries that followed, as Rodney Starks demonstrated in The Rise of Christianity, “Christian women did indeed enjoy considerably greater status than did pagan women.” Unlike the unbaptized world, widows, virgins and infertile women received special care and were also venerated (cf. I Timothy 5:3). The veneration of women continues to this day in the Catholic Church by giving the Blessed Virgin the highest honor among human beings; and throughout the year, the Church celebrates the lives of many saintly women. They are known as feast days.
Although a woman’s social dignity was no longer was exclusively linked with childbearing, St. Paul reminds us that women “will be saved through motherhood;” (I Timothy 2:15)that is, for those women who are called to that vocation. In any case, whether it be a virgin, mother or widow, a woman would enjoy equal status with men in Christ. The same Apostle also said, "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:27-28)
The elevated station of women, through sanctifying grace, had a beneficial effect on men too. The Christian mandate that "husbands should love their wives as their own bodies" not only made men better husbands but better fathers. And fatherhood is a vocation through which authority is exercised in love. As the Angel Gabriel said to St. Zachariah about his son John: “He will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah to turn the hearts of fathers toward children…" (Luke 1:16) Turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 3:23) would have a profound political effect in Christian civilization. It tempered the power of the State and gave its authority a fatherly dimension. Indeed, civil authority went from assuming the posture of a master to that of a servant; a servant of the people who sacrificed himself for the common good.
Suffice it to say that Muslims, as an unbaptized people, did not benefit from this work of restoration by Jesus Christ; a work of bringing balance to the human race. Men, women, rulers and subjects in Islamic civilization suffered and continue to suffer from similar limitations we find in the Old Testament.
Male dominance in Islam- untempered by the female principle and deprived of the sacramental benefits of the Holy Spirit –leads us to our second consideration:
Important Factors: The second religious consideration
2. The theology of Islam, that is, what the Koran teaches about God's rule over the human race, is essential in understanding whether or not Islamic civilization is adaptable to democracy.
As we read in the book of Malachi and the Gospel of Luke, turning “the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers” implies something. It implies that father’s hearts were not turned toward their children; that fatherly love among men had grown cold over the centuries. Among the Roman Emperors and in Herod Dynasty, for instance, fathers killed their sons if they got in the way. Infanticide was also common in the most civilized parts of the world. And in worst case scenarios, human sacrifices were practiced on every continent. For instance, where the State of Illinois is today, there was an Indian tribe called the “Mound Builders,” also known as the Natchez Indians. This sun-worshipping tribe, it was recently discovered, practiced human sacrifice. Even with Israel and Judah in the Old Testament, upon falling away from the exclusive worship of Yahweh and thus adoring other gods, succumbed to the ritual of child and human sacrifice. “They immolated their sons and daughters by fire, practiced fortune-telling and divination, and sold themselves into evil doing in the LORD'S sight, provoking him till, in his great anger against Israel, the LORD put them away out of his sight.” (II Kings 17:17-18) This is what unredeemed human nature is capable of. We take it for granted what Christ has meant to the world and the civilizing effect he has had on human beings.
As Belloc said, one thing stands out, the unquestioned prevalence of cruelty in the unbaptized world. But out of this darkness, God promised that a new day would dawn for humanity. Seven hundred years before the Incarnation of Christ, the Lord spoke through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water upon you to cleanse you from all your impurities, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26) With natural hearts, men would turn toward their children and become the fathers they were created to be. With a new and generous diffusion of divine grace from heaven, there arose a new understanding of God himself. In days of old, he was Yahweh, the Almighty, the Supreme Being, whose name was not to be pronounced. With the coming of his Son, however, he was also to be looked upon as a Father.
St. Paul reminds us: “For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’ The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:15-17)
No longer are we mere slaves or subjects under a Divine Master. Jesus told his Apostles that he no longer called them slaves- as they once were –but friends. And as friends of God, Jesus would tell them everything he heard from his Father.
Divine fatherhood and friendship, therefore, produced the political effect of freedom. The rights of the soul were paramount and not to be transgressed by the State. And where the Gospel had taken root, the iron fist of State authority was pacified. Indeed, despotic rule was transformed into a governance tempered by the laws of Christ. Rulers had the model of fatherly authority under which to rule. As Pope Leo XIII said, "...the authority of fathers of families preserves a certain impressed image and form of the authority which is in God 'of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named.'" Civil authority which approximates to this standard governs well.
However, this kind of filial intimacy with God is foreign with Muslims. In Islam, God is not to be considered a Father; nor is man and woman believed to be the image of God. These theological considerations inform the political principles in the Muslim nations.
The God of the Koran assumes a different character than the God of the New Testament. For Muslims, to identify God as Father is too closely associated with human fatherhood. According to them, Allah is a Supreme Being who transcends any human imagery. Perhaps, this is why God’s love is not emphasized as much as his power. And as far as man and woman are concerned, they are not considered to be the image of God. Again, it is too anthropological for Islamic theology. Or to put it another way, Muslims resist any kind of “incarnational” theology whereby God is believed to communicate himself through people and through creation itself. And as for the nature of Jesus Christ, God becoming man in is a stumbling block for the followers of Mohammad.
When interpreting Mohammad’s teachings, one can surmise that God’s rule over mankind does not operate through humanity, as it does in Catholic theology; rather, it is imposed on humanity. But according to the Catholic Church, cooperation with God and submission to him are both necessary. With Islam, the emphasis is put on man’s submission while mention of cooperation with God is virtually non-existent. Furthermore, natural law, that is, the moral theology which holds that actions are intrinsically good or intrinsically evil, finds no place in the Koran. As for the purpose or “why” of God’s law, the God of Islam might respond to our questions with something like, “Because I told you so.” Whereas with the God of Christianity, he is believed to justify his laws on rational grounds; there is a reason why God does what he does. In the bible, the universe has its laws of nature; and as such, we can discover those laws and use creation to our advantage. This is why science flourished in Christian civilizations. But for Muslims, the notion that God respects the laws of nature and the natural law (i.e., moral law) puts limitations on his omnipotence. For them, any human behavior can be justified if God is believed to will it.
In the book of Genesis, the seeds of representative government were planted when God delegated the responsibility of naming the animals to Adam. The God of Muslims, on the other hand, would probably name the animals himself. Indeed, according to Islamic theology men do not participate in Divine Authority; it is only imitated, not delegated. But as for the Christian view, Pope Leo XIII reminds us that parental authority not only finds its origin in God, but it also borrows its binding force from God; especially when a father and a mother is loving and just. In other words, God communicates his fatherly love through good parenting. What is more, a mother and father not only cooperate with God in procreation but also in their “governance” over their children. And this leads us back to the proper role of the State.
A father’s power and authority is principally motivated by his love for the child; and his desire to see his child’s welfare realized. When Jesus washed his disciple’s feet, he not only set in motion a standard for Church authority; he also set a standard for political leaders. He asked, "Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me 'teacher' and 'master,' and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” (John 13: 12-15) This ceremony had monumental significance for how people were to be ruled in Christian civilization. It was a model of leadership to be emulated by all: parents, clergy, teachers, and civil authority alike.
During the same ceremony, the Last Supper, the following words would change would change the political landscape forever. Jesus summoned them and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28) “Not to be served but to serve” was a novel idea in ancient paganism; and it is a political principle which does not sit well in the Islamic political world. Keep in mind, Islamic theology is the basis for Islamic politics. And Allah, to be sure, is an omnipotent God whose full power and authority is brought to bear on his subjects. This, in part, is why governments in Muslims nations tend to favor dictatorships more than democracies.
A Democratic-republic presupposes a network of relationships; starting within the family, extending into neighbors and then rippling out into society at large. Sound economies and political systems are also built upon trustworthy and solid relationships. Historically, any given network of relationships was inspired by religion. What we believe about God’s relationship with man has a profound effect on the interactions people have with each other. As was indicated, these ideas give birth to certain kinds of governments and economies.
In Mohammad’s time (at the beginning of the seventh century), among Eastern Christians, there were many debates about the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity and the divine and human nature of Jesus Christ. For Mohammad, these doctrinal intricacies were deemed too complicated. He wanted a simple doctrine; much like what the Jews already believed: One God who was one person. As for Jesus, he was a prophet but nevertheless just a man. To this day, the simplicity of Islam is attractive to a good many people.
In contrast to Allah- whose main attribute is power, the doctrine of the Holy Trinity is a divine family of Three Persons. You heard it said, “God is love.” He is love precisely because he a family of Three Persons in one divine nature. And these Three Persons are eternally bound in a relationship with one another. From the Father, the Son is generated. The Son was also known as the “thought” or the “wisdom” of God in the Old Testament (Proverbs 8; Sirach 24). But when the Father spoke to humanity, the Son then became known as the Word of God; the Word that would reveal the fullness of the Father. And from the Father and through the Son, the Holy Spirit proceeds- as if from two parents -only to unite the Father and the Son in love. It is not only with one another they relate, but through one another. This latter point is key in understanding how the Holy Trinity, the Christian God, interacts with the human race and how people relate to each other.
Take for instance, the creation of the first family in book of Genesis. You will notice the manner in which they were created is a microcosm of how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit relate to one another. After forming Adam’s body, the Lord breathed life into him. And from Adam’s side, Eve was created. But life was given to her only through Adam. And from their spousal love came forth their first born.
Moving on to how God redeems humanity, it is important to note that the order of redemption reflects the order of creation. In other words, God redeems and reveals himself in much the same way as he created. In both cases, the Lord uses human instruments to achieve his goal. In Catholic theology, the Church is the oracle of God, the voice of Christ. As for the pope, he is not only the successor to St. Peter. No. The head of the Apostles, according to Catholic doctrine, continues his ministry of leading and teaching the faithful (from heaven) through each pope throughout the ages. And through the words of consecration spoken by every bishop or priest at Mass, Jesus Christ comes to us body, blood, soul and divinity. In the confessional, through the words of absolution spoken by the priest, Christ himself forgives our sins.
God’s act of creating through- redeeming through –sanctifying through –and speaking through human means and even matter has inspired democratic principles. If political authority resides in the people, as the Catholic theology holds, then they will take ownership being that it belongs to them. Furthermore, as the custodians and the beneficiaries of political or State authority, citizens are more likely to set up a government that is accountable to them and one that will serve them with justice. Since it is impossible for everyone to govern, it is natural, therefore, that they communicate their political authority to their representative leaders. And it is through these leaders that State authority- originating from God which is then bestowed on the people –is applied.
Important Factors: The third religious consideration
3. Mohammad was a political and religious leader. He, along with his followers, conquered other nations by the sword. And henceforth they grew in number. In early Christianity, on the other hand, the followers of Christ were put to the sword and as result, their numbers multiplied. Tertullian, an early Church Father, said, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Unlike Mohammad, Jesus Christ never claimed to have political authority. In fact, he drew a sharp distinction between Caesar and God. His kingdom was not to be confused with the State. According to St. Augustine, the tension of City of God and the City of Man would endure until the end of time. Throughout the centuries, this tension would turn into outright conflict; a conflict between the Church and the State. For the first three hundred years of Church history, Christians were martyred by the thousands. It was even reported that out of the first thirty popes, twenty-nine died a martyr’s death. And should we be surprised? Since the beginning of his earthly life as an infant, Herod, representing the State, tried to hunt the new born Messiah down and kill him. At the end of his earthly life, it was Pilate, again, representing the State, who appeased the angry mob by sentencing our Lord to death. Even with the hostility the State would exercise against Christ and his followers, the Catholic Church always held that political authority comes from God and as such, whatever just laws that are decreed should be obeyed. As St. Paul said, Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God. (Romans 13:1)
According to Catholic political theology, the authority of the State originates from God. However, this civil authority is communicated or given to the people for whom it is meant to benefit. It is then the people who decide what kind of government they wish to be subjected to. The main principle here is that State or civil authority exists for the people and it is therefore determined by the people. Like the work of creation and redemption, political authority comes from God and is entrusted to citizens of any given nation; and it is through the citizenry that political power is conferred on the ruler.
Autocracies and dictatorships violate these principles. In Islam, political authority does not reside in the people; it instead resides in the State; which is often indistinguishable from the religion of Islam. To be sure, the distinction between Church and State is, at the very least, blurred in Muslim nations. As such, the check and balance benefit, the purpose of which is keep the State in check, is weak at best. To be sure, there is no single institution possessing moral authority, similar to that of the Papacy or Holy See, to offset or challenge an aggressive Islamic State. In any case, the State- Islamic or Christian -needs to be held accountable by an institution of a higher authority. This institution, what Catholics know as the Church, ought to have the interests of the people in mind. Absent this accountability, unlimited power naturally accrues to the government. Indeed, where religion and politics converge into one or where religion is absent all together, very often what emerges is totalitarianism.
Posted by Joe at 5:18 PM