Saturday, September 29, 2012

Roots of Christianity and Islam & Middle Eastern Tensions II

Roots of Christianity and Middle Eastern Tensions II: Dictatorship or Democracy


Christianity and Democracy:

 So, why does Christianity inspire democratic forms of government whereas Islam tends to favor totalitarian forms of government? 

It has a lot to do with how Christians and Muslims relate to God in their religious beliefs and practices. Historically, there is a reason why citizens had more to say about their government and who represents with Christians in the West than Muslims do in Islamic countries. A representative religion fosters a representative government! Just as Jesus, who is fully God and fully man, speaks on his Father’s behalf and as such, participates in his Father’s authority, so too did the Apostles speak on Jesus’ behalf therefore participating in his authority. And the Church? The ministry of the Church is the continuation of that of the Apostles.

Jesus Christ is a Judge and as such will come to judge the living and the dead. But yet, Jesus appointed the Apostles as judges of the twelve tribes of Israel, the Church: Jesus said to them, “Amen, I say to you that you who have followed me, in the new age, when the Son of Man is seated on his throne of glory, will yourselves sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)  Jesus is the Word of the Father and his Word is therefore binding.  But the preaching of the Apostles is authoritative and binding as well: Jesus also reminded them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10: 16) And elsewhere he said to them: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

 In short, the kingly, prophetic, and priestly offices Jesus fulfilled in his mission on his Father’s behalf, the Catholic Church fulfills those same offices on Jesus’ behalf.  In Psalm 2 it reads: “I will proclaim the decree of the LORD, he said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have begotten you. Ask it of me, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, and, as your possession, the ends of the earth.’” Indeed, what was bequeathed to the Son from the Father is further bequeathed from the Son to the Church, his Spouse.

From the very beginning God allows man to participate in authority. After the Lord had created the animals he allowed Adam to name the animals. Now, as we shall see later, Allah is the kind of God that would name the animals himself; for he is a master who allows not his slaves to participate in his authority.

This biblically based religion of Catholicism is not only one of representation, but mediation. It is sacramental in nature. The Church teaches that the pope, as St. Peter’s successor, not only represents St. Peter the Apostle, but that St. Peter continues to teach through him. What is also true is that the pope is the Vicar of Christ. In the book of Revelation chapter 3, Jesus says, “The holy one, the true, who holds the key of David, who opens and no one shall close, who closes and no one shall open…” But although the Risen Lord holds the key, he nevertheless gave the keys to the kingdom to St. Peter. (Matt. 16) Therefore, as his vicar, the pope mediates the power of Christ’s authority for the benefit of the whole Church. Jesus Christ’s prerogative to rule, sanctify and save is not diminished in the least when the Church exercises those same powers.

 As the parental authority is concerned, the Catholic Church has always taught that it participates, in a mysterious way, in the heavenly Father’s authority.  In his encyclical on Socialism, Pope Leo XIII writes: “For according to Catholic teaching, the authority of our heavenly Father and Lord is imparted to parents and rulers, whose authority, therefore, not only takes its origin and force from Him, but also borrows its nature and character.” Indeed, the mother and the father is the image of God for the child. The more loving and just the parents are, the more they, not only reflect, but participate in God’s fatherly love. It also can be said that good parenting is the main instrumentation through which God fathers his children.

And finally, we come to the State as it is shaped by Christian principles. The closer the State patterns its authority after that of parental and religious authority, the more justly and effectively it will rule. Instead of a master over a subject or slave, civil authority should be inspired by the principles of justice and love.  Love without justice is anarchy. But justice without love is tyranny.  And when the State sees itself as the custodian of God’s authority, it will all-the- more likely respect the boundaries in which it is obligated to function.  When Europe was on the cusp of being menaced with Socialism and Communism, when European governments ceased to recognize the autonomy of the family and the individual, Pope Leo XIII wrote this in his encyclical, Rerum Novarum:

 “A family, no less than a State, is, as We have said, a true society, governed by an authority peculiar to itself, that is to say, by the authority of the father…The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error…Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself. ‘The child belongs to the father,’ and is, as it were, the continuation of the father's personality; and speaking strictly, the child takes its place in civil society, not of its own right, but in its quality as member of the family in which it is born. And for the very reason that ‘the child belongs to the father’ it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘before it attains the use of free will, under the power and the charge of its parents.’ The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home.”

Islam and Dictatorships:

The Muslim relationship to Allah as master is much different than the Christian relationship to God as Father. This difference has profound political ramifications. It is why democracy struggles to find firm and deep roots in Islamic soil.

Without the coming of the Holy Spirit into the souls of Muslims, the words of our Lord cannot apply to them: “I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.”  Unlike a son who shares in his father’s inheritance and authority, Allah will forever remain a master who imposes power upon his obedient subjects. His authority and power is to be received from a distance and without question. There is no representation or mediation of Allah’s power by Muslims; only obedience.

To be sure, obedience to God- even without question -is a virtue. But without the intimacy that the Holy Spirit confers on believers, the force of divine authority and power can be like that of a stern master. This kind of relationship between the Creator and the creature was characteristic of God’s relationship with Israel in the Old Testament. This is why Islam- to this very day -in its political governance, tribal vengeance and military warfare resembles Old Testament Judaism more than New Testament Christianity.

If truth be told, the Old Testament world was a world where mercy was a sign of weakness and the strong arm of political power was a sign of strength. It was a time when freedom was the exception and an autocratic State was the rule. More than Judaism itself, Islam is the heir of Old Testament Judaism.  Indeed, Allah's relationship with Muslims today bears a striking resemblance with Yahweh's relationship with the Jews several centuries ago. And it explains why Muslim countries favor totalitarian states.

In assessing the unrest in the Middle East, therefore, these theological considerations need to be brought to the fore. No doubt, politicians and members of the media who are inspired by the ideology of secularism will dismiss them, but we cannot.  If we do, we do so at our own expense.

"An intelligent servant will rule over a worthless son, and will share the inheritence with the brothers." (Proverbs 17:2)