Summary of the Law (said at every Sunday Mass)

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, and with all thy strength. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like unto it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Facts About Islam

There's a lot of misinformation about Islam available, and a lot of it has gotten mixed into the controversy over Syrian refugees in the wake of the terrible attacks in Paris earlier this month. These attacks themselves, and the debate surrounding them, are part of the larger uncertainty and disputation over Islam and its relations with the West since September 11th, and arguably longer still, reaching back to the First Gulf War or even the Iranian hostage crisis.

It is, as always, much easier to find partisan arrangements of facts, factoids, and unfacts than it is to get at the truth -- whether we're talking about the truth about Islam generally, or about specific things that hit the news. I'd like to share some of what I've picked up in my studies (partly academic, mostly idle and incidental) of history, religion, and food.

1. Is Islam is a Religion of Peace or a Religion of Violence?

No; or, if you prefer, yes.

The first difficulty -- which Christians, especially Catholics, ought to appreciate (but often don't) -- is in establishing what we mean by Islam: are we talking about the creed or about its followers? For once the question is raised at all, it's obvious that these need not be the same at all.

There is no denying that Islam was spread by the sword from its earliest days. This is awful. That said, it must also be pointed out that these were wars of conquest, not extermination, and did not involve eliminating Jews and Christians -- which is more than can be said of the wars of Christendom, which regularly strove to eliminate not only Moslems, but also Jews and whatever Christians were believed (however correctly) to be the wrong kind. The Reconquista and unification of Spain, followed by the Inquisition and the forcible conversion or expulsion of the Jewish and Moorish populace, are an extreme example, but they are an extreme example of a phenomenon that was commonplace enough.

So am I saying that Christian sins legitimize Moslem sins? Not in the least. I'm not even saying that Christian sins revoke our right to rebuke Moslems for sinning, whether we speak as Christians ourselves or as the Western heirs of Christendom -- though there's plenty to be said for that. My only point here is that, if Christianity can make any valid claim to be a religion of peace in the face of our own history, then it is at least possible that Islam can make the same claim.

No one could claim that peace is central to Islam as many claim that peace is central to Christianity. I would point out, though, that telling other people what their religion does and doesn't consist in is a little rude, a little pompous, and a little ridiculous. If anybody is going to tell us what sort of religion Islam is, it ought to be Moslems, for much the same reasons that our source for what Catholicism is ought to be Ronald Knox or Peter Kreeft as opposed to, say, Lorraine Boettner or Norman Geisler.

2. Was Muhammad a Saintly Hero or a Cruel Lunatic?

Well, was Martin Luther King Jr. a pioneer of minority rights and pacifism, or a serial adulterer?

Muhammad is a difficult figure to evaluate, and not just because the sources about him are confusing and sometimes incompatible. He's a difficult figure to evaluate because he was complicated. This is natural; religious founders, who do such exceptional things, tend likewise to be very exceptional people, whatever our opinion of the religious traditions they found. Joseph Smith, Confucius, Martin Luther, Aleister Crowley, Pythagoras, St Paul -- it's tricky to get to the bottom of any one of them.

Muhammad was certainly not perfect, even by the standards of his own time, to say nothing of the criticisms of his behavior we would launch today (with regards to his marital rape of Aisha, for instance).* Neither, of course, was St Peter, as St Paul so tactlessly pointed out. But on Christian premises this point, when you get right down to it, really only matters to Muhammad at this point -- and, on materialist premises, can't really matter to anybody, since he is both wrong and dead. Meanwhile, if we accept the view that we are judged by God after death, he's passed that gate, and what we have to decide about his legacy is not whether he was a sinner -- he was -- but whether he was also right, and how far. Bringing in "But he was a total jerk!" isn't relevant to that inquiry even if it's true.

And, for what it's worth, it isn't true, or it isn't the whole truth. He could be cruel, utilitarian, and lascivious at times; probably no more so than the European leaders of Christendom in the Renaissance and the Reformation (on both sides), men and women whom we readily and rightly admire. Admission of flaws does not cheapen greatness; but we can cheat ourselves out of admiring and imitating the great by admitting only their flaws. As for Muhammad's greatness, he elevated the status of women and slaves from where it had been; he was generous and kind to the poor; he opposed racism; and -- this is something that Christians often fail to appreciate -- he converted an entire people from one of the cruder varieties of paganism to complete monotheism. That alone is a massive religious advance, and the Catechism goes out of its way to affirm that it is the true God whom he worshiped and proclaimed, with whatever imperfections of understanding.

3. Are Most Moslems Supportive of Terrorism or Opposed to It?

Here, there is for once a simple answer: most Moslems are opposed to terrorism, whether as a means of spreading Islam or for any other reason. This is in part because most Moslems are not crazy people. It is, also, because most victims of Moslem terrorism are fellow Moslems.

One of the chief inspirations of terrorists in general is a puritan or fundamentalist approach to religion, and one of the characteristic targets of all fundamentalists is, not those outside, but those whom they regard as fifth columnists -- traitors in the house. It's noteworthy that the Inquisition was primarily concerned with heretics, not with Jews, witches, or Orthodox Christians in Catholic territories. Likewise, the main victims of al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS, and the rest have been Moslems whom they consider lax or heretical, not Christians, Jews, or Westerners.** Indeed, this is one of the many reasons that so many people are fleeing the Levant -- being Moslem doesn't protect them.

It's also worth pointing out that a lot of radicalization happens, not in the Middle East or other places where Islam is a dominant cultural presence, but right here in the West. The terrorists in Paris, for instance, were French and Belgian nationals, and it's been suggested -- not implausibly -- that the attacks were aimed at terrifying the West, not into submitting to Islam, but into turning refugees away and forcing them to stay under the hand of ISIS. Or Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who came to this country as the children of asylum seekers and were radicalized under the influence of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American native who graduated from Colorado State. Which makes them rather like Scott Roeder, who shot abortionist Dr. George Tiller through the eye while the latter was serving as an usher at his church; or Timothy McVeigh, who, scarred by his experiences in the Gulf War, murdered 168 people in the Oklahoma City bombing in an effort to make a point about American hypocrisy about Dresden, Hiroshima, Baghdad, and countless other devastated cities and populations. America is a great place to breed terrorists, apparently -- though I wonder whether bringing in a few thousand refugees who are specifically trying to get away from terrorism might not dilute that quality.

4. Are Moslems Refugees Dangerous?

No. The hypothesis that they're dangerous doesn't make sense, and the statistics about them don't back up the idea, either.

Now, to begin with, plenty of refugees from predominantly Moslem countries, such as the Syrians fleeing ISIS, aren't Moslems in the first place. Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Yezidis, and atheists have as much reason to get out of the Middle East as Moslems do. But equally, many Moslems have as much reason to get out as these other believers and non-believers do, for the reasons cited above. Most of them aren't crazy, and the ones that are would presumably prefer to stay in a place where crazy is the order of the day.

Turning to the statistics proper, the U.S. has admitted well over 750,00 refugees since September 11th. Of those, a whopping three have been connected to terrorist campaigns and conspiracies, which I think can be safely classified as an insignificant percentage if we're grading on a curve. For contrast, over sixty times that many American nationals have left this country to join ISIS. Or hey, just compare it to something as exotic and suspicious as cars; something like 1.3 million people are killed in car accidents every year, whether chauffered by terrorists or otherwise.

Hail, Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star,
Guide of the wanderer here below,
Thrown on life's surge, we claim thy care,
Save us from peril and from woe.
Mother of Christ, Star of the sea,
Pray for the wanderer, pray for me.

In fine, there are few simple answers to be had, few facts about Islam that can be categorically asserted. That's life. That doesn't mean there's no truth to be had, or no way of making decisions; what it does mean is that in this situation, like all the other ones, we have to be guided by patient thought and gathering as many facts we can, not by violent political rhetoric that panders to our fear and pride.

*I'm well aware that Muhammad's marriage to Aisha, and indeed the consummation of that marriage, would not have been considered wrong or even odd at the time. I think this lessens his responsibility -- recognizing right and wrong in the particular ways one's own culture has obscured them really is hard. I don't think that it changes the nature of the act; and I also don't think that Muhammad's virtue or lack thereof says anything, one way or the other, about the legitimacy of his prophecies.

**Fun fact: al Qaeda and the Taliban have both denounced ISIS for being too crazy. (Think of your send-'em-back-to-Africa uncle ranting about how awful Hitler was.) This has also apparently prompted some in our own government to propose using al Qaeda to fight ISIS, because Americans never learn anything, ever, whether from history or from the past five minutes.


  1. If you or others are interested in my fiancee rape story it is at my blog Left in a separate comment from previous reflection on Aisha and this concept in general in case you are uncomfortable allowing a direct link to a piece framed around the deficiency of (most) male priests and better skill of (many) female priests and pastors in dealing with this issue in a rape culture in which the majority of victims and vast majority of perpetrators are male.

  2. I think my previous comment on Aisha may have been lost, so I will retry. Christianity specifically allowed betrothal of infants; extremely young, consentless marriage (despite lip service to consent theologically); and totally consentless consummation thereafter (frequently with girls just a couple years older than the nine which only one witness claims of Aisha). And it specifically denied that marital rape could exist, like the western cultures it influenced to do so as well, until very recently. And still does not in any way emphasize that rape--in marriage or out-- is a grave mortal sin. This helps foster our rape culture, and certainly did so with the about-to-be-marital rape in my post which was totally unrecognized as such by me, my perpetrator, and my confessor. So I would humbly request that you take this to prayer and consider removing the accusation which is both hurtful to Muslims (which is why it is used by dangerously hateful Christians totally unlike you) and, especially, too freely absolves our own beloved church of its long and tragic and far-from-over history of fostering rape and what Leah Libresco insightfully calls rape-adjacent-sex.

    1. I appreciate both your good opinion of me and your care for Moslem consciences. Personally I have a deep and abiding respect for Islam and for Muhammad in particular (among a few other significant Moslem figures, though admittedly I know only a few). I have not read the whole of the Quran, but from what I have read, it ranks as one of the great religious classics of humanity at the very least, something I wish were more generally recognized here in the West.

      I don't at all see eye to eye with you that referring to Muhammad's relations with Aisha as marital rape in any way absolves the West of -- well, anything really. People who think and talk as though it does haven't got a leg to stand on, and should be told so: admitting that others do the wrong thing establishes nothing one way or the other about ourselves; though it's important to look to cleaning our own house first, naturally, before barging into other people's.

      That marital rape -- as an expression of more general disregard for the dignity of women -- has been and remains a chronic problem in Christendom, I readily admit. I do think it's going much too far to say that the Church does not recognize and emphasize that rape is a very grave and spiritually deadly sin. St Thomas treats the question in some detail in the Summa, for instance, in defining rape as a species of lust over a number of objections, and he cites a disciplinary canon of the Council of Meaux (I believe this would be the ninth-century one, but I'm not certain) which not only recognized the serious sinfulness of rape, but -- reversing the Levitical provision -- forbade men from marrying women whom they had raped. All that being said, I can very easily believe that Catholic priests and confessors (as well as Orthodox and male Episcopalian ones) frequently fail to recognize cases of rape, due to poor training and falsely simplified pictures of what it is; and, being a survivor myself, and one whose church authorities' response was pitifully inadequate, I'm only too well aware of the need for improvement on this point in American churches. (I can't speak to the international situation, though I admit I wouldn't begin with optimism.)

      All that to say -- Muhammad's behavior was no worse than that of many others whom we freely admire; few of us are better than he was, really; there is every excuse for him. But none of that makes me feel right about not calling a spade a spade. My own conviction is that it is silence, evasion, and delicacy, far more than invidious comparisons between one culture and another, that encourage people to let rapes and molestations slide, and I'll have nothing to do with that.

  3. As someone who loves so much about Thomas Aquinas his grave complicity in this matter breaks my heart. Consent only matters theologically to him at the moment of marriage, which was rarely required in practice, and is totally absent from his sexual ethics. Thus he classes masturbation as well as loving and consensual gay sex as worse sins than rape because they are "against nature" while rape--in which the woman is property, or virtual property, in his view--is "according to nature." This is one place where my Protestant husband actually far excels many conservative RC men who use their wives as inflatable sex dolls by pressuring or guilt-tripping them into undesired sex (especially during the fertile time and above all the pre-ovulatory relatively infertile time in NFP). He has been outstandingly accepting of a marriage with very little sex (and very frequently interrupted sex) both because of my survivor issues and because of the near constant abstinence required for NFP with our hyperfertility which meant only using the one post ovulatory absolute infertility week per cycle (and mine were frequently five weeks rather than four) and my very difficult pregnancies of which I could only manage four. This is not just general good behavior but specifically because he feels no guilt or shame at satisfying his physical needs himself--as well he shouldn't since in this case it is absolutely loving behavior allowing him to be far more loving to me than some of the husbands of my grad school friends who were taught to "render the debt" regardless of their own despair at another pregnancy possibility and whose husbands congratulated themselves on refraining from self pleasure. And if that is true for marital rape/ rape-adjacent sex, how much more is it true for premarital dating ---even in heavy chastity environments that make it all equally wrong and because it's never okay to say yes it's also not crucial to say and respect no out of personal preference, just law compliance. How much better to teach boys and men that it is never a woman's job to give them sexual pleasure and teach how to do loving, prayerful, responsible self-pleasure instead--while also teaching the gravity--because of charity and justice--of sinful masturbation to violent porn and fantasies which fuel so much rape culture. Wouldn't stop the violent conscious rapists but sure would slow down a lot of the self-deceived Christian rape-adjacenters.

    1. Without accepting St Thomas' relative classifications of sins, I would assert that, if the Church is to be considered infallible at all, the procreative meaning of sex can't be excluded from it -- thus ruling out masturbation and gay sex ipso facto (without necessarily putting them low in the hierarchy of evils). I say this because, while the Church's doctrine of sex has certainly developed and continues to do so, one of the hallmarks of development as opposed to mere change is that it blossoms from -- and is therefore organically consistent with -- what went before it; and if there is anything the Church has consistently taught about sex, it's that it is, among other things, procreative.

      This isn't to say that consent is not equally important -- indeed, much more important (since NFP can be licit but rape, ahem, can't). St John Paul's chief point in TOB is that the body is the vehicle of gift, and seizing someone, with or without a ground of "marital rights," is the opposite of gift. But, to be blunt, masturbation can be bad while rape is far worse. I say this, not to criticize your husband or anybody else -- I do things plenty worse than masturbation rather regularly, without omitting that either -- but because, if we are to make progress in holiness, we must keep our minds orderly, attentive to detail, and clear. I don't at all say that no compromises can be made, but if they are, they will do us no good if we confuse compromise with the desideratum of virtue.

      I would also point out (without wanting to quash a legitimate, and interesting, conversation) that we *are* straying rather from the topic of the post.

  4. I am so sorry that you too experienced inadequate pastoral care after sexual violation, and so grateful for your insightful advocacy on the subject here and elsewhere on the blog. And I am only now seeing that your passion for poor little Aisha and desire to honor her experience with that terminology comes from the same disgust I share with rape culture and same passion to empower survivors and prevent future victimizations.

    Thank you also for inspiring me to revisit Thomas' sexual ethics as a whole, and specifically his writings on rape, as I begin to examine these issues in depth on my blog and in working on my Ignatian spirituality project/s. I don't have time to look them up today but my recollection of the basic problem is that he does see rape as a serious sin--but of lust rather than violence, and not in the holistic JPII sense of lust as selfish and exploitative marital or non marital pleasure-desiring sex versus loving and holy pleasure desiring marital sex. Because that meaning of sex was specifically secondary to its primary life generating meaning, versus today's very different equal and inseparable doctrine. Hence he sees initiating sex for pleasure, even within lawful straight marriage, as at least a venial sin--though, ironically, the dangerous "debt" concept universalized from its very narrow Pauline context also meant even if that first sin was in play for that person the other partner was home free if they assented and mortally sinful if they refused--a really confusing form of sexual double or triple jeopardy!

    Thomas sees rape, if I recall correctly, as a grave sin primarily (perhaps solely) because it was sex, often via kidnapping in the primary classical meaning of the word, with a woman whom a man didn't, or didn't yet, own the physical rights to. Hence it is largely (perhaps solely) a sin against her father if a virgin/unmarried person and her husband if married. (Which means that his laudable reversal of the Levitical forced marriage to a rapist may have been more motivated by deterrence and/or being denied the profits of your crime than of the victim's sensibilities). Consent and the lack thereof are negligible factors to him which is why I think he would deny that marital rape can exist cause the physical rights of ownership are in place, or that a woman could rape a man (or a woman or child) cause she doesn't have the equipment, or that a male-male rape was any more sinful than loving consensual gay sex because no consent could ever make it anything but an abomination.

    1. I can easily believe that St Thomas' approach to rape was incomplete; he lived in a radically different culture from our own, for one thing, and was a religious noted for not being troubled by the flesh for another. But if you haven't got chapter and verse, as it were, I'd be extremely cautious of saying that he denied the existence of marital rape; not because he's St Thomas, but simply because it's a very terrible accusation to level at anybody. That accusation may yet be true, but I feel that it shouldn't be made without specifically citing the evidence that backs it up.

  5. My comments about the church not seeing it as a grave sin are in the practical rather than theoretical realm--we have gone way beyond Thomas so official teaching and both traditional and progressive Christians agree rape is a grave sin because of the violence and lack of consent. The problem is that there is no awareness of how very common date and marital rape and rape adjacent sex are--it's seen as a terrible rare experience and firmly in the violent stranger assault camp which is as you know the minority of sexual assault cases. Thus traditional churches and Christians emphasize the evils of consensual non marital sex and progressive ones the possible goods of same--but both assume and imply that it's all basically consensual and that nice Christian folks in our church would only do such. So I have never heard rape condemned in one of the thousands of sermons and homilies I have heard, nor in a chastity pitch, nor in an examination of conscience either under the headings of fifth or sixth commandments. There is no active intense teaching or activism resembling traditional protests of abortion or progressive protests of war, etc.--just a resounding virtual silence in preaching and catechesis that fosters our rape culture indirectly and, tragically, often directly in the kind of inadequate pastoral care we have both experienced.

  6. I take your points about both topic drifts and Thomistic exegesis so will try to keep this very short--and do apologize for the repeat content a couple times. I pushed sign out instead of publish several times and lost comments so started over but think I accidentally overdid it with non lost comments a couple times as well.

    In terms of Thomas: I tried to say IIRC on his sexual ethics since I have not looked up the specific citations, and will cease further comment on them till I have. But if I am correct and he does not even imagine marital rape as a possibility it would be by no means a unique personal failing but in line with basically all Christian teaching, as well as that of western philosophy and secular culture, until extremely recently. A downfall, IMHO, of the exclusion from theological training and writing until the last century or so of almost all women, with the few who did manage it almost all celibate, which also meant the lack of influence of the lived experience and wisdom of the marriage partners more liable to be raped because of less physical and social power alike. It is similar to the universal approval of both slavery and domestic violence by church officials and theologians of every Christian denomination for roughly the same stretch of centuries--influenced by a combination of the social and cultural realities around them, the interpretation of natural law this seemed to support, and the many scripture passages which seem to endorse those realities as divinely permitted, even positively willed. If you can point me to a classical Christian writer an/or pope before the twentieth century who did see marital rape as a sin I would be delighted to learn of his existence and except him from my critique with humble apologies to you both.

  7. The extent of infallibility and of development of doctrine are extremely complex questions but I would briefly point out that only two dogmas are universally accepted by theologians as meeting the very high standards for the former: the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. I take personal comfort, while respecting disagreement, from the fact that JPII's ruling out of sacerdotal and episcopal (not diaconal, which is a prudential judgment like male priestly marriage) female ordination did not use the same indubitable strong language--and that the future Benedict XVI's assertion, neither endorsed or denied by JPII, that it did as head of the CDF could not be a preemptive act of the papal infallibility he did not yet enjoy.

    Moral teachings are even more difficult to include under that rubric because they are so culturally affected and have in fact changed very dramatically over time, in more than one case reversing previous beliefs that were strongly taught as gravely sinful, or not so, by popes and bishops as well as theologians. A few official examples: usury being any interest at all to excessive interest; slavery being according to natural law to against it; capital punishment being obviously licit and a great idea to barely licit and a generally terrible one; and marital submission being one way (Casti Connubii) to mutual (Mulieris Dignitatem). Unofficial/practical examples include the drastic turnaround on treatment of those dying by suicide and, even more compelling and fascinating, the absolute change from unbaptized babies dying pre or post birth going to limbo and being denied most funeral rites to the absolute assurance I see all the time in other Catholic mama blogs (who almost universally share your high estimation of church teaching and agree with it and you on all details of all controversial sexual issues), that these innocents are saints in heaven interceding for their families on earth, naming and counting them and having lovely prayer services to honor them both in post abortion retreats and general pastoral care, etc.

    This is absolutely driven by the sense of the faithful, also a traditional part of church teaching, and the lived body knowledge of women who have loved and lost these miscarried or aborted precious ones as well as, to a lesser extent, by the fathers who share the same grief in a personal way not accessible to most clergy or theologians in the centuries that celibate maleness was near-universal for both vocations--and absolutely accepted by most bishops and the last few popes except for a few very early and mild cautions by JPII. Similarly, I would say that the lived experience of couples can be valid data for affirming the validity of general longstanding church-taught principles like the centrality of both love and procreation to sex while also bringing further changes on the evaluation of some specific acts as upholding or violating these. So I would argue that my husband's practice is both life honoring, in allowing our exercise of responsible parenthood by careful discernment and spacing of our children, and love honoring in his care and support for my healing and lack of both pressure for sex and resentment at abstinence. Similarly I would see the possibility of life and love honoring sex in gay couples who generously raise children--especially, as with a dear IC brother bishop and his husband, those who need a home (his four nieces and nephews whose mother is an addicted sex worker as well as two others), in their case at a substantial personal sacrifice of lifelong poverty line, and whose relationship in all aspects helps strengthen and enable that holiness. But I totally honor your disagreement on both points as well as your great generosity in conversing with me and allowing me to share my perspective, and welcome further gentle fraternal correction if I do so in a way that goes beyond your comfort level here in your safe space, which I will attempt to honor by holding my peace both here and elsewhere on all these points!

    1. Oh, I wouldn't ask you to hold your peace, unless it were the only way to preserve it. :) (Also, while I'm happy it keep it private, I am also happy to publish your most recent comment -- just let me know your preference.)

      The difficulty I have with the approach you take to the Church's infallibility is like this. There have certain been shifts of various kinds in the Church's message; I would personally argue that nothing defined as dogma has been changed, but that discussion might divert us into more technical channels. I would definitely agree that certain theological opinions which were (to my knowledge) majority opinions -- the liceity of slavery, unbaptized children being sent to Limbo, and that Catholicism ought to be a state religion rather than supporting religious liberty, are the examples that spring to my mind -- have been markedly, even decisively, reversed. However, I think that when we're dealing with genuine development, there will reliably be a contrasting "strain" in Catholic history. Limbo is a very good example: on the one hand, St Augustine's theory was generally accepted, but on the other the celebration of the Holy Innocents was embedded directly into the liturgy -- and no papal or conciliar definition affirmed either one. (On that note, I'd add that while infallible papal definitions are rightly few, we should remember that ecumenical councils in union with Peter also teach infallibly -- not that there have been many of those, either.) Slavery is another case: certainly it is a tragedy and a discredit to the Church that she did not firmly renounce slavery far earlier in her history; but on the other hand, we have as early as Philemon that atmosphere of mind which makes a nonsense of slavery, the constant tradition that freeing slaves was in itself a good work, and the crusade of St Patrick against the slave trade in Ireland in the fifth century.

      This leaves me, at any rate, in a position of confidence in the consistent teaching of the Church, which can be discovered by analyzing history. That's not to say that it's always easy to do so, or that the Church has answered every possible question, or that there aren't things about which Catholics may legitimately differ or be simply unsure. But where there *is* a consistent teaching of the Church from the earliest days, and there *isn't* a counterweight, so to speak, I personally would feel dishonest -- and thus, in the strict and theological sense, heretical -- in dissenting from that consistent teaching.

      All that being said, development does certainly happen; not only in bringing out the counterweights, if you will, but in dealing with genuinely new phenomena -- like the joint stock company, an entity which did make interest as such distinct from usury (and indeed, even if interest were still illicit in every case, the distinction would remain, as the distinction between adultery simpliciter and divorce-and-remarriage remains though both are considered sinful). And one thing I look forward to is the rounding out of Church teaching by women, especially on matters like the theology of the body, to which the perspectives of the sexes are so specially pertinent.

    2. Theoretically, limbo has not been renounced. It isn't really positively posited (which is best)...but it in essence remains as the space of unknowing that surrounds the fate of the unbaptized innocent. The Church will never positively teach that these go to heaven (in the way she does for the baptized) and so they remain, at least, in a sort of epistemic limbo, for the Church's doctrinal system, if not a crudely literal one. The idea of natural vs supernatural happiness at least still serves as a sort of conceptual foil too.

      And, by the way, the Holy Innocents were circumcised Jewish boys under the Old Dispensation, so I have no idea what that argument is meant to prove. They certainly didn't go straight to heaven, but presumably to the limbo of the fathers with other Old Testament saints (which certainly does remain "on the books.")

      The state religion vs religious freedom thing is a prudential question even if the Vatican currently prefers one diplomatic/pragmatic approach. One is NOT a heretic to advocate the ancien regime.

      On slavery see Cardinal Dulles and the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1917. To condemn slavery you'd have to define an essential feature of it. A fixed class system and division of labor in society is not in itself wrong. It is absolutely short sided to act as if a capitalist model of economic self-determination is absolutely required by morality or ethics.

      Heck, I'd argue that the notion that a person owns their own labor and has to sell it on the free market is MORE alienating than traditional slavery, not less. We cannot let the cruelty of African slavery in the Americas taint a sober analysis of the whole concept.

      The Church never supported splitting up young nuclear families, always treated slaves as persons with souls, was willing to marry slaves and accept them into religious life and even the clergy, and you couldn't just arbitrarily kill slaves.

      As for treating slaves as "property"...that is mere semantics depending on how you define it. In many ways women under the headship of their husband were property in the economic sense throughout history, and this defended the organic unity of the household (not the atomistic individual) as the basic cell of society. And today minor children and prisoners and other people with dependent status/guardians could still be called property in one sense.

      So lets not be quick to raise a capitalist model of labor and social autonomy to the level of dogma!

  8. A private note that does not need to be published: I was especially passionate about these topics, and grateful for your wisdom and generosity on them yesterday, because just before visiting your blog I visited that of a grad school friend on Patheos Catholic. I sponsored her in RCIA at Notre Dame when I was more fully traditional and less loyally dissenting, so I totally honor her sense of betrayal at my ministry discernment. And I usually let her cranky and ill-informed and non-Vatican-respecting Republicanism on things like war, poverty, refugees etc. roll off my back. But that day she had engaged in her first (at least noticed by me) bout of vicious rape apologetics so I was a bit shaken--especially as she singled out academic campuses as the site of supposed false allegations ruining male lives, and that was where both my clergy sexual abuse by married Prot pastor happened in undergrad (totally mishandled by my beloved Jesuits) and my fiancee rape in grad school..

  9. Wonderful, I will go ahead and speak my mind and heart (including publishing that last comment--thanks!) without battering deceased equines about which we know that and how we disagree.

    It is helpful to hear more about your approach -- a bit more optimistic than mine--to the general reliability and extent of change/development in magisterial teaching. It also clarifies the places where I ally with the Old Catholic challenge to the ultramontanism which culminated in Vatican I--not just as the source of my apostolic succession, but in theological agreement that personal papal infallibility is a heretical (in your strict sense) departure from universal tradition. This is precisely because it was not accepted and taught by all bishops when the pope proposed it, nor was it offered to the laity for affirmation as happened so beautifully with the dogma of the Assumption. Instead, a small but significant percentage of both departed to begin the Latin rite reformation/reclamation of patristic and medieval tradition, from which the term Old derives (greatly to the confusion of those who associate it with Tridentine approaches--reconciled with Rome or not--where the girl cooties would prevent not just ordination but acolyte service allowed to six year old boys!)

    You are in my prayers and I would be humbly grateful for yours--especially, today, as I pull together a fellowship application due tomorrow for an academic career resurrecting possibility I had to decline a few years ago when mothering and ministry were both more emotionally complicated and logistically challenging.

    1. I'm sympathetic to a critique of ultramontanism as untraditional (compared to, say, the early medieval period from 500-1000)...but personally I feel like there's little going back. Things become more concrete, not less. Structures and institutions become more defined, not less. Trying to restore the ambiance of an era when a lack of good communication created more room for localism...seems a bit anachronistic. I'd be all for local election of bishops and such...but at the end of the day, it does seem like the "seed" present from the beginning was always Rome as head of the college of bishops. And the head cannot defect, or the whole notion falls apart.

  10. A linguistic afterthought more directly on topic: the modern transliteration/spelling much preferred by adherents of Islam is Muslim (Muslimah, if speaking specifically of a woman or women). A small point but one which could helpfully signal your respectful and balanced approach, so different from some Christian commenters who take a much more crusading mentality.

    1. I've run across this once or twice, though never with much explanation (it being rather difficult to transcribe from Arabic in a totally satisfactory manner anyway). I almost feel it's a pity, as I have an odd fondness for the *look* of 'Moslem.' I think probably I just like o's better than u's.

    2. I've heard that the word pronounced like "Mozlem" in Arabic actually means evil person whereas they pronounce their name "Musslim" with a soft s sound (whereas "Moslem" is almost always pronounced with a z sound).

      Maybe time to go back to "Mussulman" with its soft s?

  11. Is there some sort of scientifically proven standard for when sufficient Reason enters the mind of a young person, or how much Reason is necessary to give ethically sufficient consent to sex? Applying the modern standards of "statutory rape" to the 600s seems an odd thing to do. Surely our age of consent is based on cultural scripts for what social roles children/adolescents have at various ages and the place sex is given in the modern Western psyche and how its script of development plays out.

    If Aisha was past menarche (this is the historical point I'm unsure of) there is really no reason to think that she was psychologically different from any other woman back then. That she was nine may be irrelevant in a culture where all women hitting menarche is the last milestone in their psycho-social development and there is literally no further growth opportunity afforded by the culture after that for any woman.

    In ancient cultures where most women basically had the status of seems hard to find anything wrong with "child" marriage (by our definition; I think fertility matters more than age) that wouldn't apply to ALL marriages back then.

    1. On the one hand, if there is any view of history for which I have unbridled contempt, it's the idea that history consists in a progression from simple brutality to simple enlightenment, and that ancient customs, standards, and practices can be dismissed whenever they differ from contemporary ones. I don't doubt that the psychological "age of adulthood" varies considerably not only from individual to individual, but from culture to culture and from era to era; social factors do have an influence. Of course, we have to have a legally fixed reference point in order to defend the rights and innocence of children -- and it is, correspondingly, reasonable in my view that it should be on the later end of the normal spectrum of maturation -- but it would certainly be preposterous to write of Muhammad as I have written, simply because Aisha wasn't 18 when they were married.

      On the other hand, she *was* six, and the marriage is generally thought to have been first consummated when she was *nine.* Even if we're willing to hypothesize readiness for marriage as early as menarche, it would be exceedingly rare to find a child reaching puberty that young, and frankly, I'm *not* willing to imagine that a nine-year-old, however precocious, was ready to experience sexual intimacy. It's perfectly true that this was normal (relatively normal, anyway), and true that there are a great many mitigating factors for the Prophet's conduct in this case; but I simply can't mentally support the idea that it wasn't actually wrong. I think that our own culture has, in that specific sense, made a real moral advance on our seventh-century forbears -- though it remains to be seen whether we will hold fast in that advance, or see it decay, few things being so common as moral fluctuation in a society as a whole.

    2. Good points.

      Still, I hesitate to imagine what a nine year old was like back then.

      I do know that, in my experience, children that age can be just as smart/aware as adults and that the psychological limits we place on them seem to largely be a sort of "crippling" the culture places on them because we aren't ready for them to enter the workforce.

      But I wonder how healthy this is. The "innocence" of children is a strange and very modern concept, this attempt to impose Freudian latency so that we can buy enough time in a state of dependency to train them to be engineers and doctors.

      Computational equivalence suggests that once a child has mastered language...anything else their brain can do is easy compared to that. The fact that we deny them maturity seems, to me, largely social.

      Remember, the Bar Mitzvah is at 13. If 13 is their 21, mightn't 9 be like their 14? Young, sure, but not unimaginably. Heck, the song "Mellow Yellow" alludes to the fact that normal heterosexual men are attracted to 14-year-olds.

      Our culture is absolutely schizophrenic when it comes to age and sex. There's a huge cognitive dissonance surrounding the age of consent idea. We have this hyper-investment of outrage in pedophilia (and even just hebephilia, which seems almost natural to humanity) while approving every other decadent perversion...

  12. Hi, Gabriel:

    Have you heard of or read of Charles Featherstone? He has a very interesting and sympathetic story of a journey through Islam to Christianity that treats the former respectfully. He has a book called "The Love that Matters".