Wednesday, October 19, 2005

St Blog's: A Comedy of Errors

The Catholic World News (CWN) commentator known as "Diogenes" reported on the recent meeting of Cardinal McCarrick with a Muslim leader, King Abjullah of Jordan, in his piece entitled "Thank Allah or thank God?" Mark Shea referred to this piece, calling to mind a quotation of CS Lewis in Mere Christianity, in his post entitled "CS Lewis on Diogenes." Then, Tom Krietzberg of Disputations used the Shea piece to accuse Diogenes of being "evil," in his post entitled "Deadly cynicism."

Now we're off to the races!

Dom Bettinelli, former editor of CWN, and current editor of Catholic World Report, draws the objectively understandable conclusion in his weblog Bettnet.com that, by virtue of association, it is implied that he is "a formal cooperator in a grave evil." He does so in a post entitled "The Grand Inquisitor has spoken."

Nguoi Dang Chay sums it up for a lot of people in the latter's comments box when he says, "I don't get it."

I wouldn't either, except I know why.

I've read this entire melodrama from the source. In order for Diogenes to be accused of being "mean" or "uncharitable," his point would have had to be clear. But such clarity only comes from knowing about the controversial nature of McCarrick's meeting to begin with, which Diogenes safely assumes for his particular audience. Then Mr Kreitzberg compounds the problem (and if it wasn't a problem with somebody, I wouldn't have nearly as much to work with here) by calling something "evil" without assuming the proper burden of explaining the exact nature of the "evil" in question.

The real "evil" here, is what is known as "the spirit of confusion," which in the ancient languages is another name for The Evil One Himself. His Eminence relies on that which, by virtue of his office, can only be considered false worship (and this is aside from his intentions; I'm speaking only to the objective nature of the act, which is all that is available to anyone, really), presumedly in order to endear himself to a head of state with a different belief system. As a show of good faith, said head of state gives a huge donation for the prelate to give to the Hurricane relief effort.

I hope it was worth the money. Because now the Cardinal (who probably hasn't had to open his own car door since getting the red hat) has to explain to those who look to him, why he's praying to a false god. Only it's not a false god, is it, because the God of the Israelites (that would be the Jews, and Jesus was a Jew, remember?) and the God of the Ishmaelites (that is, the descendants of Ishmael, essentially the Arabs, most of whom are Muslim) is one and the same (inasmuch as "Allah" is simply the word "God" in Arabic).

Still, God has made it pretty clear over the last four thousand years how He expects to be worshipped.

After all, He is a Supreme Being. You have to assume He's not entirely dim.

One thing that escapes most Catholic integrists, is a lesson of the past century. If we are going to insist on killing each other because we don't agree on politics or religion, we risk blowing up the whole damn world and everybody in it, which ultimately makes the issue a moot point. So we are tempted to go to some lengths, to ingratiate ourselves to those with whom we would otherwise disagree. This is all well and good. The only problem is, that it should not be necessary to give up what we believe, in order to agree to disagree. It is not as if the King had a gun to the Cardinal's head at the time. (If he did, I suppose it would have been reported by now.)

Once you identify the real evil -- and, in all humility, I just did -- it doesn't help to blame everybody else. The best solution is usually based on the corresponding problem. Anything else just replaces one problem with another.

And once that happens, it doesn't matter who you are, how many books you've written, or the color of your hat -- red, or black.

Any questions?

[UPDATE: Mr Kreitzberg took it upon himself to explain his position further in a subsequent post. He is right about one thing; the devil is laughing his @$$ off.]

15 Comments:

At 10/19/2005 03:06:00 PM, Blogger JohnMcG said...

Well, you have not demonstrated that Cardinal McCarrick committed an evil, only asserted it. You're relying on intimidation -- "can only be considered false worship" -- really? there seems to be considerable disagreement on that point -- "Still, God has made it pretty clear over the last four thousand years how He expects to be worshipped." -- and where has He made it clear He does not want to be called Allah? And throw in some irrelevancies -- why does it matter if he's had to open his car door?

Do you really think there are Catholics who read about this incident and concluded that there is really no difference between Cathoicism and Islam?

 
At 10/19/2005 03:25:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"Do you really think there are Catholics who read about this incident and concluded that there is really no difference between Cathoicism and Islam?"

Thanks for writing, John.

To answer your question, apparently there is at least one, namely His Eminence. That is what concerns me, inasmuch as he has the power to influence others.

His Eminence used a setting of Christians and Muslims to refer to "Allah." I did not contend that God could not be referred to as "Allah" (and I went to some lengths to make this point), but the Old and New Testament speaks of how God wished to be properly worshipped, and Our Lord Himself answered the question clearly, when asked how we are to pray.

That being said, His Eminence used this term while speaking his own language, English, as opposed to Arabic. One must conclude that he is demonstrating a form of worship other that to which he would otherwise profess. While this seems well-intentioned in appearance, it is less than perfectly honest in its essence.

Islam is not Christianity. It can be considered, from a Catholic viewpoint, to be an outgrowth of the Arian heresy, and proclaims rather clearly: "There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his Prophet." A practicing Muslim would consider Jesus Christ (referred to as "Issa" in the Koran), not as the Son of God, but as a minor prophet by comparison to Muhammad.

The "car door" was an admittedly-veiled reference to the prelate's failure to think through the consequences of his public actions. Such an action, and others like it on the part of some of his confreres in recent years, has led to confusion in the Christian world, while failing to lessen the treatment of Christians in the Muslim world.

Although, in fairness, that was a big check the King signed over. Not too shabby, huh? If that leads to other good faith gestures, I could be proven wrong. But I don't believe I have -- yet.

I suspect we won't agree on all this, but I hope that answers your questions.

 
At 10/19/2005 03:59:00 PM, Blogger JohnMcG said...

I appreciate your thoughtful response.

 
At 10/19/2005 04:33:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There may have been Christians there, but it was primarily a Muslim event, an event about Islam. The Cardinal seems to have played a bit of the role of Melchizedek here, blessing the King for his promotion of a more peaceful and tolerant brand of Islam. In return, the King gave the Cardinal a tenth of a millionth of a percent of everything he had.

You claim that this sort of action by McCarrick has "fail[ed] to lessen the treatment of Christians in the Muslim world". But if the treatment of Christians by Muslims did improve in some little corner of the Muslim world, would you allow this sort of public action in grateful response? This question is relevant, because McCarrick's action was in fact taken precisely in response to an initiative by the Muslim King to eliminate violence against people because of their religious beliefs.

 
At 10/19/2005 04:38:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"But if the treatment of Christians by Muslims did improve in some little corner of the Muslim world, would you allow this sort of public action in grateful response?"

I'd stop short of pretending to be something I was not. Sooner or later, those at odds with one another would have to do the same. That's where the answer to "What if.." really begins.

 
At 10/19/2005 10:51:00 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

David:

How funny! I've just been lambasted by the congnoscenti over at Disputations for questioning the "obvious", i.e, what is "simply true," that Diogenes is wicked and a detractor for his sarcasm toward the Cardinal's exchanges with the King.

Now I come over to "Black Hat" and find that I disagree with your analysis entirely! I don't think the Cardinal did anything wrong at all in praying to Allah.

But although I am firmly persuaded of this, I can understand why people might think otherwise. What REALLY gripes me in this whole discussion is the whole, "the Catholic Church OBVIOUSLY teaches that McCarrick was right" and "anyone who speaks sarcastically about scandalous evil is an icon of wickedness incarnate."

 
At 10/20/2005 08:49:00 AM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

Jeff:

As always, thanks for writing in.

(If this is who I think it is, better not let anyone at Old St Mary's hear you talk like this -- wink!)

I don't know how we could come to a middle ground here. When I think of the early Christians in Rome, they could have made life easier for themselves if they simply burned incense in the presence of the officially state-sanctioned grave images -- without a hint of sincerity, just going through the motions, mind you -- then gone home to worship the their Christian God in private.

Some of them did that, and they got off easy. But a lot of them didn't, and the names of some of them can be found in the Roman Canon. Curiously, the name "Theodore" did not make it into that anaphora. Do you suppose it would now?

Maybe sometimes there is no middle ground.

 
At 10/20/2005 01:05:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"That being said, His Eminence used this term while speaking his own language, English, as opposed to Arabic. One must conclude that he is demonstrating a form of worship other that to which he would otherwise profess."

If that's so, it isn't from use of the word "Allah," but from his employment of the Moslem formula "the beneficent, the merciful." Do we deny, however, that God (or Allah, if we happen to lapse into Arabic) is beneficient and merciful? This strikes me as just one of those instances where we embrace that which is true in a false religion. To give an example, when Catholics are worshipping with Protestants, they often will conclude the Lord's Prayer with the doxology "For thine is the kingdom, and the power, etc." There's nothing wrong with those words per se. They are, however, indicative of the Protestant form of worship. Are we ready to get bent out of shape about this "false worship"? I doubt it.

I'm bothered by the use of "Allah," but not because I think it is a form of false worship. I object for the same reason that I would object if McCarrick had used "Dieu" when speaking in English to the president of France, or told the president of Italy how much he enjoyed his last visit to "Roma": it's just tacky.

 
At 10/20/2005 01:34:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

Anon:

I thought I was explicit enough when I said: "...the God of the Israelites (that would be the Jews, and Jesus was a Jew, remember?) and the God of the Ishmaelites (that is, the descendants of Ishmael, essentially the Arabs, most of whom are Muslim) is one and the same (inasmuch as 'Allah' is simply the word 'God' in Arabic)." Were that not sufficient, I restated to a fellow-correspondent of yours that "His Eminence used a setting of Christians and Muslims to refer to 'Allah.' I did not contend that God could not be referred to as 'Allah' (and I went to some lengths to make this point), but the Old and New Testament speaks of how God wished to be properly worshipped..."

So, before we go any further, let's agree that the issue IS NOT WITH THE WORD "ALLAH" ITSELF, OKAY???

Now (whew!), to continue...

I guess what I mean (as if the above were not enough) is that the issue here is the CONTEXT of his address, and how God is addressed. His Eminence was using a term which, if only in this specific setting, referred to a mode of worship other than that of Christians. What makes this problematic is that, regardless of the setting, he purports to BE a Christian.

Okay, stay with me on this one.

For most of societies, and for most of history, the calling of someone by their name, and the manner of addressing them, defines one's relationship to them. When God spoke to Abram, He renamed him "Abraham." And when His Son spoke to Simone bar-Jona, He renamed him "Peter." More recently, when I had a son, I named him "Paul," after both of his grandfathers, and gave him the middle name of "David," as if to address him as "Paul son of David." In the above cases, the right to give someone their name connotes having dominion over them.

To elaborate, Paul does have the right to refer to me as "David." He addresses me as "Dad," or, when I'm in a good mood, the more generic title of "Sir."

Now, to apply this to the setting in question...

To address God by his Arabic name in an English-language setting, in the presence of non-believers (that is, those who do not believe in Christianity) who only address God by the Arabic name, is to identify myself with them.

But wait, I'm really not one of them, am I?

Or am I?

The doxology to the Lord's Prayer added by Protestants -- or at least a variation of it -- is also used by Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Eastern Catholics in communion with Rome, and those with the authority "to bind and to loose" (which is reminiscent of the rabbinical authority, by the way) have deemed it prudent for use in the reformed Roman liturgy. As to other settings (interfaith prayer gatherings and the like), it is at least Christian, so the comparison you draw is found wanting.

I hope that at least adds some clarity to my position. If you've read this far, Anon, thanks for listening.

Oh, and sorry about the "shouting" (a privilege reserved in this forum to Yours Truly, by the way).

 
At 10/20/2005 01:47:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

ERRATA: The above should have said: "Paul does not have the right to refer to me as 'David.'"

 
At 10/20/2005 03:00:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So the problem *was* the use of the Moslem formula "the beneficent, the merciful"?

God has, to be sure, revealed over the past 4000 years how He wants to be worshipped, but I don't see how that formula is contrary to that revelation. Outside of the liturgy, the public prayer of the Church, we are left pretty free to choose the forms of our prayer. If McCarrick had addressed "Allah" in terms usually reserved for Kali or Moloch, I'd have a problem with that, since that *would* be contrary to God's self-revelation. But "beneficent"? "Merciful"? What's there to disagree with?

--Seamus (who'd post under that name, except that I prefer not to go through the rigamarole of setting up a Blogger account)

 
At 10/20/2005 03:12:00 PM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"So the problem *was* the use of the Moslem formula 'the beneficent, the merciful'?"

Seamus:

What???

I didn't even refer to those titles at all. But -- since you brought it up...

Yes, our God is beneficient and merciful. But in using two of the ninety-nine titles that Muslims formally apply when praying to God (for whom, according to them, Mohammed is his Prophet, and we don't believe that, right?), the same principle would apply.

That is to say, it's not the name itself, so much as the context, and the appearance of intent. (Notice my use of the word "appearance" when mentioning intent. I don't know his intent. But I know how it looks.)

And thanks for using a real name like "Seamus," for pity's sake. All these "Anonymous" guys look alike to me. Stay in touch.

 
At 10/20/2005 05:02:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I didn't even refer to those titles at all."

But there's nothing that McCarrick said, *other* than the name and those titles, that anyone has taken issue with. If the name wasn't the problem, I assumed it must be the titles.

Your view is that McCarrick, by using the Allah and the titles, while addressing non-Christians, was to identify himself with them. I'd agree that he was identifying himself with them, but only as people who shared his belief in certain attributes of God -- to wit, His beneficence and mercifulness of God. I find that no more offensive than St. Paul speaking of the "Unknown God" as a way of establishing a rapport with the people on the Areopagus. (Of course, St. Paul went on to evangelize them to belief in the true God, even if the only ones he managed to covert were Dionysos and a few women. I'd be surprised if McCarrick did even that well, were he to try.) I suspect, though, that we will have to agree to disagree on this point. But in a world where there are bishops tolerating, if not open heresy, then at least opinions "offensive to pious ears" in the pulpit, I'd suggest that going after McCarrick for this is hardly the top priority for ecclesiastical housekeeping.

(I must say, though, that I find it strange, having just come from defending Diogenes over at disputations, to be defending McCarrick (whom I don't even particularly like) here. (But at least I don't get the same hostile vibe here that I got from those champions of charity over there.))

Regards,

Seamus

PS: And I suspect you are right in suspecting who Jeff is. Small world, ain't it.

 
At 10/20/2005 11:38:00 PM, Blogger Jeff said...

Seamus and David:

You two met some time ago at my son's first communion party, though you may not remember it.

 
At 10/21/2005 08:28:00 AM, Blogger David L Alexander said...

"[A]t least I don't get the same hostile vibe here that I got from those champions of charity over there."

And you won't. Tell your friends.

If we can agree on one thing at this point, it's to disagree. But what's important here is that the issue has been analyzed, and a point/counterpoint exercise has been engaged. Where McCarrick's sense of judgment falls on the list of priorities may be a matter of some conjecture, but confusion of the faithful in the present era, over how we are to pray, and what we are to believe -- "Lex orandi, lex credendi." -- is not. When we realize that such is what is truly at stake, the excessive reaction of one commentator "is hardly the top priority" for much of anything.

And with that, I suspect I'm done. Stay tuned, and stay in touch.

(Note to Jeff: Oh, yeah -- Seamus. The little guy in the green suit talking about his lucky charms being magically delicious. I remember now...)

 

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