In the past couple of weeks there has been an explosion of fear and hatred towards Muslims in the US. This is partially the result of terrorist actions. I think, more importantly, it is the result of hate-mongers who are deliberately stirring up fear in order to advance their own political careers. What makes me the most sad, however, is to see many Catholics who are sincere and devout in their faith being mislead by the lies that are being told and being goaded, through rhetoric calculated to prey upon most people’s ignorance of Islam and of the Muslim world, into acts and attitudes that are contrary to the teaching of the Church.
Devout Catholics generally hold it to be true that adherence to the Church’s teaching and obedience to Her guidance is necessary especially in cases where we are inclined to let our passions rule us. This is true of the irascible passions — fear and anger — just as much as it is true of the softer lusts and appetites. Being human we easily fall into error when we allow our feelings to rule us. Those feelings may be natural and understandable. They may even cloak themselves in argument and rationalization. But unless we’re willing to take our instinctive reactions and submit them to the authority of the Church, we risk becoming unwitting accomplices of evil.
There’s been a lot of speculation about how Christians should understand Islam. Should we take the Qur’an literally, the way that sola scriptura Protestants take the Bible? Should we see Islam as a religion of violence and terrorism? Are practices which would isolate Muslims and keep them from our borders justified in the light of the present situation?
For answers to these questions, we need to look not to American political figures, nor even to Catholic news sources or bloggers who may have been influenced by the climate of fear. We must look, instead, to the Church. This is quite literally a pro-life issue: there are refugees who will die if they are not given shelter, and already acts of violence against the Muslim community have started to be a regular occurrence. If the agenda of hatred continues to advance at the present rate, there is a frighteningly real possibility that it will escalate into the kind of national evil that occurred during World War II with the internment of Japanese Americans. Perhaps even worse. Already, significant figures within the political landscape of America have started to advocate measures of this kind, and even to speak of past sins as though they were a good to be invoked, rather than a stain on the national character.
For those who would like to dig a little deeper, the US Council of Catholic Bishops helpfully provides a compendium of statements from Popes and from Vatican Councils concerning the Muslim religion and relationship between the Catholic Church and Islam. Here we see articulated, with truth and charity, an authentic Christian response to our Muslim neighbours. It is a response overwhelmingly animated by hope, grace, love, forgiveness, mutual respect and a desire to seek peace and accord, always assuming the good will of others and offering them support and care as children of God.
This is the response to which all Catholics, indeed all Christians, are called. We must be deeply wary of allowing our passions to be stirred by men who would foment hate, and of allowing our consciences to be distorted by our own fears. The Church has spoken and acted clearly, providing Christians with a holy and loving example of how we ought to respond to Islam. As we move through the darkness of fear and hate, the threat of terrorism, the reality of war, let Her teaching be the sure star by which we draw towards the Incarnate Truth, the hope of advent, the Reign of Peace.
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