In a post a couple of months ago, Fr. Z tackles the question of whether Good Catholics can eat halal cooking. The occasion of the discussion is that Evil Pope Francis had a banquet for 1500 of Rome’s poor and, like a considerate host, made sure the food was acceptable to the Muslims who came.
The discussion could have gone in any number of directions. You know:
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. . But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Lk 14:12–14).
or (since Fr. Z’s reader is a Pharisee terribly upset that Evil Bergoglio is eating with Muslims):
And as he sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mt 9:10–13).
Indeed, Fr. Z. could have just said, “Dude. He’s the pope. Do you really think he’s going worship idols? Chill. He was being considerate. You should try it too” and not written such a lengthy reply.
But no. Instead, he takes seriously a Muslim-hating bigot’s paranoia that eating some halal food will give a Christian a dose of Muslim cooties and make him guilty of “idol worship”, concluding, “To be on the strict side, avoid halal meat if possible.”
This is what Jesus refers to as “tying up heavy burdens for men’s backs and not lifting a finger to help.” It’s also a rank case of theological chaos.
Here’s the deal: Islam inherits from Judaism the notion of ritually impure foods. Christianity does not. Not that Christians don’t have foods they won’t touch. Every culture does. If you don’t believe me, have a nice heaping bowl of insect larva or a small, tasty glass of your own urine. Neither will do you any harm health-wise, but like most westerners, your revulsion will carry the day. Every culture has an “ick” food group. Jews and Muslims have sacralized theirs. So their cultures relate the “ick” response to food to their “ick” response to sin. Christianity, on Christ’s authority, severed that link (one of the things that made it possible for the Faith to reach a much broader Gentile audience):
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man.” (Mk 7:18–23).
So Paul remarks:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews; to those under the law I became as one under the law—though not being myself under the law—that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law—not being without law toward God but under the law of Christ—that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. (1 Co 9:19–22).
This is how an evangelist thinks. Paul did not regard himself as bound by the ceremonial rites of Moses any more since he had died to the law in baptism. But when he was with Jews, he respected Jewish custom so as not to give unnecessary scandal. In short, when your neighbor takes off his shoes in his own home, don’t be a jerk. Respect your neighbor’s customs. In the same way, Paul respected the customs of Gentiles and didn’t gripe about their weird menus but thanked them politely for their hospitality instead of trying to force them to eat what he liked. The Church has done the same ever since. It’s why we have Christmas trees, ham at Easter, Easter eggs, and Our Lady of the Amazon statues.
Likewise, Paul told his flock not to sweat what they ate. This was a scruple for some since lots of the meat you bought at market in Gentile cities came from animals ritually sacrificed in a pagan temple. Some Jewish Christians of tender conscience worried that this made them guilty of participating in the worship of the pagan god. Paul’s advice is “Thank God for it and enjoy your steak. You are not participating in the sacrifice by eating it if you thank God for it. God owns all the cows.” His one exception is if somebody of weak conscience might be led to think it is okay to worship the idol to which the sacrifice was offered. And to do him justice, Fr. Z notes all this accurately as he quotes Paul writing to the Corinthians:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market [including meat sacrificed to false idols] without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (But if some one says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’ sake— I mean his conscience, not yours—do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
But then, weirdly, he decides to credit the bogus notion that Muslims worship a “false god”, something directly denied by the Church:
CCC 841: “The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”
I know, I know, I’ve heard the bunk denying this. Some Reactionaries zero in on “these profess” to try to say Muslims only “claim” to worship the God of Abraham. That’s why I bold the Church’s own language to make clear the Church accepts the claim that they do worship the God of Abraham “together with us”.
At this point the Reactionary reply is to say, “Yeah. But that’s just post-Vatican II modernism. Back in the day, Catholics knew better.”
You mean back in 1076, when Pope St. Gregory VII, wrote to the Muslim Sultan of Bougie in North Africa to say:
For there is nothing which Almighty God, who wishes that all men should be saved and that no man should perish, more approves in our conduct than that a man should first love God and then his fellow men … Most certainly you and we ought to love each other in this way more than other races of men, because we believe and confess one God, albeit in different ways, whom each day we praise and reverence as the creator of all ages and the governor of this world.
You may believe that St. Gregory is a modernist worshiper of false gods, but I find that a tough sell.
Reactionaries (typically westerners in the Latin rite who get their theology from FOX and whack job Protestant Fundamentalists by means of rumor and osmosis) love to claim that “Allah” is a “false god” because they hate Muslims and know nothing of their own Church’s history. “Allah” is just the Arabic for God, just as “God” is just the English transmogrification of “Gott” which was just the translation of the Latin “Deus” which is just the Latin word which referred to the One God of Israel, the God of Abraham. Arabic-speaking Christians in the Middle East were worshiping Allah in the Divine Liturgy when Mohammed was a gleam in his great-grandfather’s eye. They still worship Allah in the Maronite rite of the Catholic Church. Try telling Maronite Catholics they worship a false god.
What really drives the whole “Muslims worship a false god” narrative is ignorant bigotry. It is the same ignorant bigotry that drives some Reactionary anti-semites to claim that Jews likewise worship a false god. (I’ve actually seen claims from one Reactionary kook that you have to “exorcise” Jewish kosher dishes.) And it is false for the same reason. Jews and Muslims both worship the one God of Abraham, albeit without the perfecting revelation that comes through Jesus Christ. Some Muslim-haters insist that because Muslims don’t believe in Jesus’ divinity, they worship a false god. Among this subculture there are two smaller subcultures: those who refuse to face the fact that they also mean Jews worship a false god and those who eagerly embrace that lie since they hate Jews too.
Meanwhile, back in the Catholic Church there is a difference between worshiping what is not God (such as the sun or a beetle or a cat) and worshiping what is God imperfectly.
All this means one thing as far as Fr. Z’s reader goes: if one eats halal (or kosher) food one is not eating something sacrificed to a false god. If you think there is some imminent danger that eating shish kabob or a knish is really likely to lead your date at the Iranian restaurant or the deli into apostasy and conversion to Islam or Judaism, I would suggest that you dial back on the caffeine. I would also suggest that your bigotry against Muslims and Jews is probably far more like to repel people away from your Christianity than it is likely to make them convert to either religion.
In conclusion, eat what you like and thank God for it through Christ our Lord. Also, avoid Fortress Catholicism, which gives not a thought to being a pleasant and considerate host to poor people in its obsessive need to find any excuse, no matter how silly, to attack the Holy Father. Instead, go out into the highways and byways and invite the poor to come and eat out of fearless Christian generosity and don’t be afraid of cooties. It’s what comes out of the heart, not what goes into the belly, that matters.
For the kingdom of God does not mean food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Ro 14:16–17).