Calvinists and Muslims Together

Calvinists and Muslims Together July 21, 2017

Since first visiting Turkey six years ago and thinking about the relationship between Islam and the West, I have become aware of certain parallels between Reformed Protestantism and Islam. Take, for instance, the Ottomans’ recognition of Calvinist ministers in sixteenth-century Hungary as a better set of Christian pastors with which to cooperate in relating to the local population than Roman Catholic priests.

Thanks to Maureen Mularkey’s recent piece on Islam’s growing presence in Europe, I can now identify another attribute that Calvinism and Islam have in common: Hilaire Belloc tolerated neither faith.

On Belloc’s disregard for Islam, Mullarkey provides the summary:

“The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed” was one of seven essays in his “The Great Heresies.” He wrote from the standpoint of an historian and Catholic apologist examining the effects of the great heresies of the past (i.e. Arianism, Albigensianism) on the Western world. In these days of white-glove ecumenism and interfaith dialogue, Belloc’s pre-conciliar disdain for non-Catholic religions has eclipsed his once-eminent status as one of the most accomplished men of letters in early twentieth century England.

Catholics themselves are uneasy quoting Belloc these days. And that is too bad. His insight into Islam at a time England was preoccupied—with Hitler, communism abroad, and a fascist movement at home—was exceptional. And penetrating. . . .

Belloc saw Islam as less a new religion than a heresy that selected among Christian doctrines. He ascribes its perdurance and vitality, in part, to the fact that, unlike previous heresies, it was sui generis. However much it borrowed from the surrounding Christendom, it did not arise within it. It was a distortion but never a defection from any Western reality. Consequently, it did not carry the seeds of the West’s capacity for methodical doubt and self-accusation: “In Islam, there has been no such dissolution of ancestral doctrine—or, at any rate, nothing corresponding to the universal break-up of religion in Europe.”

One of the reasons that Roman Catholics may not want to quote Belloc is that he was equally condemning of John Calvin and those who formed the Reformed churches:

the coincident Calvinist devotion to material success, the Calvinist antagonism to poverty and humility, survive in full strength. Usury would not be eating up the modern world but for Calvin nor, but for Calvin, would men debase themselves to accept inevitable doom; nor, but for Calvin, would Communism be with us as it is today, nor, but for Calvin, would Scientific Monism dominate as it (till recently) did the modern world, killing the doctrine of miracle and paralysing Free Will.

This mighty French genius launched his Word nearly twenty years after the religious revolution had begun: round that Word the battle of Church and counter-Church was fought out; and the destruction of Christian unity, which we call the Reformation, was essentially for more than a century to become the product of a vivid effort, enthusiastic as early Islam had been, to replace the ancient Christian thing by Calvin’s new creed. It acted as all revolutions do, by the forming of “cells.” Groups arose throughout the West, small highly disciplined societies of men, determined to spread “the Gospel,” “the Religion”-it had many names. The intensity of the movement grew steadily, especially in France, the country of its founder.

To be clear, Belloc is much less harsh about Lutheransism.

These sorts of sharp judgments, as Mullarkey observes, are rare among church leaders today who go out of their way to exude ecumenical hugs and kisses and affirm inter-religious dialogue. But maybe the recent Jesuit condemnation of the Alt-Right, complete with links to the oddball Calvinist, Rousas Rushdoony, is an example that Belloc’s outlook is making a comeback.

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