More on Pope Francis, ISIS, and Muslims at Catholic Mass

More on Pope Francis, ISIS, and Muslims at Catholic Mass August 1, 2016

By Alexandre Duret-Lutz from Paris, France ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
By Alexandre Duret-Lutz from Paris, France ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.

Blogging ought to be a speculative project. If there is anything to add to the common refrain of blog posts against blogging, it is this: those who take the time to blog, ought to also take the time clarify what is often not a completely well thought-out post.

Today I wrote about the two-sided problem of, on the one hand, a complete equivocation between the religion of Islam and ISIS and, on the other hand, the complete anti-equivocation of that relationship in the recent words of Francis.

Later on in that post, I compared the situation to the efforts of the Jesuit order in the Truth and Reconciliation movement between Indigenous victims and Catholic abusers. By the end of the post I think I was less than clear, so take this post as a brief restatement.

  1. A clarification: When I speak of religion here I am mostly referring to “a religion” in the institutional sense of religion. This means that my work here is not particularly sophisticated or profound.
  2. A restatement: It is very easy to reject the idea that, when an institution uses the same words as another institution, they have to be considered as equal to each other or even as mostly similar in type. Anyone who defends this position is not thinking it through with honesty, goodwill, or intelligence.
  3. Another restatement: Reacting against the lazy thought in point two, one might be tempted to reject any similarity whatsoever between two such institutions, as Francis recently did between Islam and ISIS. While well-intended, this could be just as harmful because, for one, the reoccurring terms do merit some thought into their differences as well as possible similarities (e.g., historical overlaps, language of origin and so on) and, more importantly, to do away with any similarity at all prevents the possibility of the true form of a religion rejecting the false one–a rejection that cannot occur unless there is some real relation that is not only about words. We have witnessed this relation in the outpouring of support from the Muslim community in France that attended Catholic masses in solidarity.
  4. A correction: While it may seem useful to compare the specific distinction between the ISIS that kills Muslims and Christians and the Islam that motivates Muslims to pray in French Catholic Churches with the sense of true and false religion we find in the many offences of the Roman Catholic Church, I am not fairly certain that this comparison is unhelpful. After all, the history of Islam has its fair share of violence and wrongdoing, as all religions of any consequence do. Even Quakers have not always been so rosy. But to make this comparison between the Jesuit order’s sins and the sins of ISIS I fear I have allowed myself to be sucked into a category mistake. It is one thing to have a dissident sect that commits crimes of which one needs to show proper distance from. It is quite another thing to be aware of your own institution’s overt failure, not in renegade form but very much as a part of the institution, and atone for them out of a much more direct sense of responsibility.

In failing to be clear about (1) what I mean by religion and (2) what the relative difference is between ISIS and Jesuit residential schools for a Roman Catholic, I failed to convey my most basic point and perhaps have even violated it in the process.

The new point, then, is as simple as before, albeit a bit more sheepishly stated: it is hard work to hold a reasonable position, especially in something as emotionally charged as institutional religion and violence. As much as I was critical of Francis, I see now that I was also in need of correction, which Artur Rosman from Cosmos the in Lost skillfully added.

These corrections are not harms or threats. They are always blessings and chances to further shape our understanding.

In other news, I recently spoke with Timothy Putnam about having an informed conscience in relation to the upcoming election. Take listen here. I also have a ten-part lecture series on the Catholic Intellectual Tradition coming out very soon as a podcast with Breadbox Media. Stay posted!

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