Here is a transcript of my debate with Dr. Peter Kreeft last month at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. Video above.
Professor Zmirak: I’m very proud to have with me the most distinguished writers in their fields alive, the most distinguished Catholic philosophical writer in English, Dr. Peter Kreeft, and the leading expert on jihad and political Islam, Mr. Robert Spencer. Dr. Kreeft has written a book called Between Allah and Jesus. It’s the third book in the series written exploring the interface and the interactions and the commonalities and divergences between Christianity and Islam. Dr. Kreeft is also a Professor of Philosophy at Boston College and has written more than forty-five books; I’ve read a large percentage of them and enjoyed them immensely. I’m very honored and proud he was able to make it. Mr. Spencer is author of ten books and he’s also the editor of JihadWatch.com.
Our topic is “Resolved: that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim.” Mr. Spencer will be speaking first, in the affirmative, for twenty minutes, then Dr. Kreeft responds for twenty minutes, then there will be twenty minutes of them asking each other questions, then I’ll pose a few questions, there will be opportunities for questions from the audience. So Mr. Spencer, if you would like to lead off….
Mr. Spencer: Thank you very much. Thank you all for coming and thank you to everyone at Thomas More College for hosting this. I think this is a discussion that needs to be had in the public square and is all too often ignored and not held where it should be, and so I hope that this will perhaps bring some needed attention to these questions. It’s a great honor for me to be appearing with Dr. Kreeft who was my professor many hundreds of years ago.
Dr. Kreeft’s book, Between Allah and Jesus, is one that I read with great interest, and I certainly see what is the motive behind what he’s trying to do in it, insofar as I understand it correctly and why he would want to portray Islam in this manner. Now the question before us is somewhat uncomfortable; it even seems kind of insulting to say that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim–especially in a context where we have a Catholic college hosting a debate and it’s as if one of the debate participants, namely myself, is saying that religious people from a certain kind should be discouraged from holding to their religion. It seems like something that other religious people should not be in the position of saying and certainly it seems like something that most religious people would reject out of hand on the face of it and say, “Obviously this is not true because we all know that the people who are committing violence in the name of Islam are twisting and hijacking the religion. If they only go back to the tenants of the Qur’an and of Muhammad the Prophet of Islam then this problem and attendant problems of terrorism and Islamic supremacism would evanesce.”
And I think it’s in that spirit that Dr. Kreeft wrote his book. It is something devoutly to be wished that people of good will of all faiths could find some common accord and work on that common accord for their shared values. We have even seen that happen between the Catholic Church and Islamic countries at the United Nations against various anti-life initiatives. And so this is something many people have great hope for. The great danger is holding such a hope is one that many people fall into and project upon other religious people values which we ourselves may hold, and that therefore we assume that people of other religious traditions must also hold–when actually that’s not the case. And unfortunately I must say with regret that I did find a great deal of that kind of thing in this particular book. The idea for example is posited several times in the book by the Muslim character, who I think it’s fair to say is the hero of the story. Many times he says that jihad is an interior spiritual struggle. Now that is something that does exist in Islamic tradition. But tonight we are asking, ‘Should Muslim piety be encouraged?
Should Muslim people be encouraged to be more rigorous and more devout and more fervent in their religious observance? ‘ So we have to go back to the wellsprings, to the teachings of Islam in the Qur’an and Muhammad the Prophet of Islam, who is held up in the Qur’an–as in chapter 33 verse 21 which calls him uswa hasana or the Excellent Example of conduct. In Islamic tradition he is even exalted in many places as al-insan al-kamil, the Perfect Man. And in practice, in Islamic tradition, even though Muhammad is rebuked several times in the Qur’an (notably in chapter 80) for his sinfulness, in practice, in Islamic tradition, Muhammad is essentially the touchstone of all behavior, and if he did it, then it’s good and right and ought to be imitated. Now that’s important for the present question, because when we have the Muslim character saying ‘Jihad is an interior spiritual struggle,’ he is in fact putting himself in the position of contradicting the words and example of Muhammad and the words of the Qur’an itself. There’s an entire chapter of the Qur’an, chapter eight, called al-Anfal: the spoils of war. There are no spoils of war in an interior spiritual struggle. There is no booty to be captured, there are no slave girls to be distributed among the warriors, and yet that chapter of the Qur’an and others contain instruction for doing just that kind of thing. And a fifth of the spoils are reserved for the Prophet himself; he took part in these wars, he actually fought seventy-eight battles during his career as the Prophet, and seventy-seven were offensive in nature. The Qur’an does not teach that jihad is an interior spiritual struggle.
The Qur’an almost unanimously when it speaks of jihad — and when it uses the Arabic word ‘jihad’ in its various forms, which means ‘struggle.’ Of course in Arabic the word ‘struggle’ has just as many connotations as ‘struggle’ does in English: You can struggle to quit smoking, you can struggle to lose weight, you can struggle against Communism or have states struggling against one another. So it is also in Islam. But the primary meaning of the word ‘jihad’ in the Qur’an is unmistakably warfare. The Muslim hero of Dr. Kreeft’s book further says that Muhammad never fought against Christians and Jews unless he did so in a defensive manner. That unfortunately is factually false. As a matter of fact, in the last battle of his career, right before he died, Muhammad went to Tabuk, which was a Byzantine imperial outpost, to fight a Christian garrison there. He didn’t actually find them there. They had left.
In chapter nine of the Qur’an are numerous teachings–which of course are portrayed as divine revelation which cannot be questioned and have to be obeyed by any pious and observant Muslim. These are instructions to wage offensive warfare against Jews and Christians–particularly in chapter nine verse twenty-nine which tells Muslims to fight against those who do not obey Allah and his messenger and do not forbid that which he has forbidden (in other words, don’t follow the strictures of Islamic law) even if they are the People of the Book, which is the Qur’anic designation for primarily Jews and Christians, until they pay the jizya (which is a tax) with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.
That verse became the foundation of an elaborate superstructure of laws that are still part of Islamic jurisprudence and of Islamic political law that Islamists, that jihad terrorists, that any Islamic supremacist wants to impose over the world today. These laws mandate that non-Muslims, the People of the Book, must pay a special tax from which Muslims are exempt. As a matter of fact, you can pretty much correlate in Islamic history the strength and aggression and rise of the great Islamic empires of the past with the size of the Jewish and Christian communities that were subjugated within those empires and were paying for that imperial expansion. When those communities were exhausted economically, then the Islamic empires went into decline. This is an absolute correlation that recurs again and again and again. The Christians and Jews in Muslim lands were subjugated in accord with that section of the verse, that last part where they must ‘pay the jizya with willing submission and they feel themselves subdued.’ They never enjoyed equality of rights with Muslims: they were denied the right to build new houses of worship or to repair old ones; they were denied the right to hold authority over Muslims so that Jews and Christians were relegated to the most menial and degrading jobs in the society. They were subject to various other humiliating and discriminatory regulations.
Now this is, as I cannot emphasize enough, still part of Islamic law. This is not one sect or one school or one group that’s heretical that has made this part of their teaching. This is universal among all sects and schools of jurisprudence that are recognized as mainstream and orthodox by fellow Muslims. They all teach–you cannot find one that does not teach–the necessity to wage wars against unbelievers and to subjugate them under the rule of Islamic law. In fact, Hamas, in Gaza, has announced its intention, once it’s fully consolidated its power, to impose this system of dhimmitude and subjugate the Christians that remain there under institutionalized forms of discrimination. Gangs in Baghdad, without government authority to be sure, terrorized the Christian community–which I’m sure you know is terrorized on a more or less daily basis: there was just another massacre in a church in Baghdad the other day–they were knocking on doors in Baghdad last year and demanding payment of the jizya, this tax which amounts to protection money. You pay it and you don’t get killed. But you don’t pay it, or you transgress some of the other laws that are set out for these subjugated peoples, and then your life is forfeit.
These things are still part of the agenda for Islamic jihadists today. The Islamic jihadists routinely portray themselves in the Muslim community worldwide and among peaceful Muslims, as being the most pious, most observant–in other words the best Muslims available. They are, in other words, the Muslims who present themselves as being the true, the pure Muslims. As a matter of fact the worldwide Salafi movement is dedicated to restoring the purity of Islam as they see it. Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 after Kemal Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924, which was the symbol of the supranational unity of the Muslims that transcended all national boundaries. Ataturk abolished the caliphate in 1924. Hasan al-Banna established the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928 in Egypt as a direct reaction, because he believed that without the political aspects of Islam–that have never been considered separable from the religious individual aspects of spiritual observance in any Islamic tradition–without the political aspect of Islam that had been damaged by the abolition of the caliphate, Islam was not being fully observed in the world.
He dedicated the Muslim Brotherhood–which is the direct forefather of Hamas and Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups as well as many pseudo-moderate groups in the United States today like the Council on American Islamic Relations–to what he saw as the fullness of Islamic observance, the true observance of Islamic piety which involved the subjugation of unbelievers, violence against them if they resisted, and the establishment of Muslims as a special class that would enjoy certain rights and privileges which the other classes would not enjoy. These things are represented around the world today, in the Islamic world and in Muslim communities in the West as well, as being part of what it means to be a good Muslim. They make their appeal to peaceful Muslims. They justify their own actions of terror or supremacism and they make recruits among peaceful Muslims by representing themselves as being the embodiment of authentic Muslim observance.
Now, obviously there are Muslims who do not consider acts of terrorism or violence, or the supremacist attempts to impose Islamic law over non-Muslims, are part of their Islamic piety. And certainly I applaud them and wish there were more of them insofar as they’re sincere. They are, however, universally worldwide on the defensive today. They are represented as the bad Muslims by their fellow Muslims who are pointing to the texts of the Qur’an and the teachings of Muhammad. And so the Muslims who we could look to with hopes of reform, the Muslims who we would look to in hopes of their being our allies, they are the ones who are considered to be the bad Muslims generally in the Islamic community. Now it must also be further stated unfortunately, that there is no theological system in Islam, there is no sect, there is no group within Islam that has formulated a comeback, a construction of Islamic theology based on the Qur’an that makes a case to reject violence and supremacism and the subjugation of unbelievers. It doesn’t exist. There are many individuals who are working against it, but there is no group that we can point to and say ‘Ah, they’re the ones we need to work with!’ In other words, they have not formulated any kind of convincing comeback. The texts are not on their side.
There are peaceful, pacifistic texts in the Qur’an. Dr. Kreeft quotes many of them in his book. He does not unfortunately quote the violent ones to which I alluded before. I mentioned one of them specifically (chapter eight verse sixty part of that al-Anfal (spoils of war chapter) that directs Muslims to ‘strike terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah.’ Now you can say ‘Well, that doesn’t have anything to do with modern terrorism, that’s terror in a much broader sense’ but unfortunately, modern terrorists can and do point to that verse and say ‘That’s what we’re doing! What’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. We’re striking terror into the hearts of the enemies of Allah.’
The peaceful passages, according to mainstream Islamic theologians, and to the preponderance of Islamic theological tradition, do not take precedence over the violent passages. The peaceful passages generally were revealed earlier in Muhammad’s career. He was a prophet for twenty-three years and over those twenty-three years he received revelations from God, which were collected in the Qur’an. Early in his career when he was in Mecca he had a small band of followers facing a very powerful pagan Arab establishment of his own tribe, the Quraysh, in Mecca. That’s when he was saying, ‘Say to the unbelievers that you have your religion and we have ours; you don’t worship what we worship and we don’t worship what you worship,’ and essentially ‘Let’s just leave each other alone.’ That’s chapter one hundred and nine of the Qur’an. The unfortunate fact is that when he later moved in the hijra to Medina and became for the first time a political and military leader that the tenor of the Qur’anic revelations began to change and the violence began to be taught and carried out by Muhammad himself.
Now, mainstream Islamic theologians and the preponderance of Islamic theological tradition teaches that if there is a disagreement between two passages in the Qur’an, then one of the chief ways to see which one takes precedence in our own day is, which one came later chronologically in Muhammad’s career. Unfortunately for us, the violence comes later, and thus is considered under the principles of al-nasikh wal-mansukh (or abrogation) to cancel out the peaceful passages. Or the peaceful passages only apply when Muslims are a small group, as the Meccan Muslims were in the first stage of Muhammad’s career. So in other words, when they’re a small group, when they’re powerless, then they teach tolerance and non-violence. But later, gaining in power and numbers, the other parts begin to kick in and the violence and the supremacism apply.
I believe right now we’re in the state of transition in the United States where we’re moving from one to the other. There’s a great deal more aggression and a great deal more assertiveness in Islamic communities and by Islamic jihadists against the United States because they see that we are at a tipping point so they can move away from tolerance. Over a third of the attacks or attempted jihad attacks against the United States that have happened since 9/11 have happened in the past year, which means there’s been a sharp uptick in the last year. And so this indicates that we are dealing with a group that considers itself to be acting in complete accord with the dictates of Islamic teaching, and thus to say that we want to encourage Islamic piety is only to encourage ultimately the cutting of our own throat: culturally, politically, societally. Thank you.
Professor Kreeft: I find myself in some difficulties here. I love debates, but I usually debate pro-choice people or Atheists. And that’s a knock-’em-down drag-’em-off debate between me and my enemy. Bob’s a good friend, a fellow Catholic, not my enemy, so I view this more as a discussion than a debate: a kind of in-house theological exploration between friends. Bob knows much more about Islam than I do. It is a minor interest of mine and usually when I say something about minor interests, even when it’s true, I get in trouble. Especially about controversial issues, like the sexual revolution or homosexuality or Islam! My final difficulty is I agree with almost everything Bob said tonight.
Professor Kreeft: Except! Except one more little question in the spirit of Columbo or Socrates, ‘one last little question.’ Almost all your premises are true but do they really entail your conclusion? It seems to me you have two conclusions, two main points, and I disagree with both of them. First is that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim; the second is that Islam is a greater threat to us than the Enlightenment, so those are the two things I’d like to focus on. I’d like to make very clear that my standards of judgment are exactly the same as Bob’s. First of all, the Magisterium of the Catholic Church, secondly, basic human reason, thirdly the facts of history and experience which can’t be denied. Since my ultimate standards of judgment are Catholic, I would like to start not with my own opinion but with the ‘opinion’ of the Catholic Church. For the first time in 450 years, the Church has issued a universal Catechism. There is a paragraph in it especially about Islam – just one – but I think this quotation is just about the most important one we can use about Islam. It says, paragraph eight, verse forty-one, “The Church’s relationship with the Muslims: 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.”
Now, I think Bob would agree with that; first of all, he’s a Catholic, secondly nothing he said contradicted that, but I would like to add to what Bob said rather than contradict it because that’s a half-truth. I don’t think he uttered any lies and I don’t think he uttered any false judgment except for his conclusions, but there are a lot of other things to say. First of all, “The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim.” I know that’s not true because I’ve met some good Muslims who are good. I’ve also met some bad ones. The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim means, quote unquote, a ‘good Muslim’ is a self-contradiction. Somebody completely faithful to the teachings of Islam and the Qur’an–and there are many different interpretations of it, not just one Islam as there is one Catholicism, as you know there’s no Magisterium for all the Muslims in the world, they’re like Protestants, they’re all over the place–
Professor Kreeft: Well, not quite as bad as that, there are not 28,000 different sects and denominations. But just as all Protestants believe the Bible, all Muslims believe the Qur’an: it’s a textual unity rather than a Magisterial unity. Let’s say there are three different levels of Islam that we have to distinguish: First of all, there’s the level of terrorist activity which none of us here supports in the least, we abominate that, there’s absolutely no excuse for that. Secondly there’s ‘Islamism,’ there’s the imposition of sharia law over everyone, there’s a refusal to make a distinction between the church and the state, there’s the identification of religion with politics, which all good Muslims share. Not all good Muslims justify terrorism, in fact most Muslims in the West profess not to, but I have never met a Muslim who believed in the separation of church and state. Therefore universal, equal human rights for people of all religions is not the ideal of any Muslim in the world including good, pious Muslims who I am defending. So I thoroughly disagree with them on those two levels.
But there’s a third level, namely personal piety, and on that level I think we can learn a lot from Muslims. I think they can sometimes put us to shame. Especially the Sufis who, although they’re not mainline Muslims and although they’re labeled by most Muslims as unorthodox, are pretty universally respected for their piety. And if you read some of the writings of the Sufis you find, among some flaky stuff, some very profound stuff. So, it is simply not true that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim. Let me tell you a story about a good Muslim, based on some combination of idealized features of Muslims I’ve met or read about and my own imagination. One of them was a student at Boston College who I had in a course about comparative religions, and he always sat next to a Jewish student who I think was Orthodox, because he had a beard and a yarmulke and dreadlocks and they fought all the time over Palestine. They almost came to blows but they sat in the front row and asked most of the difficult question and I loved them for it because I love troublemakers as long as they don’t use physical violence, and they didn’t quite use physical violence though they shouted a bit. And the rest of the students, about twenty-four of them, were Catholics, at least nominally and some stage of dissent or assent, you know, Boston College.
Professor Kreeft: It used to be a Catholic college, now it’s a Jesuit college.
Professor Kreeft: Actually, they’re not so much non-Catholics that think they’re Catholics, they’re really Hindus who think they’re Catholics you know, they’re all Pantheists who think God is everything, that’s the surprising result of questionnaires. You find out amazing things from your students from questionnaires. Anyway, it was time for the break and we learn more during the break than in my lectures, so I gave them a long break and we were munching on potato chips and drinking coke and the Jewish student, whose name was Zvai, noticed that behind my head, on the cinderblock wall, there was a faint cross painted there so he said “Is that supposed to be a cross?” I turned around and looked and realized that that was where the crucifixes used to be before they were taken down. So I turned around and I was about to, in a shamed-faced sort of way, try to give some lame explanation for the fact that the Jesuits took the crucifixes down–when the Holy Spirit closed my mouth and opened the mouth of the student next to Zvai and said “Oh, that’s where we used to have the crucifixes before we took them down” in a very proud and self-satisfied sort of way. And I thought Zvai was going to say, “Why did you take them down?” But he said, “When did you take them down?” So I said, “Why is he saying when?”
So the student scratched her head and said, “Last semester, I think.” “What month?” “February I think.” “Aha!” said Zvai, “it was the Bundy money”. “What’s that?” Well, Zvai explained that McGeorge Bundy was the Secretary of State under either Johnson or Carter, one of the Presidents, and there was a case that was going to come before the Supreme Court as to whether it violated the separation of church and state for Catholic schools to receive government grants. And the president didn’t want that case to come before the Supreme Court for some reason or other, so he had his Secretary of State negotiate an out-of-court settlement, if the school was not sectarian, divisive, or exclusionary, whatever that meant (it was vague enough to satisfy everybody). Zvai pointed out that in the semester following the ruling, every single one of the twenty-one Jesuit colleges and universities in America took down their crucifixes. “Is that a coincidence?” he said. So, none of the Catholic students knew that and they were kind of embarrassed and one said, “We wouldn’t do that for money.”And Zvai smiled wickedly and said “Of course not, but I hope you got more than thirty pieces of silver.”
Professor Kreeft: Half the students didn’t get it.
Professor Kreeft: They’re biblically illiterate. They’re not Protestants, they don’t read the Bible.
Professor Kreeft: So Zvai turned to them and said, “You see, the first Catholic to accept
a government grant was Bishop Judas Iscariot.”
Professor Kreeft: So they kept saying, “No! We didn’t do that for money, we did that to be ecumenical.” At this point, the Muslim chimed in and said, “What’s the meaning of ecumenical?” directing the question to me; I was the expert. So I opened my mouth and for the second time was about to utter some sort of answer to his reasonable question, when again, the Holy Spirit interrupted me, closed my mouth, and opened the mouth of the student next to him, another Catholic student who gave a really stupid answer to the question: “‘Ecumenical’ means we all love each other and we’re all equal and here comes everybody and we won’t offend others,” or something like that. So the Muslim said, “Oh, others, you mean like me, the Muslim, and my friend, the Jew?” Now they were friends. Now as soon as the two words, ‘Muslim’ and ‘Jew’ were pronounced, everybody got very quiet as if a blasphemy or an obscenity had been uttered. Those are very concrete words. They have teeth in them. So the Catholic student said, “Yeah!”
So the Muslim student said, “Well you have offended me.” “What?” “Yes, you have offended me by taking down your crucifixes.” “Why have we offended you, you’re a Muslim! You don’t believe Jesus died on the cross.” The Muslim said, “You took down your crucifixes to avoid offending me; you have insulted me.” “Why have we insulted you?” “Suppose you came to my country.” I think it was Iran. Not even sure. “Suppose you enrolled in a Muslim university knowing that it was a Muslim university. Now, we don’t have pictures of saints or statues. We think that’s idolatry, but when you are at a Muslim university, you know you are at a Muslim university. You may see quotations from the Qur’an. Would you be offended at seeing a Muslim symbol in a Muslim university?” “Of course not!” said the Catholic. “Who would? Only a bigot, correct?” “Yes.” “Now, you expect me to be offended at seeing a Catholic symbol in a Catholic university so you expect me to be a bigot. I am highly offended.” They were very quiet; I could smell the
Professor Kreeft: Then comes the important part. He didn’t stop at that, he turned around and faced the class like a fundamentalist preacher and he said, “How many of you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God?” I said to myself, “Who is this? Jerry Falwell in disguise–? This guy’s a Muslim? Is he from Central Casting or something?” So they gradually put their hands up in a very embarrassed sort of way and he said, “Well, I don’t believe that. I’m a Muslim. That Qur’an says that’s blasphemy, that’s ridiculous, that’s absurd, it’s awful, ‘Allah has a Son: the very mountains cover their ears before such blasphemy,’ and so on. But as a Muslim, I love Jesus. We don’t call him the Son of God. We call him one of the greatest men who ever lived. And the Qur’an says nothing bad about him, it says that he performed miracles, that he raised the dead, he was virgin-born, the Qur’an even has Allah rebuke Muhammad and say, ‘You must repent of your sins.’ It doesn’t say that about Jesus. And the Qur’an also says that Jesus will come at the End of the World to administrate the Last Judgment. So we Muslims have a deep love for the prophet Jesus, blessed be his Name. And, like Muhammad, we never say his name without ‘blessed be he’ or ‘peace be upon him.’”
“Now, if we had pictures of the prophet Jesus in our classroom we would never take them down, not for anything. Not for money, not for prestige, not even if soldiers came into our classroom with fixed bayonets and said “There has been regime change; there’s a new law: you must take down pictures of your prophet Jesus.” Every good Muslim in that class would get out of his seat, go to the front of the picture of the prophet Jesus and say, “You take down the picture of our beloved prophet Jesus over our dead body. We would be glad to be a martyr for his honor.” And now you take down pictures of your beloved prophet Jesus simply to get money from the government. So I think perhaps we are better Christians than you are.”
Professor Kreeft: I was the only one smiling. I said “Thank you, Holy Spirit, for sending a prophet outside Israel to our midst.” Now in the Old Testament, God does that very frequently. He sends pagans, either to be prophets or to be wise men or, more often, to be military generals who smash the Jews and teach them a lesson. They are agents of God. I think therefore, since I believe everything in the Bible, that it is quite likely–I know Bob will disagree with this–it is quite likely that one of the reasons why Islam is growing so fast, especially in Europe and Canada and America – that is in what used to be called Christendom, which is now apostate Christendom or Western Civilization– is that God fulfills His promises.
And one of the promises He made in the Bible is that He will bless everyone who obeys His laws and He will not bless anyone who disobeys His laws. Now there’s one law through history that Muslims have disobeyed very badly: thou shalt not kill. And Christians have a mixed track record there and while it’s not a track record to be proud of, it’s certainly not as bad as the Muslim track record. But if you look at all the other commandments, especially the one that characterizes our society the most: Thou shalt not commit adultery, I think you can see why the Muslims are being blessed. Why are they conquering Europe? They tried to do it by force of arms for a thousand years and they couldn’t do it; now they’re doing it, why? Well, because they found a weapon much stronger than swords: it’s called mothers. They are having children. They are deferring gratification, they are paying forward, they are respecting families, and we aren’t. There’s the fruit of the Enlightenment, of rationalism, individualism, secularism. If I had to choose therefore between a Muslim and a secular humanist defender-of-the-sexual-revolution Enlightenment person, for instance a Boston College theologian–
Professor Kreeft: I would certainly choose the Muslim. To say that Islam is more our enemy than the Enlightenment is to say that people who believe in, love, and worship the One True God, even though in ways that are defective and very seriously defective, are worse than people who don’t believe in God at all: that doesn’t make sense.
Our primary enemies are not Muslims. Are primary enemies are demons, according to Jesus Christ. According to Saint Paul, we wrestle “not against flesh and blood but principalities and powers.” Throughout our history we’ve forgotten that and we have confused who our enemies are, whether it’s Protestants or Communists or Muslims or whoever, we have tried to convert souls by killing bodies. Now we don’t do that anymore, and that’s good. But what we’ve substituted for that–we used to act more like Muslims that is–what we’ve substituted for that unfortunately is a kind of indifferentism and ‘Oh, c’mon, let’s just get along’ and ‘It’s not really that important’ which I think is worse. Indifferentism means you don’t even play the game; you don’t even take religious Truth seriously. That’s different from playing the game on the wrong side, believing a religion that has very bad things in it as well as very good things in it, a heretical religion–which is all religions other than Christianity, every religion has some very good things in it and very bad things in it. (Buddhism for instance: they have a wonderful sense of peace and mind control and a terrible theology with no God at all or a pantheistic Pudding.) To say that our fundamental enemies are people who on a very deep level believe in love and worship and try to obey the same God although in a much more primitive and a much more barbaric way and through a heretical communications network but ones who’ve borrowed enough from Judaism and Christianity so that the attributes of Allah, the ninety-nine names of Allah are all found in the Bible, to say that they are more are enemies than our own apostates, that strikes me as absurd. I debated an atheist once at the University of New Hampshire; they didn’t know who I was and the atheist was one of those analytical philosophers who thought that the word ‘God’ was meaningless so we didn’t get to debate whether God exists ’till the last fifteen minutes, we spend most of the time trying to defend the meaning of the word ‘God’ and describing what God’s attributes were so I thought it was a bad debate. Afterwards though a Muslim came up to me and said, “You teach at Boston College?”
Professor Kreeft: He said, “You’re a Muslim, aren’t you?” I said, “No! I’m a Catholic!” “Oh, oh, I was confused.” “Why were you confused?” “Well, your theology is perfect, you know Allah exactly.” Now at that point I’d never even read the Qur’an. It is obvious the Catechism is right: we worship the Same God in very different ways. And there are very serious differences between Christianity and Islam and I don’t want to minimize them at all, therefore I agree with almost everything Bob said. But let’s get a sense of perspective. Who is Jesus’s real enemy? Is it Caesar? Is it the Roman soldiers? Or is it Judas Iscariot? Once we get the Judas Iscariots out of the Church, I think we may be able to convert Muslims and I would love nothing better than to convert Muslims. But the way you convert people is by holiness, by sanctity. Now, if we could meet on a fair battlefield here, in which the weapons were not swords but hearts, if we could send saints to Muslim countries and they send their saints to our country and we tried to convert each other by the power of sanctity… that would be a wonderful battle because nobody would lose. And I think we’d win more hearts than they would.
Professor Zmirak: Thank you.
Mr. Spencer: Well, I understand Dr. Kreeft, your point that the Enlightenment is a greater enemy and we need to have some kind of a convergence or a cooperation between people with a shared morality. So I suppose what I would ask you is: How can we find an accord when there are elements of Islamic morality itself that are so deeply problematic? For example Muhammad, when he was fifty-four, consummated a marriage with a nine-year-old girl. As he is the “excellent example” of conduct that is something that is considered normative, such that the Ayatollah Khomeini when he took power in Iran lowered the legal marriageable age of girls to nine; when the aid workers went into the refugee camps in Afghanistan in 2003, they found that half the second-grade age girls were already married and virtually all the girls older than that were already married. So this is something that is essentially rampant and very hard to eradicate. You mentioned also adultery. I think about Islamic marriage law, and the fact that a man can have four wives, all he has to do is say talaq, “you are divorced,” and she’s gone and he can get another–as well as sex slaves he’s conquered in battle, which is specifically allowed for in Qur’an (chapter four verse three). And so there’s kind of an appearance of morality that I’m not sure really squares with the morality we might want. I remember the great Oriana Fallaci–who was an Italian journalist internationally famous, and a great hero for freedom and human rights. I had the great privilege of knowing her towards the end of her life, and she told me that when did a very famous interview with the Ayatollah Khomeini, she was preparing with the translator in a room in Tehran before they went to meet Khomeini. And suddenly a mullah burst in and said “It’s a scandal! It’s terrible! You’re sharing a room and you’re not married! And you’re in a room alone with a man!” And so he forced her to marry the translator. They have in Shi’ite Islam temporary marriage, which is essentially, usually–not in Fallaci’s case–but usually prostitution: a marriage contract with a deadline. You can marry somebody for an hour, or for a weekend, and then it expires and you’re not married anymore. So there’s no adultery, sure! Why should there be?
Mr. Spencer: But it’s not really anything that I would say is really preferable, even to Enlightenment ‘anything-goes’ morality, which is a corruption of Judaeo-Christian standards. How can we square that with the idea that there should be some kind of an accord between moral people?
Professor Kreeft: We can’t. However, I don’t think most Muslims would defend that. Although that may be wrong, I think it’s parallel to our attitude toward the Mormons. Can we tolerate polygamy? Certainly not, but most Mormons don’t like polygamy anymore either. And most Muslims don’t in fact, especially those in the West, have more than one wife either. Can we tolerate African Animism? No. Can we tolerate polygamy in Africa? No, the Church has a big problem with that. Nevertheless we can still learn something from the Mormons; we can learn something from the Africans, and we can learn something from the Muslims. George Weigel says that the Catholic Church could get its social agenda through Congress if it just did one thing: kick out every single Roman Catholic and replace them with a Mormon or a Muslim. In some areas, they are better than we are at preaching and practicing morality; in other areas they’re horrible. But we can still learn something from them, and the thing that I try to point out in this book that we can learn from them–it’s a difficult concept, it’s not formulatable in just one concept really it’s a set of concepts–I call it the primitive. Certainly Muslims have a more primitive concept of God. It’s not a God of Love, it’s not a Trinitarian God, it’s not a God who has a Son or who does an incarnation or who saves you, it’s a very early Old Testament God. But if we repudiate those roots entirely as the Enlightenment does, we don’t really have a God at all.
Here’s a passage from Chesterton, from Saint Thomas Aquinas — and this I think we can learn from Muslims – and we better, because we’ve forgotten it. It’s a defense of the fear of God as the beginning of all wisdom, which most religious teachers say is a very bad thing and the beginning of all foolishness. But, it doesn’t say that fear of God is the whole story, just the beginning of the story.
(Reading aloud): “The Fear of the Lord: that is the beginning of wisdom and therefore it belongs to the beginnings and is felt in the first cold hours before the dawn of civilization; the power that comes out of the wilderness and rides on the whirlwind and breaks the gods of stone, the power before which the Eastern nations are prostrate like the pavement, the power before which the primitive prophets run naked and shouting, at once proclaiming and escaping from their God. The fear that is rightly rooted in the beginning of every religion true or false, the fear of the Lord: that is the beginning of wisdom. But it is not the end.”
Now religion is an organic thing, like a tree, and if this primitive fear of God is its roots, and if we have detached from our own roots, and if a religion like Islam is clearer and stronger about those roots even though it has corrupt branches, we can learn to our own use some things from Islam about those roots. We can learn the same thing from primitive Africans.
Mr. Spencer: There are certainly things we can learn from any given individual. There are certainly wise people in all religious traditions. That’s really, I think, not at issue here; the question before us is, “Is the only good Muslim a bad Muslim?” and you mentioned earlier that you know that there are good Muslims who are good Muslims because you’ve met them. And I think, “Well, sure, I know good Catholics who contracept,” and yet they will tell you that they are perfectly good Catholics and they’re completely observant. This is of course in defiance of Catholic Church teaching and there are other people who would say, “Well, no, you’re not actually good Catholics.” And how is one to determine that? You go to the sources; you go to the teaching of the Church. And so I would submit that you only know whether a Muslim is a good Muslim or not by Islamic standards and we have to look at what their own texts and teachings say.
And so, for example, that very charming story you told about the crucifix and the pictures and the Muslim student–there are several very notable things that I think ought to be added for our edification tonight. One is that in Islamic tradition Jesus will indeed come back at the End of the World, not Muhammad. But Jesus will return at the End of the World and He will break all the crosses: that’s Islamic tradition. In other words, He will destroy Christianity, which is believed to be a perversion of the true teachings of Jesus. And so he will break all the crosses, kill the pigs–because of course the Christians are the ones who eat the pork–and abolish the jizya, the tax that I mentioned before. In other words, He will destroy Christianity and Islamize the world; that’s obviously one of those people Saint Paul mentions in Corinthians when somebody comes to you with another Jesus, “other than the One we have preached to you,” you receive him readily enough but it is not remotely the Jesus of the New Testament. And further in regard to the pictures, while I applaud and appreciate this gentleman saying that he would protect a picture of who he terms as the Prophet Jesus and would revere in other words these religious figures, actually, unfortunately, his coreligionists in the Balkans in particular, in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, there are videotapes–you can find the tapes on YouTube–of them going into churches, going into Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches and kicking down the icons of Jesus and of His Mother and burning the church, pulling down the cross off the top, destroying any representational art. Now, which one of these is really the good Muslim? Well, Islam does teach that representational art, particularly of prophets and religious figures, is a blasphemy and ought rightly be destroyed. And thus, the people who are actually being the pious, good Muslims were the ones who were destroying the icons of Jesus and His Mother in the churches in the Balkans.
Professor Kreeft: This is true, this is true. But my Muslim student would not deny that, but he said “If we had pictures, which we don’t because they are blasphemous and idolatrous, if we had pictures we would defend them to the death.” Now here’s my question for you, what do you think of this? This same student once asked to go to Mass with me. I was surprised, and he said “Don’t get me wrong, I have absolutely no intention of becoming a Catholic or anything or that I’m even interested in this it’s pure curiosity, but I promise to be respectful.” So we went to Mass together and he just sat there like a stone, he wouldn’t move, he wouldn’t rise, or kneel, or in any way cooperate but he was very quiet and respectful and afterwards I said to him, “What did you think?”
And he said two things that impressed me the first was–this was in St. Mary’s Chapel which was a beautiful little stone Gothic chapel on B.C. campus–he said, “How old is this building?” I said “Well, it’s over a hundred years old, it’s the oldest building on the B.C. campus back in 19th century.” And he said, “How old are the words that the priest uttered?” And I said, “Well, half of those were his own interpolations–
Professor Kreeft: “–and half of them were a sort of revision of the Church’s Liturgy which was translated a couple of years ago but the structure of the Mass goes back to the beginning while the actual words are fairly modern words.” He said, “I thought so.” I said, “Why?” I knew he knew nothing about Catholic tradition. He said, “Well, when I looked at the building, the stones brought my spirit closer to Heaven but when I listened to the words, they were rather like shallow, babbling brooks moving on the surface of the Earth.” I thought that was rather perceptive.
And then, then he said, “Do you Christians really believe that Jesus is literally the Son of God?” I said, “Yes, the orthodox ones do, the modernists don’t, the liberals don’t, but both Protestants and Catholics believe that.” And he said, “And the difference between you Protestants and Catholics is you Catholics also believe that when that priest holds up that little round piece of bread, that really turns into Jesus, literally?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “And that’s why everybody got very quiet then?” I said, “Yes, that was worship; that was adoration.” And I said, “I know you think that’s blasphemous and ridiculous and Protestants do too, except for Anglicans and Lutherans who believe in the Real Presence.”
(By the way, one of the things that made me a Catholic–I was born and brought up as a Calvinist–was reading the Church Fathers and how they never questioned the Real Presence for a thousand years. I said, “How could God allow such an error to exist in the Church for a thousand years? I mean, bowing down and worshipping bread and wine thinking it’s God? That’s really bad!”)
So he said, “So you Catholics believe that That is really Jesus and that Jesus is really Allah, fully divine?” I said, “Yes.” And he said, “Oh, I don’t think so.”
And I said, “Well, I don’t expect you to believe it, it’s a difficult thing to believe but of course you’re a Muslim you don’t believe that.” He said, “That’s not what I mean. I–I–I don’t want to tell you what I mean, it’s too embarrassing.” So I tried to be nice and said, “Well, I suppose you mean you can’t ever imagine doing what the other people did, the other Catholics, namely getting down on your knees before what merely seemed to be a piece of bread.”
He said, “No, that’s not what I mean.” He said, “I try to imagine myself believing that–which I of course never would, it’s blasphemous–but I don’t really think that you believe it.” “Why not?” “Well–” And he stopped again, saying, “I don’t want to insult you.” I said, “I have thick skin, try.” So I said, “You can’t imagine yourself ever getting down on your knees?” And he said, “No, I can’t imagine myself, if I believed that, ever getting up off my knees again.”
Now there’s seriousness there, there’s something there, directed to a wrong object and a wrong religion, which I think we can learn some profound lessons from.
Mr. Spencer: Well that’s actually the question before us, then. The question is not really, “Are there pious Muslims?” or “Are there pious people who are Muslims?” That’s manifest, that’s obvious, that’s easy. The question before us, as far as I understand it, is whether Islamic piety really is something in accord with the best elements of the human spirit and whether it exalts it or whether it degrades it ultimately, if somebody follows it out.
Professor Kreeft: Wouldn’t you agree that the answer to that question has to be neither a simple yes nor a simple no, because there are obviously ingredients in Muslim piety which no Christian can rightly agree with, and other ingredients in Muslim piety, equally important and equally orthodox, which every Christian must agree with?
Mr. Spencer: Well, I guess what I would say to that is–
Professor Kreeft: That’s that heart and soul of Islam itself: total surrender and submission to God, which is the formula for a saint.
Mr. Spencer: Yes, absolutely, and as you very ably pointed out in your book, that’s something that is common to Judaism and Christianity. It’s not something that was originated in Islam, and so I find myself agreeing, I must say, with the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Palaiologos, who was quoted so famously by Pope Benedict XVI a few years back, touching off worldwide riots and murders of innocent people when he quoted him saying: “There was nothing that was new or original that Muhammad brought that was not evil and inhuman.” There’s plenty of good in the Qur’an that’s taken from Judaism and Christianity. Where it becomes problematic is where it departs from that. Now, we can see that because we’re standing outside it and we understand–probably most of the people in this room know a great deal about Christianity and some of you about Judaism as well, and of course Judaism and Christianity come from the same wellsprings and are very similar in many important ways. Now, that is something we know then when we see these elements of Islam: that they are separable conceptually from the rest, but for Muslims these things are all a whole. Like you mentioned for an example the Sufis, that the Sufis have a wonderful spirituality. They do have a wonderful spirituality and in my first book, Islam Unveiled, I quote in its entirety a poem written by the Ayatollah Khomeini, who was very deeply influenced by Sufism. Now the Ayatollah Khomeini also said, “I spit on the foolish souls” who believe that Islam is a religion of peace. He didn’t have any trouble having these mystical flights that exalted his soul and also thinking that it was part of the Muslim’s responsibility to take up arms against unbelievers. And there was no separation: it was all considered to be part of the devoutness of his observance. The Sufis for several hundred years have been at the forefront of the armed jihad warfare in Chechnya against the Russians. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood who I mentioned before, was very influenced by the Sufis and as he was establishing this violent arm of political Islam he prescribed various Sufi exercises for members of the Brotherhood. Also al-Ghazali, one of the foremost Sufis in history, is very, very clear that Jews and Christians must be fought against and subjugated. He had no trouble seeing these two things together. So once again I have to come back to the topic: The only good Muslim is a bad Muslim. It’s perhaps a little course and insulting way to put it, as I explained before–but nonetheless it contains a truth, that there are elements of Islamic piety that are not separable from the rest, that are deeply embedded within the religion itself within the core teachings of the Qur’an and of Muhammad, that lead one not toward God nor any authentic spirituality, but toward absolute evil.
Professor Kreeft: Would you agree though at least that there are things in Islam that they have learned from Jews and Christians–not new things, the Emperor is perfectly right–that we have forgotten and that therefore we can relearn from them?
Mr. Spencer: Insofar as they are the Jewish and Christian traditions, then certainly, we should look to any pious people and say that piety is a good thing and ought to be fostered; I’m not sure we need to go to them to rediscover that kind of thing. There’s plenty within our own traditions that would do that for us if we would simply recover those.
Professor Kreeft: Yes, O.K. I don’t think we disagree about very much.
Professor Zmirak: Mr. Spencer, you say that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim. Presumably you mean good for us as Christians living in the West, in other words, ‘good,’ as in to our benefit, to our safety, promoting our freedom, our ability to worship, evangelize, live in peace. But if you hope that Muslims are not true to their own religion and are not true to their own conscience, then aren’t you hoping that they are disobeying the voice of Conscience and therefore damning their own souls? Isn’t that a perverse thing for us to hope for and isn’t it a little crass to hope that Muslims go to Hell just because it makes them less likely to kill us?
Mr. Spencer: It’s a wonderful question, but I think there’s a bit of sophistry there. I don’t think that God, that the True Living Existing God Who is God of all creation, would ever condemn someone to Hell for doing evil that he thought was the right thing or doing the right thing that he thought was evil. There is Absolute Good and Absolute Evil. These things are clear; these things are actually relatively universal across religious traditions with the notable exception of Islam. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis’s book, he has an appendix, a listing of various quotations establishing what he calls the Tao, the Way. What he is explaining are universally held moral principles among Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. Very notably absent are quotations from the Qur’an and from the teachings of Muhammad that would support these otherwise universal moral principles: “Thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal,” and so on and so on. Islam does uphold those things, but for Muslims only. Pretty much, all the things the media says about Islam are true if you add, ‘for Muslims’ at the end. “Islam is a religion of peace ‘for Muslims.’” “Islam is a religion of tolerance ‘for Muslims’” and so on. So the point is that when we’re talking about people following their conscience, there’s a great danger, I think, the great danger of
Hellfire for anyone, the great danger is to become convinced that to do evil is good. And thus we should do everything we can to show them that that is a demonic deception.
Professor Kreeft: I think it is very probable indeed that it is a demonic deception and I think it is very probable that the Qur’an is a mixture of three things. It claims to be a divine revelation; it could conceivably come from three and only three sources: the human, the demonic, or the Divine. In the Catholic tradition, private revelations are not infallible; the Devil loves to mess up private revelations to confuse even the saints to get whatever falsehood he can in with truths. It seems to me in the Qur’an you have a mixture of Divine revelation at least influenced by if not totally derived from Judaism and Christianity, but maybe, maybe God sent an angel to Muhammad to get some messages through, and maybe a few of them got through, I don’t know.
Mr. Spencer: So are you saying that Islam is on par with private revelation like Fatima?
Professor Kreeft: No, no, I’m saying that there may be some supernatural good as well as supernatural evil in the experience that Muhammad claims to have had in that cave mixed with Muhammad’s own very human proclivities to a mixture of good and evil. Which would explain the mixture.
Mr. Spencer: Well, I don’t know. I go back to the cave, and the very earliest Hadith, the very earliest traditions about Muhammad, are all about what happened to him in that cave. It’s very fascinating because if you were a Muslim going to Muslim school to learn about Islam, then you would learn that Muhammad was praying in a cave, and the angel Gabriel appeared to him and told him to recite, and he recited. That’s what ‘Qur’an’ means, recitation. And over the next twenty-three years he was given recitations to recite that were the Words of God, the Word of God, the perfect and eternal Word of God that had existed forever with God in Paradise, and was then being transmitted to Earth through Gabriel to Muhammad. Now, that’s a very nice story, that’s sort of the Sunday school version, or, we could say, the Friday school version.
But in the actual Hadith about the incident, the angel is not named as an angel or as Gabriel. He is some sort of spiritual being who then presses Muhammad very hard on his chest so that he thought he was going to die and tells him to recite. And he says, “I can’t, I can’t read!” because he was thinking he would have to go get a printed text or written text and then recite it. And he presses him even harder and all the breath is going out of him! He’s like a cosmic thug pressing on Muhammad, forcing him and saying, “Recite!” And finally Muhammad says “O.K. O.K.!” and he goes home and he’s shaking with fear and he says to his wife, “Cover me with a blanket” because he’s shivering and he says, “Woe is me, either poet or possessed.” By poet he didn’t mean Rod McKuen, he meant like someone who is receiving ecstatic demonic visions. And so, is that really the kind of story we would expect if it was Gabriel, the one who appeared to the Blessed Mother in the Gospel of Luke and tells her she’s going to be the Mother of Jesus? It’s a very different kind of story; it’s a very different character of story. And I think that in itself is very telling and revealing.
Professor Kreeft: It sounds suspiciously like some of the disturbing stories in some of the early parts of the Old Testament.
Mr. Spencer: I don’t know that there’s any comparable story in the Old Testament. I appreciate the–
Professor Kreeft: Jacob wrestling with the Angel?
Mr. Spencer: But what does the Angel do to Jacob that would terrify him to thinking he’s demon possessed?
Professor Kreeft: He breaks his hipbone.
Mr. Spencer: Jacob doesn’t go home and say, “I think I’ve just been demon possessed!” does he?
Professor Zmirak: Dr. Kreeft, couldn’t we learn what we need to learn from Muslims by reading their books–but nevertheless energetically fighting their attempts to assert themselves in American society, restricting their entrance into our countries and just generally fighting political Islam and protecting our own religious freedom and our own political freedom by aggressively imposing our own values on our own societies? In other words, not permitting them polygamy, not permitting them honor killing or wife beating or any of the other aspects of sharia that they claim to be asserting and in some cases are trying to assert in the legal system as in Great Britain; couldn’t we get all this from your book? Your book tells us what we need to gain from Islam and so, “O.K., fine, they can go home now.”
Professor Kreeft: The long and complete and nuanced version of my answer to your question is yes.
Professor Zmirak: We might actually agree more than I realized.
Mr. Spencer: Yes.
Professor Kreeft: On the other hand, on the other hand, I would not necessarily condemn the idea of a foundation which arose and came up with this flaky proposal. The Clash of Civilizations, Islam vs. the West, could be at least mitigated if not overcome if we simply spent some millions of dollars buying a fleet of planes and using them for a kind of double-transportation system. Let’s take all our pop-psychologists and put them in Muslim countries and let’s tell them to send us some fiery mullahs to give us some spine.
Professor Zmirak: I like that idea better than the one Prime Minister Netanyahu once expressed in the Knesset, that they should translate Sex in the City into Persian and drop the DVDs all across Iran.
Mr. Spencer: What the mullahs would do if they were imported here–I mean, we’re already seeing what’s happening, so I don’t think that that really would necessarily be a good idea. But it’s interesting to note also in terms of secularism and Islam that a lot of people have the idea that–and this is absolutely germane to the point of tonight’s discussion that the only good Muslim is a bad Muslim–it might not even be so that a bad Muslim is a good Muslim. Because secularism has often been posited as an antidote to all this as in, “Well, they’re so pious, and their piety leads them into dangerous and violent directions, so therefore we have to make them less pious so we’ll airlift Sex in the City into Iran or whatever,” but actually, you know, American culture is already there. And there is plenty of Sex in the City all over the Islamic world, make no mistake. Charles Glass was an American journalist who wrote a very fascinating book called Tribes with Flags in the 80s; the book Tribes with Flags is an account of his crazy decision to walk from Antioch in southern Turkey to Cairo, down Lebanon into Israel all the way down. And of course in Lebanon he was kidnapped by Hezbollah and held as a hostage. And while he was there, he found that his captors were listening to Michael Jackson records and Madonna. They would come up to him and they would say, “Do you think American girls would find me attractive?”
Mr. Spencer: And meanwhile they’re holding the Kalashnikovs on him! And they would go and pray and “Allahu Akbar,” and they were going to slit his throat. It’s a very straight journalistic account of what happened but then at the end it gets very interesting because [Glass] starts having visions of the Virgin Mary who tells him how to escape from his captivity and he does follow her directions and escapes.
Professor Kreeft: I have been told by numerous missionaries, most of them Protestants, that something is happening in the Islamic world in the last few decades that has never happened before: conversions to Christianity are happening and almost every single one of them has to do with a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mr. Spencer: Yes. Yes. There are visions of Mary that have appeared and been seen by really many thousands of people; it’s phenomenon.
Professor Kreeft: Zeitoun! More people saw that miracle than saw any other miracle in the
entire history of the world.
Mr. Spencer: Yes.
Professor Kreeft: Two million.
Mr. Spencer: In Cairo, standing on top of a church.
Professor Kreeft: Muslims and Christians together saw the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Mr. Spencer: So yes, something is happening.
Professor Kreeft: And she, unlike you, was making peace signs.
Mr. Spencer: Oh, I’m all for peace! But I think that peace without a realistic appraisal of the situation is just naÃ¯ve, and could be suicidally naÃ¯ve.
Professor Kreeft: I agree, I totally agree.
Professor Kreeft: The only thing you’ve said tonight, other than your conclusions that I disagree with, I think it was just a slip of the tongue, was you spoke of absolute good and absolute evil. Now, God is certainly absolutely good, but even the Devil is not absolutely evil because God created him. So how could Islam be worse than the Devil?
Mr. Spencer: I don’t want to speak about the Devil, he doesn’t interest me. But chapter ninety-one, verse seven of the Qur’an says that God “places evil within the heart of man,” which is markedly different from the Christian idea that evil is the absence of God’s Presence in the soul and evil is a rejection of God, not something that God actively encourages.
Professor Kreeft: But the Bible also says, “I create good and evil”, evil there being death and suffering, not moral evil.
Mr. Spencer: That’s a different kind.
Professor Kreeft: Maybe the Qur’an means that.
Mr. Spencer: Well we could trade verses all night –
Professor Zmirak: Wait, are you referring to the question of free will in Islam?
Mr. Spencer: Yeah, that’s just where I was going to go. In chapter thirty-two, verse thirteen of the Qur’an, Allah says “We” (he always speaks in the royal we even though he’s an absolute unity). He says “if we had willed, we could have guided all men to the truth. But instead we will fill Hell with djinns (genies) and men.” So this is the god of Islam speaking, saying, “I could have brought everyone to a knowledge of the truth but I just want to fill up Hell.”
Professor Kreeft: But, like Augustine, most Muslims also claim to believe in free will as well as infallible predestination.
Mr. Spencer: I don’t know where you’re finding them because actually the Qur’an decisively rejects the idea of free will. It says repeatedly that Allah “leads astray those who he wills,” does not “allow to go astray,” but he “leads astray those whom he wills and guides those whom he wills.” And this verse I just quoted to you is also echoed in chapter seven verse one-seventy-nine which also says “I will fill Hell with men.” He could have decided to do otherwise but he has decided to condemn people to a very luridly lovingly lavishly described vision of Hell in the Qur’an and he’s sending them there because he wants to.
Professor Zmirak: Perhaps Dr. Kreeft I can ask you this, as a former Calvinist…. In the Regensburg Address, Pope Benedict was talking about commonalities between Islam and Calvinism in their rejection of the idea that we can reason about God, because analogy does not apply to God. If we cannot reason about God, there can be no theology. Pope Benedict was talking about this as the beginning of the secularization of the Western mind. It seems to me that when the Muslims rejected the Mu’tazilite option, when they rejected philosophy, they rejected Avicenna, they rejected Averroes, at the same time Thomas Aquinas was taking these thinkers and trying to reconcile faith and reason. The Muslims saw an irreparable divide, an insuperable divide, and they chose faith as opposed to reason. Pope Benedict seemed to be saying that with Calvinism and with the Reformation, the long process began of the West rejecting faith and only accepting reason. So is there some sense in which Islam and the secular West are kind of mirror images of each other? Two broken pieces of a puzzle?
Professor Kreeft: Yes! That’s very profound!
Professor Zmirak: Thank you.
Professor Kreeft: Well he didn’t make it up, the Pope made it up.
Professor Zmirak: I’m proud of myself for remembering it.
Professor Kreeft: Robert Reilly’s recent book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, is very enlightening on that. It is a desperate philosophical mistake. It’s nominalism.
Mr. Spencer: Yes.
Professor Zmirak: All right, are there questions from the audience? O.K.
Audience Questioner No. 1: I’m seeing a parallel with the Sufis and their piety–which you were lauding them for–and the Pharisees and their piety, which was really dirty rags because the inside was corrupt. So that’s what I put to you is the Sufis’ piety.
Professor Kreeft: Even the Gospel writers didn’t say that the only good Pharisee is a bad Pharisee. In fact there were good Pharisees: Nicodemus was one of them, Joseph of Arimathea was one of them, Gamaliel was one of them and he was Saint Paul’s teacher. Here you have very good Pharisees although many of the Pharisees were wicked people.
Audience Questioner No.2: This is one for Mr. Spencer. Since politics is a practical art that brings together strange bedfellows, factions and coalitions of people and persons that normally would be opposed to each other, from a purely practical standpoint, couldn’t we say that the Christian West and Islam, individuals or political groups or nations, we can make a deal with the Devil so to speak and cooperate with them in the United Nations on the global front to fight the kind of evils that Dr. Kreeft was talking about?
Mr. Spencer: Well, I don’t have any objection to doing that. Obviously it worked in Beijing and I think the only hazard of it is that people don’t recognize the limitations of it. Here again, I’m all for peace but we need to go in to such things with open eyes and understand that we’re dealing with a group that will never regard non-Muslims as their equals and will not regard us as any more their friends because we have cooperated on these various ventures than they would if we had not cooperated. I think, for example, the American military’s idea of going and handing out candy on the streets of Baghdad and cobble and basketballs and going in and building hospitals and schools and roads and all that, it’s all great, but it’s predicated on the idea that we will win over their hearts and minds by doing that–as if, for example, they hate us because we aren’t being nice to them. Or they hate us because of our immorality, or they hate us for whatever other reason, when actually if you go back to the Qur’an it says, “Fight against the Jews and Christians,” not just the “immoral Jews and Christians” or “the Jews and Christians whose foreign policy you dislike” or something like that. Just, “Fight against the Jews and Christians.” So for a Muslim who takes that seriously, ultimately no accord is possible unless we submit or convert.
Audience Questioner No.3: We often find here in the media when there’s an event such as the Christmas Day Bomber or Fort Hood, that the Muslim has been radicalized–either one or both–what is it that radicalized them?
Professor Kreeft: Well, I know how Bob’s going to answer that question: ‘They haven’t been radicalized because Islam is essentially radical. They haven’t been turned into radicals from being moderate Muslims, rather moderate Muslims probably began by being more radical Muslims and then softened their religion.’ And that’s probably historically true. But we certainly can hope for a softening of Muslims as has happened before in history; it can happen again because Islam is like Protestantism. It has a Bible, but there are so many different interpretations of it possible without an infallible Magisterium, that there are no preset limits on emphases or interpretations that could be in the future. I don’t personally hold much hope for a moderate and liberal Islam suddenly arising in our lifetime but it’s not intrinsically impossible so I think we should encourage any movement in that direction.
Mr. Spencer: What radicalizes Muslims? It’s generally an appeal to Qur’anic texts and teachings; it’s generally a call, saying, “You are not being a good Muslim unless you do this.” Chapter nine, verse 111 of the Qur’an guarantees Paradise to those who “kill and are killed for Allah.” And this is used today by suicide bombing recruiters to get people to strap bombs on themselves. They go kill some infidels, they get killed in the process, they’re guaranteed a place in Paradise. And that’s a very powerful inducement if you really believe that this is how things work. Now what would soften these things–I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but Islam, we should know in the first place is not really like Protestantism at all. Protestantism, as far as I understand it, operates on the principle of, “The Bible alone is the authority,” and so anybody can read it and come to a different view, because no book interprets itself. But in Islam, there are authorities. There are the ulama of various countries, the religious scholars who issue fatawa which are considered binding upon those within the jurisdiction. There are the schools of jurisprudence, the madhhahib. There are nine of those. Incidentally, eight of those nine do admit to utility of artificial contraception and so that’s something that they differ from the teaching of the Catholic Church. The teaching authority of those schools of jurisprudence is considered to be binding upon the Muslims who adhere to one or the other of the schools, although it’s not a matter of conversion or some kind of rupture if one moves from one to the other. They’re regionally distributed and generally if you grow up in one area then you interpret the Qur’an according to the teachings of these various schools. As I said before, there is no sect or school that doesn’t teach the necessity to wage war on unbelievers and subjugate them. Could there arise some kind of Islam in the future that didn’t teach that or actively rejected it? I suppose anything is possible, but it would have to come with a wholesale rejection of Qur’anic literalism, and they would have to be considered by traditional and mainstream Muslims to be bad Muslims.
Professor Zmirak: They would have to be like Jesuits at Boston College?
Professor Kreeft: Exactly!
Professor Zmirak: Maybe the Jesuits can help soften up the Muslims!
Audience Questioner No. 4: Isn’t the real problem with the fact that Europe doesn’t have enough young men–they can’t replace themselves–and the fact that Europe will be Muslim in thirty years and Germany will be totally Muslim in fifty years, is that the real problem? It seems to me that with what Peter Kreeft said, “I bring the student here and he understands he’s respectful”, then I think about what happened two days ago or three days ago in Iraq.
Professor Zmirak: The slaughter in the Catholic Church in Baghdad?
Audience Questioner No.4: With Peter Kreeft, isn’t it possible he could be back–he might even have been in the church two days ago! They’re schizophrenic. Here in the United States they’re perfectly–it’s part of the faith that says when you’re outnumbered to be a pacifist. When they’re amongst themselves, when they’re in a group, they seem to lose control. So how do we handle that? What is our philosophy? How do we address that practical problem?
Mr. Spencer: I would like to amplify just a bit a couple of these points because Dr. Kreeft said earlier that most Muslims don’t practice polygamy, don’t practice these other elements of the faith that we would consider to be noxious and I think are objectively so. Actually, that’s not entirely true. Actually, even by most recent accounts–I believe, was it 20,000 or 30,000 polygamous families in the United States that are Muslim. It was very noteworthy, that Ibrahim Hooper, of the Council on American-Islamic Relations–which is a Hamas-linked Muslim Brotherhood front group that masquerades as a moderate organization–actually said in response to that news item: “Yes, there is polygamy among Muslims in the United States and Islamic scholars differ as to whether it’s permissible.” Notice, he didn’t say anything about American law making it illegal. He didn’t seem to care about that at all, it was only “Islamic Scholars.” And also, just today in San Diego, there was an Islamic cleric, a preacher of nonviolence and tolerance well regarded in his community named Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud, I’m not making that up.
Mr. Spencer: And Mohamed Mohamed Mohamud was arrested today for aiding the jihad in Somalia. And so what are we to do about this? The first thing we would have to do is assess it realistically and understand that really, anybody who professes the Islamic faith, if he delves into the teachings of his own religion, is somebody who could end up being very dangerous to us. Now, that doesn’t mean that people should be rounded up and put into camps or any of this nonsense, but we need to enforce our own laws about sedition and to formulate some sane immigration policies and recognize this as an ideological conflict and not some sort of a problem with “racism” or all these things that usually cloud these issues.
Professor Kreeft: May I ask you a question?
Mr. Spencer: Certainly.
Professor Kreeft: Which do you think is worse in the Eyes of God: Muslim polygamy or the
fruit-of-the-Enlightenment by which we say that a man can marry a man?
Mr. Spencer: You know, it’s very interesting that in Dr. Kreeft’s book, he has a chapter about marriage and writes very movingly as he can do so well about the nature of marriage. And he has the Muslim expatiating upon the nature of marriage and the respect that a husband should have for his wife and the respect that a wife should have for her husband and so on. The interesting thing to note, however, is that is not the concept of Islamic marriage at all. In Islamic marriage, the woman is essentially chattel and actually the word for marriage in Islam is an obscenity in Arabic. I’m not making this up but the theological term for marriage in Islam is a word that people don’t say in polite company. And it’s because it’s really a degraded idea. And so when you ask me “Which one is worse?” I think that both are deviations from the kind of mutual respect and mutual self-giving that the Catholic Church envisions as a marriage.
Professor Kreeft: But doesn’t the Qur’an also say that you can have four wives, but only if you can respect all of them and do justice to all of them?
Mr. Spencer: It doesn’t say respect all of them, it says you can have four wives–I happen to have it right here–it says you can have four wives if you can treat them all equally. In other words, if you treat them all the same, if you’re beastly to all of them–
Mr. Spencer: –then you can have them. It doesn’t say anything about respect.
Audience Questioner No. 5: First of all, I’d like to say that it’s nice to be at a college where we can have a debate on Islam where the faculty and students are not outside shouting obscenities.
Mr. Spencer: I was at Temple University in Philadelphia just last month and there were protestors outside shouting about racism and how I was such a terrible person and we could barely hear ourselves in there.
Audience Questioner No. 5: So what I would like to address is this growing allegiance between right-wing Islam and not only the American Left but the global Left on an ideological level. And a couple recent examples is when Bill O’Reilly went on The View, a left-of-center show, and he mentioned that we were attacked by Muslims on 9/11. Joy Behar got up and walked out and right after that, Juan Williams was fired from NPR for saying he gets nervous when he sees Muslims getting on an airplane. So I’m sure it’s something most of us innately feel and so I’m trying to figure out if you guys have any thoughts on this growing–because I feel browbeaten any time I want to speak about Islam in public and sometimes I feel like my life might be in danger because of it. So why the alliance?
Professor Zmirak: Well, I’d like to point out that Al-Qaeda has issued a fatwa against Mr. Spencer and he’s number four on their list of targeted Americans. That’s why he has a bodyguard here tonight. I would like both of you to be able to respond to that: why would the Left feel an affinity with Islam? It seems bizarre to us. Do you have any
insight, Professor Kreeft?
Professor Kreeft: Yeah: because the Left wants to feel an affinity with everybody.
Mr. Spencer: Except us.
Professor Kreeft: Absolutely right, except us.
Mr. Spencer: The Left hates America and because the Left hates America and because they see the Islamic jihadists hate America, they see a friend there. They see someone they can cooperate with, and also the Left doesn’t understand religion, doesn’t take religion seriously and thinks, “Well, yes, they’re nutty religious people, but we can control that. We’ll take care of that after we’ve defeated the real enemy.”
Professor Kreeft: Dinesh D’Souza wrote a book called The Enemy at Home, one of the best books I’ve ever read–
Mr. Spencer: One of the worst books I’ve ever read.
Professor Zmirak: All right, you guys can duke it out now.
Professor Kreeft: I heard Dinesh debate Alan Wolfe at Boston College and it was the most one-sided thing I’ve ever seen, the most embarrassing debate I’ve ever heard and Boston College since the debate refused to put the transcript out because Dinesh totally demolished Alan Wolfe, who was a classic Liberal who says, “We’re all equal, why can’t we just get along?”
Mr. Spencer: Well, certainly I wasn’t at the debate. I have debated Dinesh myself, you can see the debate on Youtube if you’re interested, we were debating because Dinesh contends in his book, The Enemy at Home, that essentially Britney Spears caused 9/11.
Professor Kreeft: That’s not that far off!
Mr. Spencer: That the American pop culture going into the Islamic world made these straitlaced moral people rise up and strike back against us. That of course completely ignores, and I don’t think Dinesh is even aware, of the fact that they were fighting jihads against us before pop culture was immoral. As a matter of fact it’s noteworthy, Sayyid Qutb, one of the key theorists of the Muslim Brotherhood, came to the United States in 1948 and spent two years here in Colorado. And he wrote about his experiences in America and how they hardened his understanding that America had to be destroyed and it was this deeply immoral principality. And in 1948, Doris Day was on top of the pop charts. The idea that that kind of thing was immoral actually betrays the fact that if you look back even in Crusader literature you find that the Islamic world generally always thinks of the Christian world as immoral. And the immorality is ultimately beside the point, because as I said before, the teachings of Islam say, “Fight the Jews and Christians.” It doesn’t say, “Leave the moral ones alone and only fight the immoral ones.” It says, “Fight the Jews and Christians.”
Professor Kreeft: Is the difference then between the Muslims and the Christians that during the Crusades, Muslims put chastity belts on their men and it said, “Make war, not love?”
Audience Questioner No.6: I was wondering, what difference are there between our concept, the Christian concept, of the ultimate beatitude, Heaven, and the Muslim concept of that and what effect that may have on motivations like you mentioned earlier, “to lose your life” or “take a life for Allah”?
Mr. Spencer: Charles de Foucauld, who is a Blessed now, lived in North Africa and was killed by jihadis there. Earlier in his life, before he dedicated himself to that kind of life in North Africa, he essentially was a libertine. And when he looked at the Islamic idea of Paradise, when he first encountered Muslims and the Qur’anic teaching about Paradise and the Afterlife, he said he had tasted those pleasures and he knew they were not the ultimate good and not the ultimate joy and not the ultimate happiness and so he knew that Islam was not the true faith because he knew that the soul needed something else. But the Islamic vision of Paradise is, just as you may already have heard, it’s essentially what you might expect a 14-year-old boy to dream up as being the highest good.
Mr. Spencer: Lots of girls, lots of cool breezes, lots to drink, it’s a pleasure palace!
Professor Kreeft: It sounds like Boston College!
Professor Zmirak: I wonder why they don’t go to Vegas?
Mr. Spencer: You could start a successful nightclub and call it ‘Muslim Paradise.’ It’d be very pious.
Professor Kreeft: I think when the pious Muslim gets to Paradise he will indeed find forty virgins, but they will be nuns.
Audience Questioner No. 7: I’m curious to hear from both of the panelists on what our public policy should look like with respect to Muslim practice in the United States?
Professor Kreeft: No question: even-handed equal protection, equal rights, no privileges, nothing special. Here is American law: it is not Muslim or anti-Muslim; it is not Christian or anti-Christian. It’s based on universal human rights, if they don’t like it, too bad!
Mr. Spencer: I’m all for that.
Audience Questioner No. 7: Well, there were jokes about enforcing sedition laws and–
Professor Kreeft: I will support the right of Muslims to build a mosque or Muslim center by 9/11; I would also support the right of an anti-Muslim or Jewish organization to put something right next to it.
Audience Member: In Saudi Arabia?
Professor Kreeft: Yes.
Mr. Spencer: I believe absolutely in human rights and in the United States Constitution and that Muslims should be accorded all those rights. That doesn’t mean, however, that the supremacists’ initiatives, including the triumphal mosque at Ground Zero, should be allowed; that’s not really a religious freedom issue at all. It’s a question of whether a mosque like the Dome of the Rock (built on the site of the Jewish Temple) or like the Hagia Sophia (converted from the grandest church in Christendom) should be allowed to mark the victory of Muslims on 9/11–which is how it will be understood in the Islamic world.
But that’s a side issue: what should we do in terms of public policy? Dr. Kreeft is right: enforce our laws and not accord any special rights, which Muslims are pressing for today in all kinds of ways, to Muslims or anyone else. And if we did that, then a lot of this problem would be solved. There’s also an example, I think, for us in how the MacArthur occupation government in Japan after World War II treated state Shinto. Shintoism was the militaristic fuel that fueled the Japanese war machine; the militaristic ideology. And after World War II, when MacArthur was in charge in Japan, he said, “Shintoism as an individual religious faith should not be interfered with at all, but Shintoism will have no place in the government or in making public policy with preference over any other group.
Audience Questioner No. 7: Well wasn’t a major crux of your argument that orthodox
Muslim practice encourages this bad behavior?
Mr. Spencer: Yeah. And so what you have here is a situation where we have to understand that there are elements of orthodox Muslim practice that Muslims are going to have to give up in the United States because they are not in accord with American law. And that is not something that is without precedent and it is not something that’s against the First Amendment. Look at Mormon polygamy, which has come up already. The United States government did not hesitate to outlaw polygamy even though it was a religious tenet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And this was considered to be something within the national interest. I don’t think it’s the least incompatible with the First Amendment to understand that there are certain elements of Islam which Muslims must not practice in the United States because they are against the national interest and in contradiction to the freedoms guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution.
Audience Questioner No. 8: I was wondering if you could answer this. I’m sure you’re probably at least familiar with the supremacy clause in the Qur’an that says that in order to honor Allah you must kill all the infidels, first the Saturdays and then the Sundays. So how is it that you would justify that statement that it is easier to work with the Enlightenmentists [sic] when their view, the Muslim’s view, is inherently contradictory to Judaeo-Christian values, where the Enlightenment’s view is not?
Professor Zmirak: O.K., first, you had a clarification?
Mr. Spencer: Yeah, I did, I wanted to point out that the Qur’an does not say to kill all the infidels, it says actually to kill the mushrikeen, which are the polytheists, those who commit shirk, which is the association of partners with Allah. Usually, but not universally, Jews and Christians are not considered to be mushrikun, they are considered to be ‘People of the Book.’ And the People of the Book have a third option; they don’t have to be killed or converted. They can be subjugated as dhimmis. Ultimately, however, there is a hadith that is very pernicious where Muhammad says, “The End Times will not come until Muslims kill Jews. And the Jews hide behind trees and the trees cry out and say, ‘O Muslim, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.’” Now that is an authenticated hadith that is one that is considered to be part of Islamic doctrine. And so it is considered to be a laudable practice for a Muslim to kill a Jew because it is something that hastens the coming of the End Times, in which all things will be consummated. But anyway, it’s not specifically in the Qur’an like that, that’s all.
Professor Zmirak: Did you want to respond?
Professor Kreeft: Well, most Muslims in the West do not believe or practice that. And I suppose Bob must be right in saying that if everything in the Qur’an must be accepted literally and practiced, then these are bad Muslims. So in that sense I agree with him that the best Muslim is a bad Muslim.