Media double standard alert: if I said that Islam was stuck in the Middle Ages, it would be more evidence of my inveterate “Islamophobia.” But when Hans Küng says it, it gets written up favorably in the Times, because Hans Küng holds the Correct Opinions about what must be done about Islam (it’s all up to us, not to Muslims) as well as about Israel (terrorists!) and about Christianity and Judaism (just as violent as Islam!).
“Islam is stuck in the Middle Ages, says leading interfaith expert,” by Ruth Gledhill in the Times, June 16 (thanks to the Constantinopolitan Irredentist):
Islam is stuck in its own version of the “Middle Ages” which is contributing to a global crisis, one of the leading experts on Islam, Judaism and Christianity argues today.
Professor Hans Kung, a leading Roman Catholic and theologian from Germany, warns in a lecture of a “deadly threat” to all humankind unless new efforts are made to build bridges with Islam. He says in London that Islam has “special problems” with modernity because, unike Christianity and Judaism, it has never undergone a “serious religious reformation”. He questions whether Islam is even capable of adapting to a post-modern world in the way that Christianity and Judaism have done. But he also outlines why he is hopeful that the present problems around radicalisation within Islam can be resolved, and how the other two Abrahamic faiths are subject to some of the same problems on their extremist edges. Violence has been practicised in the sign of the crescent, but also in the sign of the cross, he warns. In his lecture, seen by The Times, Professor Kung says: “The options have become clear: either rivalry of the religions, clash of civilizations, war of the nations – or dialogue of civilizations and peace between the nations as a presupposition for peace between the nations.
“In the face of the deadly threat to all humankind, instead of building new dams of hatred, revenge and enmity, we should tear down the walls of prejudice stone by stone and thus build bridges of dialogue, bridges particularly towards Islam.” Professor Kung, author of Islam: Past, Present and Future, published last year and one of the most authoritative works on the subject, is speaking on “Challenges to Islam, Christianity and Judaism” in a lecture organised by the Royal Fine Art Commission Trust and Sky Arts. It will be broadcast on Sky Arts later this month. He describes how liberal Jews, Christians and Muslims often get on better with each other than they do with fellow Jews, Christians and Muslims from the traditionalist wings of those religions. A Roman Catholic “imprisoned in the Middle Ages” will find himself closer to the “medieval element” of Islam and Judaism than with liberal Catholic believers. Professor Kung says that one of the main causes of conflicts between religions is the persistence of out-dated ways of thinking. Islam and Christianity regard the actual Middle Ages as the “great time” for their religions. But modernity has forced all three religions of the book onto the “defensive”, and they all face challenges over how they react to their own “Middle Ages”. He argues today that Christianity and Judaism have moved on, but not Islam. “It remains an open question if the ecumenical paradigm of post-modernity will develop also in Islam.”
Professor Kung, who aged 80 is a contemporary of the Pope and worked with him as a theological adviser to the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960″s, was influential at the council in persuading the Roman Catholic Church to adopt a more positive attitude to Judaism and religious freedom. He has also spoken out constantly in favour of the official recognition of the State of Israel by the Vatican and for a two-state-solution for Israelis and Palestinians.
Professor Kung, whose own liberal views cost him his official Catholic teaching licence in the last century, says that the essence of all three religions must be preserved, but those who want peace and reconciliation will not be able to avoid criticism. They must engage in self-criticism to enable their faiths to adapt to modernity. Referring to Christianity, for example, he says: “Jesus Christ as a basic model is a constant, but the law of celibacy is a variable.” He argues: “After the Reformation Christianity had to undergo another paradigm shift, that of the Enlightenment. Judaism after the French Revolution and Napoleon experienced the Enlightenment first, and as a consequence, at least in Reform Judaism, it experienced also a religious reformation. Islam, however, has not undergone a serious religious reformation and so to the present day has quite special problems also with modernity and its core components, freedom of conscience and religion, human rights, tolerance, democracy.”
Does Hans Küng have any idea why Islam has not gone through this kind of reformation? Arguably the Wahhabi movement was a Reformation, a return to the core texts and teachings of the religion, and that just created an Islam more virulent and violent than ever. But why has there not been a reformation in the direction of human rights and freedom conscience?
Why might Islam not be capable of these things? Has Küng examined the nature of divine revelation in Islam, and the role of ijma, which make it virtually impervious to large-scale reevaluation? Does he really think non-Muslims can help Muslims get around this? On what grounds does he come to this conclusion?
And why does he think that denigrating Western traditions and promoting a spurious moral equivalence will help Islam change in the right direction? It is absurd, yes, but that is what he does:
He also sets out what the three religions have in common, such as injunctions against murder, respect for life, and he will explain how must Muslims do not take the extremist view. “They do not recognize themselves in our picture of Islam, because they want to be loyal citizens of the Islamic religion,” says, calling for fairness in the condemnations by the West. “Those who make Islam responsible for kidnappings, suicide attacks, car bombs and beheadings carried out by a few blind extremists ought at the same time to condemn Christianity or Judaism for the barbarous maltreatment of prisoners, the air strikes and tank attacks carried out by the US Army – several 10,000 civilians have been murdered in Iraq alone – and the terrorism of the Israeli army of occupation in Palestine.”
Uh huh. Even if those characterizations were true, Dr. Küng, which they most assuredly are not, what Christian and Jewish Scriptures provide a basis for them? What mainstream Jewish and Christian teachings are these “barbarians” acting upon? The analogy with the Islamic jihadists founders on this point, but the likes of Hans Küng and Karen Armstrong never seem to get that far.