First, a clarification: I am not saying that Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris are actually Catholics, or have any interest in being Catholics. What I am saying is that a commitment to the truth, whatever it may be and wherever it may lead, is or ought to be a hallmark of the Catholic faith, as per Jesus himself: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The Second Vatican Council says: “All men should be at once impelled by nature and also bound by a moral obligation to seek the truth, especially religious truth” (Dignitatis Humanae 2). And in their willingness to tell the truth about Islam and jihad, Dawkins and Harris are showing themselves to be much more willing to face reality, which is supposed to be a Catholic value, than the Catholic publication Aleteia.
Truth, of course, and particularly the truth about Islam, is at a premium these days, and if you dare to tell it you’ll be subjected to a barrage of abuse, but that’s no excuse. I published a few pieces in Aleteia a few months ago, but unless there is a sea change in their editorial policy, I will never publish there again, as they have lately given their pixels over to not one, not two, but five willfully ignorant and misleadingly false articles about Islam (and there are probably more that I missed) — articles that will do nothing but foster a foolish and, in these increasingly perilous times, dangerous complacency about the jihad threat among their readership.
I’ve already written here and here about Fr. Dwight Longenecker’s two resoundingly counter-factual pieces in Aleteia claiming that the Qur’an doesn’t justify beheading, in the second of which he condescendingly dismissed his critics as “those who have a taste for denunciations and imprecations against Islam,” when the point is not “denunciations and imprecations,” but a desire to understand the root causes of the problem and challenge we face, so that we can respond properly.
It was telling that when I asked Aleteia’s editors to run my responses to Fr. Longenecker at their site, they said they’d consider running the whole exchange as a dialogue — and then never got around to getting back to me. But they did find space for a piece by Tom Hoopes claiming that the Islamic State was made up of “bad Muslims,” and quoting no less a luminary than the deceptive Islamic supremacist Mehdi Hasan, whose disingenuous claims that Islam is a Religion of Peace I debunked here and here (the second link exposes the falsehoods in the Hasan piece that Hoopes uncritically accepts at Aleteia).
Then came a piece by Jennifer Bryson, a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the U.S. Army War College — that is, a member of an institution that is committed as a matter of policy to ignoring and denying the Islamic character of the jihad threat. The piece was entitled “Why Should We Call Them ISIS? Don’t grant the radicals the religious credibility they crave,” and crossposted (again, tellingly) from the blog Arc of the Universe, hosted by The Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame. Bryson’s article retails the tired claim that to acknowledge the Islamic justifications for jihadist behavior is to “validate” that behavior and grant the jihadists “legitimacy,” as if Muslims anywhere, of any perspective, sought legitimization for their actions from what non-Muslims think. In any case, is there Islamic justification for the Islamic State’s actions? Unfortunately, yes, there is — see my articles here and here. Ignoring this unpleasant fact will not make it go away.
The same day (last Monday), Aleteia crossposted another piece from Arc of the Universe, the blog hosted by the Center for Civil and Human Rights and the University of Notre Dame — this one by Anas Malik, an Associate Professor of Political Science at Xavier University: “Islamic Scholars to ISIS: Islam Forbids Your Actions: 100 Muslim Scholars sign letter condemning extremists.” That letter is not actually a statement of moderate Islam, but a cynical piece filled not only with falsehoods and deceptions, as I showed here, and actual endorsements of the ideas of violent jihad against non-Muslims and their subjugation as dhimmis, denied basic rights under Muslim hegemony, and of the principle of the caliphate, as I showed here.
It seems likely that in disseminating all this dangerously misleading nonsense, Aleteia is following the party line articulated by Pope Francis when he said, “authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.” The Bishop of Rome, by virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, can, according to Catholic teaching, speak authoritatively about Catholic doctrine: he has the authority to delineate what is authentic Catholicism. But this is a statement about “authentic Islam,” about which nothing gives the Pope the ability or power to speak authoritatively. Aleteia’s uncritical following of the Pope’s line on this reflects the much larger problem of the creeping papalolatry of the Roman Catholic Church, in which everything the Pope says is taken as a divine oracle and accepted without question, in flagrant disregard of the Church’s actually quite precise and careful delineation of the extent and limits of his authority.
Of course the Pope should be accorded respect by Catholics, but respect is not the same thing as calling white black just because he says it is black. Aleteia, of course, is by no means alone either in their false understanding of papal authority or their energetic propagation of willful ignorance and complacency about the jihad threat, and by writing about them here I don’t mean to suggest that they’re either singular or outstanding in any of this. They’re just an example that was ready to hand of what is so wrong with the Church and the West today in their response to the jihad threat, and why I as a Catholic (albeit not a Roman Catholic) readily stand with the atheists Dawkins and Harris in their willingness to be honest about what we’re up against (which is not to say that they stand with me, as I have found Harris in particular to be too airily dismissive of those who have previously been subjected to the smear campaign of spurious charges of “bigotry” to which he is being subjected now, but that’s another story). Harris has a fine piece today about another group befogged by willful ignorance about the jihad threat: American liberals. I hope to get the chance to comment on it in detail later. Suffice it to say now that I’ll take Dawkins and Harris over the falsehoods, however comforting, favored by both the Left and all too much of the Catholic Church.