Much has been written about radical Islam and the establishment of a Muslim Caliphate; but the focus has been more on geopolitical issues and ambitions rather than on what is far more central – the increasing secularization of Christianity. It is not so much that Islam wants to replace Western liberal democracies with a theocracies; but to turn them away from secular expediency and return them to the spiritual values which have always been at their foundation
Catholic Popes have repeatedly warned against this expediency. Pope Paul II was the first to frame the argument against abortion in these terms. Focus on the secular premise of a woman’s right to choose ignores more fundamental moral and ethical issues. It is too easy, John Paul admonished, to dismiss life as a biological accident. To put spiritual issues aside in the pursuit of a more equal civil society may seem reasonable and just given women’s fight for full participation in society; but to do so ignores the mystery of life, its divine origins and purpose. Focusing only on issues of equality and civil rights serves to distract men and women from the more fundamental issues of being and purpose.
Pope Francis has taken up John Paul’s argument and expanded it. In his latest encyclical, Laudato Si he stressed how a rejection of the absolute value of human life erodes respect for all life.
“How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?” he asked.
Once the ability to welcome a new life is lost on the part of individuals and society, other forms of acceptance also “wither away,” he said, warning against a “culture of relativism” that sees an absence of any objective truth outside of our own immediate wants and needs.
In other words, as heinous as abortion itself is, intervening in the natural process of procreation to end embryonic human life erodes the absolute sanctity of the rest of God’s creation.
When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected.”This thesis has been defended and expanded by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn:
Pope Francis hasn’t conceded an inch on the Church’s pro-life stance, and in October he assailed postmodernist gender theories that pretend that human sexuality is a social construct and therefore infinitely malleable to personal and political whimsy. Such theories, Francis said, are part of a “global war” aimed at destroying marriage and the traditional family (WSJ 12.24.16)The Church’s position on the centrality of family, procreation, and human life has not changed since the days of the Early Church. Not only does procreation fulfill the divine mandate to be fruitful and multiply, but unites man and woman in a special indissoluble bond.
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Mark 10:7-9)The Old Testament’s exhaustive genealogy is a chronicle of families and the importance of lineage and ties to the Hebrew patriarchs. God the Father and God the Son add a new, more profound spiritual dimension to the concept of family. Early Christianity was based on community the center of which was the family.
Abortion and homosexuality are repeatedly condemned for their interruption of the natural order of life. The act of Creation is central to Christianity – God’s creation and man’s. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ restored the Trinitarian family and united humanity (Christ as Man) and divinity (Christ as God). The acts of divine creation and resurrection were over but those of human creation would continue within a new, promising context.
The references to homosexuality and abortion were not condemnatory per se but made within the context of creation, procreation, and rebirth; and were meant to emphasize the integrity of the human-divine community. The Church’s teaching about contraception is essential to this conception of creation and life. The artificial and arbitrary interruption of the natural procreative cycle is no more than an expedient dissolution of the divine historical imperative.
It is too simplistic to criticize the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexuality, and contraception as antiquated, anti-progressive, and retrograde. It is only the Church which stands between a completely expedient and secularized society and one which retains its spirituality.
Pope Paul II knew that his conservative interpretation of doctrine would go counter to the increasing secularization of the West where morality was increasingly discussed only within the context of civil rights. Unless the Church framed the argument in a more persuasive way, men and women would continue to treat human life as fungible, relative, and ultimately insignificant.
A spiritually unmoored West is vulnerable to its own demons, Schonborn noted, chief among them…various ideologies that treat human beings as means to and end. Threats to the dignity of life on the Continent, such as the relentless expansion of euthanasia…suggest that the demons of Europe are still around” WSJ, op.cit.)All of which is a preamble to the Cardinal’s central point – that Islam as a religion offers a return to fundamental spiritual values that Christianity is losing:
“Will there be a third Islamic attempt to conquer Europe?”, he asked…”Many Muslims think this and wish this and say that Europe is at its end”.The Left pounced on these words and accused him of thought crimes, and his message was lost in the acrimony.
[His message] was not mainly aimed at Muslims. “I can fully understand Muslim believers – authentic believers whom I profoundly respect in their beliefs – who see evident signs of decadence in Europe…They think that Islam will be a good thing for Europe, to bring Europe on a better path to morality or faith in God. So for me the threat is not believing Muslims (WSJ, op.cit.)The Cardinal goes on:
But these things are byproducts of the West’s own existential confusion. “The real challenge is: What does it mean for the Christian roots of Europe? Christianity is a missionary religion by its founder. Jesus Christ said, Go and make all nations my disciples, teach them what I said, baptize them. And a similar thing is true for Islam.
Only many in the West have relinquished their inheritance, let alone any desire to share it. Meanwhile Muslims remain devout and are growing more so. The clash between a secularized, doubt-ridden West and a missionary Islam is Europe’s central crisis in a nutshell (WSJ, op.cit.)
His is a profound understanding of the clash of Muslim and Western cultures. He has gone beyond the geopolitical rhetoric and the historical imperatives of expansionism, and looked at the fundamental reasons why Islam has such an allure and why its spiritual convictions will conquer the West in more complete and universal ways than ISIS or al-Qaeda ever could.