Friday, January 22, 2016

Belloc on Islam

Although born in France, Hilaire Belloc was was a prolific writer in England during the early twentieth century. His Catholic faith had a strong impact on his works. One of his most important works was the The Great Heresies, published in 1938. One of the heresies that he discusses is Islam. His unique perspective was seeing Islam as a Christian heresy.

Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. Its vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was— not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing.
Belloc suggests that Islam teaches the main Christian doctrines in an oversimplified form.
The very foundation of his teaching was that prime Christine doctrine, the unity and omnipotence of God. The attributes of God he also took over in the main from Christine doctrine: the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone. The world of good spirits and angels and of evil spirits in rebellion against God was a part of the teaching, with a chief evil spirit, such as Christendom had recognized. Mohammed preached with insistence that prime Christian doctrine, on the human side— the immortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.

He gave to Our Lord the highest reverence. On the day of judgment, it was Our Lord, according to Mohammed, who would be the judge of mankind, not he, Mohammed. But the central point where this new heresy struck home with a mortal blow against Christian tradition was a full denial of the Incarnation. Mohammed did not merely take the first steps toward that denial, as the Arians and their followers had done; he advanced a clear affirmation, full and complete, against the whole doctrine of an incarnate God. He taught that Our Lord was the greatest of all the prophets, but still only a prophet: a man like other men. He eliminated the Trinity altogether.
Mohammed never dealt with the inconsistencies that this produced.
Mohammed’s teaching never developed among the mass of his followers, or in his own mind, a detailed theology. Simplicity was the note of the whole affair. But the resemblance to Christianity was one of the reasons for its success.


Anonymous said...

Ron, thank you very much for posting that. The Belloc article is something I like to give my medieval history students. I'm in the US, I have theological credentials in both Christianity and Islam, and the uproar over the "we have different Gods" issue drives me crazy. Americans are novices at dealing with the Islamic world, but not one article I've seen on this issue has referenced what anyone else in the history of the Church has said about it. Way back when Islam was new--and growing at a rate that makes today's surge look paltry in comparison--John of Damascus treated Islam as a heresy. His thought formed the foundation of what the Church taught for centuries. (Dante classified Muhammad as a schismatic.) But today no one has the humility to seek any guidance from the past. I have seen articles that want to put the "different God" label on anyone with a defective Christology--which implicates Jews, Arians, and various Middle Eastern churches that did not accept the Chalcedonian formulations regarding the nature(s) of Christ but that have supplied a steady stream of martyrs. Are we supposed to tell them they died for the wrong God? I've even heard of Muslims in the West Bank (where I once lived) marching in Christian processions and using the Lord's Prayer in their funerals. Islam, though it certainly is mistaken on key issues, entails belief in the Virgin Birth, the miracles of Jesus, the Second Coming, and Jesus as the Last Judge. The "different God" argument is recent, is motivated largely by political convenience, and is ignorant. Thank you for your support; I don't get much of that in my native land.

Ron McK said...

In my view the "different god" argument is flawed, because it makes it seems that there are many real gods that can be worshipped. The reality is that there is only one God.

Everyone wants to worship the true God, but some are more successful than others. Even those who come to the father through Jesus do not worship him perfectly, because we all have our blind spots.

So the question should be, are we worshipping the same God, but how close are we to worshipping the one and only true God.

Anonymous said...

Exactly. And the "different god" argument also seems to be saying that we change the nature or identity of something by the way we think about it. In other words, those who use the "different god" argument are imputing Godlike powers to the ordinary human, which is smacks of blasphemy.