Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 13, 2006
Try to understand Muslim rage
The fiery reaction of millions of Muslims to the derogatory cartoons of the prophet Mohammed seems not only wrong, but also incomprehensible, to the Western world. The West sees the Muslim reaction as offensive to the freedom of speech; the Muslims see the cartoons as blasphemous. As Christians, we might at least try to understand the Muslim reaction.
The gift of Islam, its glory, is its emphasis on the transcendence of God. Allah is so totally other that one must offer a blessing at the mere mention of his name. To depict God in any way is to place limits on him, to make him less than the unknowable, ineffable, infinite being that he is. It is, ultimately, blasphemy.
The current firestorm is reminiscent of the eighth-century battle in Christianity over iconoclasm. The iconoclasts maintained that to draw a picture of Christ was to engage in idolatry. Their position was rejected as one that denied Christ's full humanity and also the spirit-filled nature of material things.
The iconoclasts went too far in asserting the otherness of God. God is so close to us that his Son became human. Yet God is also "infinitely above everything that we can understand or say; he is the 'hidden God,' he is ineffable" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 206).
Before God, we are nothing. Moses witnessed to this truth when he took off his sandals before approaching the burning bush, Isaiah did so when, confronted with God's glory, he cried, "Woe is me! I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips" and Peter witnessed when he told Jesus, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord."
For contemporary Western secularism, nothing is sacred. Its defence of absolute freedom of expression - really, the right to mock God - is a prideful, tawdry thing next to the awesomeness of God. It is utter blindness in the face of the brilliant, all-consuming Light.
Secularism fails to see that, by asserting its "right" to publish cartoons offensive to religious people, it has made human pride into a religion. This religion places its prideful opinions and "self-expression" above the unimaginable majesty of God.
If a clash of civilizations is occurring here, it is not a clash between Christianity and Islam, but between Western secularism and Islam.
Last month, a bishop in Lithuania asked a local beer company to withdraw an advertisement that, in order to promote a contest, depicted Jesus wearing headphones and acting as a disc jockey. It is but the latest advertisement in the West that uses images of Jesus and the Mother of God for commercial purposes.
Christians do not take to the streets en masse and burn embassies to protest such affronts, but these portrayals nevertheless are a foul treatment of God and our faith. Indeed, our indifference in the face of such disrespect is itself cause for concern.
The Christian reaction should be neither indifference nor the shouting of violent slogans in the street. Jesus would not want either. He is the suffering servant who preached, "Blessed are the merciful" and allowed himself to be tortured and killed.
Christians do have a plea to the Muslim world. It is to see your faith as a means to build peace, not violence. It is also to accord other faiths the respect you would like to see given to Islam. Put an end to all hatred of Judaism. Do not bomb Buddhas in the desert. Acknowledge that freedom of religion is a recognition of the spiritual awareness and human dignity God implanted in every human soul.
We also make the same plea to secularism. Do not fool yourself into believing that mocking other religions is human progress. Do not believe that true freedom and rights can exist without truth. Cherish the wisdom of the great religions. Bow before the infinite, mysterious, incomprehensible, awesome God.
- Glen Argan
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