The Echo Chamber
Thursday, December 04, 2003
  4:59 PM

[Stephen Gordon]

Yesterday I wrote that Islam was on the verge of conquering Christian Europe when "the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration arrived." These developments led to the advancement of Western Civilization while the Islamic world stagnated.

Edward Feser has published an article over at Tech Central Station that takes the opposite point of view of the Protestant Reformation.
[Because of its 2,000 years of Catholic tradition of which the Bible is a part] "the teachings of a Pope are never strictly his teachings, but merely those of the 2,000-year old institution of which he is a temporary steward and to which he must submit as dutifully as any of the faithful. Far from being an arbitrary despot, he is merely the servant and executor of a system of law he did not make and cannot change...

The rule of law, or rather its theological analogue, is thus the very essence of Catholicism -- just as its rejection is of the essence of Protestantism. This essence was preserved by the Medieval Church's refusal to submit itself to the State, viz. to the contingencies of arbitrary political power. And this distinction between Church and State has survived the Reformation to become one of the most prized elements of Western Civilization. Or at least it has in those countries in which some Protestant sect or other hadn't captured the apparatus of government: it must never be forgotten that it was Calvin, and not some Medieval Catholic, who founded in Geneva the world's first Christian totalitarian state, that it is Lutheran bishops who were traditionally the paid employees of German and Scandinavian governments, and that it is the Church of England, and not the Church of Rome, whose head is a secular monarch…

…For there has never been in Islam any more than in many Protestant denominations what there has always been in Catholicism -- a distinction in principle between Church and State, a distinction guaranteeing the independence of the former and strict limitations upon the latter. Muhammad was not only a prophet, but also a head of state and a commander in chief, and his followers have always sought faithfully to emulate him in this as in his other qualities. Like Luther and Calvin, he did not inherit his doctrine from any existing institution: the Koran came to him straight from God, or so he tells us, and the reader must simply obey it…
Uhhh…What about the Holy Roman Empire? Any sect that has had any success transforming its surrounding culture has thrown its hat into the political ring at some point.

One reason that I consider the Protestant Reformation a positive turning point for Europe is that it provided Europe with actual religious choice. This, of course, didn't happen quickly. Luther and Calvin and Henry VIII all set up religious societies in competition to Rome. Catholicism (and other sects) were forbidden in those societies and Catholics outlawed the Protestants.

But slowly these sects began tolerating each other. This religious tolerance reached full maturity in the United States. Because the U.S. Constitution forbids the establishment of a state church or discrimination against any sect, denominations had to learn to compete peacefully for the hearts of people. Today a U.S. city of any size will have at least one Catholic Church, Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, Baptist Church, Presbyterian Church, Methodist Church, and a half-dozen other denominations. And these are just the Christian choices.

It is no coincidence that the most religiously tolerant society in the world is predominantly Christian and divided into many Christian denominations. The Christian teachings that all these denominations hold in common stress love and compassion for believers and unbelievers (contrast this with Islam).

And the division gives ample opportunity for Christianity to remain relevant. If one denomination serves its congregation better it prospers while less responsive churches diminish.
...there is no mechanism in Islam, as there is in Catholicism, for an application of the principles of an ongoing Tradition to new circumstances -- be they social, political, scientific, or technological -- by drawing out heretofore implicit consequences. That is, there is no broad and complex body of teaching of which its sacred book forms but a part, and thus no resources as authoritative as the text itself to appeal to in applying it to the modern world. There is simply a dead letter, revealed once and for all centuries ago…
Not just a dead letter, but hate mail. The problem is not just the lack of reformers. The problem is not just that the Koran allows little room for reform. The largest problem is that the Koran itself does not place an intrinsic value on human life. Allah hates infidels and doesn't even love his believers. Allah just demands submission. If submission requires that you blow yourself up in an act of murder or send your children out to do the same, so be it.

And the Islamic world wonders why they stagnate while the West advances. 

Wednesday, December 03, 2003
  4:06 PM

[Stephen Gordon]

Whenever the "root cause" crowd (a crowd which includes Bill Clinton) gets cranked up explaining why Islamic terrorists justifiably hate us so much, their explanation invariably starts with the Crusades. It is assumed that all enlightened people now realize that the Crusades were wars of conquest fought against peaceful Muslims by greedy Westerners eager to gain land and treasure.

These wars are said to have robbed something vital from the vibrant Islamic world. Before these wars the Islamic world was technologically ahead of Europe in every way, but after the Crusades the Islamic world began its slow slide into chaos.

This view of the crusades is so ingrained that today most Christians look back on the Crusades as a stain on their faith, much like the Inquisition. But, according to medieval historian, Dr. Thomas F. Madden, this "history" is bunk.
For starters, the Crusades to the East were in every way defensive wars. They were a direct response to Muslim aggression—an attempt to turn back or defend against Muslim conquests of Christian lands.

Christians in the eleventh century were not paranoid fanatics. Muslims really were gunning for them. While Muslims can be peaceful, Islam was born in war and grew the same way. From the time of Mohammed, the means of Muslim expansion was always the sword. Muslim thought divides the world into two spheres, the Abode of Islam and the Abode of War. Christianity—and for that matter any other non-Muslim religion—has no abode. Christians and Jews can be tolerated within a Muslim state under Muslim rule. But, in traditional Islam, Christian and Jewish states must be destroyed and their lands conquered. When Mohammed was waging war against Mecca in the seventh century, Christianity was the dominant religion of power and wealth. As the faith of the Roman Empire, it spanned the entire Mediterranean, including the Middle East, where it was born. The Christian world, therefore, was a prime target for the earliest caliphs, and it would remain so for Muslim leaders for the next thousand years.

With enormous energy, the warriors of Islam struck out against the Christians shortly after Mohammed’s death. They were extremely successful. Palestine, Syria, and Egypt—once the most heavily Christian areas in the world—quickly succumbed. By the eighth century, Muslim armies had conquered all of Christian North Africa and Spain. In the eleventh century, the Seljuk Turks conquered Asia Minor (modern Turkey), which had been Christian since the time of St. Paul. The old Roman Empire, known to modern historians as the Byzantine Empire, was reduced to little more than Greece. In desperation, the emperor in Constantinople sent word to the Christians of western Europe asking them to aid their brothers and sisters in the East.
After the remarkable successes the forces of Christendom achieved in the first Crusade, the next three hundred years are mostly marked by Islamic victories.
One might think that three centuries of Christian defeats would have soured Europeans on the idea of Crusade. Not at all. In one sense, they had little alternative. Muslim kingdoms were becoming more, not less, powerful in the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. The Ottoman Turks conquered not only their fellow Muslims, thus further unifying Islam, but also continued to press westward, capturing Constantinople and plunging deep into Europe itself. By the 15th century, the Crusades were no longer errands of mercy for a distant people but desperate attempts of one of the last remnants of Christendom to survive. Europeans began to ponder the real possibility that Islam would finally achieve its aim of conquering the entire Christian world.
But then the Protestant Reformation, the Renaissance, and the Age of Exploration arrived. These developments energized the Western world spiritually, intellectually, and economically. The Islamic world wasn't robbed. It was simply left in the dust by a society that was better prepared to modernize.
Whether we admire the Crusaders or not, it is a fact that the world we know today would not exist without their efforts. The ancient faith of Christianity, with its respect for women and antipathy toward slavery, not only survived but flourished. Without the Crusades, it might well have followed Zoroastrianism, another of Islam’s rivals, into extinction.
Read all of Dr. Madden's article

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