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IslamIn The Great Heresies (1938), Hilaire Belloc wrote of the lifting of the Muslim siege of Vienna “on a date that ought to be among the most famous in history—September 11, 1683.” The date of September 11, if not the year of 1683, would become branded on everyone’s memory after the 9/11 attacks. One wonders, indeed, whether this date had been selected by the Islamic terrorists as revenge for the earlier defeat inflicted upon the forces of Islam more than three hundred years earlier. Whether this is so, or whether it was mere coincidence, there is no doubt that the two events happening on the same date conveys great and portentous significance, symbolically connecting the one clash of civilizations with the other. In light of both events, Belloc’s prophecy in the same book about the future return of the threat of Islam echoes today with seismic resonance. “It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable,” wrote Belloc, “that there would be a resurrection of Islam and that our sons or our grandsons would see the renewal of that tremendous struggle between the Christian culture and what has been for more than a thousand years its greatest opponent.”

If, however, we can wonder about the significance of the date of September 11 as being symbolic of the struggle between Islam and Christendom, the attack in Nice on Bastille Day seems to signify the struggle between Islam and secularism. The storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789, was the flashpoint of the French Revolution, which can be considered the birth of the secularist ascendancy in modern culture. The attack in Nice, therefore, on the very birthday of modern secularism signifies Islam’s war on secularist values, a clash of civilizations (if secularism can be considered civilized) as seismic as that between Islam and Christendom.

Whereas Christians will have no difficulty choosing sides in the war between Christendom and Islam, where should we stand in the war between secularism and Islam? Clearly, we should have no difficulty in condemning the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children on the streets of Nice. Condemning terrorism is something on which all people, Christian and non-Christian, should be in agreement. The issue is not the condemnation of terrorism but the conundrum that the terrorism presents. How should secularism respond to, or react against, this attack upon it, and how should Christians respond or react to the secularist response?

Take, for instance, the secularist option of forcing Muslims to conform to secularist values. Should Christians feel comfortable with the imposition of secularism on Europe’s Muslims? Should we applaud the banning by France in 2010 of the burqa, the full Islamic face veil? Should we rejoice that this ban was then upheld by the European Court of Human Rights in 2014? It seems to me that we should think twice before doing so. We should feel uncomfortable whenever the power of the secular state is employed to limit the practice of religious freedom. Christians must always insist that we will only render unto Caesar those things that are rightly Caesar’s but that we will resist efforts by Caesar to force us to render unto him those things that rightly belong to God.

Couldn’t it be argued, however, that this only applies to those things that belong to God Himself and that it doesn’t apply to those who believe in false gods? Couldn’t it be argued that Christians should be able to practice religious freedom but that such freedom need not apply to other religions? Thus it would be considered fine to ban Muslims from wearing the veil but not to ban Christian religious orders, such as the Dominicans, from doing so.

The problem with such a line of reasoning, aside from considerations of the right to freedom of conscience, is that Caesar is not likely to discriminate. Since Caesar is himself godless, he is not likely to be impressed by claims that one god is truer than another. Once Caesar claims the right to prohibit religious practice and to curtail religious conscience, he is likely to do so with whomever he wishes. Indeed, he might want to prohibit all religious practice and curtail all religious conscience in order to be seen to be fair and even-handed. In the interests of liberty, equality and fraternity (the battle cry of the French secularist republic) Caesar might choose to limit liberty in the name of equality. If we are to lose certain freedoms, it is only just that we should all lose them equally! If Muslims cannot wear the burqa in public, Christians should not be able to wear their crosses or crucifixes in public either. It’s all about fairness, equality, and the refusal to discriminate between one group and another. If Caesar is going to be allowed to take liberties, he should be allowed to take liberties with everyone and from everyone. To do otherwise, to take the liberties of some, without taking the liberties of others, would be unjust. I am aware, of course, that Caesar’s logic is tyrannical but we should hardly need reminding that secularism and tyranny are very comfortable bedfellows. Indeed, the French Revolution itself, celebrated every year on Bastille Day, heralded a reign of terror which was far more deadly in terms of numbers butchered than the deadly act of terror by the Islamist extremist on this particular Bastille Day.

From a Christian perspective, one can say of the atrocity committed on this Bastille Day that secularism is reaping the harvest it deserves. In choosing to import Islam into its midst it was always courting disaster, as prophets such as Belloc have always warned. Having made its multicultural bed, secularism will have to lie in it. As for Christians, we should respond to the clash between the two fundamentalisms, secular and Islamic, with the actions of Pontius Pilate, washing our hands of the whole affair, accompanying our actions with the words of Shakespeare’s Mercutio that a plague be upon both their houses. Having done so, we should get on with the business of getting to heaven by loving our Lord and our neighbor—and, of course, loving our enemies too.

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22 replies to this post
  1. Christians should reject the notion of a non-Christian commonwealth, as they did for 1500 years before Enlightenment seducers such as Jefferson and Madison entered the scene. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a nation officially acknowledging the reality of Christ as its Sovereign—this is what Christ expects! Correspondingly, we should expect all who’d wish to be a citizen to at minimum acquiesce, recognizing that Christ not only taught that we should have no other gods in his presence, but also that a house divided cannot stand. The increasing conflicts we see should remind us of our political folly.

  2. This is a subject that will require more and more thought in the coming years, but it seems to me that clearly Kaiser has told Christians to get lost and invited Islam to take their place, so Kaiser has made his bed and will now sleep in it. There can be no protection of religious freedom for violence in the name of religion. If Kaiser lives long enough to recall history, he might learn how to discriminate judiciously and begin preferring his friends over his enemies.

  3. How ironic that the modern French state, which is predicated on its mass murders of religious, should now be shocked (in the Captain Reynaud sense) that someone else is presuming to usurp the secular state’s monopoly on oppressing Catholics.

    Fr. Hamel, pray for us.

  4. These are questions I’ve given thought to myself, but have never come to a firm conclusion. I guess for me right now Islam is such a threat that its dissolution is of paramount importance. Still, in the event where moderate/peaceful Muslims come into conflict with a government which is striving to secularize I tend to sympathize with the Muslims. If Muslims are already in our countries, then all religious liberties should be allowed with the possible exception of the burka and polygamy. Those are special cases. Personally I would stifle all future Islamic immigration, but that doesn’t mean those that already here are second class citizens. If the secular state can dictate religious restrictions to Muslims, then it can do the same to Christians. Plus it wouldn’t be just. So maybe I have come to conclusions, which sounds like it’s similar to yours. 😉

  5. ‘ We will take the USA through the Law ‘, the leading Islamic of a large metropolitan city said. Who cares if a woman wants to wear a piece of clothing to cover part of her body. What should be of interest is what happens to a woman who doesn’t want to wear something, short of public indecency ordinances. It is a matter if a sub-culture can set up their own set of laws, Sharia or Cannon, for example, that comes into conflict with the universal laws that applies to all. There should be a robust public discussion requiring explanation of any sub-culture practices that may deprive anyone of their rights as defined by the law of the land. You’re either an American, or not.

    • I like what Al is saying. But I wonder why we encourage the migration of a people into our country where our freedom has been bought at a very high price by all those who gave their lives so that it may stand; why allow people in whose very religion seeks to undermine what these patriots have wrought? Give me one good reason!

  6. What makes matters worse is the secularists to a considerable degree waver if not weaken in our current confrontation with islam. I say current because this has been going on for centuries. Perhaps the events in France, and a few here, will alarm some who previously were complacent. Bizarre that this faith, on the march for centuries and completely alien and hostile to the cultures it has infected, receives more respect than religions of traditions and peace. A shared animosity perhaps?

  7. The political climate is such that Christianity is looked down upon, the current religion is founded on the State, from which the horn of cornucopia endlessly discharges its wares, while buying votes of course.
    Belloc warns of islam, well he should , perversely it is the one religion our arbiters tolerate, a death wish?, ignorance?, what?

  8. Odd that Mr. Pearce would cite the example of Pilate with apparent approval and without apparent irony. After all, Pilate refused to act–not because he saw Jesus and his accusers as having equally strayed from a moral path–but because he was afraid of the consequences of exercising his duties.

    If Pilate is a model even for self-described traditionalist Christians, then we know that Christianity is corrupt and decadent.

    • I am sorry that Mr. Gale failed to detect the irony, especially as the whole article referred to secularism as Caesar. I am also sorry that the action of washing our hands of involvement in a war between two tyrannies is seen by Mr. Gale as being synonymous with approval of Pilate’s specific action with regard to Christ. Clearly a Christian can counsel neutrality in a clash between two tyrannies without being guilty of “apparent approval” with the actions of Pilate with respect to Christ.

  9. Islam is clashing with us too. And in Europe it’s not always easy to see the line between Christian and secular society. We’ve had Christian secularism for almost a thousand years. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive. In any case, Muslims view secularism, including anti-religious modern secularism, as a Christian phenomenon. All Westerners are referred to as “crusaders” by the Islamic State.

    What side is our hierarchy taking, though? Why are the pope and so many bishops trying to make us feel guilty for not wanting cultural suicide through mass Islamic migration? After the French priest was murdered, I hoped there would be a change, but the pope implied a day after that Islam doesn’t seek war and isn’t to blame. The Qu’ran and hadiths refute his statements. In my opinion, the priest’s blood is on his hands because he’s calling for the acceptance and mass migration of a hostile religion into Europe. I blame the pope also for the suffering of Christian volunteers who responded to his call to help the “refugees”, only to be attacked by the same “refugees” in “refugee” centers throughout Europe. The pope may not know anything about Islam, but he reads the news, doesn’t he?

    I’m unsure when or if already a violent response is justified against Islamic aggressors. It would currently probably cause greater harm. I wish we had a Second Amendment in Europe…

  10. I agree: a pox on both their houses. But what concern me are the remaining Christians in Europe and the many Christian sites across the Continent. The secularists oppress Christians, but do not these days slit their throat; nor would they dream of destroying their houses of worship; they just ignore them. If Europe were completely devoid of Christians and holy sites, I would say: too bad they– Islam and secularists–both can’t lose. A resurgent Islam rampaging across Europe is bound, I fear, to be a whole lot worse than the (current) secularists on Christians and their sites. The French president has no intention on converting St. Peter’s into stables; ISIS does. Do we simply: if the Christians are oppressed and killed, they are martyrs, and so let us rejoice?

  11. Washing our hands of the whole mess doesn’t quite seem to comport with Christianity. Pilate hoped he could and yet still incurred a (lesser) sin. As Christians we still need to pray and work for the salvation of all. In a time of intransigent violence and hatred disguised as tolerance, retreat to prayer might be the current best option but remember the real enemy isn’t someone who follows secularism or the many manifestations of Islamic terror but rather the one who tempts all to follow and uphold such Christ-bereft pursuits. At some point we will have to reemerge among the remnants of that conflict. Meanwhile, praying for the souls swept up in that conflict and for the faith and courage to reemerge when that conflict has blown through would appear to be the holier choice.

  12. The position is this. Christians ought to cast their allegiance in favor of Caesar, because the government as constituted according to reason is mandated by Divine Providence. Islam denies this – so there should be no freedom to practice it.

  13. Keeping this possibly too short, I’ll say this: Secularism celebrates license. We Catholics can live under license as we engage others in society about our faith. All under such a regime, {unless it becomes a dictatorship of cultural Marxism that imposes unacceptable behavior on us} can interact and debate and decide.

    What is simply different in the case of Islam is that there is utterly no option ultimately for devout Muslims than to establish Islam as supreme, by violence if necessary. That impacts secuarlists, Christians, Jews, everyone else.

    So yes, not only are we right to resist Islam and restrict it in any way possible, but for us Catholics, it is a duty to do so.

  14. Perhaps a better idea would be to consider the Words of Jesus as he told the money lenders to leave the temple, Render unto Caesar all that is Caesar’s , Render unto God all that is God. In the English of the time of king James , the word Render meant let Caesar take care of the things of Government and leave the spiritual to God.
    Islam is not a religion and to think that it is,is to be taken in by the islamic deceit that is Taqiyya .Islam is a political ideology,Always is and Always has been . So let us look again, “Render unto Caesar ‘, Christians have,in the most part been spared government interference and have been unable to interfere in government .But that is where the cult of islam is completely different . it demands to be the government, a quick look at nations such as indonesia point this out very clearly.
    Another Point that must be looked at by everyone is that western law,or napoleonic law have no place in islamic countries, they use Surah and apply Sharia law, which is not really law as we know but a series of decisions made by a person who called himself the prophet . These decisions include the stoning of rape victims, beheading women accused (not proven mind you ) of adultery, amputating limbs of those accused of theft. and other barbaric practices which islam has kept for 1437 years .
    Unfortunately politicians today live under the illusion that Islam is a religion and that islam tells them Islam is the religion of peace. it is no such thing and never has been. The 1st action islam is known for is the murder of the entire jewish population of medina. ….and nothing has changed.

    • @briskiwiron, The occasion of Jesus’ famous quote was his response to the question: “Is it lawful to pay a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?” Christ simply said what his apostle reiterated in Romans 13: “Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.” Christ was not positing a political theory of government, as many wrongly assume. The political theory of Christ always has, and always will be, Ruler of the nations. All governments are established by him. Likewise, when Christ told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” he was referring to the origin of his rule, which was in heaven—His throne. In contrast, Pilate held a measly early rule with its origin in Rome. Christ’s rule on the other hand, encompassed all of heaven and earth. Christ in no way was signifying his disinterest in earthly politics, of which he rightly expects deference.

  15. Dear Briskiron: Excellent points. Belloc considered Islam a Christian heresy. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, in his Regensburg address, said [ my paraphrasing ], quoting an historical letter, ‘
    the only thing Islam has added to scripture is violence’. Adding the two thoughts together, it seems reasonable to conclude that Islam is a religion, al beit, a seriously flawed system of heresies. Those followers of any system of faith that professes the glorious attributes of God that are truly universal– love and peace head the list– have all received those insights and gifts from the same God and are fellow travelers on the homeward path. Those who include and commit violence in the name of God, whether that violence comes about through theological error or governmental error, have a lot of explaining to do. We can pray and hope the explanation of all this comes sooner than later.

  16. Joseph, I just discovered this website and am sorry not to have known about it heretofore. Your article above is asking (and answering) the questions I have been turning over in my mind for some time now. Because I am of French descent (my grandfather was Alsatian, my great uncle and cousins lived in Nice) your focus on France was particularly relevant. Indeed, I think walking a careful path between Islam and secularism is the right idea. I particularly liked Dan Brennan’s response which reminds us to both pray for the salvation of all and to not forget who the real enemy is. BTW, I really like your books. My particular favorite is Literary Converts which I have read over and over and over………keep writing!

  17. Christianity can survive under secular democracies. It will not survive under the caliphate Islamic activists wish to create. The threat to the faith in the West, is almost entirely passive, directly related to the success of Western political and economic ideas. Families have gotten smaller and less vital to living, religion less important, as those Western societies have become fabulously wealthy, democratic, and increasingly secular. It can only be corrected one soul, one heart, at a time. The threat from the new caliphate however, is one of overt oppression, torture, rape and genocide. I for one, have no doubt as to which side I stand with.

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