Did Pope Francis Say God Willed Islam Into Existence?
I was one of the first Catholics to give up on “Popesplaining.” That term, which I saw on Twitter, refers to people reading what Pope Francis has written or said, seeing that it seems heretical, and doing one of the following:
- Claiming that it has been poorly translated or taken out of context, by nefarious secular journalists.
- Trying to show how it’s in continuity with what previous, trustworthy popes have said, but perhaps isn’t clear enough. Or else is part of some secret, pastoral strategy particular to Jesuits.
- Insisting that if you pick the statement up, turn it around, and look at it really closely, it’s actually Catholic.
The impulse to do this is perfectly understandable. If you think of “Il Papa” as your spiritual father, you’ll want to cover his nakedness, like Noah’s. It’s also frankly painful for those of us who grew up under two saintly, brilliant popes to accept the reality of this one. Children of physically or psychologically abusive dads are prone to making excuses. Or even taking the blame, as I’ve seen some Catholics do. They say foolish things like: “We have the pope we deserve. If we were holier and more prayerful….” But to me that’s like a boy deciding his Papa only beats his mother Church because he’s frustrated by how wicked their children are.
Catholic Stockholm Syndrome
Such a psychic strategy is natural. Many abuse victims adopt it because it gives them a fleeting illusion of power, suggests that the situation which traps them is amenable to their control. But of course, it isn’t. And unlike a battering spouse, the pope isn’t someone we’re free to get away from. Not as Catholics, anyway.
The least we can do, I think, is to keep our intellects honest, and our sanity intact, by refusing to play that mind game. Instead we should soberly, calmly remind ourselves that papal statements are utterly fallible, and prone to being flagrantly wrong, even foolish, except in the tiniest and rarest of situations. That is, when a pope risks his life by proposing to teach something using the Church’s highest authority. Yes, risks his life — assuming he believes in the Church’s claims. Because when pope mounts his throne and dares to teach something “ex cathedra,” he’s essentially asking God to strike him dead if he is wrong. (See my animated video below.) Popes have only invoked this authority some seven or eight times in history.
Almost Never Infallible
To keep this clear, think of Justice Clarence Thomas. On the tiny number of occasions when he writes the majority opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court, his voice becomes that of the U.S. Constitution. It takes on the power of law. But 99.9999999% of everything Mr. Thomas says about the law, even in public, has no such authority. It’s just his opinion. It might be right, it might be wrong, but it’s not binding.
It’s the same with the pope, except that Catholics believe that on such vanishingly rare occasions, God won’t let popes contradict Him on matters of faith and morals. We grant such statements the same authority that the Church did to councils like Nicaea which affirmed core Christian doctrines like the divinity of Christ.
With all this firmly in mind, let’s read the document Pope Francis signed with the grand mufti of Al Azhar University — one of the most respected Islamic schools on earth. They both put their names to a document on “human fraternity for world peace and living together.” Go read it, if you have time.
Did God Will that Islam Exist?
Many things in this statement are noble and true. Others could prove convenient for Christians hunted by Muslims across the world. It would be nice indeed if those Muslims accepted the spirit of tolerance toward Christians that we everywhere offer them. Sadly, they won’t feel bound by the grand mufti’s words. There is no Muslim pope, so his words will mean as much to them as the pope’s will to Protestants in Northern Ireland.
But at least one statement in the document will rankle Muslims, as it has offended Christians:
Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept [emphasis added.]
Muslims don’t believe that. They regard Christianity as “shirk,” the blasphemous and idolatrous association of created things (to them, the prophet Jesus) with God Himself. And Christians don’t believe that. We see Islam as a great Christian heresy, a mishmash of gnostic fables, seventh-century heresies, and Muhammad’s will to power. Each of us regards the other’s religion as largely false, and a barrier, not an aid, to eternal salvation.
It’s one thing to be diplomatic. And another to say, “Well, yes of course, black could be white, if you peer at it from just the right angle.”
Another Route to Heaven?
I don’t know how Muslims will react to this document. Some will accept it as a clever strategic deception (taqiya), the kind of lie many Muslims regard as virtuous, so long as it serves Islam’s interests. But none of them will be convinced by a statement that’s contradicted dozens of times in the Quran itself.
How should Christians, especially Catholics, greet this statement? We clearly cannot accept that Islam in itself was planted by God, as an alternative route to salvation. At best, it’s an obstacle, though perhaps one God can overcome by some mysterious means. (And many of us will not even grant that.)
I’ve seen one very smart and well-meaning priest, Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, fall into Popesplaining this statement away. He said up front, “We must seek a way to understand this without it sounding like heresy.” (See Option 3, above.) Then he tried his clever best to shoehorn Francis’ words into Christian orthodoxy. Fr. Zuhlsdorf wrote:
God did not will a diversity of religions in the sense that all religions are equal paths to God. False religions are evil. God does not actively will evil.
When we speak of God’s will we make distinctions. God has an “active or positive will” and a “permissive will”. God’s “active will” concerns that which is good, true and beautiful. On the other hand, God has a “permissive will” by which He allows that things will take place that are not in accord with the order He established.
For example, God created Adam and Eve to live a certain way according to their nature and His will. However, He foresaw that they would fall and He permitted them to fall. By His active will they were to live a certain way. By His permissive will they strayed and fell. In the end, even all that God permits to go wrong will eventually be righted.
That’s good as far as it goes, but it doesn’t rescue Francis. If you add up God’s “active will” (what He wants) and His “permissive will” (what He tolerates), do you know what you get?
Every. Single. Thing. Every event that has ever occurred since the Creation of the universe. The Fall of Satan, the Holocaust, the Ukrainian famine, the genocide in Cambodia…. Either God decreed them, or He tolerated them, or else they wouldn’t have happened. Is that much clear?
Now imagine a papal statement, designed to help persecuted Christians survive under Communism, which affirmed that God “willed” the crimes of Josef Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot. (Much less, of course, Hitler’s.) Would we buy the excuse that it was only God’s “permissive will” he was talking about?
Empowering the Persecutors
No, there are only two options here. A) Pope Francis was making the heretical statement that God actively willed the rise of Islam. Or B) Pope Francis was simply admitting that Islam exists, as one of the evils which God permits, while trying to fool Muslims around the world into thinking he really meant A).
That kind of verbal deception is what won Jesuits like Francis the reputation of being “Jesuitical.” That is, for practicing Catholic taqiya.
Worse still, the A) thesis, which sees other religions as paths to God alongside Christianity, widely prevails among liberal Christians. Now that its partisans have the words of a pope behind them, they will wield that to further marginalize Catholics who believe, with Jesus, that He alone is the “the way, the truth, and the life.” To fire them from teaching jobs, remove them from parishes, and generally continue the persecution which faithless Catholics have been conducting against faithful ones for the past 60 years.
With Catholics like that, who needs Muslims?