Seeing In Islam What You Want to See

First, secularists used Islam to expose the illiberality of Christians in the West:

“If we do not bind together as partners with others in other countries then this conflict is only going to metastasize,” said Steve Bannon in 2014. He was referring to a conflict he perceived between “Judeo-Christian values” and “Islamic fascism.” Speaking to a conference held at the Vatican, he seemed to call for Christian traditionalists of all stripes to join together in a coalition for the sake of waging a holy war against Islam.

The rhetoric of a looming civilizational war has proved persistent. Recent years have seen religious leaders from both the American Christian community and the Russian Orthodox community coming together to bemoan the decline of traditional values. One example is the 2015 Moscow meeting between Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Franklin Graham, son of the evangelist Billy Graham. The Patriarch lamented to Graham how, after decades of inspiring underground believers in the Soviet Union with its defense of religious freedom, the West has abandoned the shared “common Christian moral values” that are the bedrock of a universal “Christian civilization.”

Now, Neo-Calvinists use Islam to expose secular liberalism’s intolerance:

I submit that the Muslim schoolgirl who walks into her classroom with a simple scarf atop her head is performing a critical democratic function—one we should all be thankful for. Whether she knows it or not, she is offering a distinct contribution and precious gift to Western democracy.

Her hijab is doing the critical work of exposing several viruses growing at the heart of Western democratic culture: racism, colonialism, anti‐religious bigotry, cultural insecurity, and fear. Each of these viruses is potential deadly to the democratic experiment, and she is exposing all of them.

What is missing here is that secular liberals and Neo-Calvinists share far more in common than either group does with Muslims. Both liberalism and Neo-Calvinism emerged out of a Christian West that had no place for Islam and regarded the Ottomans, for instance, as an alien civilization. Secular liberals and Neo-Calvinists came down on different sides of the French Revolution, liberals for and Neo-Calvinists against. But both were not favorable to Islam. Secularists wanted to remove religious influences from public life (hence banning hijabs). Neo-Calvinists wanted/want to restore religion to public life and recognize God (the Triune one) as the foundation for civilizational advance (hence opposition to secular liberalism and false religion). In both cases, Islam is not an ally of secular liberalism or of Neo-Calvinism.

So why do those historically at odds with Oriental religion and society and currently distinct from Islamic culture think they have a friend in Islam? Is it really as simple as any enemy of President Trump is a friend of mine?

More than about Mmmmmm(eeeeeEEEE)e

It’s about the cats.

Spring break is in session. Chicago is not doing a very good impersonation of Spring. But after having coffee with one of our favorite writers we took even more public transit out to Wilmette to see this:

Hard to beat a combination of a glorious city, the greatest of God’s furry creatures, and the Turks who care for Istanbul’s felines.

How to Tell the Difference between Turkey and the U.S.

You don’t read about President Erdogan in the pages of Washington Post, New York Times, or New Yorker:

As Turkey heads toward a constitutional referendum designed to grant its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even greater powers, the polls predict a neck-and-neck race.

That doesn’t mean their chances are equal. While the April vote is likely to be free, whether it will be fair — given rising repression of political dissent and the ongoing state of emergency — is another question.

Take the case of İrfan Değirmenci, a well-known news anchor for Kanal D, who explained his opposition to the proposed changes in a series of tweets earlier this month. “No to the one who views scientists, artists, writers, cartoonists, students, workers, farmers, miners, journalists and all who do not obey as the enemy,” he wrote.

He was promptly fired.

Değirmenci’s dismissal has heightened fears among No campaigners that those who oppose the new constitution will be subject to threats and intimidation ahead of the referendum on April 16.

“A lot of people are risking their careers and their future by openly and publicly campaigning for No,” said İlhan Tanir, a Turkish columnist and analyst based in Washington. “There is nothing fair about this.”

Government supporters face no such risk: While Kanal D claimed Değirmenci had been let go for violating the media group’s neutrality rule, Yes supporters have been free to air their views in the pages of Hürriyet, which belongs to the same group.

Hurriyet itself — a newspaper that positions itself as neutral — has muted critical voices: Its editors last week scrapped an interview with Orhan Pamuk, in which the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist explained his reasons for voting No.

So why do elite journalists cover the Trump administration as if we’re living in the television series, Man in the High Castle. Perhaps because they believe in American innocence as much as Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Christmas as Old School Presbyterianism’s Coexist Moment

Mustafa Akyol’s column on Christmas in Turkey revealed that paleo-Calvinists share much in common with conservative Muslims and Jews during the holiday season:

Islamists in Turkey, every year, come out on the streets or in their media with the slogan, “Muslims do not do Christmas.” Of course, they have every right to not to celebrate a religious feast that is not a part of their religion. But they not only refrain from Christmas; they also protest it.

In fact, those Islamists of Turkey, and other likeminded Christmas-despisers, often “do not know what they are doing,” to quote the noble words of the very person whose birthday is at question here. They typically condemn Santa Claus costumes and Christmas trees as signs of “Western cultural imperialism.” But Christianity is not merely Western; it is also African, Asian and, in fact, global.

Hmm. Christmas as a global solvent of local Reformed Protestant teachings and practices. Go figure.

Jews — ya think? — have similar problems with Christmas.

Israel, too, seems to have a similar problem.

I read about this in an Al-Jazeera English story titled, “Israeli rabbis launch war on Christmas tree.” It reported how the Jerusalem rabbinate issued a letter warning hotels in the city that “it is ‘forbidden’ by Jewish religious law to erect a tree or stage New Year’s parties.” In Haifa, a rabbi, Elad Dokow, went even further, called the Christmas tree “idolatry,” and warned that it was a “pagan” symbol that violated the kosher status buildings.

At a time when New Calvinists heighten their sensitivity to Muslims and Jews, when will they show a little concern for Old Calvinists?

What History is Supposed To Do (which is different from blogging)

More thoughts today on the outlook that historical knowledge cultivates.

First comes the pietist version — the past as pointer to what’s true and right:

In the introduction the authors offer five reasons to study church history: 1) It continues to record the history of God’s faithful dealings with his people and it records Christ’s ongoing work in the world. 2) We are told by God to remember what he has done and to make it known to those who follow us. 3) Church history “helps to illuminate and clarify what we believe” and in that way allows us to evaluate our beliefs and practices against historic teaching. 4) It safeguards against error by showing us how Christians have already responded to false teaching. 5) And finally it gives us heroes and mentors to imitate as we live the Christian life. In this way it promotes spiritual growth and maturation.

History as a means of grace? I’m not sure.

Second, history as perplexity:

… we developed an approach we call the “five C’s of historical thinking.” The concepts of change over time, causality, context, complexity, and contingency, we believe, together describe the shared foundations of our discipline. They stand at the heart of the questions historians seek to answer, the arguments we make, and the debates in which we engage. . . .

One of the most successful exercises we have developed for conveying complexity in all of these dimensions is a mock debate on Cherokee Removal. Two features of the exercise account for the richness and depth of understanding that it imparts on students. First, the debate involves multiple parties; the Treaty and Anti-Treaty Parties, Cherokee women, John Marshall, Andrew Jackson, northern missionaries, the State of Georgia, and white settlers each offer a different perspective on the issue. Second, students develop their understanding of their respective positions using the primary sources collected in Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents by Theda Perdue and Michael Green.7 While it can be difficult to assess what students learn from such exercises, we have noted anecdotally that, following the exercise, students seem much less comfortable referring to “American” or “Indian” positions as monolithic identities.

Third, history as empathy:

I hope that the young adults who study history with me find themselves cultivating five interrelated values: comfort with complexity, humility, curiosity, hospitality, and empathy. I don’t think Donald Trump is unusual among Oval Office aspirants in his utter lack of humility (here’s a conservative critique of him on that point), his disinterest in learning (see his recent comments on his reading habits), or his impatience with complication and nuance. But if I’m going to tell my students that historical study exists to a significant extent to help them be more hospitable and empathetic to those of a different culture, ethnicity, religion, ideology, etc., I can hardly stay silent about a candidate who has demonized immigrants and Muslims.

So I think the open letter’s authors are right to characterize the Trump candidacy as an attack not only on the “constructive, evidence-based argumentation” we try to practice in our profession, but on “our values, and the communities we serve.”

What is striking is how even professional historians can make history be what they want it to be.

But why is it that professional historians don’t recognize that the way they frame the historical enterprise winds up making not a scholarly but a political point. If the aim of history is to empathize with others (among other things), where have historians been about developments in Turkey or the real complexity of issues that inform the current discussion of police and crime in the United States? (For some academics, there’s not much complexity about cops shooting people.) I’m sorry, but to be so outspoken about a guy like Trump just doesn’t take all that much insight or courage. Most people who work outside history departments know he is egotistical, bombastic, clownish, and a jumble of assertions and passions. Even supporters see that. Are students so desperate?

Or is it that historians want to present as being on the “right” side?

The thing is, the responsibilities necessary to be president are not the same as the virtues that historical study cultivates. In the case of empathy, a president does need to be empathetic. But that’s not all. Just think back to episode 2, season 4 of West Wing where President Bartlet approves the assassination of a Qumar state official suspected of terrorism. Sometimes prudence trumps empathy. And that’s something that history actually teaches. Or it should. (Why should Aaron Sorkin get all the good lessons?)

To John Fea’s credit, he excerpts Jonathan Zimmerman’s reasons for not signing the letter:

I won’t join Historians Against Trump, which indulges in some of the same polarized, overheated rhetoric used by Trump himself. In a statement released on July 11, the new group warned that Trump’s candidacy represents “an attack on our profession, our values, and the communities we serve.” But that claim is itself a repudiation of our professional values, which enjoin us to understand diverse communities instead of dismissing them as warped or deluded.

I speak, of course, of the millions of people who have cast ballots for Donald Trump. According to the signatories of the statement, there’s only one historically grounded opinion on Trump: their own. By that definition, then, Trump supporters are uninformed. When he accepts the Republican nomination this week, the historians’ statement concludes, the party will have succumbed to “snake oil.”

Of course, there are plenty of ignoramuses and bigots in the Trump camp. But surely there are reasoned, knowledgeable people who back him.

The “lessons of history” — to quote the historians’ manifesto — can be read in different way, by equally informed people. And it strains credulity to imagine that all Trump supporters have had the wool pulled over their eyes.

One consolation in all this: it’s not only Reformed Protestants or social conservatives who traffic in outrage.

We're Closer to Turkey than You Think?

This may be the most important context for considering the controversy over Islam at Wheaton College, namely, that Americans themselves are not all that comfortable with secularity and Islam reveals where the lumps in the mattress are. Rod Dreher quoted a poignant part of Ross Douthat’s column on how the West views Islam, as either as conservatives believe “radically incompatible with Western liberal democracy, and can never be reconciled to it; or, as many liberals believe, it is capable of assimilating to become as tame and non-threatening as most forms of Christianity and Judaism in the West.” In the Protestant world, either Larycia Hawkins or Tim Bayly. According to Douthat:

The good news is that there is space between these two ideas. The bad news is that we in the West can’t seem to agree on what that space should be, or how Christianity and Judaism, let alone Islam, should fit into it.

Devout Muslims watching current Western debates, for instance, might notice that some of the same cosmopolitan liberals who think of themselves as Benevolent Foes of Islamophobia are also convinced that many conservative Christians are dangerous crypto-theocrats whose institutions and liberties must give way whenever they conflict with liberalism’s vision of enlightenment.

They also might notice that many of the same conservative Christians who fear that Islam is incompatible with democracy are wrestling with whether their own faith is compatible with the direction of modern liberalism, or whether Christianity needs to enter a kind of internal exile in the West.

It almost sounds like Turkey’s war between Islamic friendly politicians and secularists, from a piece quoted sometime back from Mustafa Akyol:

As you probably well know, Turkey has long been stressed by political tension between religious conservatives and secular nationalists, the latter also known as the Kemalists. However, that main fault line is somewhat passé these days given the emergence of a new kind of tension between the religious conservatives who had triumphed together in (OR: previous) tension from years gone by. This time, it is the AKP (Justice and Development Party) government and the powerful Fethullah Gülen Movement that are at odds with each other. . . .

The term I translated here as “referee” (“hakem”) is a powerful word in Islam, referring to a neutral and fair judge who can settle disputes. And it is interesting that Ms. Eraslan, a pious, headscarf-wearing Muslim, thinks that this “referee” may be none other than secularism. Of course, this would not be the type of secularism that Turkey’s Kemalists have imposed for decades. That peculiar ideology, called “laiklik” (from the French laïcité), was based on the assumption that there was something wrong with religion and therefore it needed to be suppressed by the state.

What Ms. Eraslan probably implied, and what Turkey indeed needs, is a more American-like secularism. In other words, it should be based on the recognition that there is a problem not with religion, but with the concentration of political power.

Unlike Turkey, though, and the conflict between religion and laicite, could the struggle in the U.S. be the one that animated fundamentalists and modernists during the 1920s? The political left in the United States, like modernists, does not advocate the removal of religion from public life. They like religion (think Martin Luther King, Jr.). Jim Wallis is not a threat to them.

So too, the right also likes religion of the right sort (see what I did there?). It used to be Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Now it’s Rick Santorum and Kim Davis.

The problem is that both left and right embrace a form of American exceptionalism that needs religion to endow the United States with a righteous or holy purpose.

In that case, if we are still living with the dynamics of the fundamentalist controversy, has the United States learned lessons it can pass on to the Muslim world?

Now We Can Blame the Ottomans for Theonomy

From an interview with Michael J. McVicar, author of Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism:

Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was a theologically and socially conservative Presbyterian minister who played an important role in the development of the Christian Right of the late 1970s. His biography is compelling because it reflects many of the major cultural and social upheavals of the twentieth century. He was the son of Armenian immigrants who fled Turkish forces during the Armenian genocide of 1915. His older brother, Rousas George, died during the Turkish siege of the city of Van. After a Russian assault forced Turks to lift their siege, Rushdoony’s parents—his mother already pregnant with Rousas John—escaped through Russia to New York City. R. J. Rushdoony was born in New York and baptized in Los Angeles. His father, Y. K. Rushdoony, went on to minister to Armenian diasporic communities in California and Michigan. The plight of his family and the Armenian people more generally haunted Rushdoony for the rest of his life as he struggled to come to terms with their suffering and the forces that enabled such violence. After graduating first from the University of California, Berkeley, and then from seminary in the 1940s, Rushdoony served as a missionary on a Native American reservation in Nevada. There he became convinced that the forces that led to the Armenian genocide were identical to the forces behind the genocide of America’s native populations: the abandonment of orthodox Christianity for the sinful elevation of the state to god-like status in human affairs. In short, Rushdoony’s early ministry was directly shaped by his personal experiences as a survivor of one of the twentieth century’s great atrocities.

Selective Condemnation

I am still wondering about the wisdom of Pope Francis’ condemnation of Turkey for the Armenian genocide. If the pope opposes the persecution of Christians, why not also condemn the nation of France since the French persecuted Protestants in the 16th century and Roman Catholics in the 18th? Or what about condemning England for persecuting Roman Catholics? Or Spain for persecuting Calvinists? So many persecutors, so few condemnations.

But Philip Giraldi offers the best reasons against seeing the pope’s condemnation in an endearing light:

But one nevertheless has to wonder at the consequences of an ex post facto establishment of accountability for a crime that began 100 years ago in a now nonexistent political entity with victims and perpetrators who are no longer alive. When I lived in Istanbul in the 1980s I knew many Armenians well enough to be invited into their homes and attend their church services. I also knew Roman Catholics with whom I went to Mass, and had friends at the Greek Patriarchate, the Phanar. Christians were allowed to worship freely, but there was always a sense that they were being permitted to do so on sufferance and that it was a privilege rather than a right in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. I visited Istanbul again this summer, and the increase in visible Islamic religiosity was startling, so I assume that Christians are even more on edge.

Given that Christians in Turkey are still allowed to worship and associate more or less freely, Pope Francis’s declaration can only make their status somewhat more delicate, as those who see Turkey as a Muslim rather than a secular nation, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, will be able to play the nationalist card to make that vision a reality. The pace of the conversion of surviving historic churches into mosques will no doubt accelerate. In short, Pope Francis makes their situation more difficult in exchange for what I believe to be no actual net gain.

And then there is the essential hypocrisy of papal pronouncements. All too often the Church fails to live up to its own values. For me that occurred in dramatic fashion when Pope John Paul II conferred the appearance of Christian legitimacy on President George W. Bush by granting him four papal audiences. To his credit, the pope raised the issue of the deteriorating status of Christians in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East and called for peace in the region, but he did not do or say anything that might have a serious impact. If Turkey must be held accountable for massacres that took place in wartime 100 years ago, one has to wonder why the man who started a war unnecessarily, which at that point had killed scores of thousands of civilians and enabled the destruction of the ancient Christian communities in the Middle East, should be rewarded with multiple papal audiences.

I for one would have liked to have seen the pope refuse to meet with Bush or at least politely but publicly confront the president during the audience over what he had unleashed. Such a gesture could have had a real impact in the United States and just might have put the lie to the claims of success of the Iraq venture, which one still tends to hear on occasion, recently from Bush himself declaring that it brought “democracy.”

I understand that the sensitivities of the U.S. Catholic Church are important to the Holy See, and no pope would want to gratuitously contradict an American president, but it seems to me that the Church has a responsibility to bear witness as an antidote to ongoing evil backed by an assertion of Christian values. A public display of disapproval delivered to 78 million American Catholics might have served to restrain Bush-Cheney. And even if it did not, it would have been the right thing to do.

Which brings us to here and now. Concerning Pope Francis and his condemnation of Armenian genocide, I have to ask, “What have you done for me today?” The reticence of Christian organizations to get behind the Boycott, Divestments, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in an attempt to help deliver self-determination and fundamental human rights to the Palestinians has mystified me. I understand that the Catholic Church does not want to make more confrontational its interaction with the often difficult Israeli overlords of ecclesiastical properties in Jerusalem, and the Church has its own priorities in support of Christian-Jewish dialogue that it would not want to damage. There is also lurking the issue of historic anti-Semitism within the Church, but BDS is a perfect vehicle for helping to redress a current wrong. It is nonviolent, nonconfrontational, and conforms with international law. Precisely what is boycotted, divested, or sanctioned can be tailored to specific issues like settlement building. BDS seeks to establish fundamental liberties for Palestinians, including the freedom to run their own affairs either as a separate state or as part of a truly democratic Israel that grants equal rights to all.

For Catholics there is also a personal stake in what goes on in Israel, namely that the Church has an ancient physical presence in Israel and Palestine that is diminishing and under siege. The abuse of Christian clergy and laity in Israel has been widely reported, and there are 50 laws that discriminate in various ways against non-Jews. The Israeli bureaucracy de facto aids the process by refusing basic services for non-Jews, appropriating or infringing on Christian and Muslim religious sites, and systematically denying things like building permits even if there is no law that is directly applicable.

Best of all, if ministers of God’s word need a “thus sayeth the Lord” before their utterances, bishops, pastors, and priests might say a lot less and shepherd the flock a lot more. Hallelujah.

Why Reform Won't Ever Happen

Old institutions are hard to change. They have their own culture. Big administrations are even harder to change. They have their own culture. Which is why I don’t think the Roman Catholic Church will ever become reformed. It’s too big, too top-heavy (and that’s why this announcement is important). But it’s also clear that the laity and the bishops don’t really want church life to change.

Consider the following:

“It’s an outrage,” Peter Saunders told the National Catholic Reporter, that Pope Francis appointed Juan Barros–a man accused of covering up and witnessing a priest’s acts of sexual abuse–bishop of Osorno, Chile. (Barros denies both allegations.) “That man should be removed as a bishop because he has a very, very dubious history–corroborated by more than one person,” according to Saunders, a member of the pope’s new Commission for the Protection of Minors, and a clergy-abuse victim. Saunders went so far as to say that he would consider resigning if he doesn’t get an explanation. He wasn’t the only commission member who was shocked by the pope’s decision. “As a survivor, I’m very surprised at the appointment in Chile because it seems to go against…what the Holy Father has been saying about not wanting anyone in positions of trust in the church who don’t have an absolutely 100 percent record of child protection,” said Marie Collins. On March 31 the Holy See announced that the Congregation for Bishops had found no “objective reasons to preclude the appointment.”

That did not sit well with Saunders, Collins, and two other members of the commission (there are seventeen in total). So they flew to Rome last weekend for an unscheduled meeting with Cardinal Sean O’Malley, president of the body. What a difference a day makes. “The meeting went very well and the cardinal is going to take our concerns to the Holy Father,” Collins told NCR on Sunday. . . . Cardinal O’Malley agreed to present the concerns of the subcommittee to the Holy Father.” That’s quite a bit different from decrying the appointment as an outrage. Did Cardinal O’Malley bring them back from the brink simply by listening? What’s going to happen after he shares their concerns with Pope Francis?

Tough to say. It’s not as though the pope is left with any good options. Leave Barros in, watch the Diocese of Osorno burn, and risk blowing up the sex-abuse commission. Remove him and earn the ire of the world’s bishops for giving in to the mob. (I wouldn’t downplay that worry; it would be widely viewed as a dangerous precedent.) Should the appointment have been made in the first place? I don’t think so. But it’s been made. And now that the Congregation for Bishops has announced that there is no objective reason not to have appointed Barros, the pope’s hands are pretty well tied. Do commission members appreciate that bind? I hope so. Because this already confounding case won’t be clarified any time soon. This may not be the hill they want to die on.

All that power, all that scandal, all that public outrage, and the liberal editors at Commonweal shrug? The pope’s in a hard place? Who said being vicar of Christ was easy?

But sure, condemn the Turks.

Update: since writing the above David Mills tries to cut through the seemingly endless defense of the papacy. Like a lot of former Protestants who have doctrine on their minds, he distinguishes between the popes’ offhand comments (and perhaps even weightier statements) and the catechism, which may help with the spiritual gas that attends the bloating that follows episcopal overreach:

The pope didn’t say that even atheists get to heaven by doing good deeds. Catholic Vote has a good explanation with links to others. He only said, quoting Brian Kelly, “there can be, and is, goodness, or natural virtue, outside the Church. And that Christ’s death on the Cross redeemed all men. He paid the price so that every man could come to God and be saved.”

And if he had said something like what my friend thought he’d said, he would have been saying only what the Church teaches in sections 846-848 of the Catechism. More to the point, given my friend’s allegiances, he would only have been saying what C. S. Lewis, a writer my friend admires, said at the end of The Last Battle, when Aslan explains why a warrior who had worshipped a false god was found in heaven (the passage is found here ). That’s not dumb, even if one disagrees with it. The Catholic wouldn’t need to twist himself into a pretzel to explain that idea, had the pope said it.

The Catholic Church isn’t that hard to understand. The Church herself has created a huge paper trail of authoritative documents designed to declare and to teach.

But this view of the church doesn’t take into account all those gestures and even instances where acts say more than words. What does it say that Francis appoints Juan Barros in Chile? What does it say that the pope is willing to condemn the Turks but not homosexuals? What does it say that worries about mortal sin don’t seem to come from the bishops’ lips while they are willing to pontificate (see what I did there?) on the environment, immigration, or Indiana? Does bloated come to mind?

And to top it off, David says that any political conservative should have a certain admiration for papal authority:

Of course, the Catholic will feel hesitant to criticize the Holy Father in public, as one would hesitate to criticize one’s own father in public. The Catholic will also first ask himself what the pope has to say to us that we need to hear, even if he said it badly. He will give the pope the benefit of the doubt. He will generally say, with regard to the Holy Father’s statements, “Who am I to judge?”

This is a disposition to authority my friend, a political and cultural conservative, would admire. And I think that if he weren’t talking about the Catholic Church he’d recognize it as such. Respect and deference are very different from being forced to twist yourself into knots trying to rewrite the pope’s statements. The people who might do that (were it needed) might do it from a natural sense of filial protectiveness, of the Church and her pope. That also my friend should admire.

Maybe for a Tory but not an American conservative. The founding was not about respect for monarchical kinds of authority — hello. It was about putting limits on government — checks and balances — and its instinct is a healthy distrust of people in power. Why? Because of sin and the tendency to abuse power. And this is why it is so baffling that Roman Catholics in the U.S. would become defenders of American government unless they want to go all 2k on us. Suspicion of government is something that so many Roman Catholics find difficult to fathom when it comes to the magisterium — which may also explain why so many of the Protestant converts are so little engaged in discussions about politics (except for the bits about sex) or why the Protestant converts who do do politics don’t seem to say much about the church.

David Mills may have an effective strategy for Protestants who don’t follow all the news that Roman Catholics create — just keep it to the doctrine and the worship the way good Protestants do. But the Roman Catholic church’s footprint is hardly doctrinal and liturgical. If that’s all it were, I might have more sympathy for David’s point. But has David ever wondered why the Vatican is about so much more than doctrine or worship or why Roman Catholics write so much in defense of every single thing the papacy does, such as:

Pope Francis’ comments on the extermination of Armenian Christians in early 20th-century Turkey prompted a strongly worded criticism from the Turkish Foreign Ministry and led to the withdrawal of Turkey’s ambassador to the Holy See. But what’s the full story?

As the April 24 centenary commemoration of the Armenian genocide approaches, tensions between Turkey and Armenia run high. Despite this, Pope Francis remembered the martyrdom of the Armenian people during his April 12 Mass at the Vatican.

The Turkish government criticized the Pope and an Armenian representative in a Sunday statement, focusing on the use of the word “genocide.”

Most non-Turkish scholars consider the mass killings of 1915-1916 to be a genocide in which the Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated its minority Armenian population, who were predominantly Christian. Roughly 1.5 million Armenians — men, women and children — lost their lives in ways ranging from executions into mass graves to meticulous torture.

Turkey has repeatedly denied that the slaughter was a genocide, saying that the number of deaths was much smaller and came as a result of conflict surrounding World War I. The country holds that many ethnic Turks also lost their lives in the event.

Pope Francis’ comments on Sunday set off a firestorm of criticism among Turkish leaders, prompting the removal of the country’s Vatican ambassador.

What could be lesser known, however, is that the Pope’s introductory remarks included a precise quote of the joint text that St. John Paul II and Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos Karekin II of the Armenian Apostolic Church issued on Sept. 27, 2001, during a papal visit to Armenia.

Lots of words and gestures, so little time for interpretation. So let the paying, praying and obeying interpreters interpret. Let them do to the teaching and actions of the magisterium what Protestants allegedly do with the Bible. Spin and spin and spin and spin away.

Somewhere between the Crusades and the National Council of Churches

That somewhere is the Land of 2k.

The reason for this reminder stems in part from a post over at Rorate Caeli about modernized Roman Catholics who don’t have much to offer Muslims:

What does modernized Catholicism do faced with Islam and its terroristic religion of violence?

Does it ask Islam to accept modernity? Does it ask it to put the person at the center in the place of God? Does it ask Islam to accept the trinomial of the Revolution, freedom-equality-fraternity? Modernized Catholicism, reinterpreted, has the audacity to expose itself, by submitting that the Catholic Church, after an erroneous refusal of 200 years, has [finally] understood how to embrace modernity, by restructuring itself into a more mature phase of religion. Consequently, the modernized Church is asking Muslims to try and take the same steps, so that they can join the assemblage of the modern religion which puts man at the centre.

What will real Muslim believers understand from this invitation? They will understand that we no longer believe in God, that we have become agnostics, that the dogmas of the Masonic religion, which support the centrality of Man, have thrown out the true dogmas – the dogmas of God!

What a disaster!

The Muslims will be confirmed in their idea that the Christian West is immoral and should be opposed.

Conservative Protestants know the feeling. If you asked Protestant modernists what they offer to Muslims, you’d also likely want to duck if you were the one to deliver the answer to the inquiring Muslim. But when this Roman Catholic op-ed writer says that Traditional Roman Catholicism has the right proposal for Muslims, you do wonder what he or she means by traditional. As much as Pope Benedict XVI might have proposed reason instead of power, plenty of popes well before Benedict showed muscle rather than intellect to Muslim infidels — think Crusades and Inquisition.

In which case, the alternative to a modernist Islam is a spiritual Islam — one that regards the spiritual as more important than the temporal. The papacy may have learned this lesson the hard way after 1870 when the pope lost his temporal estates. Even so, between 1870 and 1962, the papacy did seem to know implicitly that its power was spiritual not temporal, and it still ran a conservative church with lots of condemnations of departures from the truth.

The Turkish Republic may have also taught Islam a similar lesson when it abolished the caliphate and turned the nation’s mosques into centers of religious as opposed to political life.

Separating the spiritual from the temporal also bears on the recent discussion between Rod Dreher and Noah Milman about whether Republicans have anything to offer social conservatives. In response to Dreher’s earlier suggestion that social conservatives may need to adopt the Benedict Option of cultural withdrawal, Milman points to a Jewish community that did withdraw and is still as politicized as an Blue or Red state constituency:

Consider Kiryas Joel. This village in Orange County, New York, was designed as an enclave of the Satmar Hasidic sect. Satmar are the most insular of Hasidic sects, going to enormous lengths to keep themselves uncontaminated by the larger culture. But they participate in commerce – and they most certainly participate in politics. Specifically, they vote as a bloc for whichever candidate best-supports the narrow interests of the community.

And, funny thing, but politicians respond to incentives. This is a community that rigidly separates the sexes and imposes a draconian standard of personal modesty – and that strives mightily to impose that norm as a public matter in their community. Don’t even talk about homosexuality. But none of that prevented a Democratic candidate for Congress from earning their support by promising to help them with facilitating the community’s growth. And with their help, he narrowly won his election against a Republican who had previously earned the Satmar community’s favor.

I am not writing a brief for Kiryas Joel or Satmar. I think that kind of insulation is extremely destructive, not only for the individuals involved but for any kind of authentic spiritual life. But it seems to me that this is what the Benedict Option looks like in the real world – or, rather, this is a somewhat extreme end of what it might mean.

And my real point is that that approach – a focus on nurturing a spiritual community, maintaining however much integration with the rest of the world as is compatible with that priority, and orienting one’s politics on the specific needs of your community – is completely compatible with playing the two parties off against each other. Satmar stands opposed to basically everything the Democratic Party stands for. Heck, it stands opposed to basically everything America stands for. For that matter, it stands opposed to basically everything the rest of the American Jewish community stands for as well – it’s resolutely anti-Zionist, extremely socially conservative, refuses to cooperate with non-Hasidic groups – it even has a hard time getting along even with other Hasidic groups. And it still gets courted by Democrats.

The really funny thing may be the recognition that confessional Presbyterian communions like the OPC get courted by neither Republicans nor Democrats. Part of that owes to the fact that Orthodox Presbyterians do not inhabit a Congressional District. But it also has to do with the doctrine of the spirituality of the church (still disputed in OPC circles, mind you). If the church is a spiritual institution with spiritual means for spiritual ends, and if the temporal matters of this life are just that — temporal — fading away in comparison to what is coming on That Great (not Pretty Good) Day, then the best alternative to either a sword-wielding pope or caliphate, or a pandering set of pastors or bishops, is a spiritual church. That means, a group of believers who worship together each week under a ministry reformed according to the word of God and who know that in the light of eternity political parties, geographical territories, and military conflicts don’t matter.