2003 August 23 Saturday
Paul Cella On Chesterton, Belloc, And Islam As Dangerous Heresy

Paul J. Cella of Cella's Review has an excellent article on Tech Central Station quoting Catholic thinkers Hilaire Belloc (lived 1870-1953) and G.K. Chesterton (lived 1874-1936) on the nature of Islam. Cellas first quotes Chesterton on Islam:

A void is made in the heart of Islam which has to be filled up again and again by a mere repetition of the revolution that founded it. There are no sacraments; the only thing that can happen is a sort of apocalypse, as unique as the end of the world; so the apocalypse can only be repeated and the world end again and again. There are no priests; and this equality can only breed a multitude of lawless prophets almost as numerous as priests. The very dogma that there is only one Mohamet produces an endless procession of Mohamets.

Cella also quotes an excerpt from Belloc. After some Google digging I was able to find the full text of the chapter of a Belloc book from which Cella excerpted. Belloc's book The Great Heresies is available online. See chapter 4 The Great and Enduring Heresy of Mohammed for Belloc's view of Islam as a simplifying Catholic heresy.

Mohammedanism was a heresy: that is the essential point to grasp before going any further. It began as a heresy, not as a new religion. It was not a pagan contrast with the Church; it was not an alien enemy. It was a perversion of Christian doctrine. It vitality and endurance soon gave it the appearance of a new religion, but those who were contemporary with its rise saw it for what it was_not a denial, but an adaptation and a misuse, of the Christian thing. It differed from most (not from all) heresies in this, that it did not arise within the bounds of the Christian Church. The chief heresiarch, Mohammed himself, was not, like most heresiarchs, a man of Catholic birth and doctrine to begin with. He sprang from pagans. But that which he taught was in the main Catholic doctrine, oversimplified. It was the great Catholic world_on the frontiers of which he lived, whose influence was all around him and whose territories he had known by travel_which inspired his convictions. He came of, and mixed with, the degraded idolaters of the Arabian wilderness, the conquest of which had never seemed worth the Romans' while.

He took over very few of those old pagan ideas which might have been native to him from his descent. On the contrary, he preached and insisted upon a whole group of ideas which were peculiar to the Catholic Church and distinguished it from the paganism which it had conquered in the Greek and Roman civilization. Thus the very foundation of his teaching was that prime Catholic doctrine, the unity and omnipotence of God. The attributes of God he also took over in the main from Catholic doctrine: the personal nature, the all-goodness, the timelessness, the providence of God, His creative power as the origin of all things, and His sustenance of all things by His power alone. The world of good spirits and angels and of evil spirits in rebellion against God was a part of the teaching, with a chief evil spirit, such as Christendom had recognized. Mohammed preached with insistence that prime Catholic doctrine, on the human side_the immortality of the soul and its responsibility for actions in this life, coupled with the consequent doctrine of punishment and reward after death.

If anyone sets down those points that orthodox Catholicism has in common with Mohammedanism, and those points only, one might imagine if one went no further that there should have been no cause of quarrel. Mohammed would almost seem in this aspect to be a sort of missionary, preaching and spreading by the energy of his character the chief and fundamental doctrines of the Catholic Church among those who had hitherto been degraded pagans of the Desert. He gave to Our Lord the highest reverence, and to Our Lady also, for that matter. On the day of judgment (another Catholic idea which he taught) it was Our Lord, according to Mohammed, who would be the judge of mankind, not he, Mohammed. The Mother of Christ, Our Lady, "the Lady Miriam" was ever for him the first of womankind. His followers even got from the early fathers some vague hint of her Immaculate Conception.[1]

Here is a larger excerpt the portion of Belloc's The Great Heresies that Cella excerpted (my bold emphases added):

But can we be certain it is so decided? I doubt it very much. It has always seemed to me possible, and even probable, 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.

Why this conviction should have arisen in the minds of certain observers and travellers, such as myself, I will now consider. It is indeed a vital question, "May not Islam arise again?"

In a sense the question is already answered because Islam has never departed. It still commands the fixed loyalty and unquestioning adhesion of all the millions between the Atlantic and the Indus and further afield throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask the question in the sense "Will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the domination of Europeans_still nominally Christian_and reappear again as the prime enemy of our civilization?" The future always comes as a surprise but political wisdom consists in attempting at least some partial judgment of what that surprise may be. And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralysed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable. Let us then examine the position.

I have said throughout these pages that the particular quality of Mohammedanism, regarded as a heresy, was its vitality. Alone of all the great heresies Mohammedanism struck permanent roots, developing a life of its own, and became at last something like a new religion. So true is this that today very few men, even among those who are highly instructed in history, recall the truth that Mohammedanism was essentially in its origins not a new religion, but a heresy.

Like all heresies, Mohammedanism lived by the Catholic truths which it had retained. Its insistence on personal immortality, on the Unity and Infinite Majesty of God, on His Justice and Mercy, its insistence on the equality of human souls in the sight of their Creator_these are its strength.

Cella concludes about Chesterton, Belloc and Islam:

It is foolish to overlook them, as it was foolish to overlook it. They provide a window into a mind that still grasped what it means to men to be alive to a religious orthodoxy, to a tradition of moral obedience and ritual. This liveliness of faith is obscured from our view in large part because of the modern rejection of its power. It is obscured by a deliberate narrowing of the intellect. And it is precisely that huge and terrible portion of the intellect which we need most to heed right now, for it is that, in other men, which threatens us.

He's saying it takes men who believe in one faith to appreciate the intensely powerful effects that belief in another faith has on a different group of people. He's arguing that secular people lack the understanding and experience needed to appreciate the danger that Islam poses. This may well be the case. However, it is worth noting that not a few rather foolish religious Catholics and other Christians are willing to play the roles of apologists to Islam in order to defend faith in general and their own faith in particular.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 August 23 06:17 PM  Religion Secular Ideologies


Comments
Paul Cella said at September 4, 2003 9:31 AM:

The Chesterton quote (if you're interested) is from his obituary for Lord Kitchener. I don't know if it is online.


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