(“You have heard that it was said…”)
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors* do the same? 47 And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same?* 48 So be perfect,* just as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
When the Vatican announced the importance of continuing to dialogue with Muslims, (see Is dialogue with Islam possible? Yes, and it's needed now more than ever, Vatican says :: Catholic News Agency (CNA) for the story), there was a strong reaction from some individuals on Facebook who were no doubt responding with the barbarities of ISIS in mind. These individuals said things to the effect that the Vatican was living in a dream world. Some of them took the rhetoric further, calling Muslims in general “animals” and “children of Satan.” Some say that any Muslim speaking about peace is a liar because of what the Qur’an says.
These individuals were not part of the “New Atheism” who bear a hatred for anything religious. No, they were Catholics who were angry at the thought of Muslims being treated in any way other than with an iron fist because of the barbaric behavior against Christians. They viewed any reaching out to Muslims in dialogue in this case as capitulation or religious indifferentism—basically ignoring the suffering of Christians. Some even go so far as to declare that we do not need to reach out to Muslims because they have "knowingly rejected Christ."
Preliminary Notes That Shouldn’t Have To Be Said
I shouldn’t have to profess my faith as a preliminary, but many people fall for the either-or fallacy and assume that the opposite of being hostile to Muslims is to profess their beliefs. So I have to preempt accusations by stating where I stand:
I am a member of the Catholic Church through the grace of God, being baptized as an infant. I choose to remain in the Catholic Church because I believe she is the Church established by Christ. I fully accept the Nicene Creed and profess a belief in God as Trinity. I recognize the authority of the Church to teach and seek to obey what the Church has taught. I recognize that the leadership of the Church is given to the Pope and the bishops as the successors of St. Peter and the Apostles.
Because I believe that truth cannot contradict truth, and because Christianity and Islam contradict each other on the nature of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it logically follows that I cannot accept Islam as being true—because I believe Jesus is God, I cannot accept claims from the Qur’an which claims He is no more than a human prophet. I have read the Qur’an, but I do not believe it is a divinely inspired book in any way.
Hopefully this should preempt any false accusations that I am religiously indifferent or secretly holding Muslim beliefs.
Islamophobia vs. Opposing Wrong Done By Certain Muslims
I’m on record as saying the -phobia label is used to vilify people for opposing acts as being morally wrong. That’s also part of the either-or fallacy in the sense of “Either you accept us as equally valid or you’re a bigot.” One can oppose something as being morally wrong without hating the person who is affiliated with such a group. It is the failure to recognize this fact that has made America such a dangerous place to speak publicly. Not dangerous in the sense of “mobs killing you for saying the wrong thing” (or at least not yet), but dangerous in the sense of “you can lose your job, be sued or be prosecuted if someone dislikes what you say."
The danger of classifying any opposition as a -phobia is that it makes it difficult for people to openly discuss the issues of what is true and what is false. Nowadays this is seen as “intolerance.”
That being said, it is possible for individuals to lose sight of the difference between those who do evil and “guilt by association.” Those people do simply hate a person for what group or category they fall under. That mindset is wrong in the eyes of the Catholic Church. We are to love the person who wrongs us, and to forgive—because God has forgiven us for our wrongs:
21 Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 *Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times. 23 That is why the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who decided to settle accounts with his servants. 24 *When he began the accounting, a debtor was brought before him who owed him a huge amount. 25 Since he had no way of paying it back, his master ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, his children, and all his property, in payment of the debt. 26 *At that, the servant fell down, did him homage, and said, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back in full.’ 27 Moved with compassion the master of that servant let him go and forgave him the loan. 28 When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount.* He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ 29 Falling to his knees, his fellow servant begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.’ 30 But he refused. Instead, he had him put in prison until he paid back the debt. 31 Now when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were deeply disturbed, and went to their master and reported the whole affair. 32 His master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. 33 Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?’ 34 Then in anger his master handed him over to the torturers until he should pay back the whole debt.* 35 * So will my heavenly Father do to you, unless each of you forgives his brother from his heart.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
So, when a Catholic is hostile to another solely on the grounds of his or her existence in a group (as opposed to saying an act is wrong, but still loving the person who commits it) and feels they should not be shown any human decency, such a person is not behaving as they are supposed to behave as Catholic Christians.
Catholics May Not Hate or Wish Evil on Anyone—They Must Forgive and Seek to Bring People to Christ
It is acceptable to be angry at injustice. It is acceptable to want evil to be stopped. It is also acceptable for Christians to defend themselves from attackers. However, we are forbidden to hate those who persecute us. Hatred is the wanting of evil to befall a person. If someone wrongs us, we are required to forgive them, and continue to seek their good. As the Catechism says:
2844 Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God’s compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another.145 (2262)
That means when people hate us and want to harm us, we cannot hope for disaster to befall them and their families. We are to pray for their conversion and reach out to them. This isn’t just some “Vatican II invention” or modern naïveté. The history of our Church witnesses to it. Consider this portion of today’s First Reading (4/24/15):
10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, 12 and [in a vision] he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay [his] hands on him, that he may regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, 16 and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, “Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, 19 and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:10-20)
Just ask, what would have happened if Ananias had decided that Saul of Tarsus was a “child of Satan” and refused to go to him? What if the early Christians had refused to go to the pagan Romans who persecuted them? The fact is, God has called us to go out to the whole world (28:18-20), and He did not make any exceptions allowing us to pick and choose who we reach out to.
Dialogue is defined as “a discussion between two or more people or groups, especially one directed toward exploration of a particular subject or resolution of a problem.” When conflicts arise, it is easier to get a solution by discussing how to deal with them without resorting to violence. It is also part of the requirement of missionary activity, as the Catechism says:
856 The missionary task implies a respectful dialogue with those who do not yet accept the Gospel. Believers can profit from this dialogue by learning to appreciate better “those elements of truth and grace which are found among peoples, and which are, as it were, a secret presence of God.” They proclaim the Good News to those who do not know it, in order to consolidate, complete, and raise up the truth and the goodness that God has distributed among men and nations, and to purify them from error and evil “for the glory of God, the confusion of the demon, and the happiness of man.”361 (839; 843)
St. John Paul II wrote:
55. Inter-religious dialogue is a part of the Church’s evangelizing mission. Understood as a method and means of mutual knowledge and enrichment, dialogue is not in opposition to the mission ad gentes; indeed, it has special links with that mission and is one of its expressions. This mission, in fact, is addressed to those who do not know Christ and his Gospel, and who belong for the most part to other religions. In Christ, God calls all peoples to himself and he wishes to share with them the fullness of his revelation and love. He does not fail to make himself present in many ways, not only to individuals but also to entire peoples through their spiritual riches, of which their religions are the main and essential expression, even when they contain “gaps, insufficiencies and errors.” All of this has been given ample emphasis by the Council and the subsequent Magisterium, without detracting in any way from the fact that salvation comes from Christ and that dialogue does not dispense from evangelization.
In the light of the economy of salvation, the Church sees no conflict between proclaiming Christ and engaging in interreligious dialogue. Instead, she feels the need to link the two in the context of her mission ad gentes. These two elements must maintain both their intimate connection and their distinctiveness; therefore they should not be confused, manipulated or regarded as identical, as though they were interchangeable. (Redemptoris Missio 55)
In other words, it is far better to carry out the mission activity of the Church when relations between Christians and non-Christians is peaceful than it is over gunfire.
To the people who call the Muslims “animals” or “children of Satan,” who reject dialogue with them, I ask you this? Are we or are we not called to evangelize all nations? The answer is, we are called to evangelize. I ask you also, which is in keeping with evangelizing those who hate us? Showing love and respect to those we reach out to? Or showing hatred and contempt?
In calling for us to not give up on dialogue, the Church is not “living in a dream world,” or “compromising.” The Church is following the teaching of Christ. No matter how much people may hate us, we cannot hate them. We must love them. Otherwise, we’re no better than the pagans and tax collectors.