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Persons philosophers by nature

The word of God is addressed to all people, in every age and in every part of the world; and the human being is by nature a philosopher..

John Paul II

Fides et Ratio

Katie van Schaijik

Another burqa photo

Jun. 23, 2009, at 8:24pm

It didn’t seem quite right to add this to Josef Seifert’s post defending the “freedom” (I can’t help adding the scare quotes) to wear the burqa, but I post it for the sake of making clear the sort of thing I have in mind. No conciliating baby blue this time.

I’ve also just come across an article in today’s Daily Mail [a UK paper] on the subject: a British Muslim woman making the case for banning the burqa in public. I won’t link it directly (because of the racy gossip also featured), but here’s a key passage:

Many of my adult British Muslim friends cover their heads with a headscarf - and I have no problem with that.

The burkha is an entirely different matter. It is an imported Saudi Arabian tradition, and the growing number of women veiling their faces in Britain is a sign of creeping radicalisation, which is not just regressive, it is oppressive and downright dangerous.

The burkha is an extreme practice. It is never right for a woman to hide behind a veil and shut herself off from people in the community. But it is particularly wrong in Britain, where it is alien to the mainstream culture for someone to walk around wearing a mask.

The veil restricts women. It stops them achieving their full potential in all areas of their life, and it stops them communicating. It sends out a clear message: “I do not want to be part of your society.”

Every time the burkha is debated, Muslim fundamentalists bring out all these women who say: “It’s my choice to wear this.”

Perhaps so - but what pressures have been brought to bear on them? The reality, surely, is that a lot of women are not free to choose.

Girls as young as four are wearing the hijab to school: that is not a freely made choice. It stops them taking part in education and reaching their potential, and the idea that tiny children need to protect their modesty is abhorrent.

And behind the closed doors of some Muslim houses, countless-young women are told to wear the hijab and the veil. These are the girls who are hidden away, they are not allowed to go to university or choose who they marry. In many cases, they are kept down by the threat of violence.

The burkha is the ultimate visual symbol of female oppression. It is the weapon of radical Muslim men who want to see Sharia law on Britain’s streets, and would love women to be hidden, unseen and unheard. It is totally out of place in a civilised country.

Precisely because it is impossible to distinguish between the woman who is choosing to wear a burkha and the girl who has been forced to cover herself and live behind a veil, I believe it should be banned.


Katie van Schaijik

Iranian women

Jun. 23, 2009, at 2:56pm

Speaking of women in Islam, Anne Applebaum has an interesting piece in today’s Washington Post about the role of women in the uprising underway in Iran.


Josef Seifert

Defending the Freedom of wearing Veils and Burqas

Jun. 23, 2009, at 12:54am

I think that not even the most literal interpretation of the Koran’s dressing codes for women, wearing burqas, ought to be outlawed in the West, let alone Muslim women covering of heads by normal veils (which are equally outlawed in many Western countries). It seems to me that any observance of a religious tradition that is not in any way in itself evil, or criminal, or offensive, ought to be permitted by the law and never be banished or outlawed, which does not exclude to persecute domestic crimes even if justified in the shariah.
Not only is there a sacred right to the freedom of religion and to the freedom of conscience to obey one’s positive religious mandates as long as they do not entail crimes or oppression bordering on crime (which wearing the nice burqa that underlines the mystery of the woman’s body, certainly does not). One may remind oneself that also Saint Paul demanded that women cover their heads in Church as sign of their submission to their husbands and of their respect for the angels. Should it be outlawed that women wear veils in our Churches (which is still being done in some places)?
The comparison with religious habits of nuns is not that far-fetched. There is a Catholic nun’s order of the “slaves of Christ” in Spain, and some other Eucharistic feminine orders, who wear almost the same veils that completely cover their faces. Should this be outlawed?
Moreover, in general the outlawing of any dresses that do not offend public morality is an assault against freedom, even if these dresses have nothing to do with religion.
Besides, to want to forbid pious Muslim or Hindu women (in the name of fighting oppression!) to wear veils or other dresses that correspond to their beliefs, while we do nothing to solve first our problems with women’s dresses, as an extremely witty Muslim Professor remarked when called to speak out in the veil-processes in England, seems doubly wrong.
There is another reason against this. It seems in general quite wrong to support any kind of pressure (as in Mexico for decades in regard to the Catholic priests and nuns and now increasingly in the West) that demands that nobody may wear in public places or private schools symbols of their religion.
Moreover, it is ludicrous, grotesque and utterly hypocritical that in Germany, France, England, or the USA, Muslim women should be forced to take off their veils against their conscience, while our women may wear the most offensive and unbelievably impure dresses in public, indulge in the most shocking public seduction, for example as naked prostitutes on TV commercials giving their phone numbers and “prices,” pose in offensive nakedness in Playboy and other magazines, without being outlawed!
Finally, a country that forbids burqas but “legalizes” the murder of one’s own children is in my opinion absolutely cynical and grotesque!


Jules van Schaijik

Question 1: on John Paul II and Hugh Hefner

Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:30pm

Note: After our recent event on human sexuality, recordings of which are now freely available on our site, there was a lively question and answer session. Rather than posting that entire session online, we decided to excerpt four questions from it that are likely to interest many. These questions are posted individually so that they can be discussed separately (in the respective comment boxes).

The first question concerns the comparison that Christopher West sometimes makes, and for which he has been severely criticized (especially since his TV interview), between Hugh Hefner and John Paul II. Click on the link below, and you will hear what West and Healy had to say about the issue.

On JPII and Hugh Hefner (opens in a small popup window)


Jules van Schaijik

Question 2: on prudishness

Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:29pm

The next question had to do with the definition of prudishness. Both Healy and West were asked to give concrete examples, and thereby clarify their meaning.

On prudisness (opens in a small popup window)

By the way, some discussions on prudishness have already taken place in the Linde. Clicking the appropriate tag above will lead to those.


Jules van Schaijik

Question 3: on concupiscence

Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:28pm

Some critics of West have argued that he underestimates the role of concupiscence in human life, and that he sometimes even goes so far as to suggest that it can be rooted out completely (in this life). A question was raised concerning this very issue, which gave West a chance to clarify his position.

On concupiscence (opens in a small popup window)


Jules van Schaijik

Question 4: how sexual intimacy can be a revelation (and gift) of self

Jun. 22, 2009, at 5:27pm

The last question we thought was worth posting has to do with the way in which “sexual activity” can become an expression of love and a gift of self.

Sexual intimacy and self-giving


Katie van Schaijik

Should burquas be banned?

Jun. 22, 2009, at 2:23pm

Sarkozy says that burqas are not welcome in France.

I would like to know what personalist philosophers say to this. We favor the free expression of religion, while we oppose the oppression of women in Islam embodied in the burqa. What’s a pluralistic society to do?


Jules van Schaijik

Is there any precedent for West’s views in the tradition?

Jun. 21, 2009, at 1:21pm

Even though I agree with Katie’s point (in the previous post) about there being legitimate (even desirable) ways of being “out of step” with Catholic tradition, I would still like to see some evidence for claims such as that “liturgists and theologians from the early days of the Church have understood the Easter Candle just as West does.”

Does anyone know of any?





Katie van Schaijik

Fr. Geiger’s latest on the West debate

Jun. 20, 2009, at 8:38pm

Yesterday a friend sent me Fr. Angelo Geiger’s latest guest post at the Dawn Patrol on the controversy surrounding Christopher West. I have less sympathy with it than I did with his first piece. I think he is unfair to West and his defenders.
For instance, in his first paragraph he identifies part of the debate as being over whether CW’s approach is “out of step with Catholic tradition.” I find this an unhelpfully ambiguous phrase. It seems clearly meant to indicate unsoundness. But there are ways of being “out of step” with the tradition that are thoroughly legitimate. Wasn’t Joan of Arc’s taking on the role of a soldier rather out of keeping with tradition? Couldn’t Dietrich von Hildebrand’s emphasis on love as the meaning of marriage be seen as in some sense novel? Doesn’t Mass in the vernacular represent a certain break with the past? Don’t many people dismiss the charismatic renewal as a whole on the grounds that it is unlike what we are used to in the Church?

In other words, to show that a person’s methodology or “line of thought” is heterodox and “dangerous” (as David Schindler implied of CW’s), it is not enough to show that it is new or unusual or “out of step” with the tradition; you have to show (it seems to me) that it is incompatible with the tradition. I don’t think either Schindler or Fr. Geiger comes close to doing that.

Even if we grant that the Easter candle is primarily meant to symbolize the light of Christ; even if we acknowledge that its form follows its function, why should that preclude the possibility that it may have other connotations as well? If the conjugal union is an icon of the Holy Trinity and the source of new life in the world, why should we be startled or offended by the idea of phallic symbols? Why should we see them as in themselves vulgar or prurient? Does noticing a phallic aspect in a thing mean we are dirty-minded? Is sex something dirty? I think anyone who thinks so DOES (sorry) betray an element of prudishness.

Then there is Fr. Geiger’s strange treatment of Janet Smith. He “rolled his eyes” as she “confessed” to her prudery and says that “she tells us we should all be ashamed if we don’t like the idea of the Easter candle being a phallic symbol.” Where does she tell us anything of the kind? Why must he twist and belittle her remarks? What is wrong in her saying that she has felt challenged by this discussion to consider whether her own reaction might not be somewhat prudish?

Then, I dislike intensely his derisive-sounding use of the term “copulation” in reference to liturgical symbolism. Here I am with Damian Fedoryka. Among persons there is no morally indifferent physical act. There is only either the marital embrace or sexual sin. Hence the dousing of the Easter candle in the holy water font, if it has sexual connotations, would be a symbol of self-giving, procreative spousal love, not “copulation.” Copulating is for animals.

Finally, Fr. Geiger seems to take it for granted it that his own reaction against the idea of sexual imagery intertwined with liturgy and prayers is the normal, natural and right one for all Catholics. But I’d like to know how he can be sure of that. Is it not at least possible that CW is right that we are all much more under the influence of prudishness than we realize; that we are missing a depth dimension in a lot of liturgical symbolism because of it; that we are lacking altogether an adequate appreciation of the centrality and greatness of human sexuality in God’s plan of salvation for the world? Or, if you think that goes too far, what about this: Isn’t it possible that some people are just much more sexually charged and alert than others, so that they notice “signs and symbols” that others miss? And if so, isn’t it great that they find those signs and symbols in their religious life, and not separated from it?


Josef Seifert

But are we free? Five questions

Jun. 20, 2009, at 11:04am

But are we free? Do we possess freedom? And can we know this with our pure human reason or only accept it on faith? We need to distinguish here five questions, two general and three more specific ones:

(1) What is the nature of freedom? In what does it consist? This we must understand not only in order to assert the existence of human freedom but also in order to deny it. If we did not know WHAT freedom is and what we mean by this word, we could neither assert nor deny the existence of freedom because we would not understand at all what we are saying when we say “We are free” or what we are stating when we claim “We are not free.” Both judgments make no sense without understanding what freedom is.
(2) The second fundamental and quite independent question is: Does freedom exist?

This second question can again be divided into three distinct questions:
(a) whether human (and angelic) freedom or
(b) [only] divine freedom or
(c) both human and divine freedom do exist.

A most fundamental question for all our understanding of the human person, is no doubt whether WE are free, whether human freedom exists.

But can we truly know that we are free? Before we can answer the question whether we are free and how we can know this, we have to inquire into the nature of freedom, as we have already said. But this first huge question has to be tackled another time.


Katie van Schaijik

Forgiveness retreat

Jun. 19, 2009, at 12:36pm

A couple of weeks ago the Personalist Project hosted its first advisers and directors retreat. We gathered for three days of leisurely philosophical communion on the theme of forgiveness in beautiful Spring Lake, NJ. I hope to share some of the fruit of our discussions soon. Meanwhile, here is a photo of the participants.

From left to right:
- Mike Wallacavage, who received his MA in philosophy from the IAP.
- Jill Burkemper, PhD, of Saint Louis University.
- John Henry Crosby, Founder and Director of the Hildebrand Legacy Project
- Peter Colosi, PhD, of Charles Borromeo Seminary
- Michael Healy, PhD, of Franciscan University
- Wendy Laurento, West Chester lawyer, who also has an MA in theology
- Peter Damgaard-Hansen, PhD, Danish licensed psychologist
- Maria Fedoryka, PhD, of Ave Maria University
- Katie van Schajik
- Fr. Philip Forlano of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia
- Jules van Schaijik, PhD


Katie van Schaijik

Closed posts, open discussion

Jun. 13, 2009, at 7:39am

Because some of our discussions of questions of sexual morality were becoming rather too detailed and explicit for so open a forum, we have closed them temporarily while we figure out how to continue them without crossing lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

Just what those lines are is open for discussion.  On the one hand, the Christian personalists of this forum recognize and wish to defend and cultivate in ourselves and others a sense of the essential mysteriousness and intimacy of the sexual sphere.  On the other hand, there is a growing feeling, at least in many of us, that much more and much more open discussion is called for as part of the ethical task of Christian philosophers in our day. 

It may be seen as a valuable and necessary service to those who have honest questions, to those who are burdened by false or inadequate teachings, to those who are infected (perhaps without realizing it) by an inhibiting prudishness, to those who are in vocations (like priesthood, medicine, psychology) where sound and detailed ethical information is urgently needed…

The internet, while it has the “problem” (in this case) of being highly public, also has at least three distinct advantages for our situation.
1) It allows like-minded thinkers and questioners who are geographically far apart to “meet” each other in one place.
2) It allows for genuine dialogue, which is an especially fruitful way of approaching difficult ethical questions.  Thinkers can offer tentative opinions, raise questions, and challenge each other’s reasoning without having to dedicate months or years to research toward a fully-developed idea.  Ideas are worked out in communion with other minds.  “Onlookers” naturally imbibe a sense of how philosophy works and of how not open-and-shut many questions are.  Everyone learns.
3) The “virtuality” factor can be seen as a kind of protection.  Readers can enter the discussion and bring their experience to the table anonymously.  I know if I had a “sex issue” in my marriage, I certainly would rather go online for information from Christian ethicists whose basic vision and moral seriousness I trust than go to my parish priest and discuss it with him!

I’d love to know what others think.


Katie van Schaijik

The problem of innocence

Jun. 11, 2009, at 8:20pm

A friend sent an email with some thoughts that technical difficulties prevented her from posting. Here is part of her note:

A sense of innocence is a good thing [A]lthough I supported all the wonderful, life-changing good he [another chastity speaker] did, I wouldn’t want my (then) 11 year old son attending his presentations. When asked why, I said I had been very innocent going into my own marriage (I had, maybe, once seen a naked woman; I know I had never seen a naked man, or even knew what to expect), and I wouldn’t have wanted all the distorted, diseased photos of human anatomy which [this speaker] shows his audience for shock value to follow me into the honeymoon suite. And he said he had never thought of it that way before (i.e., that a teenager in today’s world could still be that innocent), and that I had very legitimate point.

I think so too. And a week ago I would have agreed with all of it without reservation. I must say, though, this whole discussion has caused me to reconsider somewhat. I am wondering, specifically, whether such “extreme innocence” might not be hindering the Christian witness in the world in which we live? I mean, might there be such a thing as too much innocence? Might it (for instance) cause us to hold ourselves too aloof from the culture around us? I ask because I’d like to hear others opinions on the point. My own is unsettled. But I am thinking of St. Patrick. Suppose that to protect his own chastity he had chosen to stay in England rather than return to hedonistic Ireland, saturated as it apparently was in sex and the occult?


Josef Seifert

Why nothing is left of Jewish Christian Faith if we are not free

Jun. 10, 2009, at 11:15am

1. Without acknowledging freedom of the created person, God would be the origin of all evils and thus a hyper-demonic being: Each metaphysics, which denies the freedom of humans and of angels, and more precisely the abuse of freedom, as source and first cause of all the manifold evils that obviously exist in the world blames these evils on God or, if he is an atheist, on an unfree natural cause. In either of these two cases moral evil would not exist at all in humans. Because if humans and angels were determined to be evil, they would be innocent like lambs or like puppets; God, however, as long as his existence is not altogether denied, as the source of all evil and suffering, would be himself evil. Therefore each denying of human and angelic freedom either leads to atheism or to polytheism, or to a transformation of God into a super-demon (infinitely more terrible than Satan, because all evils from the beginning to the end of the world would be God’s fault alone, which cannot be said of Satan. In contrast to Satan’s limited causal role regarding other evils besides his own). If man and angels were not free and if therefore, granted his existence, God had brought into the world all meanness, all lies, all adulteries, all perjuries, rapes, murders, thefts, tortures, hate and envy, genocide and other crimes (including Satan’s and his angels’ sins) or if He had determined angels and humans to commit them, He would be the only ultimate source of evil (which cannot be said of Lucifer). One cannot imagine a more terrible destruction of the idea of God. God would be an Anti-God. In this case, Ivan Karamazov’s rebellion against God as responsible for all evils would be wholly justified.

2. Without divine freedom there could not be any contingent world and particularly no created free person: The origin of non-necessary beings in the world, and particularly of created free agents, could not be explained without creation being a free act of God, because a contingent and temporal world cannot proceed from God by a necessity rooted in the eternal and necessary divine nature but only from a free divine choice, and even more clearly: never could unfree causes in nature or in God explain the wonder of a free will in finite beings. Freedom in the world can come into being only from a free act of the absolute Being. Therefore, if God were not free, neither the contingent (non-necessarily existent) world nor free agents in it could exist. Therefore, do deny God’s freedom of choice, still retaining His existence, will lead to some form of pantheism that dissolves human personhood and freedom. Moreover, if the world and even evil flows necessarily from God, God would, if not freely, so necessarily, become the cause of evil as well, as Schelling suggests in his thesis that everything flows with absolute necessity (at least moral necessity) from God.

3. Without divine freedom there would also be no divine holiness: Each adequate idea of God implies His freedom also for another reason: as the condition and origin of His justice, mercy, and Holiness as the highest perfection of any person qua person: Without God’s supremely perfect freedom the core of divine perfection would be null. God would no longer be just, merciful and holy, and hence not God.

4. By denying divine, angelic and human freedom the entire Judeo-Christian revelation is being denied and Holy Scripture rendered a worthless book:
Without freedom, God would not be our creator, nor our redeemer, nor would there be divine forgiveness of sins, nor any reason for gratitude towards God for our creation, redemption or for the forgiveness of our sins, because if these were not works of divine free choice, they would be nothing.
Likewise without freedom of God, of angels and of humans all anthropological contents and teachings of Sacred Scripture and of the Church would lose their foundation: We would not be creatures but some moments in a necessarily self-unfolding life of God. There would be no original sin, no personal sin, no redemption from them, no meaning of the divine commandments, nor of any divine promises. The Sermon on the Mount and the call to holiness would not have any sense any more let alone eternal rewards or punishments. All talk of a purgatory, of moral conscience, of the sacraments of confession and baptism or the unction of the sick would be senseless babbling.

In a word: without freedom no Christianity! And also no Judaism and no Islam which recognize many of the same truths about God and man!
Therefore hardly any truth is more important not only for the metaphysics of the person and our personal life, but also for the Christian and any other theistic faith than this one: that the person, whether human and finite or divine and infinite, is free.


Josef Seifert

Conjugal rights: a further Comment

Jun. 10, 2009, at 4:02am

As far as Saint Paul’s passage cited in the letter to Katie van Schaijik (it being better to get married than to burn) (1 Cor. 7:9) is concerned, I believe that what she indicates in her reply is the deepest, truest and most personalistic interpretation (also found in Pope John Paul II) of this text and of the teaching on marriage as “remedium concupiscentiae”: that the true remedium against concupiscence is the inner transformation of human sexuality into a mutual gift of love that is not just for lust or concupiscence and that, being informed and transformed by “love for the sake of the other person herself”, becomes thus “healed.” Nevertheless, there is still another more obvious and literal meaning of this text that has also to do with the marital rights and duties. If the refusal of marital intercourse leads one’s spouse to sin because of his or her “burning,” it is also for this less noble reason and less sublime meaning of “remedium concupiscentiae,” a serious matter to refuse the spousal act to one’s spouse directly or indirectly by leaving him or her against the other’s will. Also Christ refers to this, and not to marriage as highest spousal communion of love, when he says that a husband who dismisses his wife (which is the most radical way of such refusal), “makes an adulteress of her”.
But of course, to the utmost extent possible to a person, the spousal act should never be just sought and even less conceded just for the sake of stilling the sexual desire of oneself or of the spouse, but be an expression and unique fulfillment of spousal love, a love which Christ compares with the supreme self-giving love of Christ and the Church.
Thus fully agreeing with Michael Healy’s and Grisez’s remarks on “a more literal meaning” of the married person’s rights and duties, I would regard it, like they do, as a grave violation of my married love and marriage vows ever to refuse this “right of my wife over my body” for less than serious reasons, and like Healy I would understand this quite personalistically: not as having myself made into my wife’s sex-slave, but as being part of the “totality” of the gift of my married love, a gift I give to no one else until death shall part us (this of course does not exclude but include the consideration which especially the husband owes to his wife in this regard).

I would only add to all these excellent remarks of Healy that it is a false though widespread idea that Pope John Paul II’s and Hildebrand’s personalist and grandiose vision of marriage as a communion of love has, because they hardly speak of it ever, abolished the meaning of what Saint Paul expresses when he says that no longer the man has a right over his body but his wife and quite equally not the wife but her husband. To bestow this right on the spouse is itself, or ought to be, a unique act of deep love: a perpetual and undivided self-donation.

Hence, while a personalist understanding of marriage and spousal rights will more radically exclude any kind of slave-interpretation of Paul’s words as if the spouses would have an unrestricted right over the other body, to use the other as a mere sex-object, for sex-games or for impure and unworthy acts, that are opposite to the dignity of the marriage act, the personalist understanding implies even more than just a right over each other’s body: namely a certain right over the soul and heart of a person that ought to be given with and in this act: correspondingly, the spouse’s duty is not only to lend his or her body to the other coldly “for the purpose of intercourse,” or “for the purpose of acts which by their nature are capable of being procreative,” but he or she is bound to do so lovingly, to give his or her heart, as deeply as he or she is capable in a certain moment, to the other. Thus, the right I give to my spouse in the consensus involves much more than giving her a right over my body: namely a claim over my loving will and intention, and even over the love of my heart, inasmuch as the voice of my heart, the actualization of my superactual spousal love, even in its affective dimensions, depends on my indirect or cooperative freedom. Therefore, the fulfillment of the spousal duties never must be just that: fulfillment of duties; and the rights over the other’s body are never just that: a right over a body.

In this double way (of excluding a right over the spouse’s body for impure or perverted acts, and of demanding infinitely more than “merely being ready to have intercourse”), I see the personalist vision of love and marriage as a perfection of the traditional teaching on the marriage rights and duties, but as a perfecting it that does not cancel and does not even change but fulfill this teaching such that in its highest form, the spousal act includes but goes beyond all rights and duties, and show itself truly to be that “great mystery” of which Paul speaks and a true image of the perfect loving union and desire for union between Christ and the Church , and a true reflection of God’s own inner-trinitarian, freely given, uncoerced, mutual and perpetual love.

Josef S


Michael Healy

Kissing the Koran

Jun. 9, 2009, at 8:44pm

Kissing the Koran: To What Extent can Christians Regard it as an Inspired Book?


As one of his many acts of reconciliation, Pope John Paul II at one point in his reign accepted a copy of the Koran from an Imam and kissed it “as a sign of respect.” Here is the reference: http://www.traditioninaction.org/RevolutionPhotos/A055rcKoran.htm
The Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Rafael, who was present at the time, affirmed that this “gesture” demonstrates that the Pope “has also great respect for Islam.”

Now such a profound gesture of respect also raises the question of the exact status of Mohammed as a “Prophet” and of his “Revelations” (the Koran) from a Christian point of view. Mohammed did seem to receive some special religious messages in his cave and the book itself carries an outspoken “numinous” or religious power to it. However, as Catholics we believe absolutely that God’s public revelation ended with the death of the last Apostle John. So how is a believing Christian to interpret Mohammed and the Koran? I wish to review a few possibilities that have arisen historically or that reason might suggest:

1) Some say Mohammed was simply deceived by a demon to promote a “new” religion as a rival to Christianity and with the purpose of stamping Christianity out. Thus the reference in Christian history to “the imposter Mohammed.” There seem to be vast times in Christian history when the name Mohammed is scarcely used without this prior designation. Now in light of the Pope’s gesture, in light of a valid ecumenism, and in light of world situation demanding fraternal respect and cooperation in order to avoid horrors, this would seem to be a very destructive, insulting, and unacceptable approach in the present day. Of course, such a way of speaking, insulting their deeply revered founder, is also not at all helpful toward attracting and converting Muslims, toward inspiring them to take a fresh look at Christ as really the God-Man, rather than merely a highly respected forerunner to Mohammed. Nor is this approach justified in light of the fact that there is much good and truth in their religion (even if as Christians we believe these dimensions go back mainly Old and New Testaments and the early years of the Church, i.e. borrowed from the Judeo-Christian tradition itself).

2) Some think Mohammed simply deceived himself into thinking he was having revelations and was a victim of his own pride and vanity here (or even epileptic fits). Again, not the best first step in trying to appeal to Muslims to think seriously about taking a fresh look at Christ, i.e. simply calling their founding hero either sick, a psycho, or an egomaniac. All of the objections raised in Point #1 count here as well. We as Christians know that if someone opens up insulting Jesus Christ, our natural reaction is to turn away from or be highly suspicious of their further message. It follows that Muslims would react in the same way if we insult Muhammad.

3) I think it could be argued that Mohammed may actually have received private revelations from above in his cave near Mecca. However, a difficulty here is that the standard Muslim interpretation is that Mohammed was a pure vessel of the revelation of God directly, i.e., that nothing in his personality or milieu touched or effected the “revelations” in any way, but that they are God talking directly from heaven through a chosen mouthpiece. This interpretation, of course, Christians would have to reject. But Christians could accept that Mohammed did receive private revelations from a messenger of God but that in fact those revelations were filtered through the human vessel of his personality. Thereby those private revelations may have been misunderstood, misinterpreted, and distorted: a) by Mohammed’s own personal faults, b) by his reception of the revelations in light of his surrounding milieu through which he would naturally have interpreted them, and c) by interpreting his private revelations in the context of his incomplete, faulty, and distorted contact with Jewish and Christian scriptures and beliefs. I think this third possibility is a real one that acknowledges some supernatural origin to the Koran (the OT and NT as remote causes, private revelations interpreted by a fallible human being as the immediate cause).

4) However, a problem arises with Point #3 even within the Islamic tradition itself (often not a popular topic of discussion, and disputed by some as to historical accuracy, but with evidence for the historicity of the account) in that Mohammed himself admitted at one point that he was deceived by Satan in certain of his revelations (the “Satanic verses”). In a crisis situation, while under persecution by the Meccans, he seems to have proclaimed that the 3 goddesses worshipped by the Meccans were valid objects of worship for his followers (contradicting his monotheism). This caused the Meccans to stop the persecution of the Muslims and to flock to Mohammed. However, he later claimed he was deceived by Satan in this proclamation about the three goddesses and rejected this “new” teaching. Then the persecution returned. Yet Mohammed himself seems to admit error here in being deceived by Satan. [Note that some Muslims today deny the historical accuracy of the “Satanic Verses” account, and threaten with death anyone who speaks of them. However, some even within Islam accept the historicity of the account.]

So in light of all this, it seems to me that in trying to interpret the status of the Koran as a holy book, we may have some entangled combination of (now listed in order of importance):

1) some genuine remnants of God’s true revelation as delivered to the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament and fulfilled in Christ in the New Testament (yet distorted, misunderstood and only partially known by Mohammed),

2) some actual private revelations from a divine messenger to Mohammed (yet again at times distorted and misunderstood in various ways in their interpretation by both Mohammed and his followers when passing through the human vessel),

3) some interjection of purely human dynamism via Mohammed’s own charismatic and complicated personality and human faults, and …

4) some possibility of deception by Satan himself, as seemingly admitted in at least one case by Mohammed himself.

It seems to me the most fruitful attitude to adopt today in a respectful and ecumenical approach to Islam would be to more emphasize the positive possibilities of the above and then to try to show how Islam and the Koran actually point toward and are fulfilled by Christ, despite Muslim claims that it is the other way around. [One can also build such arguments to some extent from within the Koran itself, though of course this is not the “orthodox” Muslim mode of interpretation. My son Michael happens to be working on just this perspective for his doctoral dissertation for the International Academy of Philosophy.]

So we as Christians can acknowledge that the Koran contains many elements of God’s genuine supernatural revelation traced back to the Old and New Testaments and the early centuries of the Church, some private revelations to Mohammed, and some insights on the level of human experience and reasoning, together with distortions, exaggerations, omissions, and deceptions that may have come from human or devilish origin. Pope John Paul II seemed to think there was enough good here to give the book a solemn and respectful kiss.


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