FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

Avoid a classic blunder: Stay out of religious wars in the Middle East

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Muslims in the Middle East are fighting wars of religion. Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland during the last third of the 20th century, there is little anyone can do until local peoples crave peace so intensely they are willing to cultivate it.

History shows that outside meddling only intensifies sectarian fury. Stopping internecine war begins at home. President Barack Obama imperils Americans by trying to excise an abscess that can be cured only from the inside out. The decision to re-engage in Iraq, and the wider Middle East, also contradicts the president’s other, bigger objective: to exit the nanny business.

Shi'ite Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine in the holy city of KerbalaThe last time religious aggression swept an entire subcontinent was during the Reformation four centuries ago, when Christians hashed out their hatreds much as Muslims of the Middle East are doing today.

Islamic State, or as the president calls it, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, is fighting to restore a caliphate. Catholics and Protestants spent decades warring over similar issues. Should all Christians accept the same religious doctrine? Should all nations be under the dominion of the pope?

The first Islamic Civil War, from 656 to 661, created two competitive sects – Sunni and Shi’ite. Neither recognized the other’s legitimacy.

U.S. Jesuits honour ABC Williams with prize named after English martyr

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Archbishop Rowan Williams leads Christmas carol service at Canterbury Cathedral, 23 Dec 2009/Suzanne Plunkett

Poor Rowan Williams. Only a few weeks ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual head of the worldwide Anglican Communion was caught offguard by a Vatican offer of a new Roman home for Anglicans who cannot accept the idea of women bishops. At a joint news conference with London’s Catholic Archbishop Vincent Nichols, he did his ecumenical best to present this as a quite normal gesture among friendly Christian churches and not — as some media presented it — a Roman strategy to poach wandering sheep from the divided Anglican flock. It was proof of his sharp intellect and deep commitment to the ecumenical cause that Williams found a way to finesse this very trying situation. america mag

America magazine

Now another challenge has come not from across the Tiber, but across the Atlantic. The New York-based Jesuit weekly magazine America has just said it is proud to announce that The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is the 2009 recipient of the Campion Award. The award is given on a regular basis to a noted Christian person of letters. It is named after St. Edmund Campion, S.J., who is patron of America’s communications ministry.”

Paris cardinal and others comment on SSPX ban lifting

Paris Cardinal André Vingt-Trois,  chairman of the French Bishops Conference, held a press briefing on Saturday evening on the lifting of excommunications of four bishops of the ultra-traditionalist Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX). France is home to the largest of the provinces of the dissident group, with around 100,000 faithful  of a worldwide total of 600,000. Sitting in a medieval meeting room in Notre Dame cathedral, he defended Pope Benedict’s decision to take the four bishops back into the Roman Catholic Church and indicated the SSPX would have to bend to Church discipline. (Photo: Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, 8 Sept 2008/Benoit Tessier)

He called the decision “a measure of clemency and mercy” that would allow the Church to repair a damaging split. He declined to question the bishops’ motives, saying that “when people express their desire to respect the teachings of the church and the primacy of the pope, my ministry of mercy does not allow me suspect them a priori and to suspect them to be the worst people on earth … what they have in their hearts, only God can judge. Not me.”

The handful of journalists present repeatedly asked about one of the bishops, Richard Williamson, whose denial of the Holocaust this week outraged Jewish leaders. “The Jewish community was not shocked by this decision, it was shocked by the comments of Bishop Williamson,” he said. “He may have some twisted thoughts, but it’s not because the excommunication is lifted that these twisted thoughts have been approved.”

Is the pope planning visit to cradle of Protestantism?

Is Pope Benedict planning a visit to a cradle of Protestantism? Should a Catholic pontiff tour the medieval castle where Martin Luther translated the Bible into German at the start of the Reformation? It’s far too early to get confirmations or denials from the Vatican or the German government, since the visit — still only in the rumor stage — is not due until the spring of 2009. But a local newspaper in the eastern state of Thuringia, where the Wartburg is located, says security planning has already begun.

Thüringer Allgemeine logoAccording to the Erfurt daily Thüringer Allgemeine, an advance team from the German president’s office in Berlin has already met local police. Dieter Althaus, the state premier who invited Benedict to Thuringia during a visit in Rome in April, has also met mayors from towns in the area “to discuss the emergency case of a papal visit. Also in Eisenach, the words ‘pope’ and ‘Wartburg’ are mentioned together more frequently.” An earlier German press report about a possible trip mentioned that Benedict would visit Eichsfeld, a nearby island of Catholicism in an otherwise Lutheran region, so he would be in the neighborhood.

Apart from the security, a visit by any pope to the Wartburg would need careful preparation to ensure it helps rather than hurts Catholic-Protestant relations. If that pope is Joseph Ratzinger, the task becomes even more tricky. Pope Benedict has studied the writings of Martin Luther — he’s probably the only pontiff who ever has — and impressed Lutherans with his knowledge and appreciation of his fellow German theologian. At the same time, he has also been blunt in describing Protestant denominations as “not proper churches.” In fact, he doesn’t refer to them as churches at all, but “ecclesial communities.” Not surprisingly, Protestant leaders feel offended.

Do Christian paradigms work for Islamic problems?

Bishop Margot KässmannOctober 31 was Reformation Day, the anniversary of the day that Martin Luther issued his famous 95 Theses, and as such a fitting occasion for Lutherans around the world to reflect on the reforms he brought to Christianity. It was probably inevitable that a Lutheran cleric somewhere would comment on the relevance of the Reformation to a major issue in today’s religious world — the future of Islam. Margot Kässmann, the Lutheran bishop of Hannover in Germany, told the local newspaper: “Something like a Reformation would also be good for Islam.”

Bishop Kässmann is one of the most prominent religious leaders in Germany, an effective preacher and a popular talk show guest. It’s clear that she means Muslims should question their traditions and shed abuses, much like Luther did in Christianity. That’s a view that Muslim reformers can also support in principle. It leads to the question, though, of how far the paradigm of the Reformation is applicable to Islam. Has the term “Islamic Reformation” become a soundbite that brings more confusion than clarity?

The Reformation in 16th-century Europe ended the Catholic Church’s monopoly of religious authority and led to a multitude of Protestant denominations. One of the driving forces was the liberating effect of questioning traditions, Kässmann said in her interview. The result was the de-centralisation of Western Christianity. By contrast, Islam already has a multitude of different schools and interpretations. Islamist radicals such as Osama bin Laden are not religious scholars, but they issue fatwas on their own that reinterpret traditional views of Islam. So part of the religion’s problem today, some Islam experts argue, is that there is no central authority that can settle disputed issues. Some commentators have gone so far as to suggest — and only partly in jest — that Islam actually needs a Luther or a pope to bring about the reforms Kässmann refers to.