Authentic Heresy

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of reporting about what Pope Francis said about Islam. Many articles, even from supposedly respectable establishments, blatantly misquoted him (as has become almost the norm), to pretend that he claimed the Koran is “prophetic”.

Obviously, these misquotations are ridiculous and frustrating, but what our pope actually did say is actually, in my opinion, far more concerning.

Let me be clear before I go any further. I am going to criticise Pope Francis. Pope Francis is the legitimate pope, the successor of St. Peter, and he has my respect and loyalty as a Catholic. But all popes can be, and are, wrong about some things when they are not speaking ex-cathedra, on behalf of the Church.

For the sake of the truth, and those who would be harmed by falsehood, it must be said: Pope Francis is very wrong in some of his statements on Islam.

One particular quote, from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, illustrates the essence of some of his recent comments:

“Faced with disconcerting episodes of violent fundamentalism, our respect for true followers of Islam should lead us to avoid hateful generalisations, for authentic Islam and the proper reading of the Koran are opposed to every form of violence.”

What is Authentic Islam?

It’s a little odd to think about, isn’t it? The pope is entrusted with divine authority over Catholic doctrine, but since when can he declare the authentic version of a false religion?

Now, I don’t believe that the pope used the word ‘authentic’ in this quote to mean what is actually true about Islam. In that sense, we know that the Koran contains many false teachings, Muhammad is not a prophet, and Islam is a heresy. That is obvious enough in the many fundamental contradictions between Islam and Christianity (for example, Islam denies Jesus’ divinity, and His death and resurrection). Pope Francis would certainly not disagree with this, even though he might not use the word heresy.

What Pope Francis most likely meant is that one who reads the Koran and the authoritative Muslim writings, and honestly believes them, should be opposed to every form of violence, or that what Muhammad intended to teach was opposed to every form of violence.

This, however, is also completely false.

First of all, not even Christianity is opposed to all forms of violence. The Church not only largely supports just war theory, but also understands the obligation to defend the innocent, especially for those in positions of care over others. This applies very widely, from national governments to parents who must protect their children.

But the error in this statement goes further than a technicality. The evidence is abundant and clear – from Islam’s own authorities – that Muhammad was a violent man, taught and commanded his followers to do violence, and that both he and his companions were violent in the same ways that modern Islamic terrorists are.

Muhammad’s Example

According to the Koran and hadith (Muslims’ approved histories of Muhammad’s life), Muhammad personally beheaded the men of a Jewish village. He ordered attacks on peaceful caravans. He led military invasions of cities and nations. He tortured a man for money. He kept slaves, and on at least one occasion raped one of them. He even delivered a revelation to his followers (claiming it was from God), telling them they were allowed to rape their female captives (Koran 4:24).

All these things come, not from “islamophobic” sources, but from Islam’s own most authoritative writings. And all these things were done by the man who for Islam is the highest example of human conduct (Koran 33:21).

Witness of the Saints

Further, the various saints who wrote about Islam throughout the centuries were well aware of its violent teachings, and not afraid to point it out. For example, in Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas Aquinas delivered a crushing rebuke against Muhammad:

“He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Mohammed said that he was sent in the power of his arms – which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.”

Similarly, St. Juan de Ribera said of Muhammad:

“…he introduced and promulgated his message with robberies, murders, and blood-shedding, destroying those who did not want to receive it, and with the same means his ministers conserve this today…”

Peaceful Muslims

Obviously not all Muslims act like this. Here in Canada, we all have friends and neighbors who are Muslims and are perfectly peaceful, good people. I certainly do. I can only assume Pope Francis is looking at people like this to judge Islam, and getting a favourable impression. It’s quite natural to get that impression, living in the western world.

But, the question must be asked, do the values of those ‘nice’ Muslims sound like the authentic values of Muhammad? Or, do they sound more like the values of the modern, western world, a mix of Christian and secular moral influences?

On the other hand, when we look at ISIS, we can look at almost any atrocity they committed, and see that Muhammad acted in a similar way.

Why this Needs to be Corrected

One of the reasons I respect Pope Francis is that I truly believe he tries to always act with great love. In this way he tries to be Christ-like. His statements about Islam are certainly a manifestation of that. He doesn’t want Muslims to be offended or hurt. He wants us to come together and work out our differences with dialog, and to live in peace.

However, what I think is missing in his statements is our Lord’s radical and fearless honesty. He certainly did not seek to harm anyone, nor offend anyone unnecessarily. But neither did he shy away from naming the Pharisees a brood of vipers (Matthew 12:34), and publicly humiliating them, along with the Sadducees.

Why did Jesus do this? Certainly not for the sake of attacking them or their followers, but to warn them to turn away from false teachings and follow him. And in the same way in this day and age, the vicar of Christ should not be afraid to forcefully warn people away from heresy, that they may follow him.

This is why I believe Pope Francis should not have said what he did, and why I feel the duty to speak out. Because people are being drawn into the fold of Islam, away from the true faith of Jesus Christ. And statements like this play into their hands.

As Catholics, we must continue to pray for our pope, and in particular that he would learn about the reality of Islam, and speak out about it. We also need to pray for the defeat of violent Islamist supremacists around the world, and the conversion of all Muslims (even the peaceful ones). May God give His Church the grace to prevail.


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Posted on December 17, 2014, in Catholic. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. good job on Islam- – if people really wanted to know about it, all they have to do is read the Koran. after about an hour or two, they would realize that the reason terrorists do what they do is because they actually believe what Mohammed wrote

  2. @john spizziri. Agreed. Terrorist attacks by muslims are the effects; the Koran is (most definitely) the cause (motivation, diabolical inspiration, etc.). The correlation between the two should be impossible to miss. But, somehow people refuse to examine the facts and stick their head in the sand of wishful thinking.

  3. This is a pet peve of someone who has studied Islam at a Catholic university of all places, but saying all real Muslims are terrorists or bloodthirsty killers is like saying that all Christians are Westburo Baptist style extremists or like Jospeh Koby’s Lord’s Resistance Army. As there’s no central authority in Islam, there are many sects and groups that have emerged with different interpretations. During the Middle Ages Islam was far more tolerant of other faiths and Christian heretics than Christendom, the extremists of today represent a very extreme reactionary ideology that answers why Islam is no longer the great world power they believe it should be in response to Western corruption and loose morals by making a back to the basics fundamentalist ideology that persecutes other Muslims most for not subscribing to their ideology, an ideology that has only become popular in the last century (the most common victims of ISIS are Shia (seen as heretics) and Sunnis who don’t accept ISIS’s madness)
    People throughout history have a tendency to bend religion to their will and commit sins while using their faith as justification (Richard the Lionheart killed war prisoners, Spain either exiled or forced to convert Muslims and Jews who had lived there for centuries, to name a few) but the important thing is realizing that doesn’t mean that all others of that religion are like that (if Muslims were all ruthless killing machines they should have conquered Europe centuries ago when they were technologically superior to the divided and corrupt Western Europe, not to mention the survival of so many Christians to the modern age points to the fact that widespread extremist killings are more of a modern occurrence)
    I’m not saying Islam is right by any means, but I think they’re worthy of respect in that they are searching for God, and while they might not poses the full truth, they have maintained a part of the truth rejected by so many athiests)

    • Hi Spencer,

      Thank you for taking the time to read and post your thoughts. I think we are actually closer to agreeing than it might appear, but I do want to comment briefly on a couple of your criticisms.

      Firstly, please understand that I take great care to be clear about when I’m talking about Islam, the religion, and Muslims, the people. I completely agree with what you say at the end of your comment. Muslims are worthy of respect. However, Islam itself is not inherently worthy of respect. As Christians, we should speak respectfully about Islam only to avoid unnecessarily offending people, but we must also speak the truth that Islam is false.

      Also, please note that I do not draw any conclusions about Islam from modern terrorists actions, or from what any particular sect, past or present, believed. I drew conclusions only from the actions of Muhammad himself. Therefore, I think a lot of your historical points, while interesting, do not have any bearing on my argument about what authentic Islam is.

      Finally, you said, ” saying all real Muslims are terrorists or bloodthirsty killers is like saying that all Christians are Westburo Baptist style extremists…”

      This is a very popular argument to make these days, but it relies on the modernist assumption that all religions are essentially interchangeable. I find it intellectually lazy, because it refuses to consider the very clear differences between religions.

      With Christianity and Islam, this isn’t even a matter of nuance. They are radically different. The undeniable fact is that Islamic terrorists are acting like Muhammad, while the Saints are the ones who are acting like Jesus and His apostles.

      If one were simply taking the worst examples of conduct of Christians and Muslims and generalising over the whole population, then the comparison of terrorists and WBC would make sense. But that’s not what I did. I pointed out how Muhammad behaved as a way of determining what authentic Islam is. I doubt you could find one Muslim who would not agree that Muhammad is the best example of authentic Islam.

      Thanks again for reading, and I hope you have a blessed Christmas.

  4. thank you for being civil, I’m afraid in this area I run into so many people who take the approach of “kill them all God will know his own” in conversations about Islam that I end up taking a very defensive approach since they usually end up whitewashing history for their side while portraying the other in the worst light.

    The point I take away from history is that both groups are guilty of many crimes as well as great goods as well. I’ll happily recognize that both groups have done good and bad things over the years, one of those perils from history that no group escapes spotless, especially from the middle ages.

    Looking at Muhammed’s time period in which warfare was the norm and his community of believers had to fight for their existence and their group developed in warfare, I’m not surprised that they developed their doctrines to suit that. The important thing is realizing that in most of its development, the major schools of islam tend to develop away from its warring environment and the days when it was normal regardless of what your religion was for armies to loot and pillage cities or force others to convert to one that its able to exist in modern times.

    The problem is that the extremists today refuse to accept that they have to change with the time and instead want to go back to an idealized version of doctrine that says that they should go back to the medieval style of doing things, and since I think that Islam did just develop from political and social conditions, then I pray that it will continue to develop along the path of peace rather than the back to the basics version of the extremists (people converting would be better, but that’s another matter)

    Sorry about the West Buro comparison, its sort of become a go to example I go for when people lump all Muslims into the same category as if there’s no distinctions or separate groupings or beliefs, which is as inaccurate as saying that all Christian groups are identical (though obviously there is a true Christian teaching vs what isn’t true Christian teaching, my comparisons don’t always work so well)

    My view is that Muslims diverse respect as we would hopefully give for Mormons, Jews, protestants, or any other group that has maintained a semblance of God’s message because we’re more likely to make progress showing them the true and full word of God through finding where we agree and start from there (God has made sure these groups have a foundation in his truth, we might as well start from there rather than trying to knock their religion down and build on rubble, to stretch an analogy to its fullest)

    Sorry if this is really long and I’m not sure how clearly this will be able to be read, though I want to give you an internet hi five for having a good and reasonable point of view that actually made me think and taught me some stuff.
    Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

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