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October 17, 2006


Richard Blumberg

You claim that, while Muslims and Christians cannot have a meaningful dialog on theology, they can have such dialog regarding "how we fallible human beings should deal with each other as children of God." And youn present "reciprocity" as an example of where such dialog might begin: if we allow you to proselytize in our society, you should allow us to proselytize in yours.

I see a problem looming. Several, actually. First that comes to mind is the whole business of "we fallible human beings". Which would be more persuasive if the Catholic Church did not claim infallibility for one particular human being, and not only in arcane matters of theology, but in more mundane affairs relevant to the conduct of civil society, such as birth control and abortion.

Another problem is that most "Christian majority countries" are, in fact, countries whose societies are based on civil law, which deliberately and explicitly privileges no religion over the others. Most Muslim societies, on the other hand (and all societies with Muslim majorities, if the Islamicists have their way) are based on Sharia, a rule of law which, by its nature, privileges Islam over all other religions.

Under Sharia, the question of reciprocity, as you define it, is no more on the table than the divinity of Jesus or the authenticity of the Prophet's revelation. There is no starting point.

Speaking as an atheist, who is frequently tempted to call for a plague on both your houses, I'd be interested in hearing a response to your post from Muslim readers.


Gregory Gause

I take the point above that, under shari'a, there is no possibility of the equality of religions. However, in no Middle Eastern country is shari'a completely implemented or the sole legal authority -- even in Saudi Arabia. So I hold out more hope than Mr. Blumberg that a dialogue on reciprocity might be more fruitful than one on matters of theology. We should also recognize that the interpretation of shari'a remains a matter of debate across the Muslim world, so I would not sign on to the idea that its consequences for the issue of inter-faith understanding are fixed forever.

I do take issue with Mr. Blumberg's notion of Papal infallibility. The doctrine is very specific, and has only been invoked a couple of times. It was not invoked on the social issues he mentions. Catholics are required to take the Church's teaching very seriously as they inform their consciences on these questions, but the Church has not issued any dogma under the infallibility doctrine on these issues.


Prof. Gause's comments on the lack of Muslim reciprocity regarding the right to practice and proslytize seem a bit out of place considering that parts of the Muslim world are currently undergoing their third round of Western colonization. If, as we are repeatedly reminded, Western secular democracy is a direct result of Christianity then the imposition of Western notions of democracy and secularism on the Islamic world surely contains some element of Christian proslytizing. Muslim street preachers in Antwerp and London seem a fair trade for Christian soldiers' boots pounding the pavement of Kerbala and Kabul.

As a rarely observant but believing Muslim I would also point out that reason is not the most important thing to strive for, see Koran 18: 60-82, and Sufi projects past and present. Similarly, Pope Benedict's comments on violence seem less uninformed than deliberately chosen to reassure his audience of Christian moral superiority in regard to Muslims - an ancient project.

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