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And the light shineth in darkness: and the world comprehended it not

(Jn. 1, 5)

When a fourteenth-century Orthodox Christian Emperor of Constantinople, who has lost most of his territory and people in the destruction wreaked by Muslim invaders, sees nothing good in Mohammed, we can understand his viewpoint. However, when a twenty-first century Pope of Rome quotes him, we can understand that Muslims protest at his uttering of the quotation in the contemporary context.

The contemporary context is that Muslim countries have been invaded by Western forces. Generally, Muslims are no longer the aggressors, but the aggressed, and they behave as outraged victims all over the world always do, with crude reprisals. Bombarded in Gaza and the Lebanon, where they have been living in refugee camps for nearly sixty years, occupied in Iraq and Afghanistan, insulted by the former Italian leader who called the Western invasion there 'a Crusade', Muslims have the right to feel aggrieved. However, Muslims who burn an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI and threaten churches and priests in their countries with death remind us of the Muslim fanatics who protested in London earlier this year, with the slogan: 'Death to those who say that Islam is violent'.

It is indeed extraordinary that a Pope of Rome, supposedly infallible, can make such a gaffe. (Of course, it will be said that his remarks are not 'ex-cathedra' - his infallibility has a let-out clause). Institutional Roman Catholicism has a long history of violence. In fact it has been marked with violence ever since it began in the eleventh century. Thus, whether in Sicily, the British Isles, the Iberian Peninsula, the Holy Land, Cyprus, Central and Eastern Europe or the south-west of France, the Crusades were merely Roman Catholic jihads, probably slaughtering more Orthodox Christians and Jews than Muslims, and certainly ruining otherwise quite cordial relations between Muslim settlers in the Holy Land and the native Orthodox Christian residents. Little wonder that some Orthodox said: 'Better the sultan's turban than the papal tiara'.

One may also mention the Inquisition ('Kill them all, God will recognize his own'), the sixteenth-century 'Wars of Religion', the oppression of Orthodox by imperialist seventeenth-century Poland and the ensuing Uniat spiritual fraud, or the twentieth century slaughter of Orthodox in Bosnia and Croatia (those responsible for the genocide were given shelter in the Vatican in 1945 and then quietly transferred to Catholic Argentina and Fascist Spain, where they died in old age). The fact that the Vichy Jew-hater Paul Touvier was hidden for nearly fifty years in Roman Catholic monasteries in France and uncovered only in the 1990s, is no credit to the Vatican either.

Sadly, Vatican violence and oppression have continued to this day, with the oppression by Roman Catholics of Orthodox in Poland, Slovakia, the Ukraine, Croatia (again) and now Kosovo. For a Pope of Rome to complain about violence in religion is nothing but hypocrisy. Indeed, it is no more 'rational' than the logic of Muslim jihadists. Though, with regard to the person of the Pope, it must be said that he is merely a hostage or captive of the Institution and Western 'rationalism', which he represents.

And it is no use the Protestant world scoffing. Institutional Catholicism has its crimes from Latin America to Indochina, but Protestantism has its crimes also. Thus, in the nineteenth century, British governments and commercial interests set up a worldwide Empire, under the pretext of bringing 'the natives' the Gospel. That Empire exploited, impoverished and embittered its subject peoples all over the world. Almost only in Africa did 'the natives' receive the Gospel, the only possible justification for that Empire. Even here, however, Africans still today have to separate the Gospel from its Western cultural trappings. In the twentieth century the British Empire fell, only to be replaced by another Protestant Empire, the American. Here too the justification was a 'civilizing' mission, ironically using the words 'liberty' and 'democracy' in order to justify oppression.

In fact 'democracy' scarcely exists in Western States with their minority governments, which act without consideration for their peoples' views. Culturally, even token Western democracy does not export without the individualistic Protestant mentality. (That explains why the most democratic countries in the world are in Scandinavia and Switzerland, because they are the most 'pure' Protestant countries by cultural tradition). It is notable that half of the world's Christian missionaries, who are today Americans, also see their successes limited to countries which have undergone Americanization in the last fifty years - Latin America, South Korea, the Philippines etc. Their 'Gospel' too is still part of a compromised and profoundly secular Western culture.

Today's Protestant-minded 'Crusaders' in Iraq and Afghanistan should by now have understood that the easiest way to create 'insurgency' is to invade someone else's country. The Germans understood this after they had invaded France in 1940. As if out of nowhere, the French Resistance formed. For the Allies, French Resistance workers were freedom fighters and heroes; for the Nazi invaders, they were what Western governments today call 'terrorist insurgents'. Invade someone else's country and your former friends there will soon become your enemies. It is not difficult. Can we not learn from history?

The fact is that Institutional Roman Catholicism, 'the Vatican', carries nearly a thousand years of crimes on its shoulders. However, if the politics were to be removed from Catholic belief, the Institutional Religion removed from the Faith, the Roman removed from Catholicism, we would have a very different view. Catholicism without ideology, without Papism, without the Vatican, without oppression, seems to us a respectable concept. It is in fact what most ordinary Catholics actually believe in. But then it would no longer be Catholicism - but something else - akin to Christianity. Roman Catholicism as an Institution, and its State-manipulated Protestant children, form not so much a civilization as a secularization. Allied with this world, Institutional Western Christianity is inherently secular.

The fact is that Institutional Islam also carries well over a thousand years of crimes on its shoulders also. However, if the politics were to be removed from Muslim belief, the Institutional Religion removed from the Faith, the jihad removed from Islam, we would have a very different view. Islam without ideology, without 'Islamism', without fanaticism, without oppression, seems to us a respectable concept. It is in fact what most ordinary Muslims believe in. But then it would no longer be Islam - but something else - even strangely akin to Christianity. Islam as an Institution, and its State-manipulated Shia children, form not so much a civilization as a secularization. Allied with this world, Institutional Islam is inherently secular.

In recent years, especially since 11 September 2001, much has been talked about a 'Clash of Civilizations', with regard to the so-called 'Christian' (i.e. in fact, secular Western) world and the Islamic world. However, true civilizations do not clash, they co-operate. Today's Western-Muslim conflict is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of two different secular systems, concerned with power, territory and resources (especially oil, but increasingly water also).

And the demons that live in the empty house of these secular civilizations will not be exorcized by the political, the military, the economic, or by institutionalized religion, whatever it may be, but by the spiritual. Any attempt to organize the world without spiritual vision is doomed to failure, because it ignores the fundamental spiritual nature and destiny of mankind. Only when people begin to speak of the spiritual, unmixed with the dross of the rest, shall we begin to see peace and harmony in this saddened and darkened world, which, heedless, is now speeding towards its end.


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