The Reactionary Utopian
                   September 21, 2006

by Joe Sobran

     I don't know whether or not this is comforting news, 
but it appears that some Muslims hate the Pope even more 
than the editors of the NEW YORK TIMES do. Not by much, 
though; the TIMES (to the surprise of only the naive) 
blames Pope Benedict for provoking the Muslim violence of 
the past week. I guess he is sorely in need of 
sensitivity training, or something of the sort.

     Some wag has defined the drama more humorously: 
"German professor meets sound-bite culture." The Pope 
obviously didn't realize how an obscure quotation would 
be spun by the modern Muslim media. The fanatics weren't 
interested in reading the footnotes. Neither were the 
liberals who, as usual, placed the fault with the Pope 
rather than with the rioters. We have to address the root 
causes, you know.

     Let's back up a bit here.

     C.S. Lewis remarks somewhere that people still talk 
as if St. Augustine wanted unbaptized babies to go to 
hell. Lewis's point was that Augustine's belief in infant 
damnation followed from the doctrine of Original Sin, and 
what he "wanted" had nothing to do with it. Lewis himself 
had been, on his own account, a "reluctant convert" who 
came to believe in Christianity in spite of his own 
disposition; he actually preferred Norse mythology to the 
Christian narrative.

     A young woman once remarked to me that the idea of 
Original Sin is a "cruel" doctrine. Well, I reflected, 
the question is whether it is true, not whether we like 
it, since salvation isn't something God owes us. Many who 
believe the doctrine to be true also make room for the 
"invincible ignorance" of those who, through no fault of 
their own, never hear, and can't be blamed for rejecting, 
the Christian message. That would obviously include 

     What this illustrates is the deep connection, in 
many people's minds, between religion and wishful 
thinking. They assume that whatever we =do= believe is 
what we would =prefer= to believe. This leads very 
naturally to condemning unbelievers and relieving oneself 
of the duty of persuading them by, say, preaching the 
Gospel "to every living creature," as Jesus commanded. 
The primary fault must always lie with the unbeliever.

     In the Koran, Mohammed, as far as I can see, seldom 
says anything that can be reasonably construed as 
enjoining violence against unbelievers. But one verse 
says (in the J.M. Rodwell translation), "O Prophet! make 
war on the infidels and hypocrites, and deal rigorously 
with them. Hell shall be their abode! And wretched the 
passage to it!" Yet he sometimes urges Muslims to be 
patient with them, to abstain from injuring them, and not 
to commit aggression. God will deal with them in the 

     He constantly repeats that unbelievers will be 
damned forever. I see no suggestion that they will be 
forgiven if they have never heard God's message, though 
he says just as often that God is "all-merciful." 
Mohammed seems to have had no conception of invincible 
ignorance. As we say today, "my way or the highway." On 
Judgment Day, the unbelievers will have no excuse. The 
Koran dwells on Hell far more than either the Hebrew or 
the Christian scriptures do.

     Given this emphasis, this unremitting tone of 
censure of unbelievers, it may not be surprising that 
many Muslims take the view that all non-Muslims are 
enemies and deserve no mercy. But it is hard to separate 
what Mohammed taught from what may be later accretions of 
Islamic culture. This difficulty is increased by the 
authority of traditions not found in the Koran itself, 
which was not originally written in book form, but in 
scattered chapters, or suras, collected after Mohammed's 
death. Even their order remains uncertain.

     Consider the status of women. In Islam they are 
subordinate to men, but they are not without rights of 
their own. The Koran says nothing, as far as I know, 
about whether they should be veiled, and it gives no 
support to the horrifying practice, now widespread 
(though far from universal) in the Muslim world, of 
mutilating their genitals at puberty. These things vary 
from place to place without much protest among the 

     As with the U.S. Constitution, much depends on which 
parts of the Koran are emphasized and which are quietly 
ignored or softened by interpretation. The commandment to 
"make war on the infidels and hypocrites" has often been 
taken very literally; Mohammed himself was a warrior and 
conqueror who disdained to call war "defense," as we do. 
And Muslims have traditionally taken pride in their 
conquests, even if they now act indignant at any 
suggestion that they have ever used the sword to spread 
their faith. If enough of today's Muslims want Islam to 
be a synonym for terror to today's non-Muslims, so it 
will be. If not, not. That isn't up to this Pope.

     So in the end we are left with the violent enigma of 
today's Islam -- and with the dismal prejudices of such 
liberals as denounce the Catholic Church in the NEW YORK 


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