One of the most important, really the only, consideration in whether a religion is any good or not is whether it’s true. After all, the first requirement of the moral law is to worship God in the manner He has appointed. Worshipping God in a manner unacceptable to Him is a pretty pointless, indeed seriously counter-productive, exercise. There is, however, plenty of material out there on whether or not Islam is true. I recommend Book 1, Chapter 6, Paragraph 4 of St Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles. Nevertheless, Jesus advises us, vis-à-vis putative prophets that “by their fruits you shall know them” so I recon it’s a legitimate exercise to flick through the pages of history to see how Mohammedanism measures up. And, to tell the truth, it’s not a straightforward story.
Islam is the basis of a great world civilization with much to admire. But, just as Cortez and his conquistadors stared in wonder at Mexico City for the first time, admiration does not necessarily imply approval. The followers of Mohammed had an advantage over Medieval Christendom when they descended upon the Roman Empire and swept half of it away in the space of a few decades. The Romans were utterly exhausted from almost thirty years of life-or-death struggle with the Persians. They collapsed so fast in the face of this unexpected eruption from Arabia that the damage the Muslims needed to inflict on southern and eastern Mediterranean culture to conquer it was not so extensive. They took over the ancient Near East with little trouble. The Germanic barbarians who conquered the West got the poorer bit of the Empire and then spent centuries fighting the Romans and each other to keep it. By the time the monks began to put the pieces back together there wasn’t much to work with.
But then that is what makes the achievement of medieval civilization so remarkable. When you show people a picture of some great Byzantine Church they often say “it looks like a mosque” but it’s really the other way around. The mosques are copied off the Byzantine churches and they are a metaphor for much of the rest of Islamic civilisation. By the end of the Middle Ages, the Muslims had spent their inherited cultural capital and were living on borrowed time. Show someone a Gothic Cathedral, on the other hand, and it looks like nothing else on earth. The monks patiently put back together the inheritance of the ancient world and then went a lot further. The self-confidence and brilliance of the century that produced Notre Dame de Paris, the Summa Theologiae, the English Parliament and the Divine Comedy is breathtaking.
What was Christendom’s secret? It understood God, so far as this is given to human reason and faith. God is one, God is reasonable and God is free. God consequently doesn’t like people being forced to worship Him, He can’t and won’t make 2+2=5, He has bestowed a single set of laws upon nature, He doesn’t like tyranny and if you want to find out what those laws are you will just have to do some experiments. God is also Three so plurality is not an unfortunate side-effect of being a creature that can be stamped out if we just have a big enough government. All the genius of Western philosophy, politics, science and art flows from the Trinity. The ancient world provided the elements but the synthesis is all the work of the Middle Ages. If you want to look at what the elements without the Triune God produce just look at Islam.
But again, one must be fair: the capricious monotheism of Mohammed may provide the religious basis for forced conversion, brutality, anti-intellectualism, dictatorship and technological stagnation. But it does represent a sustainable civilizational model compared to the cultural cringe of the ‘renaissance’ and the cultural suicide of the ‘Enlightenment’ and its fascist, communist and liberal successors. This is the West’s problem: in itself Christendom, armed with truth and right and freedom, has more than enough resources to resist and overcome any rival civilization. But the ‘renaissance’ injected into western man an absurd inferiority complex in regard to pagan antiquity and then the ‘Enlightenment’ insisted on eliminating from public policy and public law the very Christian revelation which defined and ennobled western man. The ‘Enlightenment’ is a parasite, it will not survive the death of its host. But it is strong enough to weaken the West to the point where its traditional external enemy the Islamic Ummah can strike the killer blow. Deep down the liberals know this is case, as they contracept and abort and legislate our civilisation into extinction, but in the end they don’t care. Their ultimate motive was always less the love of ‘liberty’ and more the hatred of Christ.
Dr. Alan Fimister is assistant professor at Saint John Vianney Theological Seminary.
Views expressed in op-eds are not the views of The Daily Caller.