Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Hitchens and the Reformation

His Pompousness weighs in on the Pope Benedict controversy. Remember, this is the man who bravely faced down Mother Teresa of Calcutta and he minions. In the present context, after mocking Christianity (and all religions) in a rather predictable manner, he concludes:
"It is often said--and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate--that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. Now its new reactionary leader has really "offended" the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon--reason--that we possess in these dark times. A fine day's work, and one that we could well have done without."
Hitchens forgets that the reformation in western Europe was a reformation of doctrine, not a reformation of behavior. Because Luther and Calvin rejected the authority of the Bishop of Rome, they needed something else to underpin their version of Christianity. What they came up was sola scriptura-- the bible alone. This has never made much sense to me, since the Church was the very institution that put together the canon of sacred scripture in the first place. And the more you hear about the many "gospels", Gnostic manifestos, pseudouedo-Christian tracts that circulated during the first few centuries after the church was founded, the more difficult it is to latch onto sola scriptura without an understanding that the Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, separated the wheat from the chaff. My point is that Islam operates very much in the sola scriptura domain: it's entire revelation is based on a text, dictated to the prophet. Pre-reformation Christianity (represented today by the Catholic and Orthodox churches) instead sees the word and wisdom and reason of God as a person, Jesus the Christ. The function of the church is to preserve the memory of Christ, and its sacred tradition and sacred scripture make up a "single sacred deposit of the word of God". The reformation totally changed the meaning of this, and added in the notion of predestination to boot. So in what sense should Islam have a reformation?

Getting back to Hitchens, isn't it a little ironic that this is the same man clambering to unleash all the military might of the west against "islamofascists", Iraq, and any other Muslim country he happens to be offended by? It says a lot about his hatred of Catholicism that he is willing to defend Islam in this present context. In fact, his unbalanced support for war as a first resort shows the perils of a philosophy that eschews the legitimacy of organized religion, and lauds a severe separation between faith and reason. And isn't this what Pope Benedict was talking about in the first place?

1 comment:

Danny said...

I disagree with your post about Luther and Calvin. From what I know, which is very little the Catholic Church was in dire need of a reformation. Tetsel was selling indulgences, "celibate" priests were fathering many children. And to further complicate your argument the catholic church did go through somewhat of a counter reformation. The church is much closer to biblical christianity now than it was then. No longer will you here current bishops say things like,"you don't debate a heretic(protestant)you simply thrust the sword as far into his belly as it will go". If history and tradition play into an infallible church why have we done away with that one. Why blog? Just thrust the sword. Sounds like Islam to me.