Recently on bloggingheads.tv Michael Brendan Dougherty, a professing Catholic, suggested that anti-Catholic movements in 19th century America had a point. In this Dougherty seems to be aligning with Ross Douthat’s implication, that American reaction drove American Catholicism to counter-reaction, and through the synthesis emerged a genuine American faith. But, there is one aspect of what Dougherty is saying which I think we should be cautious of: he observes that the process of assimilation of Islamic religiosity into the Protestant-Catholic-Jew trichotomy will result in recitations of unpleasant verses of the Koran, just as Protestants quoted back some of the less liberal declarations of the Papacy in the 19th century.
I think that this is the wrong tack: listen not to what they say, but watch what they do! The reality is that the 19th century Papacy did not just oppose liberal democracy, but that organized Catholicism as a whole was an active force against the liberal democratic order in much of Europe, and that Catholic Europe in particular was somewhat retrograde in the evolution toward a stable liberal democracy. This last was in large part due the opposition which the Church demanded from faithful Catholics in relation to the nation-state of which they were citizens (e.g., Italy). In majority Catholic republics the state which did not have the loyalty of the religious majority would naturally be more fragile.
Therefore, the Muslim world should be judged in its actions, not scriptures which most of them do not read in any case. So the Lina Joy case is instructive, a Malay woman who wants to officially convert from Islam to Christianity, but is being blocked by the political consensus of the Muslim majority. This is the sort of action in a “moderate Muslim” nation which makes one wonder as to the separation in values between the world of Islam and Western liberalism. In a classic Jeffersonian mode we shouldn’t care much about the nature of the beliefs of organized superstition, rather, we should focus on the material consequences.
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