Kevin never reads my blog. He may never do so because his computer was stolen by a burglar who gained entrance through a window.
He is a thoroughly decent human being – perhaps too decent; his decency inclines him to think the best of everybody and to respect every point of view. He is a Catholic and has been since he was a baby. He once studied for the priesthood but it didn’t work out. His teachers at Ushaw Seminary regarded some of his opinions as being ‘esoteric’.
We have just had an animated conversation on the phone. I confess that I brought it to an end, saying, ‘I can’t take any more of this.’ This has happened more than once.
As my myriad readers will be aware, I am somewhat preoccupied with Islam. I believe it is false, pernicious and essentially violent; it reflects the character of its founder. My beliefs occasionally creep into my conversation, for which I make no apology. Whenever I advert to deficiencies in Islamic faith, culture and practice, Kevin is very quick to point out that Catholics have done bad things, a point I always concede. I could not be a Catholic, however, if I thought that Catholics doing bad things could justify those bad things by reference to Catholic teaching. The Inquisition and clerical abuse cannot be justified by Catholic teaching – any attempt to do so violates Catholic teaching. When I speak of the Inquisition I am thinking of the violence and terror of that institution, not of the laudable intention of identifying and condemning falsehood. The Church has every right to identify and condemn heresy. When it behaves in a theocratic way and burns heretics, it exceeds its mandate. And when it comes to clerical abuse of children, I applaud the state punishment of guilty priests.
Kevin believes, and I don’t think I am distorting his views, that Jesus of Nazareth was a great religious teacher – so was the Buddha. I dare say he would go further and say, ‘so was Mohammed.’ He is respectful of Hinduism.
Now I, on the other hand, can be respectful of the Buddha and of Hinduism, though not (any longer) of Mohammed and the Koran. I find it difficult to declare that Jesus was a great teacher. The teachings of Our Lord (some of them) are indeed reflected in other religions. The central dogma of Christianity is that Jesus is God, that, in Jesus, God became man and redeemed us from sin by his death and resurrection. No other religion makes such an outrageous claim.
The Gospel of St John is all about the identity of Jesus. St Paul bangs on about it incessantly. It would be wrong to dismiss the teachings of Our Lord as unimportant – what God says cannot be unimportant. But Christianity is a story (not fiction but a story nonetheless): God created the universe and everything in it, including us; we fell; because we are fallen we cannot redeem ourselves; God, in the person of Jesus, redeemed us by dying and by His resurrection. All we have to do is to say,’ Yes, please.’
Christianity is uniquely historical: Creation – Fall – Incarnation – Crucifixion – Resurrection – Redemption. When we say the Creeds, we are telling this story: CFICRR! That’s it! Non-Christians do not buy the story. Some non-Christians have good advice about how to behave.
For Christians the Story is IT. Kevin is embarrassed by my privileging of this story over the teachings of other religions. He thinks it is arrogant. I just think it is TRUE. If it is true then only Christianity is the truth.
Islam is a grotesque mish-mash of Judaism, Christianity, Mohammed’s self-esteem and some other pre-islamic stuff about Djin and what-not. It has been largely catastrophic in its consequences, though I do not deny that some Muslims have sometimes behaved better than they otherwise would have because of their belief in God.