Dear Rev. Know it all,
I belong to a pontifical order called the Mystic Knights of the Holy See. Recently one of the leaders of the group decided to change the wording of our charter from “To defend the faith” to “to witness to the faith.” Are these the same thing?
Dame Isabela Giornatta
They most certainly are not! The word in the New Testament for witness is “martyr.” which occasionally involves letting yourself be killed. There is another, more forceful word in the New Testament for defense “Amunomai” which means to defend with force. We find it in Acts 7 where Moses strikes the Egyptian. The first is “apologia,” a defense made with words. I would maintain that under certain circumstances we are allowed to defend with force, but we are commanded to defend with words. 1Peter 3:14 commands us, “...do not be frightened... Always be prepared to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience.”
The use of force is very limited for the Catholic. The Catechism (paragraph 2309) lists four strict conditions for "legitimate defense by military force": 1 The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain; 2 All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective; 3 There must be serious prospects of success; 4 The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated.”
All but the strictest pacifist would agree that defending ourselves against someone like Hitler is legitimate. Similarly, if someone wants to kill you or your spouse and children, self defense is legitimate, first with reason and then with force, if necessary. The goal is always defense, never aggression. One cannot fight for gain, nor honor nor revenge, but only for life. The Catholic defense begins with words, (apologia) and uses force (amunomai) only as a last resort.
There are three forces in the modern world that want to eliminate Christianity. One is Marxism. Marxism turned out to be remarkably short lived. Even Marxists are beginning to think some Christianity might be useful, even in an atheist society.
The second force is an old enemy that we moderns don’t want to call an enemy, even as they kill and enslave untold thousands. After all, everything is beautiful in its own way. It is hard for polite Americans and Europeans to believe that Islam is violent. Who are we to call them immoral, when we ourselves have conducted such bloodthirsty wars and have engaged in violent imperialism for the better part of 500 years? Wait! Did I say anything about immorality? The wars of Islam are quite moral by Islamic standards. Herein lies the problem. We moderns are so narcissistic that we refuse to believe that anyone can be different from us. Islam has a different moral system than that of Christianity. In this case, to defend the faith is first to enunciate that difference clearly. So let the enunciating begin!
Read the Koran. I think everyone should. Every clergyman should be a Koranic expert. Here are some interesting excerpts. Surah (48:29) - Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves. Surah (8:12) - I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieve. Therefore strike off their heads and strike off every fingertip of them. Surah (9:123) - O you who believe! Fight those of the unbelievers who are near to you and let them find in you hardness. Surah (5:33) - The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement. Surah (9:5) — known as "the verse of the sword" — declares "Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem.” Muhammad himself led 27 military campaigns and initiated about 38 others. “I am the prophet that laughs when killing my enemies.” (Muhammad quoted in the Hadith)
Note following contrast. Jesus said in Matt (5:38) "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also... Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
The Koran says: Surah (5:45) "And We prescribed to them that life is for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth, and (that there is) reprisal for wounds.” And Surah (2.179 ) “There is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.” Surah (5:45) also says “but he who foregoes it, it shall be an expiation for him; and whoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, those are they that are the unjust.” This does not discourage retaliation. I simply means that it is not obligatory to literally take eye for eye, though one may do so. The injured party has the option to remit or forego retaliation and instead receive compensation in money, goods or livestock. This option is known as "diya."
I am not trying to say here that one moral system is better than the other. They are just different from each other. In fact, in significant ways, they are diametrically opposed.
It is hard to estimate what this has meant over the decades. Your order was founded during the Crusades and unfortunately, we in the West are fond of feeling guilty and thus the Crusades, an attempt to defend the Christian world against violent aggression, are not very popular at the moment. We in the Christian world beat our breasts and blame ourselves for all the slaughter, but we really have no way to accurately count the bodies and know who killed how many of whom. Still, the Crusades, at least as planned, fulfilled the criteria for a just war. Remember that the Middle East was and is the heartland of the Christian faith. The overwhelming majority of it inhabitants were committed Christians at the time of the Muslim conquest.
The Crusades were a response to a century of the prohibition of Christian pilgrimage, the destruction of Christian shrines and the murder of Christians that began in earnest under the reign the mad Caliph, Abu ‘Ali al-Mansur al-Hakim (985-1021). He ordered the destruction of churches, the burning of crosses, and the seizure of Church property. He moved against the Jews with similar ferocity. Over a period of ten years, thousands of churches were destroyed. In 1009, Hakim ordered the destruction for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. The situation grew worse for Christians as the century progressed. In 1056, the Muslims forbade European Christians from entering the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When the Muslim Turks became the dominant Islamic force in the region, they enforced new Islamic restrictions for both native Christians and pilgrims (whose pilgrimages they blocked). When in 1077, the Turks conquered Jerusalem, the Seljuk Emir Atsiz bin Uwaq promised not to harm the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but once his men had entered the city, they murdered 3,000 people. About 20 years later, after a century of anti-Christian slaughter and persecution, Pope Urban initiated the Crusades, which politically correct people now say are a barbarity perpetrated against the innocent Muslim world.
It may be hard to know the numbers when looking at the Crusades, but it is possible to get a more realistic idea by looking at the history of India. An estimate of the number of people killed, based on the Muslim chronicles and demographic calculations, was done by the author K.S. Lal in his book “Growth of Muslim Population in Medieval India.” It seems that between 1000 CE and 1500 CE, the population of Hindus decreased by 80 million. This is disputed by some, but it is known that the conquest of Afghanistan in the year 1000 was followed by the annihilation of the Hindu population. The region is still called the Hindu Kush, i.e. Hindu slaughter. The Bahmani sultans (1347-1480) in central India made it a rule to kill 100,000 captives in a single day, and many more on other occasions. This seems unbelievable but it is enlightening to look at some well documented modern sources.
Ever heard of the Hindu Genocide in East Pakistan? Nandan Vyas ("Hindu Genocide in East Pakistan", Young India, January 1995) has argued convincingly that the number of Hindu victims in the 1971 genocide was approximately 2.4 million. Most were Hindus, but it is thought that 1,250,000 may have been Christians.
That was not ancient history. That was 1971. If in 1971 the Pakistani Muslim Army killed millions of Indians whom they regarded as pagans could Will Durant be correct in his statement, “The Mohammedan Conquest of India is probably the bloodiest story in history."? Are you familiar with the slaughter of 2 million Christians in the Sudan in the second half of the twentieth century? (Oh, that must be exaggerated. Perhaps it was only one million.) Some Assyrian friends just told me about three busloads of Christian university students that were bombed a few weeks ago as the students returned home from school in Mosul. Our town is filling up with Assyrian refugees from Muslim violence. (It is important to remember that most Arab speakers in the U.S. are Christians and to welcome them as our friends and brothers in the Lord.)
The story in the West is the same. According to Rev. Archimandrite Nektarios Serfes: 1.8 million Armenian Christians, including over 4,000 bishops and priests, were killed by the Turks along with 1,750,000 Greek Christians from 1914-1922.
So, to initiate religious war is not immoral by Islamic standards. It is an act of virtue. Remember the hundreds, perhaps thousands of Iranian children, many as young as ten to twelve, whose mission was to detonate mines and draw fire in preparation for full-scale attacks against Iraqi lines during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988)? The boys carried plastic keys to heaven. They were told by their leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, that if they were killed on the battlefield they would go directly to paradise. "The purest joy in Islam," Khomeini said "is to kill and be killed for Allah.”
Aggressive religion is only immoral by Christian standards, certainly not by Islamic standards. Does that mean we must always be passive witnesses, i.e. martyrs? I don’t think so. We can and should defend, first by a clear statement of truth, whether that truth is politically correct or not. To pretend that Islam is non-violent is wishful thinking.
So, keep defending the truth by enunciating it clearly. Let people make an honest decision. Do they want the world to be ruled by “...the prophet who laughs as he slaughters his enemies,” or would they prefer the Prince of Peace, even though some of His followers are not always on their best behavior?