Outspoken Australian Cardinal and Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, said it’s possible for Christianity and Islam to forge an alliance against “the destructive secularism” in an interview for the site, Vatican Insider, published yesterday.
While saying that the two faiths couldn’t achieve a dialogue “about theological things”, Pell claimed they could open one up on “harmony in society” and learn from each other about how to engage with people who don’t want religion to play a part in politics.
“We are both monotheists and in many areas of morality we share common teachings and, in the very long run, it’s possible to see some sort of alliance against the destructive secularism,” Cardinal Pell said.
“Even though Muslims don’t seem to believe in the separation of Religion and State, Church and State, I think we might have something to learn from them against those people who would want to completely remove religious influence from public life and public discourse.
“And I think we can usefully talk to them about the nature of religious liberty, about the right of people to follow their consciences and convert into and out of Christianity and Islam.”
(He specifically said: “In my own reading of the Koran, I began to note down invocations to violence. There are so many of them, however, that I abandoned this exercise after 50 or 60 or 70 pages.”)
But he will need to clarify his comments for them to be scrutinised in full. What does he mean, for example, when he says “the destructive secularism“?
It’s unclear whether he is using “the” demonstratively or straightforwardly; is he saying that all secularism is destructive or that only a certain kind of secularism is?
It sounds almost as if he’s waging a war with people who are anti-religion and labeling them under the umbrella term, secularists, even though secularism supports the idea that religion should have a voice in public life.
This is not unlike George Pell; he’s criticised “secularism” for a long time now.
In the same 2004 speech in which he compared Islam to Communism, Cardinal Pell said: “The past century provided examples enough of how the emptiness within secular democracy can be filled with darkness by political substitutes for religion.”
His bitterness towards secularism and democracy is borne from his moral absolutist standpoint, from which he seemingly cannot accept any ethical view other than his own and that of the Church.
For instance, at that same speech, he went on to say: “Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions?”
“What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?”
Even if one agrees with his moral outlook that pornography and abortion are immoral, taking away people’s freedom of choice would be tantamount to authoritarianism, which is the problem with Communism.
And Cardinal Pell decries communism as wrong.
The thing is, George Pell isn’t against democracy, or secularism – he’s against the versions of democracy or secularism that don’t comply with his moral views.
Additionally, what does he mean by “we might have something to learn from them against those people who would want to completely remove religious influence from public life and public discourse”?
Given Pell’s previous record of degrading Islam, is he trying to say that Christians should strive to be as intolerant with non-believers as Muslims are?
Ultimately whatever he means, it’s not going to happen – Islam and Christianity have never gotten along and are fundamentally different.
The interviewer goes on to ask, “Why isn’t the Catholic Church growing so much today?” to which Pell replies: “Now there are tides in the affairs of men that are very strange, inexplicable in some ways, but I think the obstacles to growth are caused partly by ourselves”.
He then goes on to say that the Church isn’t stringent enough on its teachings and call to convert non-believers.
He then says people who use contraceptives or are divorced or living with someone out of wedlock should not receive communion, effectively denouncing their Catholicity.
But no George, you’re wrong.
The reason the Church isn’t growing is not so inexplicable; it’s because the moral absolutism and piousness the Church, and its members like you, display are becoming detached from a world that has evolved, and is continuing to evolve and move forward, into a new era of freedom and equality for all.
The more stringent the Church becomes with its teachings, and the more it tries to feverishly convert people to Catholicism, the more people are going to look at it as an unnecessary authority which is losing its credibility in a world in which it needs to work desperately hard to garner support.
And the war you’re trying to wage with secularists and non-believers is a farce; it’s only because of the fact that we live in a secular, democratic society that non-believers even give you the platform to try to denigrate them and their beliefs.
That is a right you probably wouldn’t reciprocate.
Don’t think Muslims will help you on your crusade either because you’re just another non-believer to them too.