As I said in a recent column, Pope Francis doesn’t understand Islam. More proof of that came on October 4th when the pope participated in what has been described as a “highly symbolic tree-planting ceremony.”
Well, you could call it that, but most tree-planting ceremonies don’t involve mandalas, hymns to “Mother Earth” and kneeling before statues of pregnant women.
Presumably, that’s how Amazonian Indians conduct tree-planting ceremonies, but this ritual was held in the Vatican Gardens, and one of the statues (a carving, really) was presented to Pope Francis during the fertility rite.
But what does Islam have to do with it? Well, in one sense, nothing. Islam wants nothing to do with such activities. Islam was founded as a strict monotheistic religion, and when its founder entered Mecca in 630 he removed and destroyed the 361 idols to pagan gods that were on display in the Kaaba.
In another sense, however, it’s likely that Ayatollahs and Imams everywhere are paying close attention to the Catholic Church’s new found interest in “Mother Earth”. Why? Well, first you need to understand just how seriously some Church leaders are about transforming the Church into something new and strange. Unless you’ve been on an extended vacation in the more remote areas of the Amazon rainforest, you know that the preparatory document for the Amazon Synod seems to be preparing us for a new Church with an Amazonian face. The document seems to affirm the legitimacy of pantheism, paganism, and ancestor worship. Moreover, contrary to established doctrine, it asserts that the Amazon region is itself a source of divine revelation.
The actual proceedings of the Synod and the omnipresence of “Mother Earth” worshippers in Rome suggest that the preparatory document was not just a pipe dream, but a plan of action. The hope that older and wiser heads would prevail at the Synod is beginning to fade because, although there are a lot of older heads in attendance, they seem to be filled not with wisdom, but with “the beat, beat, beat of the tom-tom.”
Yet, at the same time that Church leaders are drifting toward pantheism, they are also trying to improve relations with Islam. The latest move in that direction was the meeting in Abu Dhabi in February between Pope Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar. The resulting document on “Human Fraternity” was filled with UN-type nostrums about human brotherhood and the essential sameness of all religions. Although the document contained many misrepresentations of Islamic beliefs, the Grand Imam went along with it. He must have realized that the Pope’s bridge-building initiative would provide a certain legitimacy for Islam. After all, the Vatican seal of approval still carries some weight in the world.
But the Church’s new Amazonian venture may prove to be a bridge too far for Al-Tayeb and other Muslim leaders. There is no room in Islam for pantheism, and certainly not for worship of “Mother Earth.” Muhammad’s central message to the pagan tribes of Arabia was that there is only one God.
The first of the Five Pillars of Islam is the recitation of the statement of faith: “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” That’s fairly short as creedal statements go; and it’s quite straightforward. There is only one God, and that’s that.
The phrase is whispered by the father into the ear of a newborn child, and it appears on the flags of many Islamic states as well as on the flags of jihadist organizations. The oneness of God is the central teaching of Islam. By the same token, the worst sin, from an Islamic viewpoint, is shirk—the sin of practicing idolatry or polytheism. The sin of shirk also includes associating partners with God—such as in the formulation, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Devout Muslim are constantly on guard against falling into jahiliyyah—the “Age of Ignorance” which existed before the coming of Islam. One of the major manifestations of this ignorance or “stupidity” was the worship of idols in the form of the sun, or animals, or mythical deities. Now that the Catholic Church seems in danger of falling back into the Age of Ignorance and polytheism, one wonders how much longer Islamic leaders will be willing to maintain the illusion that Catholics and Muslims share a common purpose and common values.
By encouraging the Church to drift down the Amazon, Pope Francis puts at risk the dialogue he has carefully cultivated with Islam. Of course, a moratorium of the Church’s dialogue with Islam would not in itself be a bad thing. The meetings have been very much to the advantage of Islam, and it’s difficult to see much benefit to the Church. Indeed, the dialogue has, arguably, put more Christians at risk. That’s because, one of the “red lines” for resuming the dialogue after Al-Tayeb cancelled it was that the Catholic partners should refrain from any criticism of Islam. The strange willingness of Catholic leaders to overlook Islam’s role in the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa is best explained by their tacit acceptance of the red line.
But now, with the Church’s apparent openness to pantheism, everything may change, and the risks to Christians will likely be multiplied. Islamic leaders may reason that their “partnership” with the Catholic Church is becoming more of a liability than an asset. The Catholic belief in the Trinity is bad enough, but this new flirtation with the gods of the woods and the waters may prove to be the last straw.
From the Muslim point of view, this is nothing less than shirk. And shirk must be punished. In the Koran, the mere fact of unbelief is sufficient justification for Muslims to wage war against infidels. As news of the Church’s turn toward pantheism spreads through the Muslim world—and it will probably spread in a greatly exaggerated fashion– it is likely that persecution of Christians will ramp up. An increasing number of Muslims will come to believe that in killing Christians they are offering up worship to God, who, if the Koran is any indication, has a deep dislike of polytheists.
Meanwhile, the “moderate” Muslims who engage in dialogue with Church leaders will have more leverage. They may not wish to drop the dialogue altogether, because it has been very useful to them. The spread of Islam throughout Europe was enabled in part by the fact that the Vatican lobbied strongly in favor of mass Muslim migration. But now, our Muslim “partners” may feel free to up the ante. Since they can’t afford to lose the goodwill of the more excitable members of their own flock, they will be tempted to demand more concessions and more signs of submission from the Church. And they will quite probably succeed. Under Francis, the Church has already adopted a submissive attitude toward Islam–one that even exceeds its submissive attitude toward the secular world and the primitive world.
Francis’s Amazon gambit will only go to prove what Muslims have always claimed about Christians—namely, that they have departed from the path ordained by God. And it will provide more evidence that Islam is the one true faith.
The probable result? More conversions to Islam, and more aggressiveness towards Christians. It’s not inconceivable that in many parts of the world—including Europe—Christians will be forced to accept the dhimmi status that was imposed on conquered Christians in the past.
After the Regensburg Address, Archbishop Bergoglio said that Pope Benedict had set back the Church’s relations with Islam by twenty years. Now that he is pope, it looks as though that relationship will be set back by a good 1,400 years.
Pictured above: Pope and grand imam sign historic pledge
Photo credit: theguardian.com