Blog 053: Catholicism versus Islam

Veronica Abbass

John Wilkins published “The Place of Religion in Democratic Secular Countries” on his blog Evolving Thoughts on February 19, 2015. Written from an historian’s point of view, “(for a historian, the last 200 years are recent),” Wilkins’ observations on the differences and similarities of Catholicism and Islam are worth reading and pondering:

There is a religion which oppresses women, which is enthusiastically adopted by marginalised groups, which hates democracy and which has declared the modern world to be a heresy they call “Americanism”. This religion, which is run entirely by men, demands of its adherents loyalty to a small group of clerics overseas, in a pseudostate set up by extremists. Its doctrine, to be sure, is hardly consistently adopted by many of its followers who have adapted to democratic civil society, but taken at face value that doctrine requires a theocracy imposed upon all who live under its rule. It has underlain many wars and atrocities, and collaborates with dictatorial states so long as they support its interests, although it has been known to turn on them too, when the chance arises. …

What is this religion? It is Catholicism.

Wilkins asks, “So why don’t we scream in the streets that Catholics are a threat to our values, way of life, and safety?” While we do protest, or at least I do, not in the streets but in posts on Canadian Atheist, Wilkins explains why Canadians are not gathering in the streets to protest against Catholicism and Catholics:

Because they have changed how they live, and in the process, changed their religion as well. In the short space of a century (and believe me, in the lifetime of a religion, that is very short indeed) we have gone from the Catholic Church arrogating to itself the role of theocratic arbiter of what is right in every country to it being one among a plurality of religions, viewpoints and ways of life. More remains to be done, but it happens.

Wilkins goes on to predict

The same thing will happen with Islam. Indeed, Muslims have been enthusiastic adopters of secularism in many countries (pre-revolution Iran, pre-Erdogan Turkey, Indonesia) already. Most of the extremists are from the countryside, and rural peasants always are more conservative than urbanites, no matter what the nation, ethnicity or religion. But there’s another concern here: the sacrificial lamb, to use a religious metaphor.

Much has happened since Wilkins posted this article: Avijit Roy and Washiqur Rahman were murdered and Raif Badawi remains in jail in Saudi Arabia.

It is worth considering whether Wilkins’ assessment is correct

Muslims have a large number of extremists, to be sure, among their ranks. I suspect, however, this has more to do with dislocation, dispossession and marginalisation than it does with the admittedly awful doctrines of Islam, just as it did with Catholics before them. Dislocate, dispossess and marginalise any group at all, and they will become extremists. … all that matters for a Muslim to be a good citizen of a secular democratic nation is that they adopt our laws, civic values and practices. And they are. But marginalise them, exclude them from public discourse, and take away their citizenship, and you get what you should expect.

Wilkins is naive. Catholics have not changed; they are lurking while they watch the world swallow the fiction of a benign twenty-first century pope.

Moreover, in Canada, Catholic influence ranges from the subtle to the overt. The Government of Canada created a special day, April 2, to honour Pope John Paul II. Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins called publicly-funded separate (Catholic) schools “a gift to all the province” during an unprecedented Catholic mass in the Ontario Legislature, and Catholic students continue to fight for their right to set up gay-straight alliance clubs in their schools. These examples indicate that Catholics have not given up the “role of theocratic arbiter of what is right” in Canada.

If democratic nations include Muslim voices in public discourse, will Muslims change or will they lurk like Catholics. If the behaviour of Catholics in Canada and in countries where Catholicism still matters is any example, Muslims will learn from Catholics to abandon violence and use political savvy to assert their influence.

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