In Praise of Carl E. Olson

Carl E. Olson



I have never met Carl E. Olson, but if I did I would be happy to shake his hand.  Under the current Pontificate too many Catholic commenters either ignore the frequently baffling things that Pope Francis says, or make excuses for him.  Olson does not.  He deals with the situation straight on.  A prime example of this is his examination of the La Croix interview this week with the Pope:


4) Here is the most controversial section of the interview:

– The fear of accepting migrants is partly based on a fear of Islam. In your view, is the fear that this religion sparks in Europe justified?

Pope Francis: Today, I don’t think that there is a fear of Islam as such but of ISIS and its war of conquest, which is partly drawn from Islam. It is true that the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam. However, it is also possible to interpret the objective in Matthew’s Gospel, where Jesus sends his disciples to all nations, in terms of the same idea of conquest.

I find it refreshing that Francis admits that “the idea of conquest is inherent in the soul of Islam” because he has previously insisted that true Islam has nothing to do with violence. But, in fact, many people in the West are fearful of Islam, in part because they recognize that while the majority of Muslims are not terrorists, the vast majority of terrorists claim to be truly Muslim and—this is essential—there is no basis on which their claim can be denied. Secondly, the “well, Christians do bad stuff too!” argument is not only facile, it is insulting. Of course Christians have done bad things. But saying that the Great Commission—”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt 28:19-20)—to jihad  and the consistent record of violent and coercive expansion by Islam is simply ludicrous. No, it is not the same idea of conquest, and that sort of evasive equivalence is a disservice to the historical record and to the truth about Christianity.

Unfortunately, Francis has often taken this sort of straw man approach to this topic, as when he said in November 2014, “And I sincerely believe that we cannot say all Muslims are terrorists, just as we cannot say that all Christians are fundamentalists – we also have fundamentalists among us, all religions have these small groups.” That is equally facile, because no serious person is making such expansive claims; rather, the issue is the inherent vision and logic of a particular religion, combined with the means by which it regulates itself and interprets its doctrines, combined with the structures by which it controls and directs its actions. That said, I think he is correct in noting the implications of trying to plant some sort of democratic structure in certain countries; it simply doesn’t work and it often has very bad consequences. But that still is separate from the inner dynamism and goals of Islam, which is not only fractures, but quite theologically schizophrenic and disfunctional..

5) Finally, Francis says, “States must be secular. Confessional states end badly. That goes against the grain of History.” My initial response is: “And non-confessional states end well?” Let’s be honest: the end of any nation is almost always bad; nations rise and fall for a variety of reasons, but the falls are rarely pleasant or enjoyable. The Soviet Union is a good case in point. On the other hand, this insistence that confessional states are simply bad is dubious, to put it mildly. The Byzantine Empire lasted for—wait for it—a thousand years, and it was, on the whole, an impressive and great culture. (Of course, no one knows anything about it, so it’s a moot point, right?) Oh, and it was conquered by, yes, Muslims. And as a recent and important book explains, the Andalusian Paradise was not, in fact, paradise. And, please, can be stop invoking “History” and the “grain of History”? It’s both lazy and meaningless; history is what men have done, using their free will, for good or ill. Invoking vaguely Hegelian concepts only confuses matters.

Francis is right, of course, to defend religious freedom; he says many good things. But, at the end of day, those who wish to understand the place, purpose, and possible future of Europe will be better served in seeking out the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. Continue Reading