A few days after Pope Benedict XVI's lecture on faith and reason at Regensburg University, I was invited onto PBS' News Hour with Jim Lehrer to discuss the ensuing controversy with Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
During our exchange, Mr. Awad said "the word 'jihad' does not mean holy war." No one, he suggested, had ever been forced to become a Muslim. Equating "jihad" with "holy war," he argued, was a notion "born within Christianity."
Time constraints precluded my answering this directly, but on my return to my office in downtown Washington, I read an Associated Press story which began with this suggestive lead: "Al-Qaida in Iraq and its allies warned Pope Benedict XVI on Monday that he and the West were 'doomed' and proclaimed that the holy war would continue until Islam dominates the world."
The Al-Qaida statement was, shall we say, robust: "You infidels and despots, we will continue our jihad and never stop until God [permits] us to chop your necks and raise the . . . banner of monotheism, when God's rule is established governing all people and nations . . . We will break up the cross, spill the liquor, and impose head tax, [and] then the only thing acceptable [will be] a conversion or the sword."
In other words, surrender to jihadist Islam or be murdered. As for the time-line involved here, Iraqi Al-Qaida took the broad view: " . . . jihad continues and should never stop until doomsday, when [Islam] ends victorious."
I have neither the capacity nor the desire to engage in an exegetical exercise with Mr. Awad about the Qur'an and what it enjoins on Muslim believers. That can be done by specialists.
But, had time permitted, I would have said to Mr. Awad that, irrespective of his understanding of "jihad," there are tens of thousands of jihadis throughout the world who take a drastically different view: who believe that the murder of innocents in the name of God can be pleasing to God - indeed can be commanded by God - if it advances the cause of Islam.
God wishes free choice
Christians have developed, over the past centuries, a deep theological critique of past Christian attempts to advance Christianity coercively. The deepest taproot of that critique can be found in something Joseph Ratzinger wrote, in 1987: "God wishes to be adored by people who are free."
The God of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, who comes into history in search of man and who invites men and women into a dialogue of salvation, wishes a free choice for himself. Anything else, as the pope suggested at Regensburg, would be contrary to the nature of God, who creates the world (and us) through Logos, the Word, who is reason itself.
God cannot command the unreasonable or the irrational; God cannot wish, much less command, the death of innocents in God's name.
This is the kind of internal theological critique, based on Islamic warrants, that Mr. Awad and those who wish us to believe that "jihad" has been misunderstood, must foster in their own Islamic communities.
It is not sufficient to deplore over-heated rhetoric in response to the pope's Regensburg address (as CAIR) did; nor is it sufficient to say, as Mr. Amad said on the Lehrer program, that he and his organization condemn the murder of nuns and the burning of churches.
More is needed - and what are needed are clear statements that these depredations are religiously offensive because they are the result of a distorted understanding of what God wishes and commands.
Unless Islamic leaders find the intellectual resources and the moral courage to condemn, on religious grounds, those who would murder in the name of God, more than a billion Muslims will be held hostage to the fanatics among their co-religionists. So will the rest of the world.
It is long past time for Muslim leaders to stop quibbling over (or in some cases, dissembling about) the meaning of "jihad" and to condemn the jihadis who are turning the planet into a free-fire zone - and imagine that they're doing God's will in the process.
George Weigel is a senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
Marriage matters: To children, common good
For Catholics marriage is a sacrament, revealing Christ's indestructible love. The Catholic tradition has always recognized that marriage is also a natural relationship.
People of any faith or none can marry, and their marriages matter to God, to each other, to their children, and to the community.
A group of respected marriage and family scholars recently met to document the social science evidence that marriage matters. While there are, of course, single parents who do a splendid job of childrearing under very difficult circumstances, the scholars reached these conclusions among others:
Marriage reduces the risk of poverty for children and communities. The majority of children whose parents don't marry or don't stay married experience at least a year of poverty.
Fatherless households increase crime. Boys whose parents divorced or never married are two to three times more likely to end up in jail as adults.
Marriage protects children's physical and mental health. Children whose parents marry and stay married are healthier and much less likely to suffer mental illness, including depression and teen suicide.
Both men and women who marry live longer, healthier, and happier lives. On virtually every measure of health and well-being, married people are better off.
Cohabiting is not the same as marriage. Couples who just live together without the commitment of marriage do not get the same boost to health, welfare, and happiness, on average, as spouses. Children whose parents cohabit are at increased risk for domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect.
Parents who don't marry or stay married put children's education at risk. Children whose parents divorced or never married have lower grade-point averages, and are more likely to be held back a grade, and to drop out of school.
When marriages fail, ties between parents and children typically weaken, too. In one large national survey, 65 percent of adult children of divorce reported they were not close to their fathers (compared to 29 percent of adults from intact marriages).
Any development that weakens the norms of the married family will increase all these risks to children and communities. An impressive number of studies confirm that individual children are more likely to engage in criminal conduct when raised in fatherless households.
Little is known from a scientific standpoint about how children fare when raised by same-sex couples. After reviewing several hundred studies, University of Virginia sociologist Steven Nock concluded: "[N]ot a single one of those studies was conducted according to generally accepted standards of scientific research."
Children raised by same-gender couples remain a social experiment, about which we can say little with scientific certainty.
Good of society
Reconnecting marriage with its great historic cross-cultural task of encouraging men and women to beget and raise the next generation has never been a more urgent priority. On the one hand, a large majority of modern democracies are now experiencing very low birthrates, amid increasingly urgent concern about the social, economic, and political consequences.
As the eminent legal scholar and religious historian John Witte notes: "Procreation . . . means more than just conceiving children. It also means rearing and educating them for spiritual and temporal living. . . . The good of procreation cannot be achieved in this fuller sense simply through the licit union of husband and wife in sexual intercourse. It also requires maintenance of a faithful, stable, and permanent union of husband and wife for the sake of their children."
Marriage is also important for the intergenerational transmission of faith. Getting married, staying married, building loving marriages, and having children are the principle means through which a community propels itself into the future.
When a nation or faith community succeeds in transmitting a powerful vision of marriage to the next generation, the result is not only good for children, it is vital to the future of the whole community.
We can and must inspire, re-educate, serve, and protect those Catholics who want to recommit to a Catholic vision of marriage and family. The next generation is watching.
They need to see us confidently defend marriage in the pews and in the public square.
In this context, the three most urgent tasks for the Church are to:
a. affirm the value of children in the mind of the Catholic community
b. develop ministries and programs to help distressed couples avoid divorce and rebuild loving marriages
c. help, support, and teach Catholic parents seeking to transmit their marriage vision to their own children, in the face of an increasingly confused and hostile public square.
The task in renewing marriage is no less than to renew, for this generation and the next, faith in love. Human beings desperately want to believe that our deepest drives and longings have a purpose, that they are directing us toward love, goodness, renewal.
In marriage, men and women come together in faith to make the future happen. These are not private and personal matters, but the shared urgent business of the entire community.
Maggie Gallagher is president of the Institute for Marriage and Public Policy and coauthor of The Case for Marriage. This article was published by the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Teaching the truth: And understanding it
Spouses using Natural Family Planning (NFP) find that the method helps them learn to communicate better with each other - and abstinence gives them the opportunity to do so.
As they learn to communicate their affection in non-genital ways and as they learn to master their sexual desires, they find a new liberation in the ability to abstain from sexual intercourse. Many find that an element of romance reenters the relationship during the times of abstinence and an element of excitement accompanies the reuniting.
They have gained the virtue of self-mastery since now they can control their sexual desires rather than being controlled by their sexual desires. Women using NFP generally feel revered by their husbands since their husbands do not make them use unhealthy and unpleasant contraceptives. Men using NFP generally have greater self-respect since they have gained control over their sexual desires and can now engage in sexual intercourse as an act of love not as an act of mere sexual urgency.
A proof that NFP is good for a marriage is that whereas in the U.S. over 50 percent of marriages end in divorce, very, very few couples who use NFP ever divorce; they seem to bond in a deeper way than those who are contracepting.
Church teaching whys
The Church condemns contraception not because it wants to deny spouses sexual pleasure but because it wants to help them find marital happiness and to help them have happy homes, for without these our well being as individuals and as a society is greatly endangered. Section 18 of Humanae Vitae states:
" . . . it is not surprising that the Church finds herself a sign of contradiction - just as was Christ, her Founder. But this is not reason for the Church to abandon the duty entrusted to her of preaching the moral law firmly and humbly, both the natural law and the law of the Gospel.
"Since the Church did not make either of these laws, she cannot change them. She can only be their guardian and interpreter; thus it would never be right for her to declare as morally permissible that which is truly not so. For what is immoral is by its very nature always opposed to the true good of Man.
"By preserving the whole moral law of marriage, the Church knows that she is supporting the growth of a true civilization among men."
In teaching that contraception is intrinsically immoral, the Church is not imposing a disciplinary law on Catholics; she is preaching only what nature and the Gospel preach. By now we should have learned - the hard way - that to defy and overindulge our sexual nature, to go against the laws of nature and God, is to inflict terrible damage on ourselves as individuals and our society as a whole.
Diocese of Madison, The Catholic Herald
Offices: Bishop O'Connor Catholic Pastoral Center, 702 S. High Point Road, Madison
Mailing address: P.O. Box 44985, Madison, WI 53744-4985
Phone: 608-821-3070 Fax: 608-821-3071 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org