Shiite Catholic

Google informs me that an American comedian likes to refer to his wife as a “Shiite Catholic.” If I understand the term correctly, I think I could apply it to myself given my religious self-understanding (not to mention my theory of the relation of religion and politics).

But this post is about a conference involving both Shi’a and Catholic scholars that I participated in last week. The conference was organized by a friend of mine as a follow up for a conference in Qom, the holy city of the Shi’a in Iran, two years ago. I had been planning to attend that conference, but it didn’t work out in the end. As I put it over on Owen White’s blog at the time:

I was actually hoping to go to a conference [in Qom] earlier this month, but sadly I wasn’t able to make it in the end. A friend of mine was there, however, and read my paper. Now my friend is back, and is quite euphoric about the Islamic Republic, and its resistance to the hedonism, secularism and other evils. He says that Shi’ite clerics there were very learned, and had not only read Plato, but could actually claim to have implemented some Platonic thinking in real politics—the dream of all anti-liberal philosophers.

Now having attended last week’s conference I can confirm at least some of what my friend said. I was deeply impressed by the four Shi’a scholars who took part in our conference. They were men of deep piety and learning.  I was especially struck by their emphasis on the harmony of reason and revelation. They often spoke of the Iranian philosopher Mullā Ṣadrā (c. 1571/2 – 1640), who apparently made a sythesis of Avicennan philosophy with neo-Platonism, Islamic law, and Islamic mysticism that I would like to learn more about. Googling him afterwards I found that Fr. Dave Burrell (whom I know of old) has written on him (eg. here and here), and that Peter Adamson has devoted multiple podcasts on him (starting here).

I gave a talk on freedom, contrasting the notion of freedom in the Christian tradition with that of secular liberalism. Our Iranian guests seemed to agree with my main points. The papers are to be published in a German-Farsi Tagungsband. Some of them will also be online on our new website The idea for the name “ViQo Circle” (short for “ViennaQom Circle”) came after the conference when we were giving a little tour of Austria to our guests. We went up the Kahlenberg to show them where Jan Sobieski saved Europe from the Sunnis (to put it diplomatically). And it was there that we decided to give our group a name. We are planning to have a conference in Iran again in two years time, and I very much hope that I will be able to make it.

My Review of Houellebecq’s Soummision

As promised, I have now completed a review of Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel:

Michel Houellebecq’s latest novel Soumission has generated so much commentary since its publication on the day of the Charlie Hebdo murders that many readers will already know the basic outline of the plot. Seven years from now France comes under the power of a Muslim party, and a quiet process of Islamization sets in. Politicians and journalists who know only the outline have assumed that Houellebecq’s story is islamophobic, but careful readers of the book have agreed with his own protestations that this is not at all the case… Read the rest on Ethika Politika

Fanaticism vs. Devotion

In a comment on my last post Michael Bolin does a good job of defending the Newman passage that I used to show that one should not be for moderation in religion, even in false religion. Nevertheless, I think Samantha Cohoe is right that the passage is not applicable to the case of St Paul before his conversion. Even after one has dismissed the bogus moderate/extreme distinction in religion one still needs to be able to distinguish between the false zeal of the pharisee and the true zeal of the saint. Jeremy Holmes provided the following distinction on Facebook (quoted with permission): Continue reading

“The poor and the despised: this is who we must defend ourselves against?”

In my Charlie Hebdo piece I tried to understand how the anti-bourgeois left will use the affair to promote it’s agenda. Obviously, I have little sympathy for the positive ideals of the heirs of Robespierre and Lenin. But their negative critique of bourgeois society, and their sense of the crying injustice done to the weakest and poorest is very powerful. There is much distortion in it, yes, much misunderstanding, a good amount of inconsistency and self-contradiction; but there is also much truth, and this is the source of the enduring allure of radical leftism. By far the most powerful and moving piece on the Charlie Hebdo murders that I have read is by Sam Kriss. Much of what he says is questionable, but much more of it is clearly true: Continue reading

Charlie Hebdo and the Secularist Long Game

place des terreaux

Ah birbone! ah dannato! ah assassino! Villain! Wretch! Murderer!’  shouted Renzo, striding up and down the room, and grasping the hilt of his dagger every so often…. He stopped suddenly in front of the weeping girl, looked at her with sad and angry tenderness, and said: ‘I’ll make sure he never does a thing like this again.’ ‘No, Renzo, no! — not that, for the love of Heaven!’ cried Lucia. ‘God is the God of the poor and oppressed; but how can you expect him to help us if we do evil?’ (Alessandro Manzoni, The Betrothed, ch. 3)

The cliché that evil begets evil is true not only in it’s obvious sense (that righteous anger and zeal for justice can quickly turn to  hatred, revenge, and unlawful violence), but also in the sense that such reaction itself provides occasion for the long term strategies of well meaning but thoroughly mischievous movements. Continue reading

Islamic Integralism: A Subtle Difference

In Christian political integralism the idea of order has great importance. The primary intrinsic common good of the political community is, I have argued, the good of the order of peace. This comes from a view of creation according to which that which God primarily intends in creation is the good of the order of the whole, as the most perfect reflection of the divine beauty. So I was interested to read in Remi Brague’s book The Wisdom of the World that the Islamic idea of creation lacks this emphasis on the order of the whole. Brague notes that while there are parallels between the Islamic idea of “He who excelled in the creation of all things” and the first creation account in Genesis, there is also “an essential, though subtle, difference:”

the totality in the Bible is additive, and here it is distributive; according to the Bible the object of admiration is the entirety of creatures, in the connection that gives them their consistency; according to the Koran it is every creature viewed individually, without any connection to the rest of creation, indeed, without any link other than that with Allah. (p.57)

One can readily imagine that this difference could lead to all kinds of other differences in between Christian and Islamic politics. I don’t now enough about Islam to be able to tell to what extent actual differences between Islamic and Christian societies are connected to this difference, but I should like to look into it more.

I am hoping to visit Iran soon for a conference for a Muslim-Christian conference at the Al-Mustafa International University in Qom. I shall propose this question of the order of the whole of creation as a presentation topic.