Concluding Thoughts on the Koran and Islam

To begin, a brief review of Islam’s history is in order.

During its first few centuries, Islam faced weak opponents, it expanded steadily, the central caliphate strengthened, educational achievement was encouraged, and intellectual achievement honored. However, when Islam began to suffer military setbacks, particularly at the hands of the Mongols, Muslims became more religious and less interested intellectual and scientific achievements.

Then the west began to expand and Islam came under even more pressure. Eventually, the weakened Ottoman caliphate was disbanded and the west occupied the heart of Islam. The Muslim response was an even greater emphasis on religion particularly its militant aspects.

Today, the west is beginning to have difficulties of its own. Internal discord is everywhere, birthrates are down, religious belief and practice are spotty, and solidarity on morals and mores is lacking. Western societies are changing rapidly.

So you have a culturally weak society, the West, right next to a culturally consolidating society with a long history of aggressive expansion. The stage is set for Islam to once again move toward the west. Actually, we see this is already happening with two phenomena: immigration and terrorist attacks.

Are these two going to be effective for Islam? Obviously, mass immigration accompanied by differential birth rates between the natives and the immigrants will over time cause the immigrants to take over. Terror seems to be counterproductive in the west because it makes average citizens more aware of the challenge of Islam. However, in Muslim countries terror seems to enhance Islamic solidarity.

So what is the likely outcome here? Let’s say a western country today is 10% Muslim and these Muslim families have 5 children each. While the native families have 2 children each. In four generations (100 years) doing simple math, that country’s Muslim population will be 40%.Of course, if additional Islamic immigration is permitted the 40% will be low, perhaps quite low.

The obvious questions are “but wouldn’t a substantial number of Muslims convert and join different religions as westerners tend to do?” and “wouldn’t the Muslim birthrate decline and come into alignment with the rest of society?”. Of course, it is impossible to know the long-term with certainty, but early trends do not indicate that either of these is happening. Muslims like to live near each other. Their intense prayer life combined with their propinquity seems to discourage any real change of behavior.

The non-Muslim world is blessed to have large strong countries like Russia and China who seem prepared to say to their Muslim minorities “this far and no further”. So Muslim migration is not likely to go north or east from the Muslim heartlands.

However, Muslims are free to move west and south, so Islam is likely to increase its numbers in Western Europe, southern Africa, North America, and even South America. It seems the countries most influenced by Enlightenment ideas (e.g. democracy, rule of law, tolerance, etc.) are most likely to experience a process of slow-motion self-destruction via Muslim immigration.


Before Vatican II

Before Vatican II, the Catholic Church was doing a fairly good job of fulfilling the call of its creator, Jesus Christ, to “feed my flock” and to “go forth and convert.” More particularly:

– It was presenting an integrated, complex set of doctrines regarding faith and morals that explained to the faithful who made them, where they came from, where they might be going (heaven or hell), how to lead a virtuous life, and how to deal with their sins and failures.

– It was offering a Latin-based mystical and magisterial set of devotions and sacraments, particularly the Mass, that engaged most people in an uplifting, traditional way.

– The Church was able to staff its churches and schools with enough priests and nuns to provide for a lot of one-on-one engagement with Catholics, particularly the young. This allowed the faithful to gain a fulsome understanding of the Gospels and of the intricacies of the many Church doctrines that grew out of a close analysis of the Gospels. This group was also able to lead the faithful in the practice of its many devotions, rituals, and Sacraments.

In summary, a social scientist (e.g., a cultural anthropologist) might say the Catholic Church was doing a good job—not a perfect job—of:

– setting forth an integrated set of doctrines

– providing ceremonies and practices that fit with those doctrines

– offering the faithful a clerical class of adequate size to convey the doctrines and encourage the faithful to remain strongly involved.

The Vatican II Period with John XXIII and Paul VI

In 1958, Pius XII, a former Vatican diplomat who had seen the Church through WWII, passed away and the Cardinal Archbishop of Venice, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli, became the new Pope and took the name John XXIII. He had grown up in very modest circumstances but was blessed with a deep faith, a pleasant open personality, and a good mind. Pope John, being one of 13 children and a former soldier, said the Church’s rituals and pastoral approaches had not been looked at since the Council of Trent (1545-63). He used the term “Aggiornamento”, which means to bring up to date or “freshening up,” to describe his goal for the Church. He decided to call a Council of the Church (Vatican II), and he appointed the conservative Archbishop Marcel-François Lefebvre to organize its agenda. Archbishop Lefebvre, a Holy Ghost Father, had been stationed in Africa as a bishop and had overseen the Church’s very successful missionary effort there.

The Council assembled in October 1962 with perhaps 3,000 bishops, their advisers, and observers from other faiths present. Once organized, the Council rejected the limited LeFebvre agenda, deciding instead on a more wide-ranging scope. According to Church tradition, once assembled a Council of the Church is in charge of the Church, that is why in four centuries Popes had called only one Council (Vatican I) which had ended abruptly when the Franco Prussian War erupted.

During Vatican II, Pope John died and a new Pope Paul VI was elected. Additionally, during this period the birth control pill came on the market. Pope Paul decided not to expand the scope of the Council’s deliberations to decide the morality of this product; instead he made that decision himself and issued Humanae Vitae on July 25, 1968, which condemned use of “the pill” because it interfered with God’s desire to keep each marital act open to conception.

The Council ended on December 8, 1965. Four major documents, three declarations, and nine decrees were issued. Most important for normal Catholics, the Council permitted the Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular, meaning using the common language of the people attending the Mass. Immediately the various bishops moved to implement something called the “spirit of Vatican II.” This meant for most Catholics the traditional Latin Masses disappeared quickly and were replaced with Masses in their local language(s). These new liturgies were composed in a rush by local bishops or even parish priests. Many were not faithful to the rules about which liturgical elements needed to be included in a Mass. Most statues were removed from Catholic Churches. The music used at Mass was “updated” just as quickly. Guitars and tambourines replaced organs in many churches. Many felt these Masses had lost any semblance of their historic mystery and majesty. However, the use of local languages did give people a more direct understanding of the words being used. They no longer had to depend upon the translations set out in the pews.

Most religious orders of nuns adopted more open lifestyles (e.g., living outside of convents in apartments, wearing habits that could easily be mistaken for business suits, etc.). Many nuns, particularly those with useful training and credentials (e.g., in teaching, social work, or nursing) actually chose to leave their orders. These manifestations of the “spirit of Vatican II” were particularly hard on the Catholic grade schools all across the United States, which were forced to hire lay teachers. Tuitions rose and many schools closed.

Vatican II also removed the Church’s former statement that “for those aware of the Catholic Church” there was no salvation outside the Church. This provision had for centuries sent a message to non-Catholics that the Catholic Church thought they were hopelessly lost. The wording in Vatican II was much more welcoming to non-Catholics by simply saying there were much good and truth in these churches and the sincere following of their beliefs could lead to salvation. This opened the door for the many ecumenical discussions that have occurred over the last 50 years. In fact, a Lutheran-Catholic discussion in Sweden actually decided there were not doctrinal differences between the two Churches on what was needed to gain salvation.

The implementation of these liturgical changes caused traditionalist Catholics to react negatively. One of those reacting was Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who created an order and movement called the Society of St. Pius X. His priests pledged to retain their exclusive attachment to the Latin Mass. Several years later, he consecrated four new bishops so the society could survive his death. The reason his departure was not a complete rupture with the papacy was his insistence that his group rigorously follow all the sacramental procedures that were in force prior to Vatican II. Since Vatican II had not outlawed or banned these older practices, he was still following acceptable Church rubrics. Of course, his ordaining four priests as bishops was a violation of a Church rule that required the Vatican’s specific advanced approval of the consecration of any bishop. This led to the excommunication of Lefebvre and the four new bishops. (Later Pope Benedict XVI lifted these excommunications.)

These changes caused discord in most parishes. With the traditionalists arguing with the reformers in every parish around the world At the same time, vocations began to decline. Some argued that young people who might be drawn to a religious vocation began to have second thoughts; they noted that young people attracted to a life of commitment are generally seeking a stable environment in which to serve others. Others argued the decline was attributable to the general social unrest of the 60’s and 70’s. In any event, seminaries started to close. Orders of nursing and teaching nuns felt the greatest declines. The exceptions were the traditionalist groups: the Society of St. Pius X, other priestly groups that remained traditional, cloistered Carmelites, and other groups of nuns that simply retained their traditional habits and practices. All these held their own or actually gained recruits.

The situation was so desperate that a few years after Vatican II closed, Paul VI said in a homily in 1972 that “the smoke of Satan” had been let loose inside the Church. Exactly what he was referring to is unclear. Was it the widespread abuse of the liturgy? Was it the discord that arose within most parish communities? Was it the creation of traditionalist groups like the Society of Pius X? Perhaps it was all of these.

When Marcel Lefebvre died, he had three seminaries operating at full capacity: one in Argentina, one in the U.S., and one in Switzerland. Today the Society operates worldwide with 650 priests, 442 locations, and has increased its number of seminaries to six. Its country of greatest penetration in France and half of its seminaries are in Europe.

The John Paul II and Benedict XVI Period

However, all stability was not lost. After John Paul I, Pope Paul’s successor, died after only a month in office, the Cardinals elected John Paul II who was to serve for 26 years until 2005. His gregarious personality, his opposition to Communism, including its Catholic manifestation called “liberation theology,” his decision to issue a completely new updated Catechism, his strong support for traditional marriage, and his globe-trotting habits kept the Catholic public enthralled.

All this occurred while his right-hand man, Cardinal Ratzinger, who later followed John Paul II as Benedict XVI, began to bring order out of the chaos that had erupted after Vatican II. The Vatican reasserted strict control over all Mass liturgies used in all languages. The Vatican began looking at all seminary curriculums and faculties to make certain they were orthodox; many changes had to be made. Homosexuality had gotten into several seminaries as standards had been reduced to get more recruits; these seminaries experienced the Vatican initiated “house cleanings.” The music used at Mass was subjected to limitations—it had to be theologically sound and uplifting, not jarring. There was strong encouragement to use old Latin hymns and to reinsert Latin Prayers (e.g., the Creed or the Our Father) into the liturgy. Theologians who had pushed the envelope on innovations were reined in. The Vatican reasserted its control over the orthodoxy of the faculty at schools calling themselves Catholic. Several Jesuit schools dropped the word Catholic from their literature rather than insist on such orthodoxy from their faculties.

Then John Paul II, with his successor Benedict XVI, actually managed to stabilize the number of vocations. They quieted the traditionalists within the parishes, who for the most part made their peace with the reforms once the flow of changes stopped and a new liturgical status quo settled in. The regular attendance seen in the pews across Western Europe and North America stabilized at roughly 50% of the pre-Vatican II attendance. In Latin America, there was a continuing slow exodus to Pentecostal Faiths. In Africa, a surge of converts sent the overall number of Catholics worldwide up.

One scandal really rocked the John Paul II papacy. There was a highly successful conservative order called the Legionnaires of Christ founded in the 1940’s by Marcial Maciel, a Mexican priest. This order attracted many young men and was expanding into many countries. However, it turned out Maciel was an active bisexual. He had fathered children out of wedlock. He was using his position to demand homosexual favors, and then demanding silence, from his abused subordinates in the order. When the scandal came out, the Vatican cashiered Maciel (January 2005) and considered forcing the dissolution of the Legionnaires. In the end, the Legionnaires, after Vatican investigations, were allowed to continue to do their work in 21 countries with their 600 priests.

The number of Catholics in Europe is now roughly equal to the number in Africa, but the European number is shrinking as birth rates fall and atheism gains adherents. The numbers in Africa are growing as people there wish to move away from tribal religions, move toward things western, and want more unity to resist the violence of the encroaching Muslims.

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