Pope Francis: You Know, Christians Believe in Conquest Too
Well, no, actually there isn't a legitimate comparison.
Pope Francis is known to make controversial statements now and then. For example, last September, he pleased Democrats and leftists everywhere with his denunciation of capitalism. His criticisms were far more descriptive of corporatism and cronyism, not a free market. We’re with him on condemning exploitative behavior, but we think he missed the right emphasis.
Last January, he remarked concerning the jihadi attack on Charlie Hebdo in Paris, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith. There is a limit. Every religion has its dignity.” His point was not to elevate radical Islamic jihad, but his words almost seemed to excuse murderous behavior.
Now, he’s musing about the fear of accepting Muslim migrants in Europe. “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,” the pope said. “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.”
There’s some nuance here. Jesus certainly promises to return and claim his kingdom, but that isn’t quite what the pope seems to be referring to. We’re aware of few if any Christians who espouse an interpretation of Jesus’s “Great Commission” to “go and make disciples of all nations” that in any way implies conquest. Medieval popes did use bad theology to motivate soldiers for the Crusades — the same ones about which Barack Obama gave a tedious lecture — but those began as legitimate defensive campaigns against an invading Islamic horde.
In any case, there isn’t a legitimate comparison between the Christian objective of evangelism through persuasion — however individual Christians may fail at this — and the systematic oppression of even moderate Islam. Pope Francis is pointing to a bridge between Christianity and Islam that doesn’t exist, and that’s especially dangerous given Muslim claims to the same roots of faith.
By the way, here’s Pope John Paul II on Islam: “Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. … In Islam, all the richness of God’s self-revelation, which constitutes the heritage of the Old and New Testaments, has definitely been set aside. … The god of the Koran is a god outside of the world, a god who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. … Not only the theology, but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.”