Saturday, April 23, 2005


"Spengler" on Europe, the Pope, the Koran and other matters

From time to time I enjoy reading the Asia Times columnist who has adopted the name "Spengler," presumably after the early 20th-century historian and philosopher Oswald Spengler, best known for his Decline of the West. Both write of history with a grand sweep. I'm a student of neither Spengler and my reading of "Spengler"'s columns is rather cursory. Sometimes he is devastatingly wrong,1 but that said, he has some interesting observations.

While typically giving Americans a pass, "Spengler" comes down hard on the Europeans who, according to him, have lost their cultural soul along with their (Catholic) religion and now scarcely know how to breed.

In his latest column "The crescent and the conclave," he considers such matters as how the Islamic hordes may yet repopulate Europe, if only they can be converted, and suggests that Benedict XVI (Cardinal Ratzinger) may just be the man to do it. The proselytizing breakthrough would come by applying the techniques of historical criticism to the Koran, Islam's holy book, which "yet may turn out to be the worm in the foundation of radical Islam."

Precisely how the Church might go about proselytizing Muslims is a different matter, and a dangerous one, considering that Islam decrees the death penalty for apostates (see Muslim anguish and Western hypocrisy, November 23, 2004).

It is clear that Cardinal Ratzinger has been thinking about this for some time. "Islam has no magisterium," that is, official teaching authority, Ratzinger observed in a 2001 newspaper interview.... If the Church were to devote its shrunken but still formidable intellectual apparatus to such matters as Koranic criticism, all heaven would break loose, if I mix my metaphors right.

Well, it's certainly a novel idea, and I won't dismiss it out of hand. Though for the life of me I can't understand how Koranic criticism in the face of Islamic fundamentalists at the behest of the Vatican could be a safer activity than direct proselytization. Is he trying to get St. Peter's bombed?

But this is what caught my eye—

Unlike the Christian and Jewish scriptures, revealed to men who heard the revelation in their own voices, the Archangel Gabriel dictated every word of the Holy Koran to the Prophet Mohammed.

I suppose I should have known that, but I didn't. "Spengler" continues—

As Toby Lester reported in the January 1999 edition of The Atlantic Monthly:
"To historicize the Koran would in effect delegitimize the whole historical experience of the Muslim community," says R Stephen Humphreys, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of California at Santa Barbara. "The Koran is the charter for the community, the document that called it into existence. And ideally - though obviously not always in reality - Islamic history has been the effort to pursue and work out the commandments of the Koran in human life. If the Koran is a historical document, then the whole Islamic struggle of 14 centuries is effectively meaningless."

Well, I'm sorry they feel that way, but this is not a strictly Islamic problem. There are some Christians of my acquaintance who are of the same mind, which is why the Bible must be taken as "infallible," "inerrant," and "inspired by God." (And should they ever become ascendant, any questioning of this—any "historical criticism"—will likely meet with punishments equal to those of the Spanish Iniquisition or of the Islamic fundamentalists, as you prefer.)

But what struck me is that we have a holy book in the West of similar authorship to the Koran—the Book of Mormon. According to Joseph Romney at,

The angel Moroni is the heavenly messenger who first visited the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1823. As a mortal named Moroni 2, he had completed the compilation and writing of the Book of Mormon. He ministered to Joseph Smith as a resurrected being, in keeping with his responsibility for the Book of Mormon, inasmuch as "the keys of the record of the stick of Ephraim" had been committed to him by the Lord (D&C 27:5). Pursuant to this responsibility he first appeared to Joseph Smith on the night of September 21-22, 1823 (JS—H 1:29-49; D&C 128:20), and thereafter counseled with him in several reappearances until the book was published in 1830. During that time, he instructed Joseph Smith, testified to the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and otherwise assisted in the work of restoring the gospel.

Because of the angel Moroni's role in restoring the everlasting gospel to be preached to all the world (cf. Rev. 14:6-7; D&C 133:31-39), the Church placed a statue depicting him as a herald of the Restoration atop the Salt Lake Temple, and later on the hill Cumorah near Palmyra, New York, where anciently he had buried the Book of Mormon plates.

While you may contend that what we have here is a case of angelic editing rather than angelic dictation, the similarity is nonetheless striking. And indeed, one Mormon quickly found solace in Islam.

I wonder if some insight might be gained by studying the two groups, Muslims and Mormons, side by side. Perhaps scholars of religion have already done so, but the news has not made it to me here in the hinterlands.

Related post
New Pope explains priestly sex scandal (4/20/05)


1 "Spengler" echoes the explanation of the American church's sex-scandal that was given by Cardinal Ratzinger, who laid it at the feet of the liberalization that followed the Second Ecumenical Council (Vatican II). In another column "Spengler" writes,

In the US, the Catholic Church tends toward the model of a social-welfare agency, replete with the social mores of the political left, culminating in the sex-abuse scandal of the past several years.

Of course, he is correct that it was to some extent the social mores of the political left that led to the American sex-abuse scandal—not by causing this priestly behavior, which is hardly an invention of the 20th century and is as rampant in Europe and Latin America as it is in the U.S.—but by caring enough about the victims to expose and protest it. Once exposed, right-wing sexual prudery did the rest. [back]

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