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Friday, May 28, 2010



When I was homeschooling my children I would read aloud to them most evenings. I bought the Pullman Golden Compass trilogy thinking it a good adventure story. We made it through the first book, but about a third of the way through the second book I put it down and never picked it up again. The children never asked me to resume reading it and had they been interested they would have hounded me until I'd finished the trilogy. The books just weren't very good. The characters seemed off as did the story. We moved on to better literature.

Back then I was a proper heathen and frankly knew nothing about Pullman's strident atheism. Now I'm a not so proper Catholic, but back them I had no axe to grind with Pullman. I just didn't like his writing.

Gail F

As far as the argument "How do you explain the Church if Jesus wasn't the Son of God" goes, what does the same argument say about Mohammed? If he wasn't really a prophet, then how do you explain the rise of Islam?

I am not a fan of Pullman and I am a faithful Catholic. I just don't think the argument per se explains the Church. And I really would like an answer; I have only heard one person ever address my question.

Cristina A. Montes

I don't know much about the history of Islam, so I cannot comment on that, except to say that while he may have claimed to be a prophet (and even if he were a prophet), he did not claim to be God.

But with regard to the Church, given the circumstances in which the Church was founded, it would have been wiped out if it were a merely human institution, with a human founder. The apostles were simple, timid men who were not the type to establish a worldwide institution that would last through centuries. Then you have the persecutions from the Jews and from the Romans. And yet despite these factors, we have the Church as it is now.

Then you have the fact that the Church has preserved the integrity of her doctrine and has maintained apostolic succession from the time its founding until the present. While divisions have developed among Christians, any intellectually honest person would be able to identify the true Church by noting the Church whose head can trace his authority back to the apostles, and ultimately to Christ. With regard to Islam, what I know is there has been debate at the time Muhammad died as to who is supposed to be his successor (hence the current split between the Sunni and the Shiite Muslims).

Furthermore, the rise of the Church and her continued existence is not the only proof of the divinity of Christ. There are others, such as Christ's miracles (the foremost being His resurrection), and the fact that the Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in Christ. These cannot be said of Muhammad, even if the religion he founded is widespread.

Carl E. Olson

If he wasn't really a prophet, then how do you explain the rise of Islam?

I think Cristina is on the right track. We shouldn't be surprised that there are movements, institutions, religions, etc., that arise and last for years, even centuries. The argument that I touched on in my post is that the founding, growth, and flourishing of the Catholic Church doesn't make sense from a purely materialist perspective. I would also proffer that the continued existence of the Jewish people is likewise "illogical," that is, miraculous.

But what about Islam? Two basic factors seem to be have been at work in its founding. First, Mohammed, while never claiming to be divine himself, essentially produced a Judeo-Christian heresy that affirmed a key truth (monotheism) while rejecting others (the Incarnation, the Trinity), etc. Some of the attractive features of Islam are rooted, even if uneasily, in truth: moral absolutes, judgment, monotheism, etc. Secondly, Islam would have died after Mohammed received his first "revelations" if he hadn't changed tactics drastically, going from a friendly/tolerant approach to his non-Islamic neighbors to a violent/conquering approach (see 111 Questions on Islam | Samir Khali Samir, S.J. on Islam and the West for details). Put another way, the early Christians were willing to die for their belief in the God-man who came, lived, died, and was raised from the dead. The early Muslims were willing to kill and conquer in order to spread the teachings of "the Prophet." Of course, it's politically-incorrect to talk about those beginnings, but the facts are facts.

Given what we know about Mohammed, his times, and his tactics, it's not altogether surprising that Islam flourished and spread rapidly. But the growth of Christianity is truly strange and unique: there were many little sects (Jewish, Greek, Roman, etc.) in the first century, so why did Christianity survive? The early Christians claimed that Jesus was God, was raised from the dead--and were willing to die for that belief. Few liars or opportunists will die for something they know is false, so most or all of those martyrs must have believed what they said about Jesus was true. In that case, does it make more sense that they were, in fact, telling the truth, or that they had suffered a mass hallucination, or been tricked (by Apostles who also died as martyrs?!), or who simply misunderstood who Jesus was (in other words, they were all fools)?


Carl... I am glad you addressed that comparison with Christianity and Islam. Islam was and still is to a large extent a movement of political power and this is not necessarily a bad thing. The rapid growth of the political philosophy of the United States in other nations was a good thing and reflected similar characteristics. The growth of Christianity was very far from the product of the worldly advantages it gave a person in its first centuries.

Manuel G. Daugherty Razetto

The momentous influence greek philosophy played in our Theology, helped by the Latin culture that was dying as classical civilisation finally surrendering to a Christian Rome may help us understand better how Christianity, by being since her inception an autonomous society(organization, hierarchy, rules of membership etc.) gave birth to Europe, unifying it and beginning Western Civilization. No other religion can aspire to such triumph and continuity.

Gibbon, who has been lauded as well as critized for it, left us several historical reasons for such accomplishment: zeal of first Christians-the promise of a future Life- miracles- great morality- togetherness with rules of discipline that gradually became the soul and heart of the Roman Empire.

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