In her Christmas address, Her Majesty said nothing much, but she said it well. Staying away from any specifics, she struck a note of Christian hope:
“It is true that the world has had to confront moments of darkness this year, but the Gospel of John contains a verse of great hope, often read at Christmas carol services: ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’.”
This isn’t a policy recommendation. It’s a reiteration of the Queen’s faith, and long may she reign over us, for her heir has already said he’d like to be known as ‘Defender of Faith’, rather than the monarch’s statutory title ‘Defender of the Faith’.
The Prince’s broadmindedness is consonant with the Zeitgeist, that particularly toxic spirit in which no religion is bad, even though some practitioners of some religions, such as Islam, may be unsavoury.
However, any attempt to tie their practices to their faith must be nipped in the bud. Islam is supposed to be like Christianity, a religion of peace. That the Koran contains 146 verses inciting violence, whereas the New Testament contains none, can be glossed over with enviable sleight of hand.
When this ignorant folly stays in the realm of mindless chatter, it’s palatable. Unfortunately, however, it seems to be guiding the West’s policy, steering it into troubled waters.
The Pope inadvertently demonstrated this in his own Christmas message, where he didn’t limit himself to an abstract statement of love being the essence of Christianity.
His Holiness went a step further by recommending that Israelis and Palestinians negotiate a bit more and work out a two-state settlement to allow them “to live together in harmony”.
Alas, specific recommendations elicit specific questions. Such as, “Haven’t there been enough negotiations over the last 65 years?” Or, “Don’t you think that the Muslims’ visceral hatred of Israel in particular and Jews in general (some of those 146 violent verses deal with this specifically) just may be a permanent obstacle to settlement?” Or, “Considering the situation, for Israel to accept the creation of a terrorist Islamic state on her border would be tantamount to suicide, wouldn’t it?”
I’d suggest that the Pope should either follow the Queen’s lead and outline general Christian principles without going into specifics or, like Urban II in 1095, call for action based on a realistic assessment of the nature of Islam:
“I, or rather the Lord, beseech you as Christ’s heralds… to carry aid promptly to those Christians and to destroy that vile race from the lands of our friends… Moreover, Christ commands it.”
Instead the Pontiff steered a middle course, proving yet again that sometimes nothing is the best thing to say. Our own prelates, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, should also have heeded the Queen’s example.
The Rt Hon Welby compared ISIS to Herod in that both set out to wipe out Christianity at source, adding diplomatically that ISIS hates not only Christians and Jews but also “Muslims who think differently”.
I’d be tempted to suggest that “Muslims who think differently” are questionable Muslims in that they ignore those 146 Koran verses, not to mention the examples set by their religion’s founders.
In essence the good Archbishop enunciated the oft-repeated mantra of Islam being a religion of peace lamentably hijacked by a few extremists (Messrs Bush, Blair, Obama and Cameron, ring your office).
And his Catholic counterpart, the Primate of England and Wales, delivered a message of downright pacifism: “In a life shaped by faith in God, there is absolutely no room at all for gratuitous violence. Is there any space for violence in the Christmas crib? No!”
True enough, there was no violence in the crib. But eventually the baby in it grew up and uttered these words: “Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.”
Open-ended pacifism isn’t just bad policy – it’s bad Christianity. History’s greatest Christians, while accepting that war is evil, still believed that there exist evils that can be even worse. If such evils can only be stopped by violence, then in that instance violence is no longer gratuitous and is to be condoned.
That’s why such seminal figures as St Augustine of Hippo (whose The City of God first expressed the concept of just war in Christian terms) and St Thomas Aquinas, have always blessed righteous war for as long as it stayed righteous – and damned unjust war for as long as it stayed unjust.
Urban II clearly regarded armed opposition to Islam as just war, while Cardinal Nichols denies the very existence of this notion – not even if war is to be waged in defence of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
So is the Queen a better Christian than the prelates? It’s either that or she has better advisors. Then again, her 63 years on the tottering British throne have taught Her Majesty the sage art of saying little.