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ecumenical jihad

if you follow my reading bar, you might've noticed i recently read boston college philosophy professor peter kreeft's ecumenical jihad, sort of a written expansion on a speech he gave @ calvin college in '98 called "how to win the culture war" (incidentally, it's during the q&a session @ the end of that speech that he said he'd have a website "when hell freezes over" -- voila, peterkreeft.com). i thought the book, as a whole, was fantastic. kreeft picks up on one of my favorite themes, that of the civitas dei juxtaposed w/ the city of man:
the war is very old, of course -- as old as eden. what is new is the global strategy of the city of the world. (p. 12)
that strategy? to divide and conquer the city of god, primarily over issues of sex and morality. in my own denomination, the strategy appears to be working quite well.

kreeft, a rational thinker, as most academics seem to be, goes about @ first establishing his argument for commitment to "objective morality" or "natural law" (a very r.c. thing to do, and something w/ which i entirely agree). weaving through topics like statecraft and reformation, kreeft posits "how god solves the insoluble":
it is impossible for us to solve the tangled problem of comparative religions. it is also impossible, it seems, to win the war against secularization and moral relativism . . . . and so god, i suggest, is working right now to deal w/ both problems w/ the same stroke, which i will call the "ecumenical jihad". the age of religious wars is ending: the age of religious war is beginning: a war of all religion against none. (26)
kreeft draws great comfort from the fact that satan has chosen to attack all religion, which has driven the religious together into a sort of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" alliance. and, he suggests, if we stop our infighting about papal infallibility or the solas, we will come to find that the "cosmic jihad" causes us to "love each other and fight side by side to the death for the love of the same christ." (28)

i won't summarize all the arguments kreeft presents (get the book and read it yourself; it's well-written, thought provoking and quite radical in its own way), but one tactic he employed might sound a little "universalist" to the more evangelically minded orthodox among us, myself included. it's the way he skirts universalism (skirts? practically embraces is more like it) that keeps my mind and heart @ ease, however. he writes that xtianity, like the other theistic systems in the world, aren't merely idealistic. we aren't serving an ideal; we are in the service of reality. as such, when a xtian or a jew or a muslim truly practices islam, in the sense that the word can mean total submission to god, and obeys wholeheartedly the commands god has revealed, there is more that unites us than that divides us as we push back against the spirit of the age (thank you, flannery, for that turn of phrase).

after answering anticipated criticisms of his jihad idea, kreeft comes to the defense of the "f-words" -- fanatic and fundamentalist. in the ecusa, whatever is seen as "fundamentalist" is automatically tainted, deemed bad, poo-poo'd. but i don't believe, and neither does kreeft, that that has to be the case. could it not be the case that the voices of our generation -- media, entertainment, liberal secularism -- try to shout us down as fundamentalists b/c of a deep-seated guilt? do they not know the truth and rail against it all the more mightily b/c it resonates so deeply w/in them? kreeft also asks whether it's fear that drives the attack, b/c although god may not have left us irrefutable scientific proof that he exists and wants to be in relationship w/ us, neither has anyone come forward w/ proof that religion is simply the desperate imagination of a frightened humanity trying to stave off death and explain eclipses. finally, might not they be envious of something that we have, whether that is a claim to have a grasp on some answers to life's greatest questions, a drama to life, something (someone, rather) to which we are in service that demands and even deserves fanaticism?

needless to say, kreeft claims that our fanaticism (to god, of course; nothing else is worthy of it), our passion is absolutely necessary if we are to fight our fight. do not shirk from carrying the mantle of a fanatic. for one reason, jesus carried it, and it took him to the cross, even as ours may take us into pain and suffering and even the glory of martyrdom. nevertheless, he cautions:
we must also not confuse holy fanaticism with narrowness. the saints, who were the most "fanatical" and "simplistic", were also the most fascinatingly creative, unpredictable, and original individuals who ever lived. the reason is simple: once you know the one absolute, you can sit lightly on and play w/ everything else, even life itself . . . . [also] we should not be surprised to find an increasing tide of vilification, propaganda, censorship, and outright lies in the three secular establishments [education, journalism and entertainment]. [but] if we follow all our commander's battle instructions, we will also do something all the saints did, but something we don't hear about any more today: we will rejoice when we are persecuted and vilified. (58-59)
like i said of barack obama in a post earlier this week, i'm looking for a hero to follow, and that's something i can suffer and die for.

now, all that being said, kreeft gets a little goofy around chapters 6 and 7. i'm w/ him when he urges defense of the family, the raising of xtian voices in the public square, a stronger stance against evils like abortion, drugs (forget all that stuff i said earlier about legalizing marijuana; i was, obviously, high), violence; where i start to lose him is when he recounts a vision he had one day after he wiped out, swept asunder by a killer wave while he was surfing. miraculously, he is visited by confucious, the buddha, mohammed and moses on a beach in new england. i'll readily admit that new england is near 'bout as close to heaven as one can get on this earth, but the idea that great spiritual ancients are meandering about its beaches on holiday from purgatory seems a bit shady. as a literary device, it's intriguing; as reality, well, i don't know. nor do i know how well his "trialogue" b/tw c. s. lewis, martin luther and thomas aquinas achieves his purposes. but i do understand what he's building on. earlier on in the book, before strange visitations and surreptitious and anachronistic eavesdropping, kreeft emphasized the portions of vatican ii that encourage investigation of wisdom found in other religious. if there is anything that is "true" in those religions, then we can be assured that it is from god, for god is truth and the enemy of the father of lies (who, it is rumored, lives in the bronx, somewhere around yankee stadium). if we study other faiths seriously and critically, kreeft believes we'll find reminders of some of the "forgotten riches in our tradition," and that's why he goes on about talking to confucious et al.

for me, however, the most poignant portion of the book is its end, where kreeft argues that the eucharist is key to ecumenism. dr. k gives a short account of his journey from evangelicalism to catholicism (which i relished, tom, b/c it seemed as if you were corporeally present in my bedroom as i read, whispering "did you hear that? what he said, that was good, wasn't it?"), then defends its doctrines, then he gets to the meat of this last, best argument. the eucharist is where jesus is most fully present on earth (i'm a predestinarian anglican who believes in transubstantiation -- figure that one out!), but "might he be present to the dreams of the myth-makers, with their strange stories of dying and rising gods?" might he not be present in other religions in some ways (i can't answer that question)? i can agree, however, that god "hides" in the souls of xtians who have eaten his flesh and drunk his blood in the eucharist, and the echoes of the mass ring out to all the world when we go out after ita missa est is spoken. it's the incarnation all over again! jesus came, 2000 years ago, in a righteous invasion of a sinful and fallen world. when we take him into ourselves, when we obey his commands, when we love him w/ all our hearts, when we practice islam in that we are totally submitted to god, the invasion continues. he ends w/ this "ecumenical optimism":
the god who invented the eucharist is the god who invented the human heart, and he invented the eucharist to satisfy that heart. therefore if one follows his heart's deepest hungers, its deepest loves, and its deepest wisdom, then even if he begins as a truth-seeking atheist or agnostic, he will become religious, then theistic, then christian, then catholic [apologies to my more protestant brethren and sisthren (?) here], if he follows this road consistently and intelligently enough. the deepest thing sought by all religions and all men is the christ of the eucharist. and this christ has solemnly promised that all who seek him will find him. (162)
therefore, we pray the our father, asking every day for god's kingdom to come on earth -- in oxford, mississippi, and lyons, kansas, and marblehead, massachusetts, and rome and calcutta and tokyo and st. petersburg and kingston and panama and chile and laos and greenland -- even as it is now in heaven. an example of what we can learn from muslims? they pray @ least 5x a day; most of us do well to pray 5x a week. but if we will pray, fervently and earnestly, then kreeft believes (and so do i) that we will win our ecumenical jihad: "the power that will reunite the church and win the world is eucharistic adoration." (164) so buckle up, folks. the war's on.


  • At 12:30 AM, Blogger Caleb said…

    Sam, it seems as though Kreeft is creeping dangerously close to pluralism. I just can't get beyond Christ's proclamation that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and that no one comes unto the Father but by Him. So, what does Kreeft do with a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist who totally submits before his god and yet continues to deny Christ?

    Another question: You have summarized Kreeft as saying that the world order has united to fight against all religions....could it be that false religions are united with the secular world against Christ and His kingdom? I recall Paul writing, I think in 1 or 2 Corinthians, that idols are nothing but demons. Surely, demons are against Christ and His kingdom, and yet people worship idols in their "religion". How then could a religion in which a demon is worshiped be aligned with a religion in which Christ is worshiped in battle against the world? Something doesn't seem to hold here.

    I respect Peter Kreeft very much, and I have enjoyed his work that I've read. I guess though, these are some things that I have serious questions about, and I reckon that they boil down to one or two umbrella questions. First, would Kreeft affirm that Christ is the only way to God, and if so, would he then claim that true practicers of Islam are saved through Christ without their knowledge? Second, is there even such a thing as "false religion" for Kreeft?


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