B. Thornton on Common Word

Matthew linked to this series on National Review’s Uncommon Knowledge (link is to pt 2 of 5) with Bruce Thornton a Professor of Classics at Cal-Fresno. He discusses his new book Decline and Fall Europe’s Slow Motion Suicide. Thornton is interviewed by Peter Robinson (from Hoover) who imo is one of the best interviewers out there.

Thornton echoing arguments of Mark Steyn and Samuel Huntington argues that because Europe has abandoned its Judeo-Christian roots embracing secularism it is headed to both demographic winter and will be unable to stop the inevitable Islamicization of Europe.

I’ll deal with what Thornton says in the interviews in a separate post, but since I had never heard of this man before I googled him and found this interesting piece he (BT) wrote in the City Journal entitled Epistle to the Muslims.

The background to this piece is a letter written in Oct 2007 signed by 138 Muslim clerics (from both branches, first time this has ever happened) calling for a Common Word between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. Recall the furor over Pope Benedict’s citation of a Byzantine Emperor from the 14th century who called Islam an irrational faith and the dust up over that episode. The Pope went to Turkey and called for Turkish admission into the EU and pushed for the rights of Christians and minority religious groups in Turkey.

You can download and read A Common Word here. A Common Word argues that all three Abrahamic religions (Christ, Jud., and Islam) have at their core two central propositions: Love/Devotion to God and Love of Neighbor.

Citations from the Quran, the New Testament, and the Torah are amassed to ground this claim.

This is actually quite an interesting document. Politically as well as theologically. So conservatives have been railing for the voice of (so-called) moderate Islam since 9/11 and here it would seem is a perfect example–something to be cheered right?

Well according to Thornton no.

After a Common Word, a number of Christian theologians (principally emanating from Yale Divinity School) took out a full page letter/ad in the NyTimes to welcome the letter and call for further dialogue and action on this front.

You can read their letter here. Scroll down to #32 Nov 18th, 2007. You can also read a number of Christian responses all helpfully linked their on the site–particularly interesting is the Pope’s response (#34).

So Thornton calls this Christian response The Epistle to the Muslims (disparagingly).

Here’s Thornton’s take:

“But if it [the Nov. NyTimes Christian response] accurately represents the thinking of mainstream Christian leadership, then Christianity in America is in deep trouble.”

Why exactly would Christianity be in trouble?

The response opens on a familiar self-loathing note, in the therapeutic style that has convinced jihadists that Christianity in the West is an empty shell, a mere lifestyle choice. Noting that Muslim and Christian “relations have sometimes been tense, even characterized by outright hostility,” the letter professes “that in the past (e.g. in the Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in excesses of the ‘war on terror’) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors,” and so “we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”

Wow you might be thinking to yourself (or not), pretty good take down.

Except for that little ellipsis in his quotation of the text. He’s down a nice little slice and dice job so it looks like his argument about the “self-loathing” and “therapeutic style” hits home.


If you read the (NyTimes) text it states as follows:

“Since Jesus Christ says, ‘First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye (Mt. 7:5),’ we want to begin by acknowledging that in the past (e.g. Crusades) and in the present (e.g. in the excesses of “war on terror”) many Christians have been guilty of sinning against our Muslim neighbors.”

Now it may be self-loathing therapeutic postmodernist secularism infecting and eroding “liberal” Christianity from within–so the jihadis (where the hell did they come from again–are the Muslims scholars who signed A Common Word de facto supporters of terrorism—nice smear job by the Prof.) should rightly see us as paper tigers–OR


They were following the duty of Christians as laid about by their Savior Jesus Christ recorded in Holy Writ. Which is clearly what they cite (not Chomsky) as guidance for the point they make.

Thornton again:

The groveling self-abasement of this language, particularly its begging forgiveness of Allah, is matched only by its remarkable historical ignorance. “Outright hostility” has indeed existed between Muslims and Christians, for the simple reason that for 13 centuries Islam grew and spread by war, plunder, rapine, and enslavement throughout the Christian Middle East. Allah’s armies destroyed regions that were culturally Christian for centuries, variously slaughtering, enslaving, and converting their inhabitants, or allowing them to live as oppressed dhimmi, their lives and property dependent on a temporary “truce” that Muslim overlords could abrogate at any time.

Newsflash Professor. The word Al-lah (the god in Arabic) has been used by Arab Christians for God for centuries and continues to be so used today. Not sure that Arab Christians have been groveling for oh these long years. Funny, I thought they were dignified human beings.

Also they recognize the “excesses” of the war on terror which is actually a carefully worded phrase leaving open some validity (it would seem) to the (so-called) war on terror. Not totally self-abasing language it would seem.

On this other point of the Islam is a religion of rape and murder theme. It is certainly true that Islam built an empire quickly and empires are built with military prowess. See Britain in the 19th century, or America in the 20th for other examples.

Islam’s empire came from within as it were. Christianity converted a pre-existing (without) Empire, The Roman, and then proceeded to oppress Jews and Pagan slaughtering God only knows how many thousands in the process.

This is why Empires are very bad by today’s standards: Christian, Islamic, or otherwise. They were better than tribal arrangements which fought one another otherwise. Empires unify tribes which on the positive side decrease intra-tribal warfare at the cost of projecting more violence at enemies beyond the empire. And any conquered group not considered within the bounds of the Empire are relegated to minority/oppressed status–e.g. dhimmitude in the Islamic Empire.

That’s why modern social contract liberal democratic governments are to be preferred–and globalization which creates economic warfare between the nations (which not without serious problems is probably to be preferred to imperial conquests and wars).

And there are elements that seek a renewed Islamic Empire while generally Christianity is not in such a phase. (Though the War on Terror is seen by many as Christian–both pro and con it). But even that could change with a renewed Christianization of Sub-Saharan Africa or China or South Korea.

But there is no argument that a modernized post-imperial Islam (like a truly modernized Christianity) is any threat to world peace.  And A Common Word might better be viewed as a very small start in that direction.

After going on to try to semi-defend/apologize for the Crusades as a proper self-defense against Islamic aggression and then defending the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza because Jews have had “a 3,000 year old connection to the land”—-uh like Arabs don’t as well???–Thornton actually makes a decent point:

For its part, A Common Word makes no apologies for the violence that Islam has perpetrated against Christian people up to the present day.

This is true and a deficiency of the Common Word text. For Thornton it is proof that the West (particularly given his book Europe) is heading to a neo-dhimmitude.

The Christian letter does quote from Common Word and highlights a call for religious freedom everywhere. The classic Qu’ran line on this is: “There is no compulsion in religion.” This is a shrewd move on the part of the signatories–which as I read it involves a little bit of theological elbow to the ribs and some “talk the talk, walk the walk” to it. Maybe my reading of that is incorrect. It’s open to interpretation. But I think it has more to say for it (and again is shrewder just as Benedict’s more recent calls for reciprocal religious freedom) can slowly start to shift the moral high ground.

Common Word correctly states that 1/2 humans on this planet are either Christian or Muslim.  The religions have a long history of mutual violence.  If some resolution is not reached between the two, then the world will not see peace.

That fact is indisputable.  The divergence comes in how then to deal with that fact.

On the one hand is the way of reciprocity, dialog, and a Common Word (common values to promote like justice and mercy).

On the other hand the (I believe) dark road of Thornton, which is what–renewed imperialism and control of the Muslim world and Christian supremacism?

Published in: on March 15, 2008 at 5:49 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. CJ,


    Wow, CJ your balance, your analysis is awe-inspiring. So being consistent with the living example of Jesus is “self-loathing”. Perhaps Thornton missed the style of all of the Prophets.

  2. thanks bro.

    i really don’t like having to write those kinds of posts, but if those words/that thinking are out there they have to be corrected.

    peace. cj

  3. […] Posted by cjsmith under Christianity, Integral, Law, Politics, Religion-Science   I said in the last post on Prof. Bruce Thornton I would deal with his views as expressed in the 5 part Uncommon Knowledge […]

  4. Hi. I like to bring to your attention a response to Commonn Word that a UK-based Christian charity (for lack of a better) that has special ministry with Muslims wrote.


    Basically, they say the letter by the Muslims is not what it appears to be at face value because it’s using a very particular vocabulary that allows for a dualism.. to the Christians who may not be well versed in Islam (and I can assure you that Libreal Protestant denomination are not very well aquianted with Islam) it looks like an appeal to common values however it’s couched in the language and tradition of Da’wa.

    Da’wa is analogous to evangelicizing… an appeal to a non-muslim to join the Islam.

    I’ll paste a few interesting exceprts from the Barnabas response:

    Intended audience
    While addressed to a specific group of Christian leaders, the fact that it is an open letter widely disseminated by the world media means that world public opinion is another intended audience. Furthermore, certain terminology in the letter, as well as the choice of Qur`anic quotations cited, suggest that the letter is also intended for the global Muslim audience. It is not unusual in Islamic discourse for different messages to be delivered to the different audiences. This is permitted by the Islamic doctrine of taqiyya (dissimulation) which allows Muslims to practise deception in certain circumstances. It appears that the Christian vocabulary of the letter is intended to guide Christian readers to the erroneous conclusion that Islam and Christianity are basically identical religions, focusing on love to God and to the neighbour. The hidden messages for Muslims are contained in the many polemical quotations from the Qur`an.

    Reading between the lines
    On the surface the letter looks like a well intentioned and urgent plea for a better understanding between Muslims and Christians, so as to avert an apocalyptic war between the two largest religious blocs in the world.

    If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace . . . the very survival of the world itself is at stake . . . So let our differences not cause hatred and strife between us.

    However, the letter goes on to lay the blame for all wars in which Muslims and Christians are involved on the actions of Christians.

    As Muslims, we say to Christians that we are not against them and that Islam is not against them – so long as they do not wage war against Muslims on account of their religion, oppress them and drive them out of their homes. [emphasis added]

    This implies that the war against Islamist terrorism is a global war of Christianity against Islam, and that Christianity is the aggressor against Islam (which is the radical Islamist view). There is no sense of sorrow or remorse for the wrongs inflicted by Muslims on Christians historically, or indeed currently in many Muslim lands. There is no recognition that in many places things may be the opposite, with Muslims oppressing Christians and driving them from their homes (e.g. in Iraq, Sudan, Nigeria, Indonesia and Pakistan). There is no mention of the Christian communities in Muslim lands suffering other kinds of persecution and discrimination. There is no admission that Muslim actions could have played any part in the alienation between Muslims and Christians.

    Classical Islam teaches that the world is divided into two parts: Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) where political power is in the hands of Muslims, and Dar al-Harb (the House of War) which is the rest of the world. With this in mind, the “Open Letter and Call” is seen to be reminiscent of the traditional Islamic approach to non-Muslims outside the House of Islam. This approach consisted of a “call to Islam” (i.e. a call to convert to Islam) including the threat that if the non-Muslims do not convert they will be subject to a destructive military attack (jihad) aimed at subjugating Jews and Christians, and annihilating other non-Muslims. Hence the name “House of War” for non-Islamic territory. Only if the non-Muslims embrace Islam or submit to Islamic political power can they avert the attack. In the light of this tradition, the 2007 Muslim warning to non-Muslims about how to avoid war can be read in a very different way. Do some of the Muslim signatories see it as the traditional call and warning before an imminent attack on non-Muslims, an attack intended to win Islamic supremacy? The very word “call” in the title of the document drops a large hint in this direction, at least to Muslim readers.

    Expression of Islamic mission (da`wa)
    Although presented as interfaith dialogue, the letter can equally be viewed as a classical example of Islamic da`wa (mission). It is a call to accept the Muslim concept of the unity of God (tawhid) and therefore to reject the incompatible Christian views of the Trinity and the deity of Christ.

    In their stress on monotheism and the unity of God, the Muslim leaders quote a number of verses from the Qur`an which express the Muslim concept of a God with no associates and no partners – verses which have always traditionally been interpreted as a direct attack on the basic Christian doctrines of the Trinity and of Christ`s deity. For instance, Q3:64, quoted numerous times in the letter, calls the People of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) to agree not to ascribe partners to God and not to take other lords beside him.

    Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (Aal `Imran 3:64)

    This Qur`anic verse has always been understood as a call to deny the Trinity and the deity of Christ. In the Saudi-sponsored English Qur`an of Hilali and Khan (Interpretation of the Meanings of the Noble Qur`an in the English Language, published in Riyadh by Darussalam) this verse has a footnote which quotes the letter Muhammad sent to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius, calling upon him and his people to embrace Islam and including the threat that the rejection of this call would lead to severe consequences. It may be that a similar frame of mind lies behind the letter in which this verse is so often quoted.


    From my research into Islam and the curent revival movement in our time, I agree with the Barnabas POV of this letter. I believe this letter fits the historical pattern of jihad war that Muslims adhere to.

    What’s interesting is that the Professor and Barnabas make the same observations about the letter.. That basically the Muslims find no fault on their side. And that if there is to be peace, then the “Christian” side needs to come to an understanding with the Muslim side (or else… ?)

    If I’m not mistaken.. almost all the conflict in the world today involves Muslims on one side or the other. I suggest that it isn’t the West that needs to change behavior but “Islam”.

    in that regard, I agree with the Professor’s “tone”. Seeing how the real motivation of the letter can be viewed as a declaration of war, I see nothing wrong with criticizing other Christians who naively view the letter not from an Islamic context, but a modern day Western context. Modern day Westerners didn’t write “Common word”.

    That the Muslims don’t view the world the same way that the West is evidenced by the fact the Muslims addressed a letter like this to Christians.

    Christians have no major influence in Europe and in the United States christians do not much to say with how the State Department handles diplomacy.

    If the Muslims wanted an effective reception and consideration they would be writing these letters to Western political leaders. but i think because of the particular way that Islam views the world they think perhaps that christianity is the same thing as the state.

    So it’s important to really try to view this letter with the Islamic POV.

  5. Vince

    Let me get this straight, a letter asking for a common ground and peace appealing to the Christian-nature of the Western Civilization (not the state departments) is really is a coded, subversive manifesto to Muslim to launch the global Jihad world-wide.

    LOL, hillarous.

    Question, what coded message is Al Qaeda sending to the Muslim in their messages, make peace with non-Muslims or is their message devoid of code, but why would that be because as you say Islamically, in war you can use deception and they actually declared war shouldn’t they message be coded.

    Remember the letter was a response to the Pope to diffuse emotional Muslims from dumb reactions. Why diffuse it in this manner when you can add oil on the fire.

    Not only that but you totally ignore the realities of the contemporary situation. In case you have not notice, most Muslim Countries are Third World countries, plagued by so much internal strife that they are incapable of launching national efforts to clean their villages let alone a global military jihad.

    In fact the highlights in the Muslim world, are in the Gulf region (oil producers), which is the greatest beneficiaries of Western Countries. Do you really think they want to end that? These countries import most of the countries’ professional from other countries because the lack the people to do the job and all of this done through oil money.

    So if your conspiracy theory rings true the oil companies are really front organizations, who true agenda is to spread western addictions to oil and make them uttely dependent on it, right before launching the global war.

    I do admit the letter does turn a blind eye to Muslim atrocities around the world, which CJ did acknowledge.

    As far as the infamous “Da’wah”, your right it means to invite, however it is much deeper than that. As Muslim we are told that our speech should be dawah our actions should be dawah, a husband treatment to his family should be dawah. Da’wah in this sense mean exemplary conduct that creates an attraction for outside people. Take the Salafi/Wahhabi Da’wah, it has nothing to do with converting non-Muslim their da’wah is solely to Muslims.

    So in the sense of this letter it is Da’wah because it trying to up the moral diaglogue or take the moral high ground in an exemplary manner, especially in light of the Pope’s negative comments.

    Lastly, if you know anything about the Muslim conflicts around the world its purely territorial by screaming Islamic themes you moblize people and gets financial support. This is the case in Kashmir, Chechyna, etc.. etc.. It’s the Islamic equivalent to cries for human rights and demomcracy in Eastern Europe, which is always supported with monetary and logistical help from the west. Also lets not forget the most destructive wars in terms of death are products of western ideologies but then again maybe the Muslim made facism and communism to trap the west.


  6. vince,

    i read the link you sent and while it makes a valid point or two, I think it’s stretching alotta half truths. along the lines enigmatic laid out.

    the first thing i would say is this is in many ways a new venture and no doubt different signatories to the document interpret it in very different ways.

    so as a first move in this direction, it’s bound to come with all sorts baggage. so echoes and patterns of language and thought probably are coming through. but how does change happen otherwise?

    i see it much more light of the struggle within Islam itself. no doubt mainline (whatever that is) Islam has not yet gone through a Transformation comparable to the Liberal Prot turn or Vatican II. But criticizing it for not being there alone is like taking a ladder out and then yelling at somebody down on the ground for their inability to reach the roof.

    that’s not to excuse things. it is to say it’s going to have to grow from within its own parameters. The West can not stay totally isolated from this development and certainly Christians can not because of Christians throughout the Muslim world, often living in oppressive situations.

    But I think this is a start and the more these issues become public debate, then these background worldviews will come to light. which I think is a very good thing.

    peace. cj

  7. cj,

    Great representations of viewpoints. In fact, outstanding.

    Thanks, vince, for sharing the background of Da’Wah. I have seen this in action and it is impressive. A new friend who is a 15 year convert to Islam from Evangelic Christianity impressed me to the point of smiling. She *represented* Islam in America I hope; thoughtful, intelligent, confident.

    It was easy for her to explain the gulf between our respective viewpoints. I found her’s to be enlightened and enlightening. I was neither challenged about my beliefs nor was I swayed. I did come to understand, for the first time, that we do not have any problems to resolve, only knowledge to exchange. If that was Da’Wah, it is neither malicious nor deceptive. It seems to be the very same behavior we in the west used to call “mutual respect”.

    Many cultures have a distinct identity from which they draw their individual pride. That does not make them a threat.

    fwiw, I could read the statements in either light. Vince is right in that the audience is everything. It would then follow that this is an explanation, no more.

    I believe my Pope is currently seeking peace, regardless of his references to history in an historical setting. If they who *represent* Islam are sending a message of peace to another peaceful leader of men, why can’t we believe it?

    btw, has anyone tried to help them understand that we (Christians) don’t have false gods? Not according to the Baltimore Catachism. We believe in only one God, the God of Moses. If it were explained better, would they see we have no conflict of faith? Or does this little point get lost in the chaos of politics…


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