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There are enormous differences between Catholicism and Islam, but they have much in common. To list their principal similarities : both are monotheisms; both recognize Jesus as a Prophet; both make daily prayer obligatory, although Islam prescribes multiple daily prayers for all its adherents, while Catholicism imposes the Divine Office only on its religious orders and clergy; both believe their Founder ascended into Heaven (one on a cloud, the other on a horse); both consider what their Founder said (neither wrote anything) to be the Word of God ; and most importantly, both religions believe they have a monopoly on the truth.

It is striking that though Catholicism has been forced in recent centuries to abandon the temporal, political and military power it once had and exercised, literally and figuratively with a vengeance, notably against Muslims, and has now neither armed divisions nor vast territories, its supreme authority and headquarters retains the status of … a State. Islam is, in our own time, trying to recreate the Caliphate through its expanding “Islamic State”. It is a consummation devoutly to be wished that after a much shorter period of terrorism and dictatorship than it took to bring the Catholic Church under control, Islam will be enlightened enough or even forced, to become just a religion again, deprived of power over the lives of its members and, through terror, over the rest of us. The task may be more difficult because of a major difference between Islam and Catholicism : there is no equivalent in Islam of a centralized authority similar to the Vatican. But even if Islamic extremists’ political, totalitarian ambition to rule the world is one day contained, both Islam and Catholicism will continue to exercise considerable influence over the minds of their followers.

One can describe the range of belief both in Catholicism and Islam in terms of a line from one extreme to another. As I believe that the normal, rational, unbiased, objective view of the Universe, of life and of death is to refuse to accept fantasy and myth as truth, I begin with atheism. My own is not your everyday “Believe what you like; I don’t buy any of that religious nonsense”, but an active dedication to inviting others to share the freedom atheism has given me by abandoning all religious belief and practice.

So I begin the gamut with Militant Atheism, way out there on the left. Moving to the right we have , in turn, more or less militant Atheism – Agnosticism – Doubt – Belief on the Brink – Total Indifference – Cool to Warm to Red-Hot Faith – and, finally, Fanaticism and Terrorism. The right-of-center categories include Catholics who range from the indifferent to the lukewarm to the devout to the Pentecostalists to the pre-Vatican 2, Tridentine lovers of the Latin Mass to the fanatics of Catholic fundamentalism. I am not familiar enough with Islam to describe in detail possibly similar degrees and manifestations of their faith. But different from the Catholic Church mercifully deprived of the power it had during the Dark Ages and notably during the Inquisitions and, in some measure, during the era of the Papal States, the extreme right of Islam today is terrorism while the extreme right of current Catholicism is “mere” fanaticism.

The challenge of Islamic terrorism, practised by armies or bands of Jihadists or individuals brainwashed into using their own bodies as IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices) or beheading randomly chosen people in Sydney’s Martin Place or the mountains of Algeria, is not going to go away any time soon. It is virtually impossible to win a war against guerrillas, as we discovered at great cost in Vietnam. But if we capitulate to the imposition of Charia “law”, humanity will be condemned to live in slavery. We need a Muslim George Orwell.

“Sapienti sat” – that should be enough for the wise. Another “voeu pieux”, a “pious wish”, wishful thinking ? The guru who can solve all this has no doubt not yet been born. Many will continue to distinguish Islam from Islamism (though it is difficult to believe that the Jihadists’ motivation is not Qu’ran-Hadith driven), to say nice things about devout, God-fearing, law-abiding Muslims, to regret the structure of their decentralized, Pope-less religion and the impotency of their imams to eradicate the fanaticism and terrorism their religion produces in their mosques and madrassas.

In the meantime, the Jihadist expansion goes on. Can it be eliminated militarily ? Like some American generals, I fear not. We are in for a long haul of trying to contain at least the most violent of the manifestations of Islamic terrorism. But, as the Brits would say, the real battle is for the hearts and minds of Muslims everywhere. We have not been terribly effective in eradicating Catholic credulity (but some of us will keep on blogging …). We can only hope that enlightened Muslims, even if they continue to believe in Allah, will begin to preach an Islam that leaves the Dark Ages behind them, at least to the point of renouncing violence, forced conversions and the imposition of the Charia. After all we did succeed in taking the teeth out of the Inquisition, and in getting the Church to recognize that it had to change its views on geocentrism, evolution and a literal understanding of its sacred texts. The Church has laid down its arms, put away its instruments of torture, no longer punishes people for disagreeing with Church doctrine; it lives and lets live with dissidents, Protestants, Jews, Muslims and even atheists. This is a lot to expect from Islamic State or our own young citizens leaving home to join them. But even if we can’t convince them that Allah does not exist, that like Christianity Islam is blindfaithblindfolly, perhaps we can settle for less and try to lead them at least to accept the non-violent cohabitation of people of different faiths and even people with no faith at all.

P.S. Just a few hours ago before posting this, a fourth hostage was decapitated by Jihadists. After the two American and one British journalist, a French mountain-guide was beheaded in Algeria this evening in response to the French bombing of Jihadist installations and personnel in Iraq. It is hard to predict what will happen in the immediate future. The threat of both further barbarous acts of terrorism and a violent, irrational over-reaction is real. Religion poisons everything. Nothing to laugh at here. “Ridenda Religio” reverts to …