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Joseph Ratzinger’s silent crusade March 23, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics, religion.

Headlines around the world today announced the conversion to catholic creed of ex-muslim Magdi Allam, vice-director of the italian newspaper “Il Corriere della Sera”. Magdi lives in Italy under continuous watch and armed escort due to the several fatwas (death sentences) issued against him by religious leaders because of his articles, where he often expressed a deep criticism of islamic fundamentalism and of the violent nature of islam.

I believe his conversion to christianity -which is, in Magdi’s own words, “the arrival point of a gradual and deep interior meditation”- is indeed interesting and remarkable in a 56-years-old, cultured individual. I however think the real news is the fact that his conversion was so widely publicized, and the fact that the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist were given to Magdi in the spotlights of Easter’s vigil yesterday by none less than Pope Benedict XVI.

Ratzinger’s explicit act is a sort of challenge to islam. Because the catholic church has always tried to handle the conversion of muslims to christianity discreetly, in the knowledge of the risks involved and the wish to avoid a direct confrontation with islamic leaders. In his letter to Il Corriere Magdi explains:

“His Holiness launched an explicit and revolutionary message to a Church that so far has been even too cautious in the conversion of muslims, abstaining from proselitism in countries with an islamic majority and being silent on the reality of conversions in christian countries. For fear. The fear of being unable to protect the converts from their death penalty for apostasy and for fear of retaliation against christians living in islamic countries.”

I wonder whether this kind of putting out fire with gasoline is the right thing to do, in a world increasingly polarized by a clash between catholic and islamic countries. News of clerics stabbed to death in countries with a strong islamic presence, in the meantime, do not make it to the front page any more. If we agree that the West is to speak to the moderate ear of islamic countries in an attempt at damping conflicts, rather than sending bombers and army divisions to the Middle East, we cannot cheer to the choice of Ratzinger. Pope Wojtila would have avoided the provocation.



1. Fr. J. - March 23, 2008

I think this spotlight will serve to highlight the insanity among Islamic extremists. Call it gasoline on a fire or call it an immense act of bravery for the sake of Christ. Call it fearlessness on the part of both Magdi and Benedict. Call it a demonstration of sublime simplicity and public faithfulness.

Just because Muslims want Christians to be ashamed of our faith, does not mean we will be ashamed or pretend to be ashamed.

The inhumanity currently being practiced against Christians mirrors the Roman persecutions. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church. To refuse to pinch the incense before the altar of Islam is a profoundly Christian act. It is heroic.

2. Asad - March 23, 2008

I have never heard Muslims asking Christians to be ashamed of their faith. I cannot speak for all Muslims, but what I want from other communities is simply the freedom to practice my faith, the license to preach my faith, and the same respect granted to all people of faith. I think if Christians spoke about Muslims with the same respect that most of them show toward Jews, a great deal of the animosity between the to communities would dissolve.

3. carlbrannen - March 23, 2008

I guess when my dad converted to Catholicism it was a challenge to atheism.

4. Anonymous - March 24, 2008

My analysis is getting a lot of background from photon conversions — my colleagues and I have decided to blame Jesus.

5. dorigo - March 24, 2008

Dear fr j,

I deny it was bravery of either Ratzinger or Allam. The former risks zero, the latter is already under several fatwas – one more, one less, cannot change matters.

I rather believe that so much publicity is a rather dubious choice. We can all agree that danish newspapers have the right to publish cartoons of Muhammad, but we also have to acknowledge that it serves no other purpose than fueling fundamentalists. So, is it a good idea ? I think it is not.

I do not believe muslims want christians to be ashamed of their faith, in earnest. You look just as much an extremist to me as the ones you most seem to despise.


6. dorigo - March 24, 2008

Dear Asad,

I think I agree with what you say, but indeed there seem to be two very different kinds of muslims in the world: people like you, who speak reasonable words, and people who send fatwas or try to carry them out. It is hard for christian activists to distinguish these two souls. Much more useful to them is to call them two faces of the same coin.


7. dorigo - March 24, 2008

Anon, yes, too bad for those conversions… But as you know they do not happen without some external entity providing the conservation of four-momentum. Call it Jesus – I rather think it was poor detector design. And too bad that reverting to nichilism won’t do – for each electron-positron pair, you’d get at least twice as many photons back in.


8. Anonymous - March 24, 2008

Yep, there’s enough material in there to build a church. Too bad the calorimeter hasn’t seen the light yield.

9. Donny Phillips - March 24, 2008

Rev 12:11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.

Your blog reads as if you do not have the whole revelation of God through His Word.


10. Guess Who - March 24, 2008

This is an outrage! My mind is made up: from now on, I shall wage Holy War on Ratzinger, Allam and all of you heathens until you bow before the noodly glory of the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

11. DB - March 24, 2008

Watch the UK as well where Catholicism is making a lot of noise right now. First there was the conversion of Tony Blair, now Gordon Brown is facing a revolt from three Catholic Cabinet Ministers who want to vote against a bill permitting scientists to create human hybrid embryos. Around London there is a huge demand to get into private Catholic schools, and parents are converting just to be able to send their children there. Finally, Princess Anne’s son is about to marry a Catholic and will have to renounce his right to royal succession. Traditionally, UK Catholics have been ultra-conservative and devout but the new Catholics are mainly affluent fashion-conscious people for whom following the latest fad gives their life meaning.
When it stops being cool it’ll be dumped for the next fad.

12. dorigo - March 25, 2008

Donny, no, I have not seen the light of the Lord. I have seen light from distant galaxies though.


13. dorigo - March 25, 2008

GW, the FSM is well known around here. The late Riqie Arneberg was a devout follower, and she got me into it.

Hi DB,
interesting – so Great Britain is finally being conquered by the Vatican. Good luck… London is overrated anyway!


14. Guess Who - March 25, 2008

TD, there may be hope for you, but to be sure, are you wearing full pirate regalia?

15. dorigo - March 25, 2008

Lol! hard times ahead for school principals 🙂


16. Fr. J. - March 25, 2008

Asad– You have got to be kidding. Here is the testimony of Magdi Allam on the situation of Muslim converts to Christianity:

“For my part, I say that it is time to put an end to the abuse and the violence of Muslims who do not respect the freedom of religious choice. In Italy there are thousands of converts to Islam who live their new faith in peace. But there are also thousands of Muslim converts to Christianity who are forced to hide their faith out of fear of being assassinated by Islamic extremists who lurk among us. By one of those “fortuitous events” that evoke the discreet hand of the Lord, the first article that I wrote for the Corriere on Sept. 3, 2003 was entitled “The new Catacombs of Islamic Converts.” It was an investigation of recent Muslim converts to Christianity in Italy who decry their profound spiritual and human solitude in the face of absconding state institutions that do not protect them and the silence of the Church itself. Well, I hope that the Pope’s historical gesture and my testimony will lead to the conviction that the moment has come to leave the darkness of the catacombs and to publicly declare their desire to be fully themselves. If in Italy, in our home, the cradle of Catholicism, we are not prepared to guarantee complete religious freedom to everyone, how can we ever be credible when we denounce the violation of this freedom elsewhere in the world? I pray to God that on this special Easter he give the gift of the resurrection of the spirit to all the faithful in Christ who have until now been subjugated by fear. Happy Easter to everyone.

17. Alf - March 25, 2008

Why don’t we put this in general enough context so that it’s clear it’s a no-win situation?

1. Social structures/professional societies/civilisations/empires/ are built on some sort of – literal or figurative – violence, by the work of enthusiasts who love their ideas/ideals more than their life. For the survival of the structure you need strict law-enforcement and strong immune system carried through the generations.
2. Focus/isolation/breeding give initial results, after which stagnation comes.
3. The structure discovers the profits of diversity and variations – as opposed to purism – and starts expanding.
4. Expansion requires decrease in immunity so that you can accept foreign bodies – if you are the Roman empire, you want Arabs and Jews to coexist piecefully. That’s why you build pantheons and start promoting tolerance, relativism and understanding as opposed to the initial unifying principles.
5. This is the beginning of the end, because eventually the immunity is so low that anything can kill you – e.g., the Vandals come.

Clearly you got what you deserved, because the structure was built on violence/force. Clearly tolerance, understanding and variety bring
fruits. And clearly they will lead to collapse eventually.

18. dorigo - March 25, 2008

Alf, I read with pleasure your analysis. Concise but quite clear, and I totally agree with what you say. What you don’t say, though, is what your advice would be to improve the solidity of these structures. I have no answer myself…


19. Paolo De Gregorio - March 26, 2008

I don’t think anybody should ever have double thoughts about expressing his/her utterly personal convictions, out of fear about what other people might then think about it. That applies to a pope and a convert as well as anybody else, and doing otherwise would have nothing to do with maintaining an open “dialogue” with moderate Muslims (who being moderate I guess should have no objection). The fact that it was done to “send a signal” can be quite accurate a description. But nobody should question their right even to send a signal (which was not sent by killing somebody by the way) if they feel like it, especially if it regards a personal choice, and even if I myself cannot comprehend that choice.

I wold have concurred with you if your problem was one of taste, one of intellectual depth of these unsophisticated forms of primordial ritual display of personal beliefs, but not at the level of “they might be offending somebody”.

You’re right that the two persons involved might not be risking much more themselves. But that still doesn’t make it right that we should interpret dialogue as meaning that we should retreat quietly and silently from our convictions as well as our contradictions and vices. Or seek permit for harmless public demonstrations. Either we are free, or we are not. If that footage really offends someone (beyond my intelligence and good taste), THAT is the major problem, not the fact that it was set up.

If I wanted to make a public show of my dis-conversion ceremony I should still be free to do that, even if it’s stupid. And not expect retaliation, nor should anybody suggest that I’m hindering dialagoue with “moderate Christians”. Sorry, not interested in a dialogue with that premise.

On another scale, it is deeply sorrowful that these and other public showings may be linked to acts of violence in some extreme circumstances in some places. Because otherwise I would be deeply enjoying the show by this time, as they would all look to me like bitterly angry infantile brothers who just like to fight, make peace, fight again, inspire envy and then feel envy, only to then go back complaining to their (quite possibly imaginary) parents. To try to win people over God, and to celebrate, and to constantly keep the count running is a rather depressing human activity, I often find.


20. Fr. J. - March 26, 2008

Alf, nice universal theory, if you believe in universal theories. There is at least one institution I can think of to which this theory does not apply. the Catholic Church. It has its ups and downs in history, like the gold market, but overall, it is constantly growing and expanding into new cultures and languages. We just opened our first church in Qatar and are about to open on in Saudi. Catholicism is now more than 10x larger in China than in 1949 and growing rapidly (and in India as well). Catholicism has seen more martyrs in the past century than all the previous centuries put together. Groups which have been in schism are seeking a return…

21. dorigo - March 26, 2008

Hi Paolo,

you look a little too self-centered to me, for instance when you say ” If that footage really offends someone (beyond my intelligence and good taste), THAT is the major problem, not the fact that it was set up”. You seem to disregard the fact that religious beliefs are shaping the world today in a way nobody, really nobody should be happy about. Nobody wants a war of religion. You seem to be concerned with the right of expressing one’s faith, and miss the point that the medium is the message: the conversion of Allam was done in front of TV networks around the world. This is just flying in the face of attempting to build a better future, and instead points to the Vatican’s desire to further polarize the situation.


22. dorigo - March 26, 2008

FrJ, christianity has risen just as much as the world population has. Muslims outnumber christians in the world. And in any case, I would not be so happy about the growth: everything that grows too much has one day to stop – or collapse.


23. Fr. J. - March 26, 2008

Actually, Christianity is growing at a faster rate than the world population, particularly because of growth in Africa, Asia and Oceana.

Christianity has just over 2 Bill. and Islam has about 1.2 Bill.

24. dorigo - March 26, 2008
25. goffredo - March 26, 2008

Alf’s “universal” theory doesn’t even apply to the roman empire! The pantheism of the Pantheon era was a vague memory when the Vandals came. (By the way, any theory about the collapse of the roman empire must be able to explain the survival of the eastern half).

Regards the medium being the message lets all not to forget the head-cuttings, the noisy hamas brainwashed mobs rejoicing for isreali dead of terrorists attacks, the ugly messages that appear daily in many near-eastern media (newpaper headlines, TV editing) etc. etc. etc. etc. etc….. etc.

26. Paolo De Gregorio - March 26, 2008

Dorigo. I don’t like this pope, I don’t like Magdi Allam, and I wasn’t excited in watching glimpses of that ceremony. I also think this pontificate is exaggerating in his constant attempts to dictate to Italian State representatives how they should vote in Parliament, letting his underdogs talk from all kinds of public (“pagan” they would say) stands (like national television broadcasts). Having said that, now you can correct me if I’m wrong, in this instance the pope was into his Basilica, and the ceremony regarded the Christian faith. I’m very perplexed that it should be suggested that the pope should be constrained in any way in what he can do into the Basilica and about Christian Catholic rituals. If one is unhappy with the resonance the event received, one might well criticize the media for that. In fact, it is unnecessary that the media give so much resonance to whatever the pope says and does.

I also disagree that religious beliefs are shaping the world TODAY. I don’t think in the last centuries it has ever been different from that, and if anything points to being self-centered it is the idea that THIS is a special time in that regard.

I’m not defending the right to express one’s faith, but freedom of expression for anybody. I reiterate my conviction that if to make a public event of a conversion to the Catholic Church of an individual in a church (sic) is to “further polarize the situation”, it is whoever feel polarized by that to be primarily at fault. That doesn’t mean it was a smart choice, it just puts things into perspective. I’m also certain good sensible Muslims aren’t feeling “polarized”, at all. So, to suggest that one should be careful because some are, is just to gratify those who ARE already polarized, and plays in their hands.

Let me ask. Would you be criticizing the pope if the sacraments regarded a former atheist, or Buddhist, or Hindu? Would you be criticizing a Muslim spiritual guide if you just watched on TV the embracing and conversion in a Mosque of a former Christian in the Arab world, aptly publicized by the media? I mean, even if that was done on purpose? I agree that we should all be concerned about the tensions we are facing. But it is very important that nobody should feel they have some power to change how we express ourselves, like we would never criticize how they live their faith, if in peaceful ways, albeit spectacular.

27. dorigo - March 26, 2008

Hi Jeff,

nobody wants to forget the head-cutting and the rest, although you have to read it in the context of a reaction to an occupation force who brutally bombed the country and which has caused hundreds of thousands of casualty in the civilians, and until you do it is hard to agree on the matter. A court of law has sentenced last year that the bombing of via Rasella was an act of war, not a terrorist attack. Why can’t we see that despite their savage nature and horrific practices, iraqi guerrilla are insurgents rather than terrorists ?

The problem is that if one claims a moral superiority to islam as you seem to be doing with the list you put together above, one needs to decide whether to aim at a confrontation or to aim at a pacification. I suspect that the Vatican should aim at the latter, and I am surprised when I see its leader act in a way that appears to be going in the opposite direction. WIth the conversion of Magdi in world live, but also with previous declarations.


28. dorigo - March 26, 2008

Hi Paolo,

I acknowledge that one can not like the Pope nor Allam and still grant the duo the legitimacy of enacting the show they put together last Saturday between the walls of a church of god. And I also acknowledge that things are not too different today than they used to be. Perhaps I am delusional in this respect – I hope that time brings a progress of humanity, but admittedly it is not something whose responsibility I would delegate to the Vatican. I am also willing to acknowledge that many in the muslim world will find nothing bothersome in the news of an ex-muslim being baptized and christened in front of a wide audience, on Easter Saturday, etc.

I however insist that the act has a meaning. Ratzinger is a cunning person, not a simplicio. He intended to send a message and he did. The aim of my post was not to criticize his choice, but merely to observe that it had a meaning. And I would indeed not find it so news-worthy if instead of a renowned muslim who attacks muslim fundamentalists since 2003 in a national newspaper, the conversion had been that of a unknown soul. I am not saying that the pope did not have the right to do his duty! I am saying the matter could have been settled differently, and the fact it hasn’t is quite interesting.


29. meson - March 26, 2008

My country is a majority Islam. You can be christian but you are not allowed to express them. No bells in church, and in the newer churches, not even the cross are allowed for display. You can convert to Islam easily. However it won’t be easy to convert from Islam to any other religion. you definitely loose all inheritance by law and might even get prosecuted. Upon your death, you can never be buried in Christian tombs. They would dig up your corpse and put them in Islam tombs. If you are married to a muslim, you will stay a muslim. If you are able by law to divorce and stay christian, expect to loose all benefits. This is not a backlash of any sort, this is simply the law upon which the country operates.

I agree that we should aim at pacification but at what cost? Our freedom. Should the Tibetans had just stayed calm when their rights are violated? Shall we follow Burma and keep dumb of our freedom being violated under the pretext of pacification. Should we walk on the same path of pacification (as we have done) by allowing the Nazis to mistreat the jews just for the sake of pacification….

I love world peace but i love my freedom even more. Should the christians continued to be bullied under the pretext of pacification? We have a right and should be allowed stand up for it without fear of any backlash.

30. dorigo - March 26, 2008

Hi Meson,

thank you for your testimony. I think I need to say it somewhere in this thread: I am fed up with catholicism, but I would much rather be a priest than live under the crazy islamic law. This, however, does not change my ideas that our society – where islam, luckily, is still mostly a well-behaved minority – should keep a balance. Again, I did not criticize the pope for his duties in his church! The floor is open to discussion on which is the best way to solve the problem of islamic fundamentalism in today’s world: is it the mediatic coverage of the baptism of a outspoken critic of the muslim world, or is it something else ? I have my own answer, please express yours.


31. goffredo - March 27, 2008

Of course Tommaso the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Iraq were and still are against the very people of Iraq. As if the italian partisans bombed italian restaurants, trains, killing italian civilians, just to raise the temperature to induce a general collapse in the name of some ideology…

32. dorigo - March 27, 2008

Grr. Of course the vast majority of terrorist attacks in Iraq are no longer against occupying troops because the latter have increasingly franchised the defense of territory to friendly native forces, to reduce their casualties – which are by now in excess of 4000. Sure, there are shiites and sunnites, and they never liked each other. But they now have a much stronger reason to fight each other than they used to.

In general, when there is a civil war (and this is the result of US invasion, like it or not), things get dirty. Partisan actions were against the occupying force in Italy, but also against fascists. I see no reason to make frail distinguos. Terrorism is a strong word, but I ultimately agree that it is what is happening now in Iraq: the daily bombings are _now_ pure terrorism, because there has been a shift of paradigm from attacking US troops -when this was still possible- to attacking the stability of the government of the country through untargeted bombings. The difference, to me, is what is the target: if it is military, it is not terrorism. That is why the US bombings were largely terrorist attacks. They did destroy Saddam’s army, but made thousands of casualties among civilians.


33. goffredo - March 27, 2008

Grrrrrr to you too!

34. goffredo - March 27, 2008
35. Amara - March 27, 2008

Goffredo- Victor Hanson is a wonderful Greeks classics scholar (I devoured his: _Who Killed Homer?_), but when he goes outside of that arena, he writes like Bush Administration neo-conservative. I’m really careful of what I pick up of his writings now.

36. goffredo - March 31, 2008

Hello Amara
but Hanson did NOT write the piece!
Are you so biased as to not even check the author’s name?!

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