When in 1587 Pope Sixtus V began conspiring with King Philip II of Spain in ‘The Enterprise of England’, it was the world’s most powerful religious leader giving his blessing to the world’s most powerful military empire, the union of which would depose the heretic Queen Elizabeth I, wipe out the heresy of Protestantism and return England to the glorious and righteous Catholic fold. At least that was the plan. Spain’s ‘Invincible Armada’ was formidable and unsurpassed: 130 ships set sail from La Coruña carrying 2,500 guns, 8,000 seamen, and 20,000 soldiers. Little England was no match for this might, but ‘God blew and they were scattered‘, and the rest, as they say, is history. More than four centuries on, England (and the UK) is Protestant by law, and ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’ (or, indeed, in the UK).
The journey from gunpowder plots, bombs, conspiracies and treason was not bloodless: the path toward reconciliation and social harmony is paved with some appalling acts of cruelty, vengeance and injustice meted out in the name of Jesus to the glory of God. You don’t get rid of religious fanatics easily at all. But centuries of incremental trust was repaid with cumulative liberties, and Babylon saw salvation. Roman Catholics are now free to hold great political offices of state and do all that any other man may do (except, of course, to become Supreme Governor of the Church of England, so the Throne is necessarily reserved). Religions morph and mutate; enmities subside; time heals; reason and perspective win out. Cardinal Vincent Nichols is not conspiring with Pope Francis to give contemporary effect to Pius V’s Regnans in Excelsis, by which Queen Elizabeth I was excommunicated and “deprived of her pretended title to the aforesaid crown and of all lordship, dignity and privilege whatsoever”. But nor are we seeing under Queen Elizabeth II “impieties and crimes multiplied one upon another the persecution of the faithful and afflictions of religion daily growing more severe under the guidance and by the activity of the said Elizabeth”.
As Islamist atrocities sweep across the world, some are calling for Muslims to be stopped at the borders / interned / registered and monitored, or summarily deported. Quite where you’d have deported Salman Abedi is moot: the Manchester bomber was born in Manchester, so he was British. So, incidentally, were Richard Reid, Mohammed Sidique Khan and Omar Khan Sharif. Salman Abedi’s parents fled Gaddafi’s Libya, so should the whole family have been barred entry or deported before any crime had been committed? And how many generations back should we go? Do you intern thousands of Muslim grandparents on the basis of their grandchildren’s pre-crime – a Minority Report approach to justice which would negate freedoms going all the way back to Magna Carta? Would the terrorists not then have won?
You can’t defeat religious fanaticism with strategies of politically-correct platitudes of open-hearted inclusion and oblique references to generic ‘extremism’ which treats Baptist and Methodist youthwork with suspicion: you have to home in on the offending religion, identify its unacceptable precepts, expound its error, name and shame its false prophets, and declare something unequivocal along the lines of: ‘Mohammed of Mecca hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’ (or, indeed, in the UK). Sure, it will cause grievous offence, and the cries of ‘racist’, ‘bigot’ and ‘Islamophobe’ will certainly pour forth. But religions morph and mutate; enmities subside; time heals; reason and perspective win out – eventually.
It is absurd that we must all pussyfoot around the name of Mohammed, as though his prophethood were beyond question and his example unassailable. It is offensive that we must all revere the Qur’an and set it on the highest shelf in our public schools and libraries, as though its lofty precepts were inviolable and its theology immutable. It is deplorable that we must bow and scrape to self-appointed ‘community leaders’ who dispense their infallible notions of sharia justice and pontificate to the media about how ‘Islamophobia’ must be stamped out – by which they mean any historical inquiry into Mohammed; any criticism of the Sunnah or his claims to prophethood; and any unauthorised theological exposition of the Qur’an or Hadith.
It isn’t that reasonable and enlightened British Muslims must daily/weekly/monthly repudiate Islamist atrocities like Manchester (/London/Paris/Brussels/Stockholm/Nice/Berlin/Saint-Étienne-du-Rouvray…); it is that they must refute those of their Ummah for whom every dancing teenage girl is a whore; every portrayal of their prophet is blasphemous, and every scholarly question about the historicity and authenticity of their religion is deemed to be unacceptably offensive. This demands intelligent textual criticism; an understanding of context, culture and Sitz im Leben. Let us not just teach our schoolchildren to wash their hands before they touch the Qur’an or to be sure to place it back on the highest shelf in a place of honour, but how to analyse, critique and understand it, and then freely to assent to or repudiate every word of it. This is a basic freedom: Christians have had it for centuries, and those who seek to dwell in a liberal democracy must respect the source of its community morality. It has been said before, but it merits repeating:
We need urgently to develop a ‘Prophetology’ – after the fashion of our centuries of Christology – in order to investigate the true nature and person of Mohammed as recorded in the Qur’an and Hadith(s). Then we might discover, or come nearer to understanding – as we have with Jesus – who Mohammed was; to whom he was born and how he was raised; what manner of prophet he claimed to be; what his relationship was with Allah; and what he might mean not only to the diverse ‘Islamic world’ but to non-Muslims the world over.
Few Roman Catholics are now remotely bothered by a bit of residual anti-Catholicism in the British Constitution: Spain is no longer a threat, and the Pope is a little more conciliatory and latitudinarian. O, yes, one or two ‘robust’ sorts of Roman Catholic find it grievously offensive that one of their co-religionists may not marry the Monarch or sit on the Throne themselves, but moderate and enlightened ones thank God (at least at Christmas) for the light and grace of the heretic Queen Elizabeth II. If we could now move on from the self-censorious unwritten blasphemy laws which leap to defend anything Islamic (and that includes hurling ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobe’ at every tentative inquiry), we might just beat the religious fanatics with a hefty dose of reason and enlightenment.