Islam as a 'pagan' religion?
I've somewhere read that Aquinas wrote his Summa contra Gentiles to be used in efforts toward converting Muslims to the Christian faith, the term "Gentiles" thus referring to "Muslims" and implying that Muslims were pagans, with whom one could not use the Old Testament for prooftexting and for whom one therefore had to turn to the light of natural reason.
Perhaps natural reason also wouldn't work if Allah is a radically voluntarist deity . . . but let that be.
I'm more interested in the Aquinas's implication that Islam is a sort of 'higher' Paganism rather than a 'lower' Christianity, if such is his view. Islam viewed as a pagan religion has recently resurfaced in the argument put forth by Alain Besançon in his article "What kind of religion is Islam?" for Commentary (May 2004), whose central point is that:
[W]hen Christians and Jews approach Islam . . . [they] may well be struck by the religious zeal of the Muslim toward a God whom they recognize as being also their God. But this God is in fact separate and distinct, and so is the relation between Him and the believing Muslim. Christians are accustomed to distinguish the worship of false gods -- that is, idolatry -- from the worship of the true God. To treat Islam suitably, it becomes necessary to forge a new concept altogether, and one that is difficult to grasp -- namely, an idolatry of the God of Israel. To put it another way, Islam may be thought of as the natural religion of the revealed God.Besançon's point is an intriguing one but not easy to grasp. Perhaps he means that from a Christian perspective, Muslims have focused on the correct 'God' but that they worship Him in the manner that 'pagans' worship an 'idol'. You'll not my 'scare quotes', intended to alert the reader to a special use of these terms. Go and read Besançon's article at Commentary, for which one needs a subscription, unfortunately.
But while one is waiting for that subscription to take effect, one can read another online article that treats Islam as a sort of pagan religion. This article is now available to nonsubscribers and can be found at First Things, where the pseudonymous "Spengler" (of the Asia Times Online) has published "Christian, Muslim, Jew: Franz Rosenzweig and the Abrahamic Religions" (October 2007). As implied by the title, Spengler presents Rosenzweig on Islam (along with Christianity and Judaism).
Spengler notes that:
At first glance, Rosenzweig's characterization of Islam as pagan appears strange, for we habitually classify religions according to their outward forms and identify paganism with manifestations of polytheism or nature worship. Insisting on the uniqueness of Allah and suppressing outward expressions of idolatry, Islam appears the opposite of a pagan religion. Rosenzweig, however, requires us to see faith from the existential standpoint of the believer, who in revealed religion knows God through God's love. For Rosenzweig, paganism constitutes a form of alienation from the revealed God of Love; Allah, the absolutely transcendent God who offers mercy but not unconditional love, is therefore a pagan deity.The term 'pagan' is again being used in a particular sense, this time by the Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig, writing in The Star of Redemption (1921), as reported by the apparently Christian "Spengler," who comments approvingly upon this use.
From a secular perspective, of course, Islam is yet another monotheism . . . like Judaism and Christianity. But from a Jewish or Christian perspective, what is one to make of it since its status as a 'revealed' religion is highly suspect, to put things mildly?
I leave it to the readers to decide, but you'll first have to read Besançon and "Spengler" to see for yourselves.