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Belloc Would Not Have Been Surprised at Sept. 11

10/11/2003 - 10:10 AM PST

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Father James Schall on the Essayist's Thoughts on Europe and Islam

WASHINGTON, D.C., OCT. 10, 2003 (Zenit) - Fifty years after his death, Hilaire Belloc's views on the role of Christianity in Europe and the underlying mission of Islam still hold much relevance today.

Father James Schall, an expert on the Catholic essayist and historian, shared with Zenit some of Belloc's thoughts that shed light on the European Union's refusal to acknowledge its Christian roots and the theological outlook of Islam.

Father Schall, author of numerous books, is a professor in the department of government at Georgetown University.

Q: Could you explain something of who Hilaire Belloc was, and the times in which he wrote?

Father Schall:
Belloc died in 1953. He was an Englishman, in that his mother was English, but his father was French and his wife was an American. One of his sons was killed in World War I, and a second in World War II.

Belloc had attended Newman's Oratory school in Birmingham. He went to Oxford and was a Member of Parliament for a brief time. He was a man of all sorts -- a sailor, a poet, a historian, a controversialist, a philosopher, a born Catholic.

I think he was the finest essayist in the English language. Someone remarked that in reading his detailed historical and geographical writings, one would think that, to do so, he was born in every country in Europe since he knew them so well.

Q: Belloc once stated that Europe is the faith, and the faith is Europe. What did he mean, and what relevance does that statement have today?

Father Schall:
This is one of the most refuted statements in all historiography. There are those who purport to think that Europe came from every background but Christianity. The zeal with which the Holy See is pursuing its insistence that the new European Constitution contain a reference to Christianity seems to suggest Belloc was on track, in spite of the denials.

The fact is that without Christianity, Europe is not Europe. In fact, with the rapid decline of its birthrates, with large-scale Muslim immigration and with a secularized Euro-elite, it is rapidly becoming something else.

What perhaps might have surprised Belloc, though I doubt it, is that many Europeans want to rid Europe of any reference to its Christian origins. What will take its place will be something less than Europe as Belloc knew it, something neither Christian nor human.

Q: How can Belloc's discussion of Islam in his books "The Great Heresies" and "The Crusades" shine new light on our current world affairs?"

Father Schall:
The accepted doctrine today is that Islam itself is not a problem. As such, Islam is said to have no relation to world events that result in the need for defense in the West.

There are, however, something called "terrorists" who cause all the problems. Even though they have Muslim names and claim the legitimacy of what they do to be found in their religion, their origins are said to be elsewhere -- where, no one is quite sure. Western ideology forbids it to take Islam's notion of itself seriously.

Belloc understood that Islam has a defined theological outlook and goal: Everyone should be Muslim. Force was useful in this goal. Belloc expected, if it ever acquired power again, that Islam would take up right where it left off after its last great territorial conquests.

He would not have been in the least surprised at Sept. 11. Nor would he be astonished to find out that the Christians in the West are quite unprepared to understand the zeal for religion and conquest that Islam had and has in its faith. Not a few Muslim leaders of today both desire and see possible, on a worldwide scale, the return to aggressive and active proselytism.

Q: How can Belloc clarify what our social sciences may prevent us from understanding, particularly the spiritual forces for good or ill?

Father Schall:
Belloc was quite clear that it was spiritual forces that ultimately moved the world. The social sciences never understand such sources and have to rely on a reductionist methodology that invariably excludes such forces as they cannot be measured by their methods.

Belloc was a historian who did not think that history had to happen the way it did. He knows how it did happen. He did not think the English Reformation needed to have happened or to have happened the way it did. History is not "determined."

Probably the great fruit of Belloc's sense of history is the fact that the events that appear on the record of history are filled with human choices and indeed human sins. The effect of this approach is to make us attentive to the spiritual forces that cause men to act or not to act the way they do.

Q: Belloc was famous for ...

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