Friday, September 15, 2006

Defend the Holy Father

Oh Lord have mercy. Outrage in the Muslim world again, this time over the Pope's supposed criticism of Islam. I mean, can one not talk about Islam at all in any public way without this kind of a result? Can one not have some serious conversation about one of the world's major religions and raise some difficult questions without a completely disproportionate response? It's no wonder that some feel that it's like dealing with a petulant teenager. Or is one forced to simply say, "It's a religion of peace it's a religion of peace, even if you protest violently and burn effigies and take to the streets at the drop of a straw and have the thinnest darn skin in the world, it's a religion of peace."

Don't get me wrong. In most contexts, especially Indian ones, I have a pro-Muslim bias ... Indian anti-Muslim sentiment and it's politicization by the BJP-Hindutva types, is utterly galling. But come on people. Grow friggin' up.

So, what exactly did the Holy Father say that was so galling? Here's the relevant paragraphs from his speech at Regensburg.
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.
In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (F×< 8`(T) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
It's in the context of an academic lecture, for cryin' out loud!

You know, in the West, especially in the Christian West, one has pretty much accepted as axiomatic that violence in the ends of religion is deplorable, is always wrong, is a distortion of true religion. I guess it would be interesting to see how these ideas developed (Christianity has a far from bloodless past), what philosophical, theological and historical factors lead to its rise. It's quite obvious that the other major religious interlocutor in this conversation (not that that's all that it is), Islam, is far from this idea.

Which is another reason I absolutely love Benedict. As others have said, he's a defender of robust human reason (without falling into an exaggerated rationalism), of the importance of the use of reason in trying to discover the truth. This lecture again demonstrates that. I wish the "God's Rottweiler" types would actually read what he says and give him his due (but that's another conversation) -- like, just read the above paragraphs! He gets to the heart of the matter right there, the proper use of reason, which it would seem, has no real role in Islam.

To me, he's inspiring, and I'm so thankful for his leadership. And I agree with the folks at the

And as Amy says, the heart of his talk is a challenge to Islam, and with such assumptions, where reason plays no role, how does one do any real diaolgue? Anyway, lots and lots of broad generalizations here.

Oh yes, a sense of irony is definitely needed.

And via the Papa Ratzinger forum:
Mario Mauro, vice-president of the European Parliament, said in a statement today, "Let us defend the Pope without ifs or buts, let us defend reason," in answer to the reactions from the Muslim world to Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg on Tuesday.

"The monstruous attempt on the part of many Islamic leaders, even the so-called moderates, to distort the Pope's reaching out to all religions (through the lecture),in order to hit out at Christians and the West shows us the gravity of the danger we are facing," Mauro continues.
A very hearty Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


I too was frustrated at the media’s comments.

When I saw the headlines, I found the text of his speech online to determine the uproar. Upon reading it, I found the Pope insightful and the text well developed for his audience. A lot of what he shares moved me and I’m encouraged to see our Pope focused on the importance of reason in the development of faith (and he should be the one to do that easily).

The media’s statements on Islam are out of context and it is frustrating.

The only way to prepare for any backlash is for the Church to prepare public documents in Arabic – especially any statements on Islam from the Pope or Church. The media is not going to do this and the only source may have to be the Vatican.

The media's goal is to cause controversy - even if it is a half-truth. But as you know, a half-truth is a whole lie. The only way to fight lies is to present the whole truth.

‘Nuff said.