Monday, October 30, 2006

"A spring of dialogue has sprouted in Regensburg"

Today's newsletter by Italian Vaticanista Sandro Magister continues to highlight the (at one level) unprecedented dialogue that is emerging in the wake of the Pope's remakrs in regensburg. Here, Magister publishes the exchanged between a Muslim theologian, Aref Ali Nayed and Italian Catholic scholar, Alessandro Martinetti, on the reasonableness of God. Magister also publishes part of a text by Cardinal Bertone (the new Secretary of State of the Vatican), which is going to be in the next edition of the Italian journal 30 Days, on the new initiatives the Holy See is understaking to promote dialogue in and with the Islamic world. Here's some highlights:

But the deep issue is not even that of respect for religious symbols. This issue is simple, and radical: the human dignity of the Muslim believer must be safeguarded. In a debate related to these topics, a young Muslim born in Italy simply asserted: “For us, the Prophet is not God, but we love him very much.” There must at least be respect for this profound sentiment!
The Holy See is also considering the establishment of cultural relations between Catholic universities and universities in Arab countries, and among men and women of culture. Dialogue is possible among them, and I would even say it is productive.

In one’s apologetic efforts to make room for theology and religion amidst their contemporary secular “cultured despisers”, one must remember the important stark difference so rightly pointed out by Pascal: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. Not of the philosophers and intellectuals. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace!”

If being rational and having a rational God means adopting the God of the philosophers, be it called “Reason” or “Logos”, most Muslim theologians would simply opt to pass! That is why Asha’rite theologians, while always upholding the importance of devout reasoning that is guided by revelation, never accepted the Hellenistic philosophical worship of “Logos” or the “Active Intellect”.

Islam’s devout insistence on the sovereignty of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (peace be upon them all) must not be cheaply turned against it, with unfair accusations of whimsical irrationality! If properly appreciated such devout Muslim insistence can be a real aid to Christian affirmations of the divine in the face of the atheistically secular.

The God proclaimed by the Catholic Church is, on the other hand – and can be no other way – always and exclusively good, the giver of life and love; redeemer and savior, and never a persecutor; creator, and not a destroyer. He does not take pleasure from suffering or sin, but he can do nothing but place his creatures in the situation in which they can achieve their highest good. He is faithful and consistent – and cannot help but be so – in spite of the infidelity and inconsistency of human beings in the wearisome journey of individual existence and of history. He can not be like this, because “God cannot contravene himself, nor can truth contradict truth.” God cannot be infinite love and also, contradictorily, a limited love that is fickle, intermittent, and opportunistic.

I am not overlooking the fact that much theology, including some found in Catholic circles, is afraid of a God who could not ignore the principle of non-contradiction, positing that a God who could not get around this principle would not be omnipotent, and could not exercise his own love in a supremely free manner. But it is clear what the risks are if the magisterium would adopt the image of a God supremely free to act against reason. It is time to overcome the dead and sterile opposition between a God-Logos who by adhering to the principle of non-contradiction closes himself up in an unassailable rationalistic detachment impermeable to love, and a God-Love, who can at will violate rational principles simply to reinforce his own nature of free love in an absolute and omnipotent manner.

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