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September 21, 2006

Reason, faith and the pope

So, I've now read -- several times actually -- the Pope Benedict speech which so upset the world of Islam.

I read it first to find out what he'd actually said, and to see the context in which it was said. I kept re-reading the turgid and opaque text, hoping to see the remarks on Islam as something more than a bizarre sidetrip in a speech otherwise devoted to reason, faith and the interplay between the two.

But it just keeps looking like a bizarre sidetrip.

The speech was delivered to scientists at the University of Regensburg, Germany, where the pope once taught.

He recalled that, in his day there, "The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the "whole" of the "universitas scientiarum," even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: It had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God.

"That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: This, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question."

He was reminded of all this, the pope said, when he recently read the comments of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus on "the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both."

Manuel II, in a dialogue with a "learned Persian", said '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.' "

(Manuel II, incidentally, spent his reign defending the ever-shrinking Eastern Empire from the Ottomans. His son was the unfortunate who finally surrendered Constantinople to the Turks in 1453.)

The pope continued,"The emperor 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 is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") 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...."

In context, it is a bit of lecturing to Islam on the evils of forced conversion. One can only say that it's too bad so many of the pope's predecessors didn't get that point.

Benedict soon left Islam behind and rambled on through the "de-Hellenization" of the church, the "synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism", noted Kant had "anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole," and so on.

He wraps it up with the declaration that we'll realize "the new possibilities open to humanity" only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons.

"In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith."

Only that, he says, will make possible "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

I'm still trying to figure out how reasonable it was to leave the description of Islamic faith up to a Bzyantine emperor who's view was strongly prejudiced by his circumstances. Seems a strange way to start a dialogue with another culture, which, of course, reacted much as you'd expect.

As I noted in an earlier post, the danger of a new hot war between Christianity and Islam is an over-arching issue of our time. The pope did nothing to ease that danger. Nor do the secular authorities who are busy linking Islam as a whole with fascism and terrorism, with their talk of "Islamo-fascists" and such.

We are in very, very dangerous times.

Posted by jcb at September 21, 2006 11:28 PM


Yes, we are in a very dangerous time. Islamic-fundamentalists have an agenda that does not bode well for Christian nations.

I have to disagree when you say, 'The Pope did nothing to ease the danger.' The fact is that there is nothing that he, or anyone else can do to 'ease the danger.'

Like any aggressor throughout history, the only way to deal with the threat is to push back and fight the threat.

Unfortunately, too many in this country want to 'look the other way' and 'hope' that the threat goes away. As ideal as that would be, it is reckless and foolish.

These people (Islamic-fundamentalists) mean business in the same manner in which Hitler meant business. Let's face it...these people have no issue cutting the head off of their 'enemy' (when that enemy is a helpless journalist). One cannot 'reason' with these people, one needs to fight them - and win.

Posted by: Jim Mowen at September 22, 2006 07:49 AM

Jim, I feel sorry for people with your point of view. Most of the conflicts the world has seen have been because people were silly enough to think that violence is the only to solve a conflict.

The pope can certainly do much to ease the danger. He is the leader of a large section of the christian faith. His guidance can lead millions of catholics into either a hostile state and a subsequent war, or a passive state and peace and development.

Posted by: Robbie at September 22, 2006 12:01 PM

Robbie, by your post, I assume that you think that someone could have negotiated with Hitler?

Unbelievable as it is to me or you, the fact is that there are people out there with so much hate, so warped a perspective, so power hungry, that they just cannot be rational, or dealt with rationally.

Do you really believe that Hugo Chavez, Osama Bin Laden, Iran's Ahmadinejad, etc. can be appeased?

I am not thrilled with this reality, but I do appreciate the fact that it is reality.

I feel sorry for people with sense and reason if you truly believe that negotiation and appeasement is a reasonable manner in which to secure our freedoms from these people who have specifically stated that they wish to take it away!

Posted by: Jim Mowen at September 22, 2006 02:46 PM

If I thought all it took to satisfy those who fuel the perpetual rage machine that is radical Islam, was to give up our liberal beliefs of free speech, gender equality, open elections, tolerance, etc. I might be tempted----maybe.

But they don't care about what we believe in and rage against it. How do you think they win hearts and minds? Intimidation. And right now, the West is intimidated by an unliberal and intolerant violent ideology. Just take a look at what's happening in Europe if you want to know how "Why Can't We All Just Get Along" multiculturalism is working.

It makes us feel better and more powerful to think we have control of the situation when we think that if we just suppress free speech and tip-toe around them on eggshells and try not to offend, they will leave us alone. The truth is that no matter what we do or don't do, the Islamists are bent on destroying us. They have been after us since the Carter Administration, and what we say or do, or don't say or don't do won't change their hearts or minds in the least. They are a stateless army of ideologues that will not be placated, no matter how conforting it is to blame us and not them for their violence.

What we in the West need to do is denounce the thuggish behavior of the Islamists in no uncertain terms. Christians learned long ago that you cannot make and keep conversions at the point of a sword (I think this was the point the pope was trying to make in his "turgid" style).

But hey, if you think that all will be well if Western nations just "Sit Down and Shut Up", well, power to ya---and good luck---I hope you're right, since this seems to be the path the West is treading.

Posted by: paladin at September 23, 2006 01:22 PM

Paladin. . . I thought we were doing a lot more than denouncing thuggish behavior in Iraq. Or do you think it would be better that we send the troops into Iran to denounce thuggish behavior? If we want to continue to create and inflame Islamic extremists, we should just keep doing what we're doing in Iraq. Seems to have worked very well so far.

Posted by: greg at September 23, 2006 11:17 PM

Jim -- You say, "The fact is that there is nothing that (the pope) or anyone else can do to 'ease the danger.'"

Therein lies the central disagreement. There is a great deal that can be done to ease the danger.

The first thing, of course, is to avoid painting all of Islam as nothing more then a billion or so bin Ladens. That's patent nonsense.

The pope, in recognizing the need for "a genuine dialogue of cultures and religions," could have opened one with Islam much more propitiously with a mention of commonalities, and a mention of the fact that at various times and places Christianity and Islam was co-existed, each leaving the other to worship as conscience dictates.

Yes, Paladin, in condemning spreading faith by the sword, the pope was acknowledging that Christianity has pretty much given that up on that practice, reason having prevailed over faith and doctrine on that point.

(Though I'm not sure the lesson's been learned for "hundreds" of years, and it's one that can get "un-learned" real easily when politicians need to really the religious for a war.)

Still, in putting the topic of violence on the table for that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions, the pope could have found some more felitious vehicle than the words of a 15th century Christian emperor with a jaundiced view.

Posted by: jcb at September 24, 2006 08:39 PM

John, you say that Islam is painted as 'nothing more than a billion Bin Ladens' - I don't see that they themselves have done anything to distance themselves from the terrorist activities.

Maybe the Islamic-communities efforts to do this have not been covered, but, personally, I have seen no mass denouncement of the terrorist activities - locally, regionally, nationally, worldwide. In fact, I believe that we have seen more support in these arenas, along with an explanation that 'Islam is a religion of peace' (all stated, again, with no apologies, no condemnation).

Maybe I have missed something.

Posted by: Jim Mowen at September 25, 2006 07:38 AM

greg, I don't know how to answer your non sequitur remark except to ask you to show me where I advocate invading Iran.

What I did advocate was for Western institutions, left, right and center to stand together and denounce the perpetual rage machine and to stand up for our common values (i.e. free speech). The inspiration for my opinion is here.

Posted by: paladin at September 25, 2006 11:27 AM

jcb, I have a question for you about press responsibility for either revving up the perpetual rage machine, or cowering before it.

The way I understand the offending sentence came into the public domain was not some mullah or imam reading the Pope's speech, which besides being turgid (you were being too kind) was probably in German, and becoming instantly enraged. No, the BBC plucked the offending passage out of the whole unreadable mess and disseminated it world wide. Nice, huh? Did the BBC have a duty to the public at large to take the sentence out of context and throw it out to the world, even if it inflames Islamists? Should the BBC just have sat down and shut up?

The press has been a party in other of these kerfuffles, in most cases causing deaths. Two that spring to mind are the Danish cartoon frenzy, where most international and national newspapers chose not to show the offending cartoons. What to think about the press double standard, where Christianity, especially fundamentalists and evangelicals are regularly held up for ridicule, but fundamentalist Islam is to be tip-toed around and every effort made not to offend?

The other event was the fake and inaccurate report in Newsweek (Time?) about the guards at Gitmo tossing the Koran in the toilet. Again, people died because of bad reporting.

So, what's up the the schizophrenia in the press about how to handle the perpetual rage machine?

Posted by: paladin at September 25, 2006 12:20 PM

Paladin. . . the point I was trying to make was our actions in the Middle East over the past 40 years from our support of the Shah in Iran to our most recent invasion of Iraq have fueled anti-American and anti-Christian sentiment. The Danish cartoon and the Pope's comments are flashpoints, excuses, I believe, to express that long-simmering anger in a violent way. I don't think you can blame the media messengers. How many people in the Christian or Muslim world have actually read the Pope's speech or seen the cartoons? The people in the streets burning and killing were motivated by hatred years in the making; not by these isolated public expressions.

Posted by: greg at September 25, 2006 05:31 PM

How did Hugo Chavez get lumped in here with Bin Laden? You've been watching too much Fox News. Just because he doesn't like W, doesn't mean he doesn't like the US and its people. In fact, he has a program set up were he provides low-cost fuel to Americans in need. Not sure how a "political" enemy of the Bush administration somehow gets lumped in with a real enemy like Bin Laden.

Posted by: Anonymous at September 26, 2006 11:37 AM

Well sure greg, our policies since FDR are a convenient excuse for the Arab street to "explode", but so what? Are we really supposed to tailor our foreign policy so that no radical Islamist is offended? Good luck with that!

Most of the Islamists' demands are non-starters, anyway, so this is just an excuse and not the reason they stoke their perpetual rage machine. What rational US POTUS or politician would advocate abandonment of Israel or to vacate the Middle East where massive oil reserves are? Trust me, if we pulled out of the Middle East, the same people that were screaming about "No Blood For Oil" would be screaming about $5 (or more) a gallon gas. And solving the Israel/Palestine problem----Bill Clinton labored mightily to do this very thing, and all he got from Arafat was Infitada II. Been there, done that. Hey, maybe the Islamists will demand we teach donkeys to fly----it would be about as realistic. So no, I don't buy into their "grievances" and complaints about two generations of our foreign policy being the cause of their violent behavior.

And no, I am not blaming the messenger. But the press plays a major role in the asymmetrical warfare of the terrorists. From past responses, most in the press are aware they are being used by terrorists, but are stymied about how to approach/solve the problem. And they are between the proverbial rock and hard place. This is why I was interested in jcb's opinion. He's been around the block and down the street in journalism and might have some interesting insight.

Posted by: paladin at September 26, 2006 01:48 PM

New Pope Shows Spine
Islamonazi CAIR Is Not Impressed

http://www.terrorfreeoil.org/videos/MS091506.php - video

Please Call The Vatican Embassy In Washington, DC at (202) 333-7121 to Express Your Support!

Posted by: terrorfree at September 26, 2006 04:46 PM

Just finished reading Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat" book and the second to the last chapter has his take on why Muslim countries feel "humiliated" in today's world. While I don't agree with some of Friedman's economic concepts, I think he is accurate on assessing the why behind today's anger and violence by radical Muslims.

Posted by: greg at September 28, 2006 07:41 AM

*bump bump*
JCB, been awfully quiet around here... Unless all the debate is going on in articles that are too far down for me to scroll to... I am THAT lazy... Seems like there hasn't been anyone alive around here. Must be busy checkin out that awesome Davenport website you posted about.

Posted by: Robbie at October 2, 2006 08:39 AM