Sunday, September 17, 2006

Found! Pope Benedict's Lecture [provisional form]

Thanks to the indefatigable Charles Johnson of LGF, we can access the Pope's actual remarks, which were plainly taken WAAAAAAY out of context by the Islamists and secularists who have set out to censure him -- and even in some cases of the former, sadly, evidently to threaten him.

I must pause: why do the Islamists apparently fail to see the stunning contrast between their rage over the Pope's remarks and the absence of similar outrage over the recent incident of the at-gunpoint conversion of two Fox News journalists in Gaza, evidently by groups affiliated with the Palestinian Government?

Does this not tend to underscore a point made by Mark Steyn, in a recent column? Namely:

Our Thought For The Day comes from Steve Centanni, the Fox News reporter freed over the weekend by his captors in Gaza:

"We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it."
Before their release, Mr Centanni and his cameraman, Olaf Wiig, had appeared on camera in Islamic robes, sitting cross-legged, and had read from scripts announcing that they had become observant Muslims and asking Bush and Blair to do likewise. "Islam is not just meant for some people. It is the true religion for all people at all times," said Mr Centanni. "I changed my name to Khaled. I have embraced Islam and say the word Allah."
Earlier, his captors released a statement saying the two men had been offered a choice between a) conversion to Islam; b) the jizya (the tax paid by non-Muslims to their Muslim masters); or c) war. There was no none-of-the-above box. "They chose Islam," said the spokesperson for the group," and that is a gift God gives whom He chooses" — even if circumstances occasionally oblige Him to give it to you down the barrel of a gun . . . .
But Centanni and Wiig's brief interlude as practicing Muslims is revealing in a larger sense. Ever since 9/11, the western multicultural mindset has been desperately trying to swaddle Islam within the fluffy quilt of diversity. It's "just" another religion, like the Congregationalists and Episcopalians. To be sure, it's got a few hotheads, but haven't we all? Sticking with this line requires an awful lot of brushing under the carpet and there's so much under there by now it looks like a broadloomed Himalayas. For a start, you can't help noticing the traffic is mostly one-way: In Dr. Mahathir's country, where a long English Common Law tradition is under sustained pressure from sharia, a lady called Lina Joy is currently enduring death threats and a long legal battle because she committed the "crime" of converting from Islam to Catholicism.
Well, that's Malaysia for you. But how about Michigan? Nazra Quraishi, a kindergarten teacher at a local Muslim school, wrote to The Lansing State Journal last month as follows:
"Islam is a guide for humanity, for all times, until the day of judgment. It is forbidden in Islam to convert to any other religion. The penalty is death.There is no disagreement about it. Islam is being embraced by people of other faiths all the time. They should know they can embrace Islam, but cannot get out. This rule is not made by Muslims; it is the supreme law of God." . . . .
Christians and Muslims are both "people of the book." But there's a difference: Christianity started out as a religion of the weak, held by the lowliest in society and advanced by conversion and example, independent of the state. A distinction between religion and temporal power is embedded in its founding narratives. Compare the final words of Jesus to his disciples, on the day of his ascension …
"Ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth."
with the final words of Mohammed to his disciples:
"I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.'"
That's quite a difference. Christ is saying go to the remotest parts of the world and persuade others of what you know to be the truth. Mohammed is saying fight all men until they submit to your truth: It's not a plan for converting an existing empire (as Christianity did) but for establishing a new empire. Islam was born and spread as a warrior's creed and, while that can be sedated, the intensity of anger of today's western Muslims suggests that the Mohammedan fighter endures at the heart of their faith, albeit significantly augmented by greater firepower. Oh, come on, you say, what about the Spanish Inquisition? Well, for one thing, the Inquisition killed fewer people in a century and a half than the jihad does in an average year. But, in the larger sense, it's easy to argue that, numbers aside, it was always an aberration and distortion of Christianity's roots. It's less clear that the jihad in its most violent form is a distortion of Mohammed's message. [Read it all, excellent!]

Odd as it may seem, this goes tot he heart of the Pope's concern in his lecture. This can be seen from how he bridged from his opening remarks to the central concerns of the lecture:

The university [at Regensburg] 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 scepticism 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.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (M√ľnster) 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 ([. . .] 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 [. . . ] 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 . . . .

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? . . . .

[D]espite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria - the Septuagint - is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity. A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.

So, now, it may be an excellent exercise to put all of this back in context: Faith, reason and the God who is Reason Himself, and then let us recall the dogs of war.

At least, if we would be . . . reasonable. END


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