Pope Benedict and two views of Islam

Pope Benedict and two views of Islam

Chris Blosser launches an interesting dialogue between two prevalent attitudes toward Islam: that it is a violent, totalitarian ideology or that it is a religion and culture riven by internal conflict that can be approached through dialogue.

Chris contrasts the proponents of the two different views, naming author Robert Spencer as a leading advocate of the former and Pope Benedict as a proponent of the latter.

Billing itself as “an examination of Islam, Violence, and the Fate of the Non-Muslim World,” the authors of Islam: What the West Needs to Know intend to challenge the erroneous notion that “Islam is a peaceful religion and that those who commit violence in its name are fanatics who misinterpret its tenets,” insisting rather that “Islam is a violent, expansionary ideology that seeks the destruction or subjugation of other faiths, cultures, and systems of government.”


Needless to say, this perception — a reduction of Islam to little more than a violent, totalitarian ideology — regards dialogue with Muslims, and the prospects of reform within Islam itself, with utmost skepticism. One only has to carry this line of thinking to its ultimate conclusions to understand why:

If it is indeed the case that Muslims are “locked in perpetual combat” if it is “incumbent on Muslims” to subvert and ultimately assimilate the West, any attempt to dialogue would not only be pointless, it would be delusional.

Against this he contrasts Pope Benedict’s several statements on Islam, including from before his pontificate, which recognize the propensity for violence in Muslim societies, but also see common cause in the Islamic rejection of Western moral decay and decadence. It is a fact that the Vatican’s most common ally in the United Nations against radical social engineering has been Muslims countries along with a very few Catholic ones.

Christians and Muslims, we must face together the many challenges of our time. There is no room for apathy and disengagement, and even less for partiality and sectarianism. We must not yield to fear or pessimism. Rather, we must cultivate optimism and hope.

Interreligious and intercultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is in fact a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends. […]

I pray with all my heart, dear and esteemed Muslim friends, that the merciful and compassionate God may protect you, bless you and enlighten you always.

I’m not so sure I think there’s a clear dichotomy between the viewpoints. One could say that Islam is dominated by a violent totalitarian ideology, that such views are espoused by many of its leaders, and that its foundational principles created a clear path toward such views even as we acknowledge that there are many Muslims who reject that ideology, who wish to live in peace, who practice peace. The question then becomes which attitude is more true to the essence of Islam and even if it’s not the violent ideology has it come to indelibly dominate the religion?

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