The Pope and his reference to Islam: Part two

The Pope and his reference to Islam: Part two

I have some more thoughts on the Pope’s speech in Regensburg that referenced Islam and is causing such an uproar from liberals and Muslims because of the insult they perceive. Note the context in which the “offensive” quote—“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.”—was given.

It is part of several paragraphs referencing a new translation of a dialogue between Emperor Manuel II Paleologus in Constantinople and a Persian scholar in 1391. Recall 1391 as a time in which Manuel’s Byzantine empire was under constant attack from Muslims. The Pope even notes that the dialogue was believed to have been set down in writing “during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402.” During the siege. Gee, why do you think the emperor might have some hard feelings against Islam.

Okay, critics might say, the emperor has reasons to be upset, but why did the Pope repeat those words? Because he was a making a point—using what he called a “brusque” statement by Manuel II—that religious violence is never acceptable because it is unreasonable, that is “Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.”

The Pope was making a point regarding the importance of reason in faith.

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 practice idolatry.

But this isn’t the end of the Pope’s talk because he then goes on to address the failings of reason (more properly, an overreliance on reason, in Western secular humanism. Unfortunately, this is too subtle for firebrands, drum-pounders, and the vast majority of the mainstream media. Instead, they put up headlines that say that Pope Benedict bashed Islam and leave it at that.

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  • I suspect the over-the-top reactions you see from Muslims to the Pope’s remarks is really part of Islam’s defense mechanism. The noise and fury drowns out the challenge to Islam’s use of force that is contained in the Pope’s speech. They don’t have to answer that, because they are too busy being angry with the Pope.

    Dom, you might remember Scott Hahn’s talk at the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference, and his story of his encounter with a Muslim debater. While eager to debate theological concepts like the Trinity, this man refused to discuss familial aspects of God: words like “Father” and “Son” offended him. Since the heart of Christianity is the family relationship within God (Trinity, Incarnation) and between God and ourselves (Redemption), this meant that his religion essentially prevented him from discussing Christianity. To apply logic you define terms, form propositions from those terms, and make arguments with those propositions. If the arguments are valid, you determine that a proposition is true or false. Islam’s anger short-circuits logic: this Muslim cannot even define Christianity, let alone decide if it is true.

    Muslims go ballastic when their Prophet is insulted, even worse than if God were insulted: why? It’s not like he needs their protection. But what this accomplishes is that it prevents any criticism or undermining of their source of revelation. One of Islam’s defenses is an intellectual wall that stops the questions from being asked.

  • This latest episode is indeed confusing:  First, Pope Benedict XVI quotes an Emperor who, while under siege, writes that religion should never be spread by violence.  The reaction to the Pope’s citing this writing:  violent eruptions in the streets of several Muslim countries, including burning the Pope in effigy. Who should be looking in the mirror?