Saturday, September 16, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI and Islamic Fury

I am sympathetic to Islam and Muslims, My missiology paper in seminary was on how Christian mission in the presence of the world religions, especially Islam should be in terms of dialogue, which does not seek as its end the conversion of the one with whom the Christian missionary is in dialogue. But the furor in the Islamic world over the Pope's use of a quote from Manuel Paleologos II, causes me to wonder if in fact Islam in truth desires dialogue with the West and more specifically Christianity. (these remarks may get me in trouble I don't know).
If you have not read the text of the Popes speech the Text is here on the Vatican web site. Two things to note: 1) it is not a speech on Islam either its goodness nor its evils, rather it is about the basis of the possibility of dialogue within the University and accross cultures. 2) On the whole I find myself in agreement with the presentation of the Holy Father, though I may take issue with some of the details. Pontifications has linked to a translation of an editorial by a Muslim, Magdi Allam, in Italy, the editorial in Italian is here
The Young Fogey also has some links and a comment.
According to Samir Khalil Samir most of those protesting the Popes remarks in his speech have been unable to read the entire text of the speech and thus the context of the remarks that have gotten attention. This is blamed in part on the news media which jumped on and removed the remarks from their context, and also due to the speech having only been translated as of the moment into French and English.

Following Fr. Samir Khalil Samir and Magdi Allam, I want to reflect on wide spread outrage and the context of the remarks that do not warrant the outrage.
Apparently it is forbidden a Westerner or a Christian to even bring up the historical reality that Islam has engaged in warfare and done so in part at least to convert whole populations to Islam. One can say that about the Christian West and the Crusades. The Irony here is that the Crusades were in part at least a response to the reality of Islamic conquest of areas that were considered "Christian Lands". Let us both admit that (Muslim and Christian) that our religions have not been and are not necessarily above the use of violence. What is also interesting on these lines is that in the context of talking about the university and theology, the Pope was attempting to outline a way of encounter that is beyond violence, and I agree with the pope that the quote by Manuel II was an appropriate launching point for the discussion, especially since he balanced the quote with a quote from the Qur’an about not using coercion in conversion, though as i understand it from a variety of sources that the Qur’an also, in the least can be interpreted, condones the use of violence in certain situations including "holy war." The quote is also apropos because it from a dialogue that took place between the Byzantine Christian emperor and a Persian Muslim in the midst of war. That is it is an analogous situation, for any of us who wish to engage in dialogue in our violent time (and when really have times not been violent!) So the Pope is inviting his audience to think realistically about the university, the place of Christian theology, and what makes dialogue possible in times of violence.

Now, I doubt that the Pope's conclusions are palatable to many, whether they be Protestant, Secularist, or Muslim, because he reminds us in his remarks that the University is of Christian origin and of a particular Christianity that identifies "reason' with the Logos the Son of God the second person of the Trinity. As Benedict demonstrates this is not his invention and can be traced back to the prologue of the Gospel of John. What all of this essentially says is that dialogue is not born out of creating a mythical neutral ground upon which all can stand, in fact that mythology of reason as neutral ground where dialogue can take place is a distortion built upon the Christian assertion that reason is based in the Christ. The Christian can find truth wherever there is truth not because the Christian engages in some form of neutrality (or retreats into some Biblicist world view) but because Reason, the Logos, is ultimately God. Oddly enough then from our contemporary perspectives dialogue for Christians is based in being more truly Christian and not on neutrality.

On some level I think this is the real offense, and both explains why the news media could only grasp onto the Manuel II quote and why this speech may always remain offensive to many Muslims. Pope Benedict is saying the Church will not retreat from affirming what is true (according to the Faith), and that this standing firm is the only true basis for dialogue and non-violent encounter between religions because this standing firm is itself founded on the belief that faith and reason belong together, that a reasoned faith is necessary and true, because God the Son is Reason, the Logos. This is offensive precisely because this acceptance of Reason by the Church commits it to see all other systems of belief and religions as necessarily partial, precisely because this view of reason is bound up in its faith in Christ and the Holy Trinity. The Christian conception of reason cannot (without distortion and heresy) affirm reason without also affirming that Jesus Christ the Son of God, the Third person of the Holy Trinity is the Logos, true Reason.

This I think is shocking because many have probably interpreted the John Paul II reaching out to worlds Religions especially Islam and asking forgiveness for sins like that of the Crusades as a retreat from a firm commitment to the Truth of the Christian faith, rather than seeing these acts as a expression of firm confidence in the Truth of Christian faith. Pope Benedict comes along and asserts this carefully and reasonably and the world does not know what to do with this seemingly sudden expression of confidence in the historic Christian faith. Which brings me back to my missiology paper, for this was essentially my conclusion that true dialogue can only take place from the position of confidence in ones own faith, at least from a Christian perspective, that the "dogmatic" and coercive monologues that are evidence of fear and lack of confidence where as firm articulation of doctrine as the truth in Christian terms that truly allows for dialogue across religions and across perspectives.

Though I haven't even touched on his view of the University which interestingly enough is essentially the view I was presented in my first semester at the secular and state university, California State University, Long Beach (CSULB), in the course on the nature of the University. But I am beginning to realize that in the late 80's early 90's that perhaps CSULB was an uncommon place of learning, unfortunately. (I cannot tell from a distance whether it remains so across the board: though the professors of the Religious Studies department who made it so for me are still there.)


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