Visiting the University of Regensburg, where he used to teach from 1969 to 1977, Pope Benedict XVI gave a speech in which he reflected on the Christian tradition of rational theology, and the incompatibility of religious coercion with Reason.
The Pope’s quoting of a comment on Islam made by a 14th century Byzantine Emperor has, again, produced the (at-this-point only too familiar) world-wide temper tantrums on the part of the community of turban-wearers.
The BBC reports:
Pakistan summoned the Vatican’s ambassador to express regret over the remarks, as parliament passed a resolution condemning the comments
The head of the Muslim Brotherhood said the remarks “aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world”
In Iraq, the comments were condemned at Friday prayers by followers of radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr
The “hostile” remarks drew a demand for an apology from a top religious official in Turkey
The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference also said it regretted the Pope’s remarks.
What the Pope actually said was:
It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium…
..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… 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.
In the seventh conversation…the emperor touches on the theme of the 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 Muhammad 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.”
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: 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.
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?
Apologize, my eye. What the Pope ought to do is what Pope Urban II did, and call upon the people of the West to defend Civilization against the insolent aggression of Islamic barbarism, instructing them that God wills its defense. Deus vult.