Friday, September 15, 2006

The Great Misreading


Reading the text (pdf) of Pope Benedict XVI's speech at the University of Regensburg on the subject of the nature of religion and reason, it's possible to reflect that the "dialogue" and extension of the concept of reason so eloquently advocated by the Pope in his address have almost no chance of realization in the modern world as it has now developed - the barriers to such a process are simply too great. A historic confrontation between Islam and the West is clearly inevitable, and has, of course, already begun.

The BBC has presented some key excerpts from the speech. A few of them:



ON UNIVERSITY LIFE


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.

The university [of Bonn, where the Pope taught for a period from 1959] was also very proud of its two theological faculties. 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.


ON HOLY WAR


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."

ON RELIGION AND REASON

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?


ON THEOLOGY AND SCIENCE

The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th Centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenisation, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative.

The intention here is... of broadening our concept of reason... Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.

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