Thursday, November 15, 2007

Debate, Not Dialogue

In the IHT, Adrian Pabst argues that what's needed in the uneasy encounter between Islamic and Christian belief is not a "dialogue" where religious texts are placed side by side for comparison, but rather a thorough debate, where the real issues and differences are hammered out. "The fundamentalists on both sides," Pabst says, "will only be intellectually defeated and politically marginalized by reasoned belief and rational argument - not by subjective textual interpretation."

Last month, 138 Muslim scholars addressed an open letter to Pope Benedict XVI and other Christian leaders in which they call for a new dialogue between Christianity and Islam based on sacred texts.

Entitled "A Common Word Between Us and You," the document claims that the shared Muslim and Christian principles of love of the One God and love of the neighbor provide the sort of common ground between the two faiths that is necessary for respect, tolerance and mutual understanding.

The publication of this letter coincided with the anniversary of a previous open letter in response to the pope's controversial Regensburg address on Sept. 12, 2006, when he appeared to link violence in religion to the absolute transcendence of God in Islam. His point was that according to Muslim teaching, God's will is utterly inscrutable and therefore unknowable to human reason - with the implication that divine injunctions cannot be fully understood and must be blindly obeyed.

Against this background, the latest initiative by Muslim scholars marks an attempt to move interfaith dialogue away from debates about reason and revelation towards scriptural reading. Christian-Muslim relations, so their argument goes, are best served by engaging in textual interpretations that highlight shared commandments and common beliefs.

But to suggest, as the authors of "A Common Word" do, that Muslims and Christians are united by the same two commandments which are most essential to their respective faith and practice - love of God and love of the neighbor - is theologically dubious and politically dangerous.
Via Leopoldo
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