James White, over at Alpha and Omega, writes this excellent post on the furoré over Benedict XVI’s recent comments. This is well worth the read.
I think it would be useful for thoughtful folks–you know, folks who think before they open fire, burn, or go to war–to read what Benedict XVI actually said in his talk that has resulted in such outrageously inane and violent reactions from so many. Here is the talk. Here is the relevant portion:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) 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. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian.The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point– itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself– which, in the context of the issue of faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Quran, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the Book and the infidels, he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:
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.
The emperor 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 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… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….
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.” 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.
Benedict XVI was accurately representing a historical encounter; he was accurately applying it to a truthful statement: that violence is fundamentally opposed to true religion. When that cannot be said, especially in an academic context, then truth has truly been silenced by brute force–the brute force of evil.Let’s be clear about this situation. The vast majority of hoodlams tossing firebombs at churches or burning things in the streets around the world haven’t a clue what the Pope said. Instead, corrupt religious leaders without the slightest concern for truth are using these ignorant crowds to increase their political capital, nothing less. Anything in the service of accomplishing their ultimate goal. I mean, if you will use road-side bombs, why not misrepresent the Pope? One cannot expect much in the way of fairness or rational thought from such folks.