|Sunday, July 8, 2012|
In non-news today, Muslims are outraged. Also, the sun rose at its usual time and the Earth continued to turn on its axis in the customary fashion.
As the sentient know, extremist Muslims have found another excuse to bloody the streets, this time over a quotation from a lecture Pope Benedict XVI delivered last week at the University of Regensburg in Germany. My guess is that not many of the outraged Muslims have actually read the lecture – it's not the sort of thing one lightly skims between effigy-burnings.
All this just because the pope had the audacity to suggest that some Islamists tend to prefer violence to reason. Whatever gave him that idea?
The single line extracted from the pope's lecture to inflame the highly flammable is an excerpt from a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and "an educated Persian" about Christianity and Islam. Said the emperor:
"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."
This one-sentence quotation was part of a wide-ranging discussion about the intersection of faith and reason, as well as the contradictory nature of religion and violence. Pope Benedict's key point was that faith through violence is unreasonable and, therefore, incompatible with the nature of God.
"The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature," he said.
Think fast: Who wants to spread faith with violence? Not missionary nuns in Somalia. Who wants to slit the throats of infidels? Not the Southern Baptist Convention.
Contrary to what fanatics have insisted, the pope was as critical of the West as of Islam, if not more so. While Islam suffers faith without reason, he said, Western culture suffers from reason without faith.
His point was that the two cultures cannot enter into a productive dialogue unless they both recognize that faith and reason are inextricably bound. Islam has to drop its sword, and the West has to make room for the divine.
Pope Benedict's view is that by ignoring faith, the West – but especially Europe – is ill-equipped to engage a culture that is so firmly entrenched in faith.
"A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures," he said. Likewise, a faith-based culture that abhors reason cannot engage in civilized discourse or advance the goal of harmony.
In a nutshell, those are the central points of the pope's lecture. How interesting that the emperor and the Persian could debate these issues several centuries ago, but 21st-century man is driven mad by ideas that challenge him.
Now, one can decide that the pope is full of business or that he's lacking in diplomatic skills. Or, one could conclude that he is the bravest man on Earth.
By speaking truth to madness, he has invited the wrath of both worlds and – if Islamist jihadists are to be believed – placed his life on the line. Monday, the same chap who last year called for the murders of Danish cartoonists for drawing Muhammad called for the pope's execution.
In Iraq, al-Qaida warned Pope Benedict that its war on the West will continue until Islam takes over the world. Iran's supreme leader called for more protests. Egypt's religious affairs minister wrote in a newspaper column, "The pope's words have caused a deep wound in the hearts of Muslims that won't heal for a long time, and then only after a clear apology to Muslims."
Pope Benedict did apologize for offending Muslims, but he stopped short of apologizing for his message. He apparently said what he meant to say.
Thus far, the Muslim world has responded only by proving the pope's point. Where is the educated Persian to debate him?