Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Reasoned discourse

"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".

Harsh words, no? His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI spoke these words at his lecture to the representatives of science at the University of Regensburg on 12 September of this year. For these words, Muslims worldwide are demanding an apology. These words, it is said, have sparked violence worldwide from among the Muslim communities. These words, it is said, prompted a pack of men in Mogadishu to wait beside a hospital to gun down a 70-year-old nun who was walking home from a day of aiding sick children. According to one Somali Muslim leader, the men were waiting for a reason to kill, and the pope gave it to them.

Except that the pope wasn’t the original speaker of the words. Pope Benedict XVI was quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor, whose point was that savagery, that swords had no place in the world of a reasoning God. Today’s pope used the quote as a jumping-off point in discussing reason -- logos -- and its importance in faith, and therefore, the central position of faith in science. He was talking about open dialogs, about listening, hearing, heeding, not only the rigid word of a text, but the rational sound of God.

Pope Benedict continued to quote from Emperor Manuel II Paleologus: '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... 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...’. In other words, it is the role of believers to convert by means of reason, not by the sword. That’s a strong viewpoint, in light of the Crusades.

And, yet, it is the opinion of today’s pope that this is the way both faith and science are strengthened, and he quite reasonably invites others to see his view: 'Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God’, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.

A few days after this invitation to rational, friendly dialog, a Catholic nun was shot in the back and two men who were in her presence were murdered. A man was murdered in Baghdad for being Christian. Seven churches, of all Christian denominations, were torched in Gaza. Molotov cocktails and other firebombs were thrown at churches in many more predominantly Muslim countries.

Muslim leaders in many countries are stating that “the pope’s words have started a war” between Islam and the West: “The recent remarks made by Pope Benedict XVI on Islam are threatening to ignite the entire Muslim world.” So, why were 3 Christian schoolgirls beheaded on their way to class in Indonesia a full eleven months before the pope’s lecture? What was it that prompted 9/11/2001? What was the reason for Arafat’s “uncle” Mohammed Amin al-Hussayni to build up his merry band of Muslim Waffen SS goons?

When the New York Times, London’s Guardian, and other news media giants try to tell you that the onus is upon the pope for his inflammatory words, stop and think. Use logos. Are those words, alone or in context, a valid reason for demanding that the pope be beheaded for “insulting Islam”? Are those words a valid reason for pumping a 70-year-old nun full of bullets and leaving her on the pavement to bleed out? Are those words a valid reason for burning churches and murdering men on the streets?

It has been said by many that Islam is the Religion of Peace. I’d like to see the reasoning behind that, today. Meanwhile, by the look of things, Manuel II today may very well be looking down from the pearly gates, saying, “I rest my case.”

All things considered reasonably, I stand with the pope -- no apology required.

Suggested reading (for a spot of "reason"):
Iraq al-Qaida says pope, West are doomed

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