Friday, September 15, 2006

The Pope Was Right

In my humble opinion, the speech delivered by Pope Benedict XVI at the University of Regensburg in Germany on the subject of faith and reason is exactly right. Violence has no place in religion.

From the Pope’s remarks:

... I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (M√ľnster) 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 [text unclear] edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion".

According to the experts, this 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 Qur'an, concerning 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 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, 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... 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…

***(For an illuminating perspective on this growing storm of controversy, make sure to read the editorial in Investors Business Daily which hits the nail on the head.)***

IBD begins:

Benedict XIV takes a swipe at the idea of holy war and says reason need not be divorced from faith. That's cause for reflection, not Islamic outrage.