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16 September 2006 Blog Home : September 2006 : Permalink

Pope Attack Misses

The fact that people are complaining about the pope "attacking Islam" shows that people can't actually read or listen to what the pope actually said as I shall explain below. On the other hand there is a certain amount of irony with every Imam and his dog jumping on Pope Benedict's speech where he allegedly insults Islam. As with the cartoon crisis, what these morons are doing is demonstrating that yes Islam is a religion of nutters and a threat to the rest of the world. I mean seriously you simply cannot expect people to take you seriously when you say (I paraphrase):

"Islam is a religion of peace and we'll kill anyone who claims it isn't"

I'm sorry for the real moderate Moslems because they are being demonized along with the nutters who claim to be of the same religion. And this disparity, of course, is where the Western intellectual apologists such as the (un)informed commenter Juan Cole get into trouble:

The pope was trying to make the point that coercion of conscience is incompatible with genuine, reasoned faith. He used Islam as a symbol of the coercive demand for unreasoned faith.

But he has been misled by the medieval polemic on which he depended.

In fact, the Quran also urges reasoned faith and also forbids coercion in religion. The only violence urged in the Quran is in self-defense of the Muslim community against the attempts of the pagan Meccans to wipe it out.

(my emphasis)
It may well be that the Koran is as mixed up as every other religious work and contains inconsistent messages, and it may well be that the pope is in fact misled by his source and that Qur'an 2:256: "There is no compulsion in religion." is a later part of the book written when Mohammed was in power, but that is irrelevant. Just a couple of weeks ago we saw people who claim to be Moslem force two western journalists to convert to Islam under what looks to me like serious coercion.

Prof Cole conveniently forgets this, just as he convenients forgets numerous other moments in the past, some quite recent, where so-called Moslems have coerced non-Moslems (e.g. Pakistani Christians, Coptic Christians and 1.45Million other google entries). If it is true that "There is no compulsion in religion" then it looks to me like a lot of Moslems are in fact disobeying their own sacred text and hence are blasphemers or apostates. Given that the usual punishment for apostasy appears to be death I guess a lot of Moslems need to be put to death by other Moslems.

But that is, to be honest a sideshow, as indeed is the "logos" discussion as it applies to Islam made by Captain Ed; that isn't to say it is wrong, I think Captain Ed is partly right that the speech does indeed attack the religious fundamentalists of any stripe who attempt to literally interpret their texts no matter the contradictions within them.

I also agree with Tim W when he says:

A very strange criticism of Benny II’s recent speech on Islam:

And reference to that time, in circumstances such as these, has the unmistakable whiff of Christian triumphalism.

No, I agree, you don’t actually have to agree with him at all. But the Catholic Church claimsto have the truth, the one true way. Ben is the head of that church, the Vicar of Christ.

It’s really a bit odd to criticise him for Christian triumphalism when that’s actually what he’s for.

However it seems to me that what the Pope was really attacking was not Islam but the moral relativism of the average clappy happy liberal today and the pholosophers and theologists who lead them in to that mess - this means Derrida, 1001 liberation theologists and so on. I think this bit in the late middle is key:

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a de-Hellenization of Christianity -- a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the program of de-Hellenization: Although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

De-Hellenization first emerges in connection with the fundamental postulates of the Reformation in the 16th century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system.

The principle of "sola scriptura," on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this program forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of de-Hellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this program was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal's distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology's claim to be "scientific" would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science" and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

And he continues in this vein:

We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

This is a dense academic speech. It is attacking other dense academic schools of thought. And hence it is easily misunderstood by the uneducated or those who seek to . But the whole second half, possibly more like second two thirds, is not talking about Islam, is not talking about believers of any religion but is talking about the secular, atheistic anti-religious folks who criticise without providing any alternative of their own. Hence his conclusion, while it harks back to the Byzantine emperor, is defining Christianity and religion as a whole, not attacking any other religion:

Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being -- but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss."

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur -- this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.

"Not to act reasonably (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. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

I despise l'Escroc and Vile Pin