Why the Pope Was Right

An editorial in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (September 19, 2006) nicely makes the case for why the remarks recently uttered by the pope were needed. Entitled, “Benedict the Brave,” it laments what has now become a routine spectacle: “furious demands for an apology, threats, riots, violence. Anything can trigger so-called Muslim fury: a novel by a British-Indian writer, newspaper cartoons in a small Nordic country or, this past week, a talk on theology by the head of the Roman Catholic Church.”

The pope had been speaking on the interface between faith and reason, and quoted a 14th-century emperor. Stressing his “startling brusqueness,” the pope quoted him as 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.”

Opines the WSJ: “Taken alone, these are strong words. However, the pope didn’t endorse the comment that he twice emphasized was not his own. No matter. As with Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses, which millions of outraged Muslims didn’t bother to read (including Ayatollah Khomeini, who put the bounty on the novelist’s life), what Benedict XVI meant or even said isn’t the issue. Once again, many Muslim leaders are inciting their faithful against perceived slights and trying to proscribe how free societies discuss one of the world’s major religions.”

Indeed, rioting and violence has sprung up throughout the Muslim world, with a Christian nun murdered in Somalia. In response to this reaction, the pope did issue a heart-felt apology, but it seems to have fell on deaf ears. And it tends to downplay his much-needed earlier remarks:

“It was a gracious gesture on the pope’s part, especially because his original argument deserves to be heard, not least by Muslims. The offending quotation was a small part in a chain of argument that led to his main thesis about the close relationship between reason and belief. Without the right balance between the two, the pontiff said, mankind is condemned to the ‘pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason’ – in short, political and religious fanaticism.”

Continues the editorial: “In Christianity, God is inseparable from reason. ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ the pope quotes from the Gospel according to John. ‘God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word,’ he explained. ‘The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of history of religions, but also from that of world history. . . . This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe’.”

But, asks the pope, has such a convergence taken place in Islam? It seems not. The utterly inscrutable will of Allah is what a Muslim must resort to, not an appeal to reason, dialogue or conscience. But for the Pope, “the precondition for any meaningful interfaith discussions is a religion tempered by reason.”

“This is not an invitation to the usual feel-good interfaith round-tables. It is a request for dialogue with one condition – that everyone at the table reject the irrationality of religiously motivated violence. The pope isn’t condemning Islam; he is inviting it to join rather than reject the modern world.”

Quite so. But this seems just too much for many Muslims. Concludes the editorial: “By their reaction to the pope’s speech, some Muslim leaders showed again that Islam has a problem with modernity that is going to have to be solved by a debate within Islam. The day Muslims condemn Islamic terror with the same vehemence they condemn those who criticize Islam, an attempt at dialogue – and at improving relations between the Western and Islamic worlds – can begin.”

Exactly. And it is time many in the West stop apologising for the Islamists, and start defending their own traditions of freedom, democracy and freedom of conscience. Sure, the West is riddled with many faults. But part of the way of dealing with them is by means of open and frank discussion, not threats of violence towards those who disagree with you. Many Muslims seem to have a long way to go before catching up with the modern, democratic world. It is hoped it can makes this transition sooner, rather than later.


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3 Replies to “Why the Pope Was Right”

  1. Exactly, Bill.
    So many of the protests have taken place without any real understanding of what the Pope actually said.
    If anyone hasn’t read his speech yet, it is on the Vatican website at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/speeches/2006/september/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spe_20060912_university-regensburg_en.html
    Pity those complaining didn’t take the time to read the speech before they launched forth!
    Plus, what about the notion of free speech and open and rational DEBATE?
    Jenny Stokes, Melbourne

  2. Dear Bill,

    Thank you for posting this article. It is intriguing that Moslems demand religious freedom in our nation but many Islamic nations do not reciprocate. The outcomes of the Pope’s message on the relationship between faith and reason certainly showed that Islam is quick to resort to violence and is intolerant of reasonable dialogue.

    Eric Frith, Canberra

  3. Bill
    It seems as if a rush of blood to the head and a vicious knee jerk reaction sums up the way Islamiists practice Islam.
    Yet I have numerous examples of kindness recounted to me by those dealing with Islamic people.
    Maybe there is yet hope.
    Stan Fishley, Melbourne 

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