How to understand the pope

I have so far been unable to get this article published, so I am posting it here.

by Lawrence Auster

Five days after he made the Mother of All Politically Incorrect Statements and sparked the fury and violence of Muslims around the world, Pope Benedict XVI dissociated himself from his uncritical quotation of the Byzantine emperor who had said that everything the Prophet Muhammad brought was evil and inhuman. The comment, which suggested that Islam itself is evil and inhuman, was so far outside the bounds of contemporary permitted speech that it left one amazed.

The plain reality—ignored by all mainstream conservative commentators who rushed to the pope’s defense—was that the pope (as Rick Darby has put it) had issued fighting words. And you don’t speak fighting words unless you’re ready to fight. The pope was not ready to fight, and so, after a delay of several days, issued a kind of retraction, along with repeated statements of “regret” that Muslims were upset by his comments.

For the pope to have to shuffle and retreat like this was not an edifying sight. Yet all is not lost—far from it. The pope’s real message, which is an extremely important one, is not dependent on his quotation of the Byzantine emperor, and in fact is stronger without it.

To understand the pope we need to consider the entire address—delivered September 12 at the University of Regensburg—in which the controversial remark appeared. After quoting the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos’s statement to a learned Persian, “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 pope continues:

The emperor 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 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. … for the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality….

The pope is saying that God’s being is in harmony with our human reason and God speaks to the human soul through reason. Therefore violence and coercion for the purpose of forcing conversions are repellent to God. Furthermore, Christianity is in conformity with these understandings, while Islam is not. Allah’s will as expressed in the Koran is not connected with or knowable by reason but is utterly arbitrary. Indeed, says the pope, Allah seems to be “a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.”

In short, Islam is incompatible with true religion, with reason, and, in particular, with the Christian civilization of Europe, where, the pope points out, the Christian harmonization of faith and reason achieved its historically definitive form.

Thus, though the pope has withdrawn his fighting words that everything Muhammad brought into the world was evil and inhuman, he has not retracted his critique of Muhammad’s religion. He is still saying that the theological nucleus of Islam—the vision of a deity who is unknowable and wholly Other, a deity in response to whom man can only submit and force others to submit, a deity who requires the use of war and trickery to convert, punish, or kill the entire human race—is incompatible with God, truth, and any decent society.

In the next part of the pope’s lecture, he argues that a rediscovery of the traditional Christian belief in transcendent truth as communicable through reason is necessary both for the vitality of our own Western religion and civilization and for dialogue with other cultures and religions. He thus leaves open the door for a renewed interchange with Islam, based not on some fatuous ecumenism, but on a belief in spiritually enlightened reason potentially shared by Westerners and Muslims.

At the same time, it is obvious that this hope is little more than a pro forma gesture. The pope’s profound critique of Islam has made it abundantly clear that Islam in its foundational core rejects reason, which means that the inter-religious conversation to which he invites Muslims is vanishingly unlikely.

And that, as I see it, is the pope’s bottom line. While withdrawing his earlier, excessively provocative suggestion that the totality of Islam is evil, he has nevertheless established the inherent destructiveness of Islam and its incompatibility with our civilization.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 20, 2006 02:32 PM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):