Monday, September 18, 2006

"Yea, those Muslims and their violence"

The Muslim world is furious; the rest of the world is nervous. The comments by the pope late last week marked his entry--whether intended or not--into the volatile world of religion and violence. And many Muslims are not liking what was said.

But was he only talking to them?

Christians seem oblivious of the connection between the remarks and our own practice of our own faith. On the topic of religion sanctioning violence, our response is, "yeah, those Muslims." Yet even though the pope used a Christian-Muslim dialogue to make his point, the speech itself was aimed at his own flock: the Christian world. And we too ought to feel the heat (as should Islamicists) of the pope's real bombshell last week at Regensburg: true faith has no room for violence.

Let the Muslim world ponder that claim. And let the Christian world—which has brought us World Wars, nuclear weapons, and now an ongoing hail of violence and threats of violence—ponder the claim with them.

By now most are familiar with the quote from the 15th century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Debating with an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, the emperor took issue with the prophet's apparent approbation of violence and said, "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."

Yet that is not the end of the quote. It goes on to claim that "God is not pleased by blood....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 pope states his interpretation here quite simply: "Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

How are we missing the relevance of these words for Western Christians who have put forward military might as a tool in "spreading freedom?" Certainly no one is saying the War on Terror is religious, but to hear the rhetoric and to see the ecclesial supporters, the whole enterprise has a kind of religious feel to it. And besides, if religious doctrine is no rational basis for war, is politics somehow okay?

George Weigel and Richard John Neuhaus seem increasingly perplexed by the growing pacifism of the Holy See. First they tried to dismiss John Paul the Great as a kindly old man who, of course, wants peace but really should stick to religion and let the U.S. exercise "prudential" warcraft. But now comes along Benedict, the one who in a May 2, 2003 Zenit interview said that "we should be asking whether it is still licit to speak of the very existence of a 'just war'."

And again in last week's Regensburg speech, the pope rejects the very basis for violence. It is not rational. One way of putting the pope's point is that the authentic commands of God are reasonable, even if faith is needed to penetrate their depths. And, of course, to see what the Father commands, we turn to the Son who shows us the face of the Father. In that turn, to Jesus Christ, we have full clarity. Christ offers a way of nonviolent, sacrificial love of friends and enemies. Period. No wiggle room for building nukes—whether it is Muslim Iran or Christian America-—or using violence to further principles.


At September 27, 2006 7:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very angry at the lying corporate press that jumps at any chance to disrespect our faith and our Pope! Taking comments out of context can change the meaning of anyone's speech. The very people that hate our religion and our Pope are quite often the last to be critical of our own position in the world equation and all the havoc the U.S. has created. Like the war in Iraq and terrorism the great bogeyman that keeps America scared stiff!


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