Commentary on social and moral issues of the day

What the Pope Really Said: Placing History and Theology into Context

John David Powell

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Chaos reigns today from the hands of madmen, Muslims who hear but do not listen, and who react with a passion devoid of reason.

One can make a similar statement regarding journalists covering the case of Pope v. Muslim Mob. The mainstream media failed to provide balanced reporting and cogent commentary. Instead of placing into context last week's Faith and Reason lecture by Pope Benedict XVI to an academic audience at the University of Regensburg and the violent and murderous responses from Muslims, the media catered to everyone subscribing to the "Oh please don't hurt me" mentality. You know the ones: those who believe in multiculturalism at the expense of their own culture.

If one had a nickel for every reporter that did not read the pope's comments in its entirety (www.cwnews.com/news/viewstory.cfm?recnum=46474), one could take a rather nice extended vacation and hobnob with the rich and famous. Want to retire with the wealth of Midas? Then collect those nickels from every Muslim who responded with murder or mayhem in the name of the Religion of Peace.

It is never too late for some context.

The pope said when he taught at the university, the ability of educated people to discuss with reason their different ideas concerning faith reminded him of a 14th- century conversation between Manuel II Paleologus, the next to last emperor of the Byzantine Empire, and an educated Persian during the winter of 1391. The pope pointed out that "the dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur'an." The pope then said he would discuss only one point that would serve as a starting point for his reflections on the issue of faith and reason.

It is here where most journalists started their reporting and where the raging mob took umbrage. The emperor, as quoted by the pope, said that Mohammed's command to spread the faith through violence was evil and inhuman. The emperor went on to explain the unreasonableness of such a command. Violence, the emperor contended, is incompatible with the natures of God and 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," said the emperor. "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 continued by quoting an observation by Lebanese theologian Theodore Khoury that the Byzantine emperor's education in Greek philosophy led him to understand that acting not in accordance to reason was contrary to God's nature. The pope, through Khoury, gave the Muslim's point of view, which was that God's will is not bound up with human categories, including rationality. Khouri cited eastern theologian Ibn Hazn who believed that God is not bound even by his own words.

The pope spent the rest of his lecture discussing the evolution of Christian faith, Greek philosophy, modern science, liberation theology, and other issues in terms of faith and reason, with no mention of Islam. As he brought the audience to the present day, the pope said:

"This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate."

He concluded by saying:

"The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby . . . '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."

The pope's lecture takes on an entirely different meaning when put into context by those willing to read and to understand.

And now, to put Manuel II's statement into a historical context, rather than into theological and philosophical terms.

The Christian head of the Byzantine Empire had good reason to look upon Islam with fear and trepidation. The Muslims were on the march and their eyes were on Byzantium.

During the previous thirty years, the Ottomans established the core of their empire in Europe. The defeat of the combined forces of Serbia and Bosnia in 1389 made them the major power in the Balkans south of the Danube River. By 1391, the Ottomans had moved into Macedonia on their way to Bulgaria and their blockade of Constantinople.

Sixty-one years after the conversation between Manuel II and the Persian, the Ottoman Empire defeated the last Byzantine emperor, thus ending the Byzantine Empire. From there, the Ottomans turned for their march to Venice.

Two questions come to mind when one knows the history of the passage, understands the religion and theology behind the comments, and places it all within the context of the notion that the world's diverse cultures and faiths must engage in dialogues based on reason:

Why did the media take the low road in their reportage, and how can the Muslim world justify the use of murder and violence when invited to talk about faith and reason?


Mundus vult decipi

John David Powell, an Orthodox Christian, is a communications professional, a six-time winner of the Houston Press Club Lone Star Award for Internet opinion writing, and a contributor to the Christian History Project. His email address is johndavidpowell@yahoo.com.

Posted: 24-Sep-06

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