Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Benedict XVI on Faith, Reason & Islam

Razib at Gene Expression (classic) links today to a speech Benedict XVI gave to the University of Regensburg dealing with the place of reason in faith, using as a jumping-off point a dialogue (circa 1391) between Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and specifically (in this section) their different approaches to the relationship between faith and reason.

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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 emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable....

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: 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....

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true?

I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: "In the beginning was the 'logos.'"

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word -- a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance....
There is of course much more, and very much worth reading.

4 comments:

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I notice that the BBC news website has some excerpts from his speech as well. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/5348456.stm

Bernard Brandt said...

I've read His Holiness' essay, and believe that it is well worth further readings, and meditation.

Central to that essay, and not mentioned by most who have reported on it, however, is an inquiry into God's nature, and the question as regards whether (as some Muslims think) God transcends even reason, or whether (as many Christians believe) God is the manifestation of true reason, as interpreted in the first verse of the Gospel of John: en arche en o logos (Greek), which can both mean: In the beginning was the Word and In the foundation of all things was Reason.

His Holiness takes the view that if God does not transcend reason, but rather fulfills and is the embodiment of reason, and if it not the act or wish of a reasonable being to compel faith, then the conception of God by some muslims may be erroneous.

Is it any wonder that His Holiness is now being attacked by those same muslims?

Kiwi Nomad 2006 said...

I have printed off the full speech as well, and it is a very detailed argument. It is unfortunate that a small section of it has been taken out of context and is now the source of so much unreasonable anger.

Darwin said...

Being pretty sporadic in my blog and news reading lately, I hadn't even realized what a fuss this had created until MrsDarwin was telling me last night... I just liked what the pope had to say about God and reason.

However, looking around at news stories about the pope being burned in effigy on the 'arab street' (way to go and proving you're a 'religion of peace' guys) and re-reading the pope's speech, I think he has touched on something very central to the millenia-and-a-half-long conflict between Islam and the Western World.