Liberal Grace

Sunday, September 17, 2006

My analysis of the pope's speech.

He makes some good points but should have kept the focus on his own church.

First of all, I want to commend the pope in dealing with this crisis. He seems to have effectively steered this away from being another "cartoon crisis." My sense is that he understands the human element of crisis, unlike the many editors who kept re-printing the cartoons out of principle.

I have now given the pope's speech a good read and I no longer think he was being disingenuous -- culture-bound, maybe, but probably sincere.

The part of the speech that focuses on Christianity is pretty good stuff. He argues that Hellenistic (the fancy-pants word for Greek) logic and reason began to creep into the Jewish faith and then, as Christianity came to Europe, the two strains melded into what became Christianity.

(If I was an Eastern Orthodox, Mar Thoma Indian or Coptic Christian, I'd be a little irritated that he assumes European Christianity is the defining form of our faith.)

He argues that if you remove Hellenistic reason/logic from Christianity then "all kinds of bad crap follows" [my paraphrase].

This is where he ventures into dangerous territory regarding Muslims and Islam. He sets the stage by claiming that Islam's Allah is beyond/above reason and can therefore be illogical and capricious.

But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. ... [The Muslim] God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

(I am severely editing here, please read the original if you think I'm distorting the pope's position.)

Therefore (following the pope's logic), since Allah is detached from human reason, nothing is unreasonable either... including conversion by the sword.

Especially conversion by the sword. The pope doesn't explicitly say this but it is a strong insinuation. Follow his logic:

"The [Christian] emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. [snip] 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..."

So here's the insinuation: when your faith is unreasonable, then conversion by the sword has it's own unreasonable logic.

This reminds me of Ann Coulter who famously says, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity." Ann of Arc

Who logically thinks Ann Coulter's plan will create sincere Christians? It strikes me as totally absurd.

I've previously wondered if this view of illogical conversion wasn't behind the forced conversion of the Fox News hostages but I certainly don't pretend to understand what went on in the minds of those hostage-takers.

So, I concede that the pope makes a point concerning the dangers of illogical faith.

Where he went alarmingly wrong is to venture outside of his own faith tradition. This almost aways backfires! Couldn't he have found plenty of examples within his own church? He makes one vague and passing reference to the crusades when he says

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit.

It seems to me that the crusades and the Inquisition would have been the best -- and safest -- example of the danger of separating logic and faith.

I'm absolutely convinced that the best way to "teach" the other religions is by speaking honestly and frankly about our own religious experience and let them work out their own faith.

We evangelical Christians use the word "witnessing" a when, in reality, we are "arguing." I think we'd be more effective evangelists if we witnessed about the works of God among us and said a whole lot less about others. If the pope had stuck to that, this crisis would not have happened.

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