Monday, September 17, 2007

The Professor Pope

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, lectures, commentary, religion, faith, violence, tolerance

The images flanking the first word of the book's title indicate the controversy it will provoke:

Having served on the faculty of Catholic Theology at Regensburg University in the 1970s, when Joseph Ratzinger visited the University in 2006 as Pope Benedict XVI, he nonetheless spoke as a lecturer, not ex cathedra as a reigning pontiff.

Taking the ground of a University as the unique forum for discourse (an ideal seldom approached), he introduced to discussion the question, "Whether violence is permitted to further religion." He bases his analysis on the discussion between Emperor Manuel II and a (Muslim) Persian in about 1391, on the eve of a Muslim attack near Ankara, Turkey. This pithy lecture is included as an appendix in The Regensburg Lecture by James V. Schall.

As I read the lecture—several times—then the book, I took many notes, intending a thorough analysis. However, the Lecture has received a mega-overkill of analysis in the past year, and Dr. Schall's book has added kerosene to the fire. The basic reaction is this: Catholics and many ecumenical-leaning Protestants applaud, while Muslims, almost to a man (nearly no Muslim women are allowed a voice) reject it with extreme obloquy. Is anyone surprised?

Muslims take the stance that "Nobody is allowed to discuss such a question who is not Muslim," making the premise that nobody can possibly think rightly who is not submissive to Allah. The flurry has demonstrated that the majority of Muslims do think religious violence is justified.

I wonder at the result, had the question been placed by an early Frank to a Fifth Century Pope, on the eve of one of the Catholic battles of European conquest. The warlike followers of the "Prince of peace" had but two or three centuries in which to spread Catholicism by the sword, before they were given a taste of their own medicine by Seventh-Century and later Jihadism.

Equally, I wonder if any of the Canaanites so questioned the Hebrew invaders in the 15th Century BCE? The only way I can accept the "Old Testament" is by taking the stated reason (some call it an excuse) that the Canaanites had become Nephilim, as had the people destroyed by the flood of Noah a millennium (or more) earlier. I'll defer discussion of Nephilim for another occasion. Meantime, you can look it up.

This points up the vast, enormously huge difference between faith and religion. It has been fairly said that religion's primary function is to justify governmental power. Every major religion has been spread, at some point (a centuries-long "point", typically) by coercive violence. All too frequently, the peoples' faith in any personal god or God has been seen as the primary enemy of the religion. Faith needs no priests or powers; religions require both to survive.

When Jesus came, he came for individuals. He typically hid from crowds, and spoke to them seldom, on a few well-reported occasions. When he set up his church, as the post-resurrection Spirit of Life, it was to gather individuals into a Body, whose mission was to express the "testimony of Jesus". Ambrose in the Fourth Century wrote, "It has not pleased God to win men through arguments." The apostles continually exhorted the disciples to gain peoples' trust by their conduct, so their witness would be received.

We are faced with a modern continuation of the Jihads of the Seventh through Twelfth Centuries. Islam has not changed. But the modern world is much different from Medieval the effect that modern leaders are almost wholly disarmed in its presence. We're in for a rough time of it.

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