Thursday, September 14, 2006

Faith, Reason and Holy War

What the Pope's been saying in Munich. Full speech available here.

He quotes a dialogue carried on "perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. "

He continues. According to one article I read, when he came to the quote that has caused the fuss ("Show me just what Mohammed brought ..."), he said, "I quote." And then again, "I quote." Thus showing a certain love of life.

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this 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 Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. 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...".
Later on, he speaks about the 'faith' that Christianity shares, in a certain sense, with science. (This bit is me, not the Pope.) Just as science must take it as an article of faith that matter has a structure that is discoverable, amenable to the instruments at our disposal, so too "the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy". However, before he gets to this article of Christian faith, he has this to say with regard to the theme of violent conversion in the paragraph above.
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. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that 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 practise idolatry.
That is pretty strong. I can understand why Muslim clerics have got mighty exercised about it, especially if it's true. That is what 'submission' is, the surrender of your will to that of another, no matter what that other will may impose. Even so far as the most unnatural act a living creature can commit (one always expressly forbidden by the Church): self-inflicted death.

I should add that most of the Pope's speech in actually aimed at us in the secular West and at our restriction of reason to the scientific method.

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