Someone back from Afghanistan has sent a link to this forum discussing, in fascinating detail, what Pope Benedict XVI’s approach toward Islam is. It clarified many of the questions that have been poorly reported in the press, among which are: does Benedict see Islam as a “religion of peace”; is Islam perceived as a strategic enemy or competitor with Christianity; and lastly, does the Pope advocate co-existence with Islam. Unfortunately, the format means the reader will have to put together many of the relevant paragraphs himself. Here are some of the highlights as I see them.
- Benedict doesn’t see much scope for a ‘theological’ debate between Christianity and Islam, which is of interest to only a specialist few. Instead, the Pope sees the real debate taking place at a cultural/civilizational level in which the subject of sharia will be a key item.
- The debate is inevitable, because Islam at its roots is profoundly different from Christianity. Those who wish to bury the differences under relativism and a glib multiculturalism will fail.
- Islam’s desire for supremacy is not directed primarily at Christianity, rather it is directed at any competitor.
- The Pope believes that fighting terrorism means working with Muslims. It can’t be purged from from the outside; it has to be tackled from the inside from the inside. “Terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel [a word that he repeats 3 times] choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence. If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible and the believer can accomplish this.”
- Benedict is also aware of what I would call the third man in the room; both traditional Christianity and Islam are also in competition with secular materialism. The structure of the debate implies that just as secular materialism can make alliances with radical Islam against Christianity, there is scope for alliance with religious Muslims against secular materialism. “It has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true: what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions.”
There is more, but I leave that to the readers. I may have misunderstood some of Benedict’s points and I hope the readers will correct me if I misapprehended them.