Monday, September 18, 2006

Missing the point

This is about the best article I have read on the Pope's comments in Regensburg.
Benedict's main point — and few have noted this — is that the West, unless it recovers a vision of God, cannot engage in a fruitful dialogue with the other great cultures of the world, which have a basic religious conviction about reality. Among these great cultures, of course, is Islam. His entire talk is focused on this point.
Precisely.  But that wouldn't make for good news now would it.
Let us consider very carefully what Benedict does with regard to Islam in this speech. First, he focuses on one very specific point in the Emperor's long dialogue with the Persian, the issue of jihad, or holy war. He writes: In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 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.

Now, the first striking thing we note here is that Benedict is citing the Koran. Rarely in the history of the papacy (if ever — I am not aware of other cases) has a Pope of Rome cited the Koran in a public address, and in a positive way. I say "in a positive way" for Benedict here, like the Emperor himself, evidently agrees with the verse of the Koran which says "There is no compulsion in religion."

The second striking thing we note is that Benedict characterizes this passage of the Koran as "one of the surahs of the early period," a period "when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat." What is Benedict doing? He is setting up his argument that this passage has more authority for Islam (because it is earlier) than the later passages which seem to contradict it, and call for compulsion in religion. In an oblique way, he is inviting Muslim theologians to undertake a type of textual criticism of their own sacred scripture, the Koran, to uncover its deepest meaning.
Guess they missed that point.  The pope is quoting from the Koran and the Jihadist go nuts.  Well done.  Memo to the participants in Friday's "Schedule outrage", better to be silent and have people think you a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

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