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Meditation 531
What was the Pope thinking? (I)

For the complete text of the Pope's speech, click here.

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On 12 September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI successfully managed to offend most of the Muslim world in a speech at the University of Regensburg where he was once a professor.

It has been claimed by the Vatican, and I think justifiably, that the offending quotation[1] was taken out of context. He was using the statement of another to make a point, and did not intend the statement to reflect his own or the Catholic Church's views.

But what was the Pope trying to say?

"[S]preading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."

"Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."

If only all believers, regardless of religion, felt that way!

And yet, is this theologically sound?

My understanding of God as preached by most major religions, and by most Christian denominations is that we are not to judge God, we are not to apply human standards to God. God is not bound by human standards of reasonableness.[2] Whatever God does and whatever God demands of us is by definition reasonable, no matter what our human intellects might consider it.

By applying human reason to our assessment of God's will, and the speech is at its heart about the intersection of reason and faith, we are judging God.

To state violence is incompatible with the nature of God is to deny significant elements of the Old Testament; it is to deny over 1500 years of the history of the Catholic Church; it is to deny the treatment of heretics in the years before the Church became consolidated under the Bishop of Rome. Not to mention that it denies elements of the holy texts of nearly every other significant god-based religion

While there are believers who would agree with the idea of a God bound by reason and against violence, it is not consistent the history of most long established religions. It contradicts the theology used to support and justify that history. And it is not consistent with the history of Catholicism.

What was the Pope thinking?

Footnotes:

  1. (offending words highlighted)
    Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he [the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus] turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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."
  2. I will not deny that there are some newer religions and newer Christian denominations which have come to think that God's standard of reason must be the same as human reason.