Wednesday, September 20, 2006

A note on what the Pope was actually saying...

It seems that once again the sensationalistic dynamics typical to the Old Press and terrorists have combined to shape the "news," or what passes for news among those who still take news generated by little more than the sensationalistic interplay between journalists and terrorists seriously.

The Pope's focus on reason and his call to it in his speech are utterly lost on both the Old Press and terrorists. What the Old Press and terrorists want to focus on in the speech is a bit of text that they want taken out of context, one to sell you some controversy and the other because they adhere to a religion of violence predicated on victim status.

Some of the context:
[R]ecently...I read...part of the dialogue carried the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian.

The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur'an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point--itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself--which, in the context of the issue of faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

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.

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 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.
The emperor 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 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....
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 practice idolatry.

As far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma which nowadays challenges us directly. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God's nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: In the beginning was the logos. This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts with logos.

Logos means both reason and word--a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist.
(Full Text)

I think it is possible to trace the decline of Islamic civilization back to a rejection of reason and philosophy rooted in Nature, planted by God. The notion that the gardening God will uproot his own creation on an incoherent whim is quite a contrast to the Founders of America who focused on knowledge of Nature's God and came to the conclusions about unalterable, inalienable self-evident truths that must be admitted as reasonable forms of knowledge.

The death of Islamic reasoning: "For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent."

I may write more later to try and get at the truth of some transcendent self-evident truths that are evident in the immanent Self because there is scientific evidence for an anthropic view of the evidence which would be quite easy to meander off into, to an almost infinite degree. But on the topic, it's ironic that the Pope was saying something based on sound moral reasoning only to have journalists and terrorists run off with part of it to serve their own interests. Given the interplay between their interests a message of: "I invite you to reason about religions based on...well, reason." can be changed to "Extra! Extra! Read all about it, the Pope hates all Muslims!"

The sad thing is that people often get killed thanks to the sensationalistic interplay that often emerges between terrorists and journalists.

No comments: