Deo volente.

The Conversation of the West – The Pope as a Western Leader

This last week has had one major headline … that the Pope has angered Muslims the world over with his comments at the University of Regensburg (full text).

There are two points that are not being made clear about this. A number of observers are quick to dismiss Benedict’s comments, to diffuse them and despoil them in their references to Islam. The implication is that he did not know what he was saying, that his comments need context in order to instill full comprehension. In fact, this speech wasn’t about Islam alone, but about how the West must first reconcile Religion and Reason (already done). Only by each Faith’s resolution to these essential issues can we save both.

From the speech:

In the seventh conversation (“diálesis” — controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 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 Koran, 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.”

This is a clear and decisive point in the Pope’s argument. He is clearly pointing to the historical record and grounding Islam as a Religion of Peace, but saying that its conflation with violence and compulsion (also a matter of record) came later in its evolution. The Pope is laying the groundwork for Islam to save itself, for it to separate itself internally from the radical, violent elements that cause us to question the acclamation that Islam is a Religion of Peace®.

This in turn is part of the Pope’s larger arguments:

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.

We are either worshipping the same God or we are not. When you see things like this, I think that Islamists are making the case that we are not. Benedict has more patience and compassion than I do though …

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is logos. Consequently, Christian worship is “logic latreía” — worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Romans 12:1).

I point this out because it is essential. It is foundational in how we of the West are trying to deal with the cancer of Islamo-fascism, or Islamo-naziism as it is deserving to be called. We will use Reason, on which Faith is grounded, as the means to fight this war. Contrast this with the willful volunteerism that characterizes suicide bombers, for whom God is not only unknowable and unloving, but also compels you unto death. Striking.

The take away is this: that the West is in danger of a similar split, but from a different source (see below). If we cannot understand how Reason and Religion can co-exist then we lose the essence of each.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions.

A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

That last line is the drive-by media’s added context – from listening to BBC World yesterday morning, the reporterette seemed to say that the Pope was exhorting the West to understand the importance of Jihad / Islamo-fascism, and how (again) it is the insensitive West that is causing the problem by not dialoguing with our enemies.

But this is not what the Pope was saying, I think. I believe that he was talking about the internal conversation that the West is having with itself on the necessity and importance of religion. He is saying, in essence, that we cannot resolve our problems with Islamo-Fascism until we come to terms with the West’s religious roots and with how those roots are tied to Reason.


Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: “It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being — but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss.”

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.


“The West has been endangered …” This is a root cause for our confusion in dealing with Islam and with its evil twin, Islamo-Fascism. By grounding action on Reason, we could tell the difference between the two, and destroy the one without endangering the other.

This was a brilliant speech by a great leader of the West. Not only do I agree with him, but I also agree with his implied course of action, and I stand by what he said and why he said it. He drew lines in the sand for the West and for Islam, offering a course of salvation for both.


September 16, 2006 - Posted by | Leaders of the West, Philosophy - General, Politics, Religion


  1. […]  John has an excellent post on the pope’s remarks here. […]

    Pingback by Pope Upset That Muslims Are Offended « Innocent Bystanders | September 16, 2006 | Reply

  2. […] John has the best article I’ve read on this topic. Read the whole thing.     […]

    Pingback by Pope enrages Muslim world « Think Tankers | September 17, 2006 | Reply

  3. The Pope is a great leader of the West who happens to care more about dividing religion than uniting them. Perhaps he should concern himself with matters like “Western civilization’s” problem with child molestation, which happens quite often in the Catholic Church. I’m not sure about this but last time I checked, rape and molestation was contrary to reason too. Hey, the Crusades and the Catholic-sponsored genocide in Latin America….problems for Catholicism’s Western leader? I think so.
    The Pope made a concerted effort to slam Islam at a time when Islam has enough people slamming it. There’s no doubt about the fact that factions within the religion are committing horrible acts in the religion’s name. This, however, can’t be dealt with by trying to argue, as the Pope did, that Islamic beliefs about God are not bound to reason, hence the connection between violence and conversion.
    All religions have blood on their hands! If we’re going to work together to disrupt the violent strands of religious expression (don’t forget Baruch Goldstein, the IRA and ETA, Islam isn’t the only religion that gets abused) then we have to have the courage to accept the basic fact that ALL ideologies can be exploited. The Pope’s words were inaccurate and indefensible.

    Comment by cienfuegos | September 18, 2006 | Reply

  4. Is it really foot-in-mouth or was the Pope simply misunderstood?

    Update: More related articles (more articles in

    The Pope’s Apology to Muslims
    Cardinal Bertone on Islamic Reaction to Pope’s Address

    Also, I managed to read a really nice article about this. John definitely expressed some real…

    Trackback by Winterheim HDD | September 18, 2006 | Reply

  5. Is it really foot-in-mouth or was the Pope simply misunderstood?

    Update: More related articles (more articles in

    The Pope’s Apology to Muslims
    Cardinal Bertone on Islamic Reaction to Pope’s Address

    Also, I managed to read a really nice article about this. John definitely expressed some real…

    Trackback by Winterheim HDD | September 18, 2006 | Reply

  6. The Pope has his own agenda.
    I can say that confidently without reading his missive : something I’ll do before going further.
    It seems someone has siezed on this to use it as provocation. Along with the cartoon nonsense, it puts Taliban-style revolutionaries at a clear collision course with the West as a society : calling it a conflict of religions is to miss the clear clash of world views.
    This is a treasure for the true fascists who inhabit the Oval Office. Rummy and his “Islamo-Fascism” is a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black. They’re both crap.

    Comment by opit | September 19, 2006 | Reply

  7. […] I could spend several pages covering why I think Benedict is right on religiously in his recent remarks about Islam and its consuming volunteerism. I went into some length here as to why I felt like his remarks were carefully measured. I discussed the connection between his speech and the dearth of philosophical leadership in the West here, making the case that the Pope was drawing the philosophical lines that need to be drawn for the West and the East. Of course, most telling of all was the reaction by Islam at large: shock(!) and outrage(!) here. […]

    Pingback by The Pope is riding the fence Politically, but not Religiously « AnalogKid | September 21, 2006 | Reply

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