Regensburg -- Did the Pope Mis-speak?

 

The furor that has erupted over Pope Benedict's September 12th. home-coming talk or lecture at the University of Regensburg where he once taught theology should remind us -- as well as the Pope -- of a number of things.

 

For one, the Pope should be reminded that such talks to academics, even if not meant as a formal lecture, are not easily understood by average persons, or perhaps even by reporters who are forced to write in "sound bites".  Anything that is said is apt to be taken out of context and come out distorted, even to the point of seeming to say the opposite of what was meant. The context of this talk was not Islam and Christianity, much less "jihads" as the press might have it, but rather can be found in its title, which is "Faith, Reason, and the University: Memories and Reflections." 

 

Second, the inflamatory quote -- about Islam and the horrors it had caused -- was from one of the last Byzantine rulers discussing the problem of religion and violence with a Persian (Iranian) scholar before what remained of his empire was destroyed by the Ottoman Turks in 1453.   But it was only cited by the Pope in contrast to another quote, this time from the Koran itself. Sura 2,256 reads "There is no compulsion in religion"-- which seems to imply that faith that is forced by any means other than intellectual persuasion and personal convictions is not faith at all. 

 

Third, it is apparent that the real reason for using these contrasting quotes was that the Pope was trying to ask another question: why is it that faith and reason have become so divorced in the modern world -- even to the point where theology is no longer given a serious place among the "sciences" in many universities today?  His answer to that question is complex, but began with what he called a turn, in the late Middle Ages, but soon re-enforced by the Reformation and the liberal theology of the 19th. century, towards "voluntarism" in Christian thought. This "voluntarism" is the belief that religion is a matter mostly of will, emotions, and sentiment.

 

Fourth, we must ask ourselves what is the antidote for this sorry state of affairs?  In his talk, Benedict himself argues that Christianity, almost to begin with, was an amalgam of Hebrew religion with Greek rationality -- a tendency that can even be found in the Greek version of the Old Testament.  Then quoting the beginning of John's Gospel, he reminds us that the Logos or "Word" also means "reason" and to not act "with logos" is contrary to the nature of God.  When Christians or Muslims begin to describe God in terms of sheer will-power, we're headed for trouble, big time.

 

But finally, we -- and this includes the Pope who fails to mention it -- as well as Muslims, must remind ourselves that it was due to the Islamic world, particularly the Persian scholars and philosophers of medieval times, most of whom were persecuted by their own fundamentalists, that the works of Aristotle, that had been lost during the early Middle Ages were finally rediscovered in the West.  It was Aristotle's insistence that the study of nature must be the foundation of philosophy -- in other words, that before you delve into metaphysics, you'd better get your physics right -- that paved the way for the scientific revolution in the West. Unfortunately, theologians in both the East and the West, both Muslim and Christian, soon forgot this lesson and failed to keep their physics up-to-date.

 

In reaction -- remember the Galileo affair? -- modern science began to deny metaphysics and religion altogether. And it is this great divorce between science and religion, between faith and reason, including the current debate over evolution, that explains a lot about the present mess we're in.    

 

R W Kropf   9/18/06                                                   

 

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