A speech given by the Pope at the University of Regensburg in Germany on Tuesday, September 12, 2006, has caused outrage across the Muslim world. See the Washington Post report here and a somewhat more insightful analysis in the Telegraph here. The speech focuses on the relationship between reason and faith, and in particular between Greek philosophy and Christianity. It begins with an account of a late 14th Century Byzantine emperor’s remarks about Islam, the key sentence of which is:
"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."
It is hard to see this as anything but a deliberate provocation by the Pope. Perhaps a provocation to debate and dislog, but a provocation nonetheless. If the Pope had merely wanted a historical anecdote to illustrate the tensions between belief and reason, no doubt he could have chosen from among thousands. Yet he not only chose this particular quote, he also made no attempt in his speech to distance himself from the sentiments it expresses.
I’m not a theologian, nor a scholar, and much of the Pope’s remarks are over my head, but one message that does come through clearly is that, according to the Pope, modern Western thought, steeped as it is in the Greek tradition, is much closer to Christianity than it is to Islam.
I wonder if the Pope’s call for reason and faith to "come together in a new way" by "overcoming the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable," to include questions of morality and theology, is in fact a subtle call for reason and Christian faith to ally against Islam. Of course, if reason were to overcome any self-imposed limitations, why would it then impose a new limitation of allying with Christianity only?
As the Telegraph article suggests, maybe the Pope is also calling for a debate within Islam about role of reason and violence and their relationship to belief. Presumptuous for a Christian? Hey, he is the Pope.