Faith for the Journey of Life

My Thoughts on Faith, Life, and 2,000+ Years of Catholicism / Christianity

27 September 2006

Pope Benedict XVI, Islam, and Religious Tolerance

Earlier this month, Pope Benedict XVI ignited a world-wide firestorm of controversy and Muslim outrage with a speech at Regensburg University in Germany about faith and violence.

My purpose for this installment of my Blog is not to condemn Islam. The ferocity of Muslim responses, however, compels me to put forth a few words in defense of my Pontiff.

It is regrettable that a great many in the Muslim world have completely missed the point of the Pope’s remarks.

In condemning religious justifications for violence, the Pope quoted – without endorsement – remarks by the 14th Century Byzantine Emperor Manuel Paleologos II: “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.”

At no time in that speech did the Pope endorse the Emperor’s words, agree with the Emperor’s words or state that the Emperor’s words are the official position of the Catholic Church with regard to Islam.

[Please let me make this abundantly clear – my quoting of the Emperor’s words in no way means that I agree with the Emperor. We have already seen too well the effects of words being taken out of context.]

Muslim outrage to the Pope’s words was immediate and virulent. Salih Kapusuz, the deputy leader of Turkey’s ruling party, went so far as to compare the Pope with Hitler and Mussolini.

Sadly the vehement response by many Muslims is indicative of the religious intolerance that is prevalent in much of the Muslim world. In many Muslim countries, including our own ally Saudi Arabia, the mere mention of the name of Jesus is grounds for imprisonment. In many Muslim countries, Muslims who convert to Christianity are often killed. Ottoman Turks – the predecessors of Salih Kapusuz – massacred upwards of 1.5 million Armenian Christians between 1915 and 1923. Muslims such as those in Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran are fanatically committed to the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. The September 11th terrorist attacks were committed by radical Muslims inspired by radical Muslim theology. Christians and Jews both face persecution, imprisonment and death in many Muslim countries from Egypt and the Sudan to Indonesia.

If those who are condemning the Pope had taken the time to read what he had actually said, they would clearly see that the Pope was not condemning Islam but condemning those who use violence to promote religion and those who use religion to justify violence. The Pope was advocating the use of faith and reason to achieve peace.

For a religion that declares itself as being peaceful, the widespread, violent reaction to the Pope’s speech contradicts that notion. A peaceful religion does not respond to insult by setting churches on fire, burning religious leaders in effigy, committing murder, and making death threats.

Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor the late Pope John Paul II have been untiring advocates for peace and have struggled against violence in the name of religion. The recent outrage at Pope Benedict’s remarks is illustrative of the obstacles that proponents of peace (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and secular, among others) face in the Muslim world.


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