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23 September 2006


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". . .for the Pope argued that in Muslim teaching, because "God is absolutely transcendent", He is "not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality". In other words, there is no reasoning in or with Islam. Which, surely, is another way of the Pope saying how dangerous he thinks Islam is.

This is why the Pope's remarks look rather more than just a slip or a casual mistake. The speech concludes with a further reference to the views of the Byzantine emperor: ' "Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God," said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.'

Weblogs have been buzzing with the thought that the Pope may have the president of Iran in mind when he speaks of Manuel's Persian interlocutor. But we don't need to speculate upon a contemporary casting for this speech to recognise its dangers. For in claiming that Islam may be beyond reason, and then to claim that to act without reason is to act contrary to the will of God, is pretty close to the assertion that this religion is godless. And that's not how different faiths ought to speak to each other - especially when we all have each other's blood on our hands..."

[The Giles Fraser Column, 9/16/06]

For my money, in a public forum, unless the Pope is quoting Jesus of Nazareth, he should shut the hell up. We don't need the most visible public figure in modern Christendom making the world worse instead of better.

W. Patrick Lang


My position would be that sound arguments outweigh political considerations. pl

Lars Smith

The pope didn't apologize. He said, "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims"


"...sound arguments outweigh political considerations." pl

I would agree if he were a professor, a pundit, an author, or any other private citizen. But he's not. His public utterances have impact beyond academic discourse. He should know that and act accordingly. The world could use a peace maker in his position, not a rabble rouser.

Dave of Maryland

There was no reason for Muslims to be offended by this academic discourse.

If the speaker was still a professor, this would be true.

The speaker is in fact a major world leader & major world leaders do not make these kinds of discourses, for the very simple reason that such statements are likely to be misinterpreted. Cherry-picked for offending comments, exactly as Bennedict's statement was.

The solution would be to delegate such an address to a worthy underling (such as Bennedict once was), giving him the glory as well as letting him be the target for any hostile criticism. This also gives the pope deniability.

The pope's public utterances, like those of the president, must be equal to the position he holds. This is fundamental.

It seems to me the current leader of Iran has much the same problem. Underlying both of these men (and many newly-minted US presidents) is sudden elevation without proper preparation.


Pray tell, how did the Pope make the world worse? And why should he not speak his mind simply because a small minority (so we are told) of the muslim world disapproves?

Duncan Kinder

According to a report in today's Wheeling (W. Va.) Intelligencer, the Belmont County (OH) Sheriff's Dept. has recently procured an M113 armored personnel carrier.

In the unlikely event that Hezbollah should infiltrate Appalachian Ohio, we can only conclude that the deputies would be in for an unpleasant ride.

Duncan Kinder

Message to Col. Lang.

Dear Col.

It appears that my comment about the Beruit rally - pertaining to the Bemont county OH deputies' procuring an armored personnel carrier - may have mistakenly be posted to your Pope Benedict thread.

If so. I would appreciate your moving it from the Pope Benedict threat to the Lebanon rally thread.

Duncan C. Kinder


While no one should be surprised by a Pope making a fundamentally Catholic assertion("We're wonderful, the rest of you are going to hell!"), it should also be no surprise that people would react the way they did. What is surprising is that the Pope would think he has any leg to stand on in accusing others of not engaging in reason when he himself represents an unscientific, irrational authority and an institution grounded in revelation.

I don't see how quoting a 14th-15th century Byzantine Emperor as an expert on Islam is rigorous scholarship, especially in a post-Orientalism world.

If he truly wanted to encourage dialog, he could have used any number of different examples or quotes, but instead he used one that included, "Show me just what Muhammad 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." Not only is that recklessly inflammatory, but it's factually wrong since forced conversions to Islam were rare and unsupported by Islamic teachings while forced conversions to Catholicism were not rare and officially encouraged by the Catholic Church. I also don't see what possible context can make that quote into a good start for calm, rational dialogue. Again, he could have used a non-inflammatory example, even a Christian example, but he chose this one because he did intend to attack Islam, or rather his idea of what Islam is.

The Pope likes to appropriate the achievements of secular reason when he can use them as a club to attack those "irrational" Muslims, but he doesn't like those achievements when they turn the same critical eye on his own, irrational position(as with the speech he gave only a few days before this speech). In that case he thinks us "westerners" could learn a lot from irrational Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The fact of the matter is that (pagan) Greek philosophy and rationality survived to this day and flourished in spite of, not because of, Christianity. The current process in Europe of abandoning Christianity(that the Pope laments) was begun in the Renaissance and Enlightenment when thinkers decided to choose reason over irrational revelation and tradition.

Babak Makkinejad

In my opinion, the Pope deliberately chose this text to denigrate Islam and through that instrumentality, the post-Christian culture of Europe and North America.

Had he been interested in a dialogue he might have mentioned the replies of the Persian Scholar to the Emperor's provocations.

Additionally, the Pope is also wrong. He is trying to elevate the human reason and put it on the same par as faith. This was explicitly rejected in Christianity: "All that is not Faith is sin."

It was long ago understood that human reason cannot fathom God's actions. This idea was explicit in Judaism through the allegory of "Book of Job". And the stroy of Job is recapitulated likewise in the Quran for exactly the same purpose.

Additionally, Faith is beyond Human Reason. When Abraham intended to sacrifice his son (Issac or Ishmael - depending on Judaism or Islam) he had absolute Faith in the powers of the Al-Mighty to restore his son. Quran repeats this story to make the same point: one has to have the Faith of Abraham to hear and obey. And that the Infinite Being is interested in the Finite Beings and will restore them to life.

From the point of view of human reason, Abraham is mad to intend to sacrifice his son based on a command from God. And it is precisely here that Faith steps.

Incidentally, to the extend that Judaism and Islam share the same views on Faith and Human Reason, the Pope thus has attacked both religions.


Thanks Pat!

This is the most sound and most correct blog post on this controversy that I have read. Agree with you whole heartedly.


Politically, this controversy seems to resolve into two claims: (1) the Church champions a God of reason, and (2) Islam puts forward a God beyond reason, ie One who can be unreasonable, or even "unfair."

The media stress the unreasonableness of Muslim reaction to this claim. But by the logic of the argument (the media's argument, not the Pope's), Muslims are only protesting the claim that they and/or their God are unreasonable. How unreasonable of them!

Politics aside, the question of whether God is accessible through reason, or faith alone, is a thorny one for any religion. And though the Church may resolve this by denying any contradiction, I have Protestant friends who feel otherwise.

The Pope alludes most directly to this tension through the example of Duns Scotus (beatified, incidentally, by his great predecessor in 1993, almost 700 years after his death):

"In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God's voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God's freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness...."

For the Pope, this issue was resolved by the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 (more than 50 years before Duns Scotus was born) - and far be it from me to disagree.

In the Muslim case, Colonel Lang contextualizes the debate by invoking the battle within Islam over the influence of "Hellenistic philosophy," ultimately and unfortunately spurned by the pietists.

But the mention of Hellenistic philosophy made me think of another Scotus (another Irishman), John Scotus or Erigena, who was at once a great champion of Hellenistic philosophy (in his case, Neoplatonism), and even of "philosophy," should it come to that, over "religion." As paraphrased by Bertrand Russell (A History of Western Philosophy, pp. 377-378):

"God's essence is unknowable to men, and even to angels. Even to Himself He is, in a sense, unknowable: 'God does not know himself, what He is, because He is not a what; in a certain respect He is incomprehensible to Himself and to every intellect.'...Dionysius is right in saying that no name can be truly asserted of God. There is an affirmative theology, in which He is said to be truth, goodness, essence, etc., but such affirmations are only symbolically true, for all such predicates have an opposite, but God has no opposite...."

Shades of Ibn Hazm! A God greater than "affirmative theology," whether practiced by eastern crowds or western media! Mysteriously, obscurely at work...

W. Patrick Lang


He did not claim to be appealing for a dialog with Islam in his lecture at Regensburg, although I think he would welcome one. pl


I'm actually offended by this speech, not because of his comments about Islam but because of his comments about science.

"the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by "science""

This is absolutely false. Human origins are one of the most active fields of evolutionary biology. The fact that people are uncomfortable with the answers that science gives us to these questions doesn't invalidate the answers.

As for human destiny, the scientists who work on ecology and climatology are providing some very well founded and very alarming answers to what's in store for us in the next 50 years at least.

Now, I may be oversensitive to this issue because I follow the Intelligent Design and Climate Change debates fairly closely. However, in my experience, whenever you hear someone talking about 'the limits of science', they are in fact talking about limiting science to keep it out of their areas of interest. The Pope seems to be asserting that religion, specifically the Catholic Christian tradition he comes from, is the only acceptable guide to understanding the world. It's a proposition I very much disagree with.


Unbeknownst to many, modern Catholic doctrine does not define Hell as a an eternal torment in the fiery lake. It is "separation" from God. Likewise, Heaven is "closeness" to God.

Moreover, modern doctrine says anybody can "go" to Heaven, that is be close to God. This includes Protestants, Muslims, and even Atheists.

Best Wishes

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

If he is not inetrested in dialogue he ought to have chosen a different straw-man than Islam to make his (faulty) point.


This view of Ibn Hazim is strongly endorsed as well by Jewish thinkers (albeit unaware of Ibn Hazim.) For this see: "Athens and Jerusalem" by Shestove & "Our savage god" by Zaehner.


Science has not shed light on the origins of humanness: it has not been able to explain "Man". Its reducionist approach can neither explain human evolution (it may be able to describe it), nor his consciousness, nor his mind. Here is an elementary question over which science fails: "Why can humans percieve beauty?" The Pope is correct in his summary judgement.

W. Patrick Lang


Perhaps he was not specifically interested in dialog with Islam in that lecture but I agree that he should have picked a different example of what he wanted to talk about. pl


Babak and rst - thank you for your knowledgeable and illuminating discussion of the theological issues raised in the Pope's speech, thanks also for the stupendous quotations.

Frank Durkee

Oneof the ironies in all of this is that a good bit of Greek Philosophy, particularly Aristotle, was comveyed to the West by Islamic texts' and commentaries. At the time of the quoted conversation if you wanted a decent education you opted for an Islamic university rather than a Christian one. Islam was profoundly influnced by the Greek philosophic tradition. Even so one of Islam's profound insights is the transcendence of God, the power and otherness of God. That also exists but perhaps as a lesser emphasis in both of the other Abrahamic faiths, This is a fight among cousins the Jewish faith and Christianity with a deep intertwined and troubled set of interactions over time. Fundamentalisms of any of these groups can be emotional, rigid, and destructive. That's a function of the fundamnebtalist orientation not the religious belonging per se.
the pope made some decent points and now almost any statement that some one in the ME doesn't liie can lead to trouble. We should defend free speech rather than castigating it and/or seeking to thwart it. Perhaps if there were more of it in the ME fundamentalism would be less attractive.

Ingolf Eide

Struggle as I might to find a more generous interpretation, those particular comments of the Pope's seemed gratuitously offensive. If indeed they were made in full innocence, it points to a startling unworldliness.

While we all might wish the reaction from some in the Muslim world had been less emotional, I don’t think we ought to forget that much of that world has been subjected to continual interference from the west, by both word and deed, for a very long time. Frustrations do tend to build over time.

What did surprise me was the lack of any real rigour or originality in the balance of Benedict's speech. The core message, such as it was, had to be dredged out of great mounds of verbiage. He frequently dressed up simple assertions as if they were the result of careful reasoning. False dichotomies were created through the frequent conflation of reason and science. And, as Yohan and Babek pointed out so well, he seemed largely oblivious to the internal contradictions in his own thesis.

A disappointing effort, I thought, needlessly inflammatory, fairly pedestrian in academic terms and entirely lacking -- for me at least -- in any redeeming spiritual ethos.

Babak Makkinejad

Ingolf Eide:

The reaction to Pope's remarks in the Muslim world has been quite muted. A number of ambassadors to the Vatican have been recalled and a few demonstrations with hundreds of people have taken place. Considering the fact the most of these cities (Mulsim) have millions of inhabitants, I would say that most Muslims did not react at all. The few violent incidents may be traced to lawless places like Somaila or the Palestinian Territories.

larry whalen

Benedict's personal journey of empathy and experience is what it is, but I'm sure he could find a displaced Chaldean rite priest to help him in the future with his audience.


Why hasn't anyone answered the substantive questions raised by Pat Lang or the Pope? Just ad hominem attacks. Is the Moslem god a rational god? Is violence proscribed by Allah? Is not acting in accordance with reason contrary to God's nature? Is God pure love? Or is he pleased by decapitations and forced conversions?

Lee A. Arnold

Col. Lang it's a brilliant and learned speech and thank you for printing the whole thing. The import of the Pope's chosen example is pretty clear. Then going on to explain why reason should be acceptable to Christians, and demonstrating to others why the acceptance of reason need not denature the faith, is very clever indeed. We can hope that the Pope intends to use this argument for a major ecumenical outreach to his counterparts in Islam. The mullahs and ayatollahs would be compelled to respond in kind, and their strictures might command millions to mitigate the jihad. It could throw a real wrench into the thing. What I find most surprising is how oblique it all is. It makes you realize the religions have never spoken to each other before. That these religions have not had an earlier rapprochement is something of an embarrassment to both of them. I am interested to know if there is an available history of official contacts between the two.


Pat Lang >"...Should the pope have apologized? No. He should not have done so. There was no reason for Muslims to be offended by this academic discourse. The lecture was not really about them at all...The pope should not encourage such delusions."

I agree with Pat as he stated above; this wasn`t about Islam and those that think so really need to do some deeper though about Ratzinger`s words as presented here

I must note that I came away from reading this w/a completely different slant on what daPope was going on about & here is the money quote for me :

"...if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable..."

Ratzinger is pitching for more credibility for religion which has taken such a beating from science over the last few centuries BECAUSE of "the empirically verifiable"

He is suggesting that only if we do as he suggests in my "money quote" can Christianity/Western World hold a successful dialog with Islam

He`s arguing for more credibility for religion & less for science; the rant of a placeholder figurehead leader of a decadent bureaucratic institution

"All successful revolutions are the kicking in of a rotten door." - John Kenneth Galbraith

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