While I was catching up on the whole Muslim outrage and reading several commentaries on the reaction to Pope Benedict XVI speech, I came across a wonderful piece by Daniel Johnson over at the New York Sun. Out of all the recent commentary on the Pope's recent speech, Johnson pushes through the cloud of controversy and puts in a lays out a very good summary of what Benedict XVI speech. Though I could wax philosophically about the Pope's thought provoking argument on the need of applying Hellenic philosophy to reasonably understand one's religion, I felt you'd find Johnson's far more interesting. Just take a look:
But the message was, at heart, a straightforward one. The Jewish or Christian God acts in accordance with reason: In the beginning was the Word, the Logos. Benedict emphasizes that this new, logocentric understanding of God is already present in the Hebrew Bible, long before the fusion of Jerusalem and Athens in the New Testament. Our knowledge of God — the God of Israel or the God of Christianity — emerges in the unfolding of the encounter between faith and reason.Thank G-d for folks like Daniel Johnson who push through the static of the current dust-up and puts forward what the Pope was getting at in his September 12, 2006 speech.
The contribution of Hellenic thought to this gradual enlightenment is, for Benedict, essential. He laments the "dehellenization" of Christianity since the Reformation. Its effect, he thinks, has been to "relegate religion to the realm of subcultures" and to treat scientific rationality as if it had nothing whatever to do with faith. "The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality," he warns. If the West ignores this theological perspective, it "can only suffer great harm."
But the Pope was saying that there is an alternative to the Jewish or Christian God: the God of medieval Islam. Allah is "absolutely transcendent," above even rationality. Benedict cites a Muslim authority to the effect that "God is not bound even by his own word."
It is in this context that the pope invokes the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who recorded his dialogue with a learned Persian Muslim about the year 1400. Byzantium would finally succumb to Turkish conquest only half a century later, and Manuel wants to know how the doctrine of jihad can be justified, given that it is incompatible with God as Logos. For this Hellenic Christian, Muhammad's command to spread Islam by the sword must indeed be "evil and inhuman."
Yesterday, the pope insisted that he did not agree with Manuel. But it is clear that he sympathized with this monarch of a doomed Christian civilization enough to use him as a mouthpiece through which he could pose his own implicit questions to Islam. Does the Muslim understanding of Allah allow rational debate about the morality of violence, given that the doctrine of jihad is a central pillar of Islam? If Allah is above reason, might violent jihad, including terrorism, be not merely justifiable but obligatory, as many Muslim scholars argue?