Saturday, September 16, 2006

I think they really want a crusade

I get really frustrated when people in the so-called Islamic world (which, for some reason, invariably includes only northern Africa and the Middle East) say things like this:
"'We want to make it clear that if the pope does not appear on TV and apologize for his comments, we will blow up all of Gaza’s churches,' the group [Sword of Islam] said in a statement" (from an article on Drudge Report).

So a little group in a place no bigger than Hawkins County (for real: the Gaza Strip has an area of 360 square kilometers, Hawkins County, Tennessee has an area of 1,294 square kilometers) is threatening the leader of the world's largest religious body to appear on TV. It's so silly!

So what did His Holiness do that merits burning down places of worship? Here is the quote that you may have already read, placed within the context of what Pope Benedict was saying:
I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on-- perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara-- by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was probably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than the responses of the learned Persian.

The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship of the three Laws: the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur'an. In this lecture I would like to discuss only one point-- itself rather marginal to the dialogue itself-- which, in the context of the issue of faith and reason, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion."

It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.

But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:

"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."

The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.

God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats. To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death.

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature.
The Pope did nothing but speak wisely and truthfully about the fundamental difference between Islam and Christianity. And he did not even do it in such a way, or in such a forum, as to readily offend the easily-offendable Muslims of the "Arab world."

Instead, at a closed religious, academic setting, the Professor-Pope was lecturing on something that has become very important in the last ten years, the reliationship and difference between Christianity and Islam, and something that has become important in the last four weeks: forced conversion (remember the FoxNews reporter and producer who were forced to convert to Islam by Palestinians).

With all of their rhetoric, one would think that the people in that tiny little piece of land that contains so much hate and violence are looking hard for someone to crusade against.

The sad thing is that part of me wants to answer their violence (fire-bombing churches today) with violence. But the words of the Prince of Peace counsel otherwise:
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'
Amen, and amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

FEELING: Frustrated
LISTENING TO: The Holy Spirit's still, small voice

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