The Pope made a perfectly reasonable argument against forced conversions and for dialogue and debate between those whose faiths differ, and the New York Times criticizes him:
There is more than enough religious anger in the world. So it is particularly disturbing that Pope Benedict XVI has insulted Muslims, quoting a 14th—century description of Islam as "evil and inhuman."
In the most provocative part of a speech this week on "faith and reason," the pontiff recounted a conversation between an "erudite" Byzantine Christian emperor and a "learned" Muslim Persian circa 1391. The pope quoted the emperor saying, "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."
Muslim leaders the world over have demanded apologies and threatened to recall their ambassadors from the Vatican, warning that the pope's words dangerously reinforce a false and biased view of Islam. For many Muslims, holy war "jihad" is a spiritual struggle, and not a call to violence. And they denounce its perversion by extremists, who use jihad to justify murder and terrorism.
Let me suggest that the Times is once again on the wrong side of the barriers between freedom and fascism.
The editors shamed themselves when they failed to attack forced conversions, including those of the two Fox employees in Gaza. If Islam is truly a religion of peace, its leaders have been remarkably tardy to expel and excommunicate those who have used it as a rallying point for unspeakable, barbaric violence. And if the Fourth Estate is key to the protection of civil liberties, it——and most particularly the NYT——has been AWOL on the field of battle.
Clarice Feldman 9 16 06
Update: A scholar who uses the pseudonym elendil send the following"
In her comment "The inexplicable NYT attack on the Pope" Clarice Feldman appropriately characterized Benedict XVI's argument as "quite reasonable." The recovery of reason has been a consistent emphasis of Benedict's papacy——as a key to the West's recovery of spiritual health. There is a rather remarkable passage in the speech, one that got little attention. In this passage the pope says:
In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so—called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which ultimately 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 Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.
It would be unreasonable to expect even a religion writer at the NYT to recognize the full significance of what the pope is saying here. Duns Scotus was one of the most eminent thinkers of the Middle Ages. He was known as the Doctor Subtilis, or Subtle Doctor, for the acuteness of his reasoning, and his thought has had a significant influence even to the present day (for example, John Henry Newman was a Scotist, a topic that is dealt with in the wonderful book, The Keen Delight). Duns was a Franciscan and is still held in high esteem by that order, one of the most important orders in the Church. Yet Benedict is saying that this great thinker's characteristic position of voluntarism
gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazn and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.
Regarding this Ibn Hazn, who takes a characteristic line of Islamic thought to an extreme, Benedict quotes "the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that:
...Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
In effect, Benedict is suggesting that there is room for dialogue between Christianity and Islam because a very prominent line of Christian thought has gone off the rails in exactly the same way——or at least in a very similar way——as the traditions that have been criticized as most extreme in Islamic thought, and which are probably rejected by the majority of Muslims. Moreover, by acknowledging the role that a prominent theologian played in propagating ideas that have very dangerous tendencies, Benedict is acknowledging that the Church shares some degree of responsibility for the spiritual crisis of the West. He is truly issuing an invitation to a reasoned dialogue both to the world of Islam but also to those in the secular West who are concerned for the future. This subtlety, of course, was entirely lost on the NYT.
For my part, I welcome Benedict's call to recover the intellectualism of Thomas Aquinas. It is precisely Thomas' reasoned intellectualism that offers a common ground for dialogue among Christian, Muslim and Jew...and, yes, with secular people of good will as well."