Muslims are outraged over Pope Benedict’s recent speech, in which he denounced violence as a means of bringing about religious conversion. How did they demonstrate their anger? Ironically, with violent protest — even murder.
The highlight of the Pope’s visit to his native Germany was an address at Regensberg, where he once taught. The speech was supposed to be memorable for its forceful response to the crisis caused by Western secularism. Instead, it’s more likely to be remembered as further proof, if we needed any, that irony — to say nothing of civility — is not one of Islam’s strongest suits.
The Pope spoke about the importance of reason within Christianity. As he put it, “The encounter between the biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance.” It was intended by God.
This “encounter” helped create Western civilization. And in rejecting Christianity, the Pope warned, Europe is rejecting the basis of the rationality that made Western achievements possible. That is a point you heard me make in commentaries on Rodney Stark’s terrific new book, The Victory of Reason.
This part of the Pope’s remarks was well received, even by some of his harshest critics. Unfortunately, this part, which was ninety percent of the speech, was washed away in the controversy.
The fuss is about what the Pope said about Islam. He quoted a fourteenth-century Byzantine Christian emperor, who, in a discussion about Christianity and Islam with a Persian scholar, said this: “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.”
Benedict’s point was that “forced” conversion is “contrary to God’s nature,” as well as to both reason and faith. The effort to forcibly convert people to Islam is, for Benedict, an example of how the differences between the Christian and Islamic conception of God manifest themselves in the “real world” — a difference on display just a few weeks ago when Islamists tried to force the conversion of two Fox News journalists taken hostage.
In response to the Pope’s reasonable and factual comments, Muslims took to the streets demanding an “apology” and attacking Christian churches. The Iraqi branch of al-Qaeda pledged to “break the Cross and spill the wine,” leaving Christians with no choice but “Islam or death.” And on Sunday, Somali Islamist gunmen shot in the back and killed a Roman Catholic nun ministering to the poor in Mogadishu.
If Muslims had protested peacefully, they would have undercut the Pope’s remarks. Instead, they proved him correct.
Pope Benedict is the second religious leader of international stature to really call Islam to account. Franklin Graham did it a while back and was beaten up by the press for months. Well, the Pope is now going to suffer the same fate. The New York Times in a Saturday morning editorial blamed the Pope, and no mention was made of Muslim violence.
This controversy underscores the unpleasant truth that Islamic violence is deeply rooted in both the religious and cultural fabric of the Muslim world. It is time for the West to face that painful truth and to buckle down for what will be a long struggle. Thankfully, Pope Benedict is making us do that.
For Further Reading and Information
Today’s BreakPoint offer: Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? by Dr. Timothy George compares and contrasts the differences between Christianity and Islam.
Read the text of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech, “Faith, Reason and the University.”
“The Pope’s Words,” New York Times, 16 September 2006.
“Militants Vow War after Pope Comments,” MSNBC, 18 September 2006.
Sahal Abdulle and Guled Mohamed, “Italian Nun Slain in Somalia, Pope Link Speculation,” Reuters, 17 September 2006.