Pope Benedict, the good & the bad

Since this blog has basically turned into a forum for my opinions about religion, I thought I'd offer my comments on Pope Benedict's challenge to Islam and secularism. First, I'll point you to John Wilkins' deconstruction of Benedict's misimpressions of evolutionary theory. Ah, the bad.

But what about the good? The good is that Benedict is challenging Islam and demanding that it join the civilized and castrated stable of modern organized religions. The universe is characterized by cycles, and organized religions arose first in their prototypical form with the rising priesthoods of city-states in places like Sumer, eventually attaining a philosophical patina via transcivilizational systems like Buddhism and Christianity. For a period between 300 and 1900 religion was the defining characteristic of many civilizations. The Sassanids had their state Zoroastrianism, Hinduism and Buddhism spread out from ndia to give Asia a common metaphysical lexicon, while Christianity and Islam exploded and flowered on the Western reaches of the World Island. But over the past few centuries Christendom has given way to the post-Christian West, and though organized religion remains vital and predominant numerically it no longer captures the essence of civilization, suffusing all sensibilities and demanding loyalty. Though the majority might personally be members of a religious organization, the choice is private, and even the tribal gods no longer serve to unite.

So to Benedict's talk. He offers a contrast between the God of Islam and the Christian God, the God of reason, Logos, the God of no compulsion in religion, vs. the more transcendent and inscrutable Allah. Honestly, I think this is all poppycock, you can tell the pagan Lithuanians and Scandinavians the consequences of rejecting conversion to the Christian faith. You can tell the pagans whose temples, like the Serapeum, were torn down by the righteous with the approval of the Christian powers the be, pagans whose private worship was forbidden by the Theodosius "the Great" (so named by the Church of whom he was a benafactor). Benedict is an intelligent man, but his God is a philosophical one of his imagining, not the angry God of the Macabees who sanctioned the forced conversion of neighboring peoples, not the nasty God who commanded Olaf Trygvasson to toss unrepentant pagans into snake pits. But this is neither here nor there, the key is that Benedict's challenge is important it serving as a gauntlet thrown out to Islam so that it rises to the occassion. I believe none of the talk of Islam being a "religion of peace" and the terrorist not being "true Muslims," but, I think it essential that the 1 billion individuals who avow Islamic beliefs be pacified by a more quietistic faith. The gelding of Christianity occurred in a environment of competition, the denominational faction with the Roman Catholic Church suppressed whenever it was in the position to do so, but that faction between denominations allows for creative destruction and more fruitful fantasies which allow the existence of non-orthodox thought. Evangelicals proslyetizing amongst Muslims is a good thing, because how sacred is a belief which allows proselytizing of falsehoods in its midst?


More like this

I recently read the remarks of the Pope. Everyone is focusing on the aggressive tone taken toward Islam. Muslims are reacting in a typically bestial manner. But it seems to me that Benedict is being disingenuous in pretending as if Christianity was spread purely through moral suasion. I have…
In my post below I mooted the issue of conflating race & religion. There were many interesting comments, and Ruchira Paul has offered her own response. I would like to elucidate a few points here and frame the issues in their proper context (or at least the context in which I meant to explore…
Regular readers know that I often check in on the results from The Barna Group, an evangelical Christian polling outfit. On the one hand I think The Barna Group tends to be a bit alarmist (they have a very narrow definition for a "Biblically based Christian," e.g., Catholics don't count), but on…
The other day, in response to a meme, I confessed to being a theist. I seem to have chosen a good time to do this, as many of my (non-theistic) fellow ScienceBloggers are discussing the matter. (Here and here are just a few examples.) I suppose I should explain. Since the holidays are approaching…

In the Christian Post

"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," the pope said, issuing an open invitation to dialogue among cultures.

This will come as a shock and an affront to any followers of the Old Testament. And if the Pope rejects the Old Testament as fiction, how can he believe the sequel?

Evangelicals proselyetizing amongst Muslims is a good thing, because how sacred is a belief which allows proselytizing of falsehoods in its midst?

Well, to use the free speech and free market (i.e. Enlightenment) model, said belief should be so obviously superior that violence is not necessary to supress the proselytization of falsehoods.
Meanwhile, The Archbishop of York says:

The Archbishop of York has said British Christians should see Muslims as allies in the struggle against secularism.

By somnilista, FCD (not verified) on 14 Sep 2006 #permalink

The Archbishop of York has said British Christians should see Muslims as allies in the struggle against secularism.

yes. there are 2 angles here:

a) it can help get atheists who have soft feelings toward muslims because they are noble savages--oops, oppressed--people of color. perhaps they can see islam for what it is, more of the same....

b) when islam and xtianity make common cause we know that the former is as gelded as the latter. it is a good canary in the coal-mine. so long as muslims keep xtians at arms length that means that they still think they have balls

Benedict is an intelligent man, but his God is a philosophical one of his imagining

And Thomas Aquinas's. How could you forget him?


By John Farrell (not verified) on 14 Sep 2006 #permalink

And Thomas Aquinas's. How could you forget him?;)

benedict is a theologian, so he is obviously a thomist. one issue i had with his assertions is that he seemed to equate thomist rationalism with intellectual christianity, when many protestant groups tend to be suspicious, or reject, thomistic theology. catholicism has not rejected athens, but some protestant groups have (i have heard that some protestants argue against conversion to eastern orthodoxy precisely because of the hellenic nature of the philosophy, as they know that many radical protestants make a pretense toward full-bore hebraism in their religion).

Suspicious? You're being polite.

BTW, Orthodox Christians are also suspicious of Thomas.

By John Farrell (not verified) on 14 Sep 2006 #permalink

Suspicious? You're being polite.

the problem with generalization about protestants is that their variance is so great....

Actually, Benedict *isn't* a Thomist. He was schooled at a seminary in Germany that focused on the Church Fathers -- the Resourcement movement -- instead of the theology of Thomas Aquinas, which was extremely unusual for the time. Benedict is familiar, very much so, with the writings of Aquinas, but in fact belongs to the Augustinian school of theology.

By Andrew Na (not verified) on 14 Sep 2006 #permalink

thanks. a little clarification, what is the church's relationship to thomism? my understanding was that the church accepts thomism as its central philospohical system?

The Pope is taking a lot of flak for his comments regarding Islam. I think it is funny/sad when someone accuses muslims of being violent and they respond with violence.

By somnilista, FCD (not verified) on 15 Sep 2006 #permalink

a little clarification, what is the church's relationship to thomism? my understanding was that the church accepts thomism as its central philospohical system?

Thomism has certainly had long period of favor and is usually given pride of place in documents such as the official Catechism of the Catholic Church. However, it's certainly never been the only accepted school of theology within the Catholic Church.

The quickest rundown is to recall that the CC, while stating certain doctrines as certain, does not tend commit itself to explanations of _why_ these doctrines are so. Various theological schools of thought attempt to provide systematic explanations which explain why all set doctrines are true, and from there extrapolate knowledge of other things. (And here they can eventually run afoul of current or future Church teaching. Famously, Aquinas argued against the Immaculate Conception, based on some of his Aristotelian beliefs about the soul, and thus found himself on the wrong side of the eventual pronouncement, man centuries later, that Mary was immaculately conceived.)

On the topic of forced conversion throughout history (which you raised in the original post) -- while Benedict is wihtout question aware of the historical facts that you cite, I think that the important distinction to recall (as regards to the theology involved) is that while the Church has always taught that a conversion under duress is no true conversion (and if memory serves Dante puts some false converts in hell) there was throughout much of Christian history a consensus that it was better for society to officially suppress false religions 'for the good of society', even if it might do no good to the individual souls who originally abandoned paganism only under threat of the sword.

This is a topic on which the last few hundred years has seen a gradual but in the end complete reversal on consensus. That may be of little comfort to the Saxons that Charlemagne 'converted' (and victims of other similar religious wars of conversion throughout Christian history) but it's worth remembering nonetheless.

On the topic of forced conversion throughout history

you should post on this. i would link to you from both my blogs. i will post on this issue a bit more...but i am limited by my own knowledge of history and my own biases. i would appreciate a widening of the circle of discussion from a intellectual perspective.