Friday, September 22, 2006

Lessons from the Pope's Remarks and Controversy

1. Particularly During Times of Tensition It Is Imperative that Religious Leaders Come Together
Rome’s Mayor Walter Veltroni (second right) reaches out with other religious leaders at the end of an interfaith meeting at city hall in Rome yesterday attended by (from left) Rome’s chief rabbi Riccardo di Segni, Community of Sant’Egidio president Andrea Riccardi, the Vatican’s top official for inter-religious dialogue Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of Rome’s Islamic Cultural Centre Abdullah Redouane, Imam of Rome’s mosque Sami Salem and Rome’s Jewish community president Leone Paserman

2. Muslim Protests Can Be Non-Violent

On Friday in the Middle East, thousands of people rallied against the Pope. This was in response to a call by an influential moderate Muslim cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi for a peaceful Day of Anger following Muslim prayers. A similar International Day of Anger was held in the height of the cartoon controversy in February. I have not yet seen, and thankfully there have not been any acts of violence or destruction of churches during this event.

For a news report on the protest from the UK Guardian, click here.

US Muslims denouce the remarks and reaction saying loudly that Muslims stand against violence. For several stories go to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

CAIR also has organized a drive to help repair the Palestinian Churches that were damaged or destroyed in the violence. More...

Click here for a video news clip of the CAIR Press Conference

3. Religious Communities Must Self Critically Examine their Scriptures and Traditions for Legitimizations of Violence. This was the problem with the Pope's remarks say two prominant commentators.

Yesterday, at a meeting of the Tripartite Forum on the Dialogue Among Civilizations commemorating the UN's International Day of Peace, I called for religious traditions to engage in a self-critical reflection about those parts of our scriptures and theological traidtions that seem to legitimize violence. The difficulty of the Pope's comment, I suggested was that he did not address Christian legitimization of violence which continues to this day. That's also the trend of thought expressed in two columns, one by eminent church historian and noted commentator on religion in American Martin Marty, in the Chicago Tribune and the other by commentator James Heffernan.

Pope Benedict XVI and Islam

By Martin E. Marty, professor emeritus at the University of Chicago Divinity SchoolPublished September 19, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI has had a free ride so far. Back when there were still Protestant anti-Catholics, some would have found much fault with him, but most appreciated his encyclical on divine and human love and said so. Many Catholics and non-Catholics whose friends suffered under him as Cardinal Ratzinger now empathetically choose to help the wounded nurse their bruises. Some among the Catholic right even think he should be more of a hard-liner.

For all those reasons, it is regrettable that in the midst of a well-worked out (of course) formal speech at the University of Regensburg in Germany, his old academic turf, the pope lapsed for a moment and did what we tenured folk sometimes do--and remember, the pope has lifetime tenure--we come up with an allusion that gets us in trouble, let a side point take center stage or fail to count the cost of a remark. So it was that almost inexplicably the pope began his talk in Regensburg with inflaming words from an obscure Byzantine emperor from the 14th Century to show that jihad as holy war is bad. That emperor, through this pope, said that what the Prophet Muhammad brought to the world was "only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Like Christians often did? The pope did not mention that.


"When will the Pope Apologize for the Long History of Christian Violence"

By James Heffernan

Here are his last few paragraphs:

In Christianizing the Roman empire by force, Constantine set a precedent for the crusades, which began in 1095 and lasted for two centuries. To reclaim the Holy Lands from Muslims, Christian forces conquered Jerusalem in 1099, killed every Muslim in it, herded all Jews into the synagogue, and burned it. In 1204, after Jerusalem had been reconquered by Muslims, armies of Franks and Venetians sacked Constantinople-capital of Eastern Christianity-and brutally vandalized its greatest church, the Hagia Sophia.

Since Manuel II (who reigned from 1391 to 1425) was not only surrounded by Ottoman Turks but under vassalage to the Sultan of Byzantium, he might be forgiven for forgetting the history of Christian violence and focussing instead on the savagery of Muslims in the letter from which Benedict quotes. But if the Pope aims to make religion less violent and more reasonable, as he said yesterday, he should recognize that Mohammed did not preach a gospel of violence. Though he fiercely defended Medina in the Battle of the Trench, when his men defeated an attacking force of Meccans that outnumbered them by more than three to one, his ultimate goal was peace. According to the Quran, war is so catastrophic that Muslims must do all they can to restore peace as soon as possible whenever it is broken (8: 16-17).

Why doesn't the Pope remind all Muslims of this passage? And while he's at it, why doesn't he remind all Christians-especially our war president--that Christ repeatedly preached a gospel of peace, that he resolutely refused to be a warrior, that he counselled us to turn the other cheek when attacked, and that he rebuked one of his followers for cutting off the ear of the servant of a high priest who came to arrest him: "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword" (Matthew 26: 52). Is it not time for Christians and Muslims alike to recognize what our prophets share, and to admit how far we have strayed from their teachings?



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