The quotation that caused all the furor involves a 14th-century dialogue between a Byzantine emperor and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam. The pope quotes the emperor, who says: “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 sword the faith he preached.” Fighting words to be sure, but the pope does not quote them favorably. Rather, Benedict uses the quote to illustrate his deeper point. For Christians, it is always wrong to spread the faith through violence, precisely because of what the Christian faith claims about God. The pope says that “violence is incompatible with the nature of God” because acting against reason is contrary to God’s nature. God is reasonable, not willful or arbitrary.
This may seem like an abstract theological point, but much of our common life hangs on it. By analogy, what if the people who ruled our country were willful and arbitrary? What if they said they were above reason or even acted contrary to it? If they made no pretension to being reasonable, there would be no reason for them to shirk away from threats and violence. —Thomas W. Smith —Pope’s focus: Reason — Its relationship to the divine was the subject of a recent speech that upset some Muslims. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
In my Media Lab class yesterday, I said that I thought journalism wasn’t doing a very good job of covering the reaction in parts of the Islamic world to Pope Benedict’s use of a quotation that contained statements highly critical of Muhammad.
This article, which includes a link to the full text of Benedict’s speech, offers much-needed context and balance. The content of this article is far less striking than photos of livid Muslims burning effigies, but it’s far more important to our understanding of the nature of the issue at hand.