Morgan Meis of The Smart Set opines,The pope (was) here. Ratzinger. Pope Benedict XVI. It is thus a good occasion to figure out what this pope is up to. So far he's done two notable things, at least for those of us outside the arms of the Church. He did the first just before he became pope, and that was to meet with the world-renowned German philosopher Jürgen Habermas for a long chat about faith and reason (the title of the discussion: “Pre-political moral foundations in the construction of a free civil society”). The second was to deliver an address at the University of Regensburg. In that address, he mentioned in passing a quote from the Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus. "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new,” the emperor said in 1391, “and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
This was not received well by the Islamic world. There were riots. Various Islamists threatened to march on Rome, literally, to take the city for Islam. A Christian nun was killed in Somalia. In general, mayhem. The pope later apologized for the fact that his words were taken as an insult. He did not, however, take back the gist of what he was trying to say. Now there's no question that the pope was taking a swipe at Islam. But in the context of the discussion of faith and reason, the swipe comes off a lot differently than how it was picked up in popular media. Basically, the pope accused Islam of holding God so far above reason that there is an absolute split between the two things. Islam, therefore, has no need to justify itself rationally. And thereby it has no need to limit itself in terms of violence or anything else. Whatever serves Allah serves Allah and there's nothing else to say about it. Now one can object to this point in various ways, but it is far from stupid, or uninteresting.
The pope, in essence, was challenging Islam to step up to the plate. He may have made his pitch in a jerky way, but he was essentially inviting Islam to join in with the Logos, the great big argument about how we can make society good. Because the pope does not see Islam as his big problem. Islam — a religion essentially of The Book — is a potential ally in the task of fixing things up. The pope sees the modern Western world as his main problem.The problem with the modern Western world is that it got all jazzed up on rationality and forgot what that rationality was supposed to be in the service of ...
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The only disagreement I have with Meis is that the modern world is NOT rational; not by a long shot. In fact, as Hilaire Belloc pointed out, the Modern Phase of the attack on the Church is characterized the flagrant disabusing the human race of reason (as well denying the existence of a covenant-making, loving God and Revelation, but that's another topic).
Why else the irrational worship of instincts? The pan-sexual destruction of faith and morals? The any and every stick possible to try to destroy the one place where human dignity and worth is still held as indelible, imago dei?
Yet Meis and other humanists are beginning to "get" the gist of Benedict's mission. Perhaps, just perhaps others, too, will see the light of Christ's hope and return to the Faith vouchsafed in the Catholic Church. Just perhaps.