Monday, September 18, 2006

Pope Benedict: A Man Of Faith AND Reason!

(The following is the text of a letter which I sent to several local newspapers.)

Pope Benedict XVI’s recent remarks to scientists at the University of Regensburg (where he was a professor and vice rector from 1969-1971), have been taken out of context and used to inflame already tense relations between Muslims and Christians around the world.

First of all, I would encourage everyone to read the Holy Father’s remarks in toto. They are available at, in the archives for September 12.

Interestingly, the pope in his address was far more critical of certain historical trends in Christianity than he was of similar trends in Islam. Regarding the latter, he quoted from a late 14th century conversation that took place between an erudite Byzantine emperor (Manuel II Paleologus), and an educated Persian of the Muslim faith. In his discussion, the emperor was trying to make the point that forced conversions to any religion are contrary to right reason and hence to the very nature of God himself. This was the context of the quote that has caused all the uproar in recent days. As the pope rightly noted, in making his appeal for mutual respect, the emperor was certainly aware of the statement found in the Koran (Sura 2:256): “Let there be no compulsion in Religion.”

The Holy Father’s main message is that reason and faith must work together and be joined together if there is to be a genuine dialogue between the various cultures of the world that will result in lasting peace.

Many Muslims and Christians would wholeheartedly agree.

This foundational point has been lost in all the media “hype” surrounding the pope’s address. And that’s tragic, because we have all experienced firsthand the evils that can result when faith and reason are taken to be mutually exclusive categories.

It is not “reasonable,” for example, to blow up innocent men and women in a city square. Nor is it “reasonable” to set off a bomb in an abortion clinic in order to kill everyone inside. But if faith is severed from reason, then such horrific actions can easily be justified by declaring: “It’s God’s will.” On the other hand, if reason is severed from faith, atrocities of a similar nature can be rationalized by appealing to “expert opinion”.

Faith disconnected from all rationality leads to horrific events like the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Reason disconnected from any reference to God and his moral law leads to atrocities like those experienced in the death camps of Auschwitz and the gulags of the old Soviet Union.

The Holy Father has invited everyone to a fruitful dialogue which is rooted in faith and reason—a true “dialogue of cultures” that will result in a better world for us all. It’s my personal prayer that we will all have the good sense to accept it.