About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
Pope, Islam and the role of reason in faith
First off, the Pope was technically correct. The furor has been focused on the fact that he quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor (yes, hardly current literature) as saying that Islam is “evil and inhuman” because of Muhammad's command to spread the true faith by means of the sword. Well, Muhammad did say that, and it is in fact what happened, just check any book on the early history of Islam.
Then again, look who's talking. Christianity itself has often enough spread with the aid of the sword, from the Roman legions under Constantine and his successors to the Spanish “conquistadors” in South America. This is a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Second, considering that most of the Islamic world is currently controlled by bloody dictators or equally oppressive small oligarchies, it is rather ironic for a top Islamic official in Turkey to compare Benedict to Hitler and Mussolini (come on, people, you can't simply make that parallel every time you don't like someone, have a sense of historical proportions, will ya?).
What is most sadly ironic about the whole controversy, however, is that a few days after the Pope's remarks an Italian nun was killed in Somalia, apparently in direct response to a local call for attacks against Christians to revenge the Pope's “insult.” What better way to counter the accusation that Islam is a violent religion than going on a killing rampage of infidels, right?
Benedict made his infamous remarks within the context of a scholarly lecture he delivered in Germany on the relationship between faith and reason. That is indeed a serious discussion that all religious people ought to have with themselves and within their churches, synagogues or mosques (although there is always the danger that they will end up choosing reason over faith!). But even more crucially, religious people – Muslim or otherwise – really need to carry out a soul-searching (so to speak) exercise on an even more fundamental relationship - that between faith and human morality. Let's be a little less prone to be mortally offended by words and a little more willing to discuss the consequences of faith-inspired violent actions, for a change.