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The Pope and Islam: The Historical Background of the Discourse - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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It escaped the minds of many, including Pope Benedict XVI himself, that the man who delivered the speech at in Bavaria in Germany on the renewal of the Christian religion was not the head of the Catholic institution, but rather a philosophical theologian named Joseph Ratzinger, who before becoming Pope, was known for his firm philosophical and theological frame and his inclination towards dialogue on the subjects of religion, rationalism and technology in Western societies, in which, the institution of religion has collapsed and Christian beliefs subsided.

The man chosen in April 2005 to succeed the late Pope John Paul II, who was known for his open mindedness and dialogue with other cultures and religions, especially Islam, was unknown to many outside of the small theological Catholic community despite the fact that he published a detailed autobiography entitled ‘Milestones’ that gave an account of his religious and cultural path from his birth in 1927 until 1977.

Over the last two years, a number of books that have been written on the new Pope have revealed two points:

1) The former archbishop who appeared open minded and modern in the Second Vatican Council has recently become an extreme conservative adopting the church’s most stringent views, which caused dissatisfaction amongst some of his predecessor’s closest associates.

2) The new pope is obsessed with methods of renewing the Christian faith and boosting the presence of the Church within the public realm and in social and moral domains.

Unlike other Christian orientations that seek to embrace concepts of modernization into the moral fabric of Christianity, such as the theologies of liberation and dissociation as well as the theologies and orientations of the American evangelicalism, Pope Benedict XVI sees that renewing Christianity cannot be achieved without fighting the two main ideas that took Western modernity away from religion. These are:

1) The deviating rationalism, which rejects the revelation.

2) The moral dismissing secularization leading to the relative conception of values.

Joseph Ratzinger still expresses these ideals in his abundant theological and philosophical writings, most important of which is his rich discussion with the renowned German philosopher, Jurgen Habermas, called ‘Pre-political Moral Foundations of the Liberal State’.

Habermas defended the modern secular state based on the tradition of rational enlightenment (the independence legitimacy of the rational ego and the procedural instrumental conception of collective values). Ratzinger on the other hand talks about the increasing gap between an uncontrollable technological rationalism and futile religious practice because it is removed from the frame of effectiveness.

He continues and speaks further on “the illness of the Western mind”, considering Western culture a concept of both the Christian religion and Greek rationalism and cannot be balanced without both sources together. The biggest danger that this culture has suffered from, is the deviation under the temptation of the critical and historical concepts of cultural diversity and the right to disagreement, which has resulted in undermining the notion of “universal rationalism” and the “universal Christian revelation”.

It is clear that the rationalism that the Pope defends is not the rationalism of enlightenment of human and historical tendencies or the modern critical dissociation rationalism; but rather the excessive methodical ancient theological rationalism.

From this point of view emerge the Pope’s insulting remarks towards Islam in the context of his adherence to the median Catholic theology, and his opposing tendency to diverse values, which is the theoretical, referential background for religious and cultural dialogue. In addition, if some past indications expose his discriminatory position against Islam such as receiving the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in September 2005, who is renowned for her harsh, malicious and racist writings against Islam and Muslims, the sections mentioned in his last lecture regarding the comparison between the Islamic views of Godhood “that contradicts reason” and the Christian views of the “human rationalism streak,” which is classified as the previously mentioned obsession with renewing the religious practices of Western societies by taking them back to their religious roots against which they revolted.

There are three correlated sides to the talk on Islam in this context, has three correlated sides. The first refers to what the Pope regards as a dangerous challenge that this religion, which is the second biggest religion in Western countries, raises doctrinal and cultural compatibility in mainstream Christianity, whereas the second point refers to the known theological background of the Islamic-Christian doctrinal clash “studied thoroughly by the Tunisian researcher Abdul Majid Al Sharafy in his sizable book that examines the Islamic/Christian dialogue of the Middle Ages”. The third factor concerns the current argument about the religious and intellectual background for “Islamic terrorism” from which some major western cities have suffered.

Pope Benedict XVI has expressed his regret for Muslim protest against his offensive lecture, claiming that the concerned passage was a quote from the Middle Ages with which he disagrees; however, it is clear that his view of the Islamic/Christian relationship comes from the framework of internal Christian dialogue between an open argumentative tendency, represented by the distinguished Swiss theological scientist Hans Kung, whose relationship with the Vatican has deteriorated in the past decades on one hand and a closed orientation of expulsion, incapable of freeing itself from an aggressive cruciferous view, concealed in the prevailing theological Orientalism thesis on the other hand.