Benedict Takes the Next Step with Islam | Mark Brumley | September 21, 2006 | IgnatiusInsight.comBenedict Takes the Next Step with Islam | Mark Brumley | September 21, 2006

We're hearing calls for more dialogue with Islam in the wake of the uproar following Pope Benedict XVI's remarks at the University of Regensburg. Yet the uproar itself underscores the problem with such calls for dialogue. How can you talk seriously with people when they're apt to react violently as soon as you say something they don't want to hear?

Comparisons have been made between Pope John Paul II's approach to Islam and Benedict XVI's approach. John Paul II had the luxury of "warming up the crowd" when it came to dealing with Muslim leaders. He could devote his energies to the role of Christianity's "good will ambassador" to the Islamic world. By the time the attacks of September 11, 2001 occurred, John Paul II's papacy was winding down. Even if he had wanted to pursue another approach, he was hardly in a position to do so.

In the post-9/11 world, Benedict XVI has to get down to business. Hard conversations have to happen. Difficult questions must be raised. The uncomfortable task of addressing basic differences is upon us. The status quo must change and someone has to move it along. That process was accelerated at the University of Regensburg, when Benedict XVI challenged the whole world to think seriously about reason, religion, and science.

The Pope's address was not mainly about Islam. It was about the role of reason in religion and science. Benedict criticized irrationality in religion, including the use of violence to further religious ends, but his remarks by no means pitted Christianity against Islam or singled out Islam. Christianity, too, he observed, has sometimes succumbed to irrationality.

The trouble is, while most of Christianity has worked through many of the issues regarding reason and the modern world, much of Islam hasn't. That uncomfortable truth has to be addressed. "Moderate" voices in Islam have to speak out forcefully--not against remarks such as those of Pope Benedict, but against those Muslims who resort to violence, whether physical or verbal, when people who hold other points of view defend those points of view.

What might a "moderate" Islamic voice have sounded like in the recent controversy? "We appreciate Pope Benedict's remarks regarding religion and reason. We do not agree with everything in his analysis, nor with his manner of presenting it. We know that Pope Benedict did not intend to embrace the remarks of the Christian emperor he quoted. We concur with his basic point that violence is contrary to God's will for spreading religious truth. We acknowledge that some Muslims today do not accept this. We are embarrassed that they associate the religion of Islam with their violence. We call on all Muslims to renounce violence. We call on them to accept the good will of Benedict XVI and to use his speech as an opportunity to find ways for Muslims and Christians to collaborate and to live together in peace."

That would have been a "moderate" Islamic response. The fact that there were few such responses indicates the extent to which "moderate" Islam has any influence in the world, especially in the Islamic world. This is a fact that the violent, irrational replies to the Pope's comments should compel reasonable people to acknowledge. It should also force us to stop thinking our placid discussions with liberalized Muslims in the West are likely to yield much fruit in the Islamic world at large.

People have criticized Benedict for not anticipating criticism by Muslims. But the fact is, Benedict's comments shouldn't have been seen as especially provocative. That Muslims took his words to be provocative only demonstrates the necessity of his having to say what he said. "Woe to you when all men speak well of you," Jesus said.

More dialogue with Islam? A much more important conversation must take place--within Islam. Until it does, not even the Pope can get anywhere. Benedict has taken the next, difficult step in the West's dealings with the Islamic world. He has challenged it to think long and hard about itself. Only if leaders within Islam begin vocally to push Benedict's point about faith and reason, about irrationality in religion and its use of violence--and risk the hostility from militant Islam that Benedict now faces--will the Pope and other non-Muslims find worthy partners with whom to speak. Whether that can or will happen remains to be seen.

Related Resources:

Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly About God and Man | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The (False) Tale of Two Popes | Carl E. Olson
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
First Musings on Benedict XVI's First Encyclical | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Encyclical: God's Eros Is Agape | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On Reading the Pope | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
9/11 Revisited | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Molochs of Modernity | Dr. Jose Yulo
Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose Yulo
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Mark Brumley is President of Ignatius Press and associate publisher of

An former staff apologist with Catholic Answers, Mark is the author of How Not To Share Your Faith (Catholic Answers) and contributor to The Five Issues That Matter Most. He is a regular contributor to the InsightScoop web log.

He has written articles for numerous periodicals and has appeared on FOX NEWS, ABC NEWS, EWTN, PBS's NewsHour, and other television and radio programs.

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