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ASIA NEWS ^ | April 26, 2006 | Samir Khali Samir, SJ

Posted on 07/15/2006 7:49:19 PM PDT by Dqban22


For Pope Ratzinger, religions should be compared on the basis of the cultures and civilizations they generate. To avoid a clash of civilizations, Islam should distance itself from terrorist violence; the west from secularist and atheistic violence. This is the analysis of a renowned expert, who last September participated in a meeting on Islam behind closed doors with the pontiff.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Benedict XVI is probably one of the few figures to have profoundly understood the ambiguity in which contemporary Islam is being debated and its struggle to find a place in modern society. At the same time, he is proposing a way for Islam to work toward coexistence globally and with religions, based not on religious dialogue, but on dialogue between cultures and civilizations based on rationality and on a vision of man and human nature which comes before any ideology or religion. This choice to wager on cultural dialogue explains his decision to absorb the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue into the larger Pontifical Council for Culture.

While the Pope is asking Islam for dialogue based on culture, human rights, the refusal of violence, he is asking the West, at the same time, to go back to a vision of human nature and rationality in which the religious dimension is not excluded. In this way – and perhaps only in this way – a clash of civilizations can be avoided, transforming it instead into a dialogue between civilizations.

Islamic totalitarianism differs from Christianity To understand Benedict XVI’s thinking and Islamic religion, we must go over their evolution. A truly essential document is found in his book (written in 1996, when he was still cardinal, together with Peter Seewald), entitled “The Salt of the Earth”, in which he makes certain considerations and highlights various differences between Islam and Christian religion and the West.

First of all, he shows that there is no orthodoxy in Islam, because there is no one authority, no common doctrinal magisterium. This makes dialogue difficult: when we engage in dialogue, it is not “with Islam”, but with groups.

But the key point that he tackles is that of sharia. He points out that:

“the Koran is a total religious law, which regulates the whole of political and social life and insists that the whole order of life be Islamic. Sharia shapes society from beginning to end. In this sense, it can exploit such freedoms as our constitutions give, but it cannot be its final goal to say: Yes, now we too are a body with rights, now we are present [in society] just like the Catholics and the Protestants. In such a situation, [Islam] would not achieve a status consistent with its inner nature; it would be in alienation from itself”, which could be resolved only through the total Islamization of society.

When for example an Islamic finds himself in a Western society, he can benefit from or exploit certain elements, but he can never identify himself with the non-Muslim citizen, because he does not find himself in a Muslim society.

Thus Cardinal Ratzinger saw clearly an essential difficulty of socio-political relations with the Muslim world, which comes from the totalizing conception of Islamic religion, which is profoundly different from Christianity. For this reason, he insists in saying that we cannot try to project onto Islam the Christian vision of the relationship between politics and religion. This would be very difficult: Islam is a religion totally different from Christianity and Western society and this makes does not make coexistence easy.

In a closed-door seminar, held at Castelgandolfo (September 1-2, 2005), the Pope insisted on and stressed this same idea: the profound diversity between Islam and Christianity. On this occasion, he started from a theological point of view, taking into account the Islamic conception of revelation: the Koran “descended” upon Mohammad, it is not “inspired” to Mohammad. For this reason, a Muslim does not think himself authorized to interpret the Koran, but is tied to this text which emerged in Arabia in the 7th century. This brings to the same conclusions as before: the absolute nature of the Koran makes dialogue all the more difficult, because there is very little room for interpretation, if at all.

As we can see, his thinking as cardinal extends into his vision as Pontiff, which highlights the profound differences between Islam and Christianity.

On July 24, during his stay in the Italian Aosta Valley region, he was asked if Islam can be described as a religion of peace, to which he replied “I would not speak in generic terms, certainly Islam contains elements which are in favour of peace, as it contains other elements.”

Even if not explicitly, Benedict XVI suggests that Islam suffers from ambiguity vis-à-vis violence, justifying it in various cases. And he added. “We must always strive to find the better elements.” Another person asked him then if terrorist attacks can be considered anti-Christian. He reply is clear-cut: “No, generally the intention seems to be much more general and not directed precisely at Christianity.”

Dialogue between cultures is more fruitful than inter-religious dialogue

On August 20 in Cologne, Pope Benedict XVI has his first big encounter with Islam, speaking with the representatives of Muslim communities. In a relatively long speech, he says,

“I am certain that I echo your own thoughts when I bring up one of our concerns as we notice the spread of terrorism.”

I like the way he involves Muslims here, telling them that we have the same concern. He then goes on to say: “I know that many of you have firmly rejected, also publicly, in particular any connection between your faith and terrorism and have condemned it.”

Further on, he says, “terrorism of any kind is a perverse and cruel [a word that he repeats 3 times] choice which shows contempt for the sacred right to life and undermines the very foundations of all civil coexistence.” Then, again, he involves the Islamic world:

“If together we can succeed in eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour, in resisting every form of intolerance and in opposing every manifestation of violence, we will turn back the wave of cruel fanaticism that endangers the lives of so many people and hinders progress towards world peace. The task is difficult but not impossible and the believer can accomplish this.”

I liked very much the way he stressed “eliminating from hearts any trace of rancour”: Benedict XVI has understood that one of the causes of terrorism is this sentiment of rancour. And further on

“Dear friends, I am profoundly convinced that we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.”

Also, “there is plenty of scope for us to act together in the service of fundamental moral values. The dignity of the person and the defence of the rights which that dignity confers must represent the goal of every social endeavour and of every effort to bring it to fruition.”

And here we find a crucial sentence: “This message is conveyed to us unmistakably by the quiet but clear voice of conscience.” “Only through recognition of the centrality of the person,” the Pope goes on to say, “can a common basis for understanding be found, one which enables us to move beyond cultural conflicts and which neutralizes the disruptive power of ideologies.”

Thus, even before religion, there is the voice of conscience and we must all fight for moral values, for the dignity of the person, the defence of rights.

Therefore, for Benedict XVI, dialogue must be based on the centrality of the person, which overrides both cultural and ideological contrasts. And I think that, getting under ideologies, religions can also be understood. This is one of the pillars of the Pope’s vision: it also explains why he united the Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue and the Council for Culture, surprising everyone. This choice derives from a profound vision and is not, as the press would have it, to “get rid” of Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, who deserves much recognition. That may have been part of it, but it was not the purpose.

The essential idea is that dialogue with Islam and with other religions cannot be essentially a theological or religious dialogue, except in the broad terms of moral values; it must instead be a dialogue of cultures and civilizations.

It is worth recalling that already as far back as 1999, Cardinal Ratzinger took part in an encounter with Prince Hassan of Jordan, Metropolitan Damaskinos of Geneva, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, deceased in 2003, and the Grand Rabbi of France René Samuel Sirat. Muslims, Jews and Christians were invited by a foundation for inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue to create among them a pole for cultural dialogue.

This step towards cultural dialogue is of extreme importance. In any kind of dialogue that takes place with the Muslim world, as soon as talk begins on religious topics, discussion turns to the Palestinians, Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, in other words all the questions of political and cultural conflict. An exquisitely theological discussion is never possible with Islam: one cannot speak of the Trinity, of Incarnation, etc. Once in Cordoba, in 1977, a conference was held on the notion of prophecy.

After having dealt with the prophetic character of Christ as seen by Muslims, a Christian made a presentation on the prophetic character of Mohammad from the Christian point of view and dared to say that the Church cannot recognize him as prophet; at the most, it could define him as such but only in a generic sense, just as one says that Marx is “prophet” of modern times.

The conclusion? This question became the topic of conversation for the following three days, pre-empting the original conference.

The discussions with the Muslim world that I have found most fruitful have been those in which interdisciplinary and intercultural questions were discussed. I have taken part various times, at the invitation of Muslims, in inter-religious meetings in various parts of the Muslim world: talk was always on the encounter of religions and civilizations, or cultures.

Two weeks ago, in Isfahan (Iran), the title was “meeting of civilizations and religions.” Next September 19, at Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University, there will be a conference organized by the Iranian Ministry of Culture along with Italian authorities, and this too will be on the encounter between cultures, and will include the participation of former president Khatami.

The Pope has understood this important aspect: discussions on theology can take place only among a few, but now is certainly not the time between Islam and Christianity. Instead, it is a question of tackling the question of coexistence in the concrete terms of politics, economy, history, culture, customs…

Rationality and Faith Another fact seems to me important. In an exchange that took place on October 25, 2004, between Italian historian, Ernesto Galli della Loggia, and the then Cardinal Ratzinger, the latter, at a certain point, recalled the “seeds of the Word” and underscored the importance of rationality in Christian faith, seen by Church Fathers as the fulfilment of the search for truth found in philosophy. Galli della Loggia thus said: “Your hope which is identical to faith, brings with it a logos and this logos can become an apologia, a reply that can be communicated to others,” to everyone.

Cardinal Ratzinger replied: “We do not want to create an empire of power, but we have something that can be communicated and towards which an expectation of our reason tends. It is communicable because it belongs to our shared human nature and there is a duty to communicate on the part of those who have found a treasure of truth and love. Rationality was therefore a postulate and condition of Christianity, which remains a European legacy for comparing ourselves peacefully and positively, with Islam and also the great Asian religions.”

Therefore, for the Pope, dialogue is at this level, i.e. founded on reason. He then went on to add that “this rationality becomes dangerous and destructive for the human creature if it becomes positivist [and here he critiques the West], which reduces the great values of our being to subjectivity [to relativism] and thus becomes an amputation of the human creature. We do not wish to impose on anyone a faith that can only be freely accepted, but as a vivifying force of the rationality of Europe, it belongs to our identity.”

Then comes the essential part: “it has been said that we must not speak of God in the European constitution, because we must not offend Muslims and the faithful of other religions. The opposite is true – Ratzinger points out – what offends Muslims and the faithful of other religions is not talking about God or our Christian roots, but rather the disdain for God and the sacred, that separates us from other cultures and does not create the opportunity for encounter, but expresses the arrogance of diminished, reduced reason, which provokes fundamentalist reactions.”

Benedict XVI admires in Islam the certainty based on faith, which contrasts with the West where everything is relativized; and he admires in Islam the sense of the sacred, which instead seems to have disappeared in the West. He has understood that a Muslim is not offended by the crucifix, by religious symbols: this is actually a laicist polemic that strives to eliminate the religious from society. Muslims are not offended by religious symbols, but by secularized culture, by the fact that God and the values that they associate with God are absent from this civilization.

This is also my experience, when I chat every once in a while with Muslims who live in Italy. They tell me: this country offers everything, we can live as we like, but unfortunately there are no “principles” (this is the word they use). This is felt very much by the Pope, who says: let’s go back to human nature, based on rationality, on conscience, which gives an idea of human rights; on the other hand, let’s not reduce rationality to something which is impoverished, but let’s integrate the religious in rationality; the religious is part of rationality.

In this, I think that Benedict XVI has stated more exactly the vision of John Paul II. For the previous Pope, dialogue with Islam needed to be open to collaboration on everything, even in prayer. Benedict is aiming at more essential points: theology is not what counts, at least not in this stage of history; what counts is the fact that Islam is the religion that is developing more and is becoming more and more a danger for the West and the world.

The danger is not in Islam in general, but in a certain vision of Islam that does never openly renounces violence and generates terrorism, fanaticism. On the other hand, he does not want to reduce Islam to a social-political phenomenon.

The Pope has profoundly understood the ambiguity of Islam, which is both one and the other, which at times plays on one or the other front. And his proposal is that, if we want to find a common basis, we must get out of religious dialogue to give humanistic foundations to this dialogue, because only these are universal and shared by all human beings. Humanism is a universal factor; faiths can be factors of clash and division.

Yes to reciprocity, no to “do-goodism” The Pope’s position never falls into the justification of terrorism and violence. Sometimes, even when it comes to Church figures, people slip into a generic kind of relativism: after all, there’s violence in all religions, even among Christians; or, violence is justified as a reply to other violence… No, this Pope has never made allusions of this kind. But, on the other hand, he has never fallen into the behaviour found in certain Christian circles in the West marked by “do-goodism” and by guilt complexes.

Recently, some Muslims have asked that the Pope ask forgiveness for the Crusades, colonialism, missionaries, cartoons, etc… He is not falling in this trap, because he knows that his words could be used not for building dialogue, but for destroying it. This is the experience that we have of the Muslim world: all such gestures, which are very generous and profoundly spiritual to ask for forgiveness for historical events of the past, are exploited and are presented by Muslims as a settling of accounts: here, they say, you recognize it even yourself: you’re guilty. Such gestures never spark any kind of reciprocity.

At this point, it is worth recalling the Pope’s address to the Moroccan Ambassador (February 20, 2006), when he alluded to “respect for the convictions and religious practices of others so that, in a reciprocal manner, the exercise of freely-chosen religion is truly assured to all in all societies.”

These are two small but very important affirmations on the reciprocity of religious freedoms rights between Western and Islamic countries and on the freedom to change religion, something which is prohibited in Islam. The nice thing is that the Pope dared to say them: in the political and Church world, people are often afraid to mention such things. It’s enough to take note of the silence that reigns when it comes to the religious freedom violations that exist in Saudi Arabia.

I really like this Pope, his balance, his clearness. He makes no compromise: he continues to underline the need to announce the Gospel in the name of rationality and therefore he does not let himself be influenced by those who fear and speak out against would-be proselytism. The Pope asks always for guarantees that Christian faith can be “proposed” and that it can be “freely chosen.”

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Foreign Affairs
KEYWORDS: benedcitxvi; bxvi; catholic; catholichurch; islam; pope; terrorism
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1 posted on 07/15/2006 7:49:23 PM PDT by Dqban22
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To: Dqban22
great read.

just don't know if Islam is capable of stopping terrorism. it's been woefully mute so far.

2 posted on 07/15/2006 7:53:14 PM PDT by the invisib1e hand (dust off the big guns.)
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To: the invisib1e hand
just don't know if Islam is capable of stopping terrorism.

islam is terrorism.


3 posted on 07/15/2006 7:56:06 PM PDT by Lurker (2 months and still no Bill from Congressman Pence. What is he milking squids for the ink?)
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To: Dqban22

I agree, this is a good, thoughtful pope, not given to mushiness and feel-good thought. But here's the question: If everyone (Israel-Lebanon-Palestine-Iran etc.) agreed about Jesus tomorrow, would the fighting end?

4 posted on 07/15/2006 7:57:04 PM PDT by publius1 (Just to be clear: my position is no.)
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To: Dqban22

Gosh, does one have to read all of that thread/article in order to be able to comment on it?

I have been pretty much in agreement with the Vatican on a lot of political stuff for most of my grown up adult life.

I seriously depart on the Israel stuff.

I also depart when the German priest now Pope asks the stupidest question ever presented in my lifetime.

"Why did God allow the Holocaust to happen?"

This fellow ought to ask his relatives, friends, school associates, and neighbors that question. Not to mention his henchmen in the Vatican.

What a joke.

5 posted on 07/15/2006 7:58:41 PM PDT by Radix (This vacation is almost over.)
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To: Dqban22

Excellent article about an excellent and very wise Pope!

6 posted on 07/15/2006 8:00:22 PM PDT by livius
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To: NYer


7 posted on 07/15/2006 8:03:15 PM PDT by M Kehoe
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To: Radix

What a joke... If you do not read you will never be able to know, much less to understand, the position of the Pope or the Catholic Church in such important matters.

The Founders of the State of Israel expressed their condolences at the death of Pius XII

Among those who mourned the death of Pius XII pronouncing heartfelt tributes were the President of Israel Ben-Zevi, Dr. Nahum Goldmann, president of the World Jewish Congress and the World Zionist Organization, and many Rabbis including Dr. Israel Goldstein of New York. Rabbi Elio Toaff, Chief Rabbi of Rome, said: “More than anyone else, we have had the opportunity to appreciate the great kindness, filled with compassion and magnanimity, that the Pope displayed during the terrible years of persecution and terror, when it seemed that there was no hope left for us.” Rabbi Israel Zolli stated: “What the Vatican did will indelibly and eternally engraved in our hearts…Priests and even high prelates did things that will forever be an honor to Catholicism.” (29)

The Israeli’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs.Golda Meir’s cablegram to the Vatican read; “We share in the grief of humanity at the passing away of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. In a generation afflicted by wars and discords, he upheld the highest ideals of peace and compassion. When fearful martyrdom came to our people in the decade of Nazi terror, the voice of the Pope was raised for the victims. The life of our times was enriched by a voice speaking out on the great moral truths above the tumult of daily conflict. We mourn a great servant of peace.” (30)

Unfortunately, today we are witnessing a campaign against this great benefactor of Humanity. His memory is being slandered and dishonored through falsehoods and innuendoes. This matter should be open to honest analysis and discussion. Legitimate discrepancies might exist while studying historical facts, but that should not be of excuse for those people who are moved by the same great evils of ignorance, hatred, and bigotry that made possible the brutal onslaught of innocent people by the Nazis and the Communists.

8 posted on 07/15/2006 8:09:43 PM PDT by Dqban22
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To: Dqban22
For Pope Ratzinger.......

Ooops! Asia News should have said Pope Benedict XVI.

9 posted on 07/15/2006 8:12:34 PM PDT by FJ290
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To: Dqban22

The pope condemned Israel today istead of condemning radical islam who started this entire confligration in the first place. He is wrong. All I see is "Sweet-talking" to islam to protect the vatican from a terrorist attack.

10 posted on 07/15/2006 8:59:45 PM PDT by conservativecrowfest
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To: Radix
I also depart when the German priest now Pope asks the stupidest question ever presented in my lifetime.

"Why did God allow the Holocaust to happen?"

The question has been on the lips of millions and millions of people for over 65 years. Sure, the Nazis were responsible, but how did this happen and God stood silent?

Your slam on the Pope for his nationality is cheap, and I think you know it.

11 posted on 07/15/2006 9:04:57 PM PDT by sinkspur (Today, we settled all family business.)
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To: Dqban22

Thanks. Great article - about both Benedict and Islam.

12 posted on 07/15/2006 9:15:46 PM PDT by AncientAirs
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To: sinkspur

Cheap shot?

I think that you are probably right.

On the other hand......

Millions of people are dead with that fellow's compliance, and non rebuke by the way.

Take it to the Vatican.

13 posted on 07/15/2006 9:17:10 PM PDT by Radix (Eretz Israel!)
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To: Radix
Millions of people are dead with that fellow's compliance, and non rebuke by the way.

Stop digging. Your statements are now so stupid that you ought to be embarrassed.

14 posted on 07/15/2006 9:21:03 PM PDT by sinkspur (Today, we settled all family business.)
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To: Dqban22

I got no real beef with the Church of Rome.

Well, maybe a little.....

I do read a bit, but, I simply don't know where to find all the good that was done by the Church while the Nazis were in office.

Millions of people died because of their behavior while the vatican slept on their watch...Millions....dead millions...

Got it yet?

Millions dead...

Try counting a million sheep while you attempt to sleep tonight.

15 posted on 07/15/2006 9:25:18 PM PDT by Radix (Eretz Israel!)
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To: sinkspur
"Your statements are now so stupid that you ought to be embarrassed."


I should be the one embarrassed here?

16 posted on 07/15/2006 9:27:03 PM PDT by Radix (Eretz Israel!)
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To: Radix

More than a million Jews saved their lives during the Holocaust thanks to the Catholic Church and His Holiness Pope Pius XII.

The relationship of trust and collaboration during WW II between the Holy See, the Jewish organizations, the Allies’ intelligence services and their governments, including the anti-Nazi German Generals, is well proven and documented. However, there is not the slightest thread of evidence to substantiate the preposterous and vicious allegations raised against Pius XII and the Catholic Church of collaboration or sympathizing with the Nazis.

Did the Church do enough to save the Jews? As usual those who do the less complain the most and those who do the most always think they could have done even more. When Michael O’Carroll, author of the scholar book “Pius XII: Greatness Dishonoured” related in the Foreword that in 1957 he met Dr. Isaac Herzog, Chief Rabbi of Israel, and he told him with emotion of an audience he had with the Pope and how they discussed the prophet Ezechiel. “My blessing to him” said the saintly old man, and O’Carroll promised to be the bearer of the message of his goodwill. When O’Carroll gave the message to Pius XII he added “I think Jews everywhere are grateful for what you did for them during the war.” “I wish I could have done more” was the Pope’s reply.

On February 28, 1945, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Isaac Herzog, sent a letter of gratitude to the
Apostolic Nuncio in Rumania, Msgr. Andrea Cassulo, stating that: “The people of Israel will never forget what His Holiness and his illustrious delegates, inspired by the eternal principles of religion which form the very foundations of civilization, are doing for us unfortunate brothers and sisters in the most tragic hour of our history, which is living prove of divine Providence in this world.” (31)

Rabbi Herzog’s heartfelt words should suffice to forever end the slanderous attacks to the memory of the great protector of the Jews, Pius XII and the Catholic Church.

17 posted on 07/15/2006 9:27:32 PM PDT by Dqban22
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To: Radix
I do read a bit, but, I simply don't know where to find all the good that was done by the Church while the Nazis were in office.

Millions of people died because of their behavior while the vatican slept on their watch...Millions....dead millions...

Pius XII was personally responsible for sheltering or moving out of harm's way over 500,000 Jews in WWII.

The Dutch bishops condemned the Nazi actions in 1942, and thousands of Dutch Jews, in addition to Catholics and other Christians in Holland, were herded into concentration camps.

The chief rabbi of Rome was so impressed with the efforts of the Church during WWII to save Jews that he converted to Catholicism at the conclusion of the war.

Your ridiculous revisionism will appeal to the bigots and the Jack Chick crowd, but few others.

18 posted on 07/15/2006 9:31:43 PM PDT by sinkspur (Today, we settled all family business.)
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To: Dqban22
I read this same stuff some time ago.

My personal impression of the character and behavior of the Vatican during the years up to and including the great war #2 is that it was disgraceful.

I'll read it again though.....

I am not an unreasonable fellow, but I am quite jaded.

19 posted on 07/15/2006 9:34:51 PM PDT by Radix (Eretz Israel!)
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