Monday, September 25, 2006

The Pope Screws Up

The Pope got himself into a whole lot of trouble the other day when he said “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." Apparently, the Pope believes that Islam is a violent religion spread by force. As if we didn’t know this already.. Anyway, he got as good as he gave, and I don’t feel particularly sorry for him or the Catholic Church. Jews remember very well that when the Church was in power, they didn’t hesitate for a minute, to try to convert Jews forcibly and against their will, the best example being the history of the inquisition in Spain. Nor should we forget that it was the Christian soldiers who tried their luck in four separate Crusades= jihads to regain the Holy Land for their religion. In the process, they managed to massacre many a Jew and Muslim simply for refusing to convert. Although both Islam and Christianity have nothing to be proud of, Islam until the birth of the State of Israel was slightly better to the Jews than Christianity. The story is comical any way you look at it. These Muslims are thin-skinned and are prepared to riot at the slightest insult. They don’t look like a confident evolved religion. They panic whenever there is the slightest debate or criticism. One would think the Pope had published a cartoon in Denmark.

In his speech the Pope also repeated his basic trashing of secularism and modernity. Why is it that the religious always think of secular people as the enemy? I mean, it’s not as if scientists in basements of labs are cursing out the pope while they pursue their thankless task of acquiring knowledge. If one of these secular, godless, scientists came up with a cure for a disease the pope might someday acquire, I’m sure he would line up with everyone else and not be too concerned about its origins. It appears that Christians are afraid of Muslims and the secular, Muslims are afraid of Christians and the secular, while the secular are just secular. The anxiety concerning secular people is odd given that God is on the side of the religious.

I also find totally absurd the attempt by Catholic and other conservatives to take the Pope’s very superficial rant as THE major philosophical statement about jihad and what we are against. Here is my one of my least favorite public intellectuals, Father Richard John Neuhaus making the argument, but the same dribble is everywhere including Brett Stephens in the WSJ and others: ‘’The kernel of the axiom asserted by the Pope is this: To act against reason is to act against the nature of God. Christianity presents itself on the basis of reasonable truth claims that are to be engaged and to be presented as persuasively as possible in a reasonable manner. Along the way he asked the question whether or not there is not a fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam. Whether Islam understands God as a god who is disengaged from what we mean by reason. A god who is radically sovereign, radically transcendent and whose will is exactly what he declares his will to be no matter how arbitrary or capricious. That Allah could even command that you worship idols and you would be obliged to worship idols. In the Christian understanding there could be no place in religion, Christian, Islamic or other for the use of violence. This statement will in retrospect be looked back upon as the most important statement by a world figure since 9/11 with regard to what may be the biggest single question facing Western civilization in the next century. And it turns out finally to be a theological and philosophical question about the nature of God.’’

Let me understand….transubstantiation, papal infallibility, the incarnation the resurrection, the trinity…should I go on…are all the marriage of reason and faith, reasonable truth claims, unlike those Muslims who are believers in mere faith and God’s will. Is the cause of jihad the pure monotheism of Islam and rejection of the intellectualism of Aquinas and Averroes for the voluntarism of Ockham and Duns Scotus. Is the rejection of the perennial Catholic philosophy the cause of all the recent troubles? Somehow I doubt it. In the Torah God commanded the genocide of Amalek and the native Canaanite inhabitants of Israel. The Torah is full of God’s arbitrary commandments and His rage at being disobeyed. Somehow over the years Jews have managed to avoid jihad.

I think the Jews acted nicely in this whole affair. The Sephardic chief rabbi Shlomo Amar sent a letter in Arabic criticizing the pope to a leading Sunni scholar in Qatar. "Our way is to honor every religion and every nation according to their paths. Even when there is a struggle between nations" Amar added, "it cannot be turned into a war of religions.” Rabbi Menahem Froman added, “Every Jew who learns the writings of the great sages knows that our great thinkers wrote in the Arabic language, lived in Islamic states and participated with the great Muslim thinkers in the effort to explain the words of God.”

The religious Jewish leadership is groping to find some way to make contact with the Muslims. The other day there was this crackpot scheme approved by Rabbis Yosef and Steinman of reaching a hudna (Arabic for cease-fire) with Hamas. The proposed hudna would be between Hamas and the Jewish people - not with the state of Israel - to circumvent Hamas's refusal to recognize the Zionist entity. The Lebanese war brought the proposal to a premature close.
However, the underlying sentiment is of interest. Rabbi Jakobovits explained it this way, "The Islamic world has deep concerns about the penetration of liberal, secular values and lifestyles into the Middle East. The charedi community understands their sensitivities and mentality and feels threatened by the same phenomena. The charedi community could play a key role in dialogue between the West and Islam because we live in two worlds, one deeply religious and the other liberal and pluralistic. Today in the West the assumption in dealing with Muslim extremism is that moderation and tolerance are the keys. But what the West does not understand is that there is something threatening in that approach, both to the charedi mind and to a deeply Islamic mind. Both charedim and Muslims see multicultural society as an anathema. The West, which has the power, needs to assure Islam that no one is going to try to force a multicultural worldview on them. Otherwise the clash with Islam will only get sharper and sharper.”

Actually, there are two approaches to this situation. The more popular approach is that it is ridiculous to expect the world to go back to medieval times. The Arab-fundamentalists simply have to get with the program. The fundamentalists seem to feel, to quote one commentator, “that if post-medieval progress in the world made their values unworkable, then it was the world’s fault, and the world should be stopped in its tracks. This is a bit like the Flat Earth society resolving to retro-authenticate its views by nuking the earth flat” (Melik Kaylan, WSJ 9/18/06). As with all such 'there is nothing to talk about, no one to talk to' approaches, it sounds great but leads nowhere.

I am not a fan of this tough love approach to Muslims. I think the charedi community is on to something in thinking that there might be some middle way between Western secularism and Islamic fundamentalism. I admit I have no clue how to start a dialogue or use the insights of Orthodox Jewish life in modulating the rawness in Islamic fundamentalism.

I wonder what would happen if President Bush got up one day and said that we as Americans have a lot to learn from Islam about modesty and the proper way to dress. As much as we value freedom, Bush would say, we also value the family and God. Harmless but the sort of thing Muslims might eat up. We teach them, they teach us, etc., etc. He’ll never say it.


At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the Rabbi Forman quote from?

At 1:48 PM, Blogger evanstonjew said...

Sorry for not listing the source


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