Does Islam Flout Reason? Why the Pope's Case Is a Flimsy One

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• How the Pope's PR Machinery Broke Down
If it was so easy to foresee that Benedict's remarks about Islam would set off a furor, why didn't the Vatican anticipate it?

• Does Islam Flout Reason? Why the Pope's Case Is a Flimsy One
Viewpoint: The issue is important, but Benedict has presented neither the evidence nor insight to make his argument stick

• The Pontiff Has a Point
His take on Islam, however clumsy, raises tough truths about reason and religion

• The First Casualty of the Pope's Islam Speech
Leaders across the Muslim world are furious over Benedict's provocative comments, and now his first trip to a Muslim country, soon planned for Turkey, may be in jeopardy as a resultn

• Benedict and Islam
Written by TIME blogger Andrew Sullivan

• A Forced Argument on Forced Conversions
Viewpoint: Kidnapped journalists converting at gunpoint. The Pope quoting a 14th century Byzantine emperor. The sudden focus on forced conversions to Islam reflects a fundamental misreading of that religion's history

• Excerpts from Pope Benedict XVI's Speech
Given at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006

• Behind Benedict's Vatican Overhaul
Though eyes are on his trip home, the Pope is (gradually) launching big changes back in the Roman Curia

In a viewpoint entitled "The Pontiff Has a Point" in this week's TIME, the headline on the piece by TIME's Rome correspondent Jeff Israely announces that Pope Benedict's "take on Islam," as propounded in his controversial speech last week in Regensburg, Germany, raises "tough truths." In the part of the speech that has become famous, the Pope was actually putting forth only one central "truth"— certainly a provocative one—that Christianity is beholden to reason while Islam is not. My own viewpoint is that this supposed "truth" rings false in a number of ways.

But wait! Didn't the Pope apologize Sunday for the speech?

Well, he did and he didn't. He issued a statement saying that he is "deeply sorry for the reactions" of some Muslims. More specifically, he distanced himself from a 15th-century Byzantine emperor he quoted. Emperor Manuel II Paleologos's line that "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," the Pope explained, does not "in any way express my personal thought." And he refers offended Muslims to a previous apology by the Vatican Secretary of State, who said that Benedict had meant only "to undertake... certain reflections on the theme of the relationships between religion and violence in general."

Maybe so. But to my eye, it seems that the part of Benedict's speech that deals with religious violence extends beyond Manuel's statement and is precisely a slap at Islam. The truly problematic text, in fact, is a mixture of quotes from the Byzantine emperor, his German translator Theodore Khoury, a medieval Muslim scholar named Ibn Hazm, and the Pope's own musings. In combination, they seem to suggest that Islam's idea of God is so oblivious to the virtue of reason that it tolerates unthinking violence in Allah's name.

It goes like this. Benedict quotes Khoury as saying that Islam understands God as "absolutely transcendent," so much so that the deity's "will is not bound up with any of our categories, even rationality." The Pope then quotes Khoury quoting "a noted French Islamist" paraphrasing Ibn Hazm, who lived in Cordoba during the 11th century, saying that "God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us." Got that? It's a lot of attribution, but I think that my colleague is correct when he concludes that "the risk [Benedict] sees implicit in this concept of the divine is that the irrationality of violence might thereby appear to be justified to somebody who believes it is God's will."

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