I have hesitated to write about the recent lecture that the Pope delivered at the University of Regensburg, afraid to add to the fulminating morphic field, desiring instead to wait and watch as the thing unfolded. And thankfully there seems to be some amelioration as the Pope has steadily moved toward, not a direct apology, which would of course be disingenuous, but at least an expression of regret that what he said caused hurt among Muslim people.
As for the small number of Muslims who reacted violently, unfortunately they only reinforced the Popes conclusions.
When I read the Popes lecture I was puzzled why he didn’t take the route of self-critique and self-deprecation. It may have relegated his speech to media’s back pages, but would have, could have, given him greater credibility not only among disenfranchised Catholics, but perhaps Muslims as well.
The lecture centres upon the relationship of violence and religion as related to Reason. It tries to show that violence is incompatible with the nature of God because God is obviously reasonable and violence is something irrational. Therefore to attempt to spread faith through violence is unreasonable. It’s precisely here, in my view, that the Pope could have drawn reflectively on Christian history, the crusades being the obvious example of an "irrational" attempt at spreading faith through violence.
Instead he placed the following into his lecture:
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he [Emperor Manuel II Paleologus] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable…
Granted the Pope was also attempting to show a distinction between the Muslim view of God as wholly transcendent and the Christian view of God as transcendent and immanent. But the Pope is an intelligent man and could have approached the divergence in a much more inviting way. St. Paul’s adjuring us to be "all things to all people" may have been the right and good thing here.
My thought is that it would have been much more instructive for all, to explore why Reason failed the medieval Christians miserably, and why it so often continues to fail us modern Christians as well.
Could it be that Reason is not enough, not nearly enough, for the creation of peace?
I suspect Benedict XVI has now had time to consider and reconsider these things at length. And I pray for him. It’s not easy being Pope.