Wednesday, September 20, 2006

On reason, Islam and Christianity from an Anglican leader

The former Archbishop of Cantebury, Lord Carey of Clifton, gave a speech on Monday. It was in large part a reaction to the speech given by Pope Benedict XVI last week.

Here is an excerpt from the speech in support of the Pope's remarks:
So allow me to ask an awkward question which I believe was hovering in the background of the Pope’s thesis and which many westerners are asking frequently these days: ‘Why is Islam associated with violence?’ We are told, not unreasonably, that true Islam is not a violent religion and the true Muslim condemns violence. I understand and agree. My many Muslim friends tell me so. I believe them because I know, as I said earlier, that the majority of Muslims around the world are shocked and saddened by the way Islam is associated with violence. We need to bring the issue much more into the open. Perhaps the Pope’s unguarded words may encourage a ‘global conversation’ on the matter without either to polemics or, ironically, violence. That it seems a Nun in Somalia has been murdered by an extremist, as a direct result of the Pope’s lecture, rams home the need to bring out the best in religion, not the worst. The Muslim world must address this matter with great urgency.

However, I am heartened that Muslim leaders, particularly in British society do condemn violence done by their co-religionists, but I only wish this were done more emphatically by those in other countries.

It is in this context that I suggest that an open discussion should begin concerning the character of martyrdom as understood by both Christianity and Islam. That this is an element in current violence in modern terrorism cannot be refuted. I find it difficult to understand the argument that a person can be a blessed martyr if, in the cause of his conflict, he knowingly kills innocent people. Christian martyrdom is unlike this. We have no martyrology which honours people who kill innocent people. The martyr, for Christians, is one who does not kill but is killed for her or his faith. She or he suffers for God and his people and does so, not be fighting or killing, but by suffering. A terrorist by definition cannot be a martyr. The Pope’s argument is that all action has to be squared with the character of a loving God. This too is part of the global conversation that needs to take place.
The speech concludes:
A new mental map is required by us all to include rather than exclude, and together to prize the hard-earned gifts of free speech, liberty, equality and tolerance that we seek others to embrace, without endangering their faith or undermining their values. The Cross and the Crescent can and must live side by side in this overcrowded world of ours. Today’s situation reminds me of a line in a poem by Matthew Arnold in which he spoke of his age as ‘living between two worlds, one dead, the other powerless to be born’. We are living in dangerous and potentially cataclysmic times but we are far from powerless. The future depends on us all digging deeper into the differences with respect and tolerance - so that a new world may be born.
Carey's grasp of the historical factors leading to the Crusades is flawed. However, the tone of his speech is conciliatory and constructive.

Tempers in Muslim countries and in the West are inflamed. An opportunity for dialogue must be encouraged, however, over the coming years.


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