Monday, September 18, 2006

Traditionalists vs. Rationalists in Islam, what Pope Benedict might have been thinking

I have a lot more research to do on the speech from Pope Benedict XVI, or Joseph Ratzinger. But I found this excerpt in Reza Aslan's "No God But God" on the debate in Islamic theology over the nature of the Quran as God's words.:
(Pg. 155) "Of course, when talking about the relationship between God's attributes and God's essence, both the Rationalists and the Traditionalists had one particularly significant attribute in mind: God's Speech; that is, the Quran".
A comment posted by Wyvern on Professor Cole's Blog references this exchange (my emphasis):
HH: Special hour now, as I'm joined by Father Joseph D. Fessio, who is the Provost of Ave Maria University in Naples, Florida, also the founder of the publisher Ignatius Press. He's a Jesuit. He's also a student and a friend of Benedict XVI, and a second time on the program. Father Fessio, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.


HH: Father Fessio, before the break, you were telling us that after the presentation at Castel Gandolfo by two scholars of Islam this summer with Benedict in attendance, as well as his former students, for the first time in your memory, the Pope did not allow his students to first comment and reserve comment, but in fact, went first. Why, and what did he say?

JF: Well, the thesis that was proposed by this scholar was that Islam can enter into the modern world if the Koran is reinterpreted by taking the specific legislation, and going back to the principles, and then adapting it to our times, especially with the dignity that we ascribe to women, which has come through Christianity, of course. And immediately, the Holy Father, in his beautiful calm but clear way, said well, there's a fundamental problem with that, because he said in the Islamic tradition, God has given His word to Mohammed, but it's an eternal word. It's not Mohammed's word. It's there for eternity the way it is. There's no possibility of adapting it or interpreting it, whereas in Christianity, and Judaism, the dynamism's completely different, that God has worked through His creatures. And so, it is not just the word of God, it's the word of Isaiah, not just the word of God, but the word of Mark. He's used His human creatures, and inspired them to speak His word to the world, and therefore by establishing a Church in which he gives authority to His followers to carry on the tradition and interpret it, there's an inner logic to the Christian Bible, which permits it and requires it to be adapted and applied to new situations. I was...I mean, Hugh, I wish I could say it as clearly and as beautifully as he did, but that's why he's Pope and I'm not, okay? That's one of the reasons. One of others, but his seeing that distinction when the Koran, which is seen as something dropped out of Heaven, which cannot be adapted or applied, even, and the Bible, which is a word of God that comes through a human community, it was stunning.

HH: And so, is it fair to describe him as a pessimist about the prospect of modernity truly engaging Islam in the way modernity has engaged Christianity?

JF: Well, the other way around.

HH: Yes. I meant that.

JF: Yeah, that Christianity can engage modernity just like it did...the Jews did Egypt, or Christians did to Greece, because we can take what's good there, and we can elevate it through the revelation of Christ in the Bible. But Islam is stuck. It's stuck with a text that cannot be adapted, or even be interpreted properly.
Christopher Hitchens takes the secular-rationalist banner on Slate. He also notes:
It is often said—and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate—that Islam is not capable of a Reformation.
Reza Aslan has repeatedly compared the turmoil within Islam to the period of Reformation in Christianity. It seems that Pope Benedict XVI has assumed that the Traditionalist voice in Islam is the dominate influence. I do not think we can go as far as this Jesuit would lead us to believe, because if the Pope thought that Traditionalist Islam had carried the day, he would not have called for dialogue in his speech of September 12.

We should view the Pope's call for dialogue, I think, as a call for Rationalist Islam to assert itself. His choice of an anecdote may have been self-defeating in this regard. In any case, we see an unfortunate rush to judge the remarks of Ratzinger in a number of ways, either in support or in outrage. There has not been much dialogue in response. Yet.

I posted earlier today on the aspects of reason that the Pope tried to highlight, "The Pope, an emperor, and a Persian go to a university..."

The speech is available on the Vatican's website.


Blogger Dr Victorino de la Vega said...

Hi C.E.,

Sorry for my (quasi) radio silence of the past weeks, but the “rentrée” has been quite hectic for me!...and I think I’ll have to reduce my blogging activities until end October/early November…

« Some, such as my favorite interlocutor, Doctor Victor de la Vega, are right in their critique of Benedict's effort. The Pope is no expert on Islam and he has an awkward grasp of the media's potential benefit or harm in this age. Benedict, though perhaps not intentionally, groups Islam into a uniform movement and contrasts it to a Catholic-focused Christianity.» [C.E]

“My favorite interlocutor”!
You’d better stop, or you’ll make me blush

« There are many religious traditions in Islam and many of them are informative to philosophy and theology no matter the creed.» [C.E.]

That’s a crucial point.

Actually, that’s by far THE single most important issue in the world we live in….

And that’s our only (meager) hope of defeating the Saudi/Wahhabi hydra, an aggressive and expansionist form of Islamic fundamentalist based on the Hebrew Pentateuch (a.k.a. “The Torah”) …

These modern days Sicaris are armed and dangerous: unlike the Israeli fanatics of old who were geographically concentrated in central and northern Palestine (which made their elimination relatively easy), the Wahhabi Islamists have gone global and dug trenches from the boroughs of Riyadh and Qandahar to the inner-cities and working class ghettos of Britain, Belgium and France.

More than ever, we need the help of moderate and secularist Muslim leaders: unfortunately Bushmert and Blair have spent the past 6 years fighting against our only allies in the Middle-East and Asia (Mohammad Mahatir of Malaysia, Saddam Hussein, Bashar Al-Asad, and Yasser Arafat), thus strengthening the Saudi-Al-Qaeda brand of Islamic fascism!!

10:05 AM  

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