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September 19, 2006
The Pope and the Comment

As is often the case, I keep hearing much about Pope Benedict XVI's comments on Islam. Reading through the spin, I was very curious what the actual message was. I found this version from the Zenit News Agency, which from looking at the in depth Wikipedia entry, looks to relatively faithfully quote the one line that Iran is trumping up protests about.

The emperor's quote as quoted by the Pope follows in context (emphasis mine):

In the seventh conversation ("diálesis" -- controversy) edited by professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that sura 2:256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion." It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Koran, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels," he turns to his interlocutor somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words: "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 goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably ("syn logo") is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats.... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...."

Most interestingly the Pope's main point is that theology remains a part of the curriculum at a University because it has certain socially scientifically important things to say. To lose sight of whatever truth exists in that statement handicaps the ability of the Western Enlightenment to reach out and engage others who value their religious beliefs.

Reading source material in disputes like this reminds me why the Internet is such a historically significant change..

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