Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Catholics and Muslims: a common outlook

"A deeper reading of Pope Benedict's Regensburg speech suggests a message that Catholics and Muslims can share, says Ehsan Masood: that modern science must make room for theology.

The pope's lecture amounts to a defence of European Catholicism as a faith grounded in rationality. For Pope Benedict, this is a rationality that absolutely must include both religion and reason, and not reason by itself. In the course of building his case, he takes few prisoners. There is of course the example of his belief that Islam is an inherently irrational faith. The pope is similarly critical of those Christians who want to reduce his own faith to no more than a guiding framework for ethics and morality, sans worship and sans theology.

On both these counts, the speech ignores any evidence that might weaken the arguments being put forward, as Tina Beattie points out in her openDemocracy article "Pope Benedict XVI and Islam" (18 September 2006). But these are diversions on the road to the pope's main point, which is his critique of the relationship of science and religious belief. Moreover, this is aimed, not at Muslims, or Christians, but at the non-religious in the scientific community. Indeed, a deep irony is that the pope's reading of the state of science/religion relationship today will find many, if not most Muslims in agreement with his views....

Among the many ironies here is that Pope Benedict's speech could just as easily have been written by a Muslim, because it accords with mainstream Muslim views on science and faith. Many Muslims believe for example that faith should be integral to reason and knowing. Moreover, they believe that ethics and morality should include both faith and science as a frame of reference. Indeed, Catholics and Muslims at the United Nations are often on the same side during debates on issues such as how to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids. In addition, Muslims in common with Pope Benedict also believe that it is right to use reason to be able to understand God and creation.

Pope Benedict has wisely apologised for the offence that his speech caused. He chose not to say sorry for the content of what he said. Doing so would have made little sense as the target of his criticisms was science, and not Islam. Confusingly, however, the pope also now says that his speech was in fact a call for dialogue between cultures. It was in fact a call for dialogue between people of science and people of faith. But this chapter must now be closed. A more careful reading of his text by leaders of Muslim nations and by the media would have saved us all from the tragic events of the past week."

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