Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I find it odd that so many people see the Pope's address in Regensburg as an attack on Islam and a papal alignment with the self-proclaimed West. I fail to see how it can be interpreted that way. Instead, I see an invitation to people from both "the West" and Islam to re-align themselves under a shared banner that embraces Faith and Reason.

Before the war... before the jihad... before the terror, it was the pride of Islam to declare itself a religion of reason to which reasonable men might give allegience. The Pope is simply asking the leaders and the people of Islam to renounce the accretion of violence that now has Islam in its stranglehold.

This is not to claim that jihad is alien to Islam. History alone would give the lie to such a statement. The question isn't whether violence is compatible with Islam. Rather the question is whether violence is essential to Islam. The Pope believes that Islam can renounce violence and yet flourish. But the ultimate answer to this question lies within the people of Islam.

An authentic "Western" response to the Pope's message requires a similar self-examination by "the West". It is so easy to claim that we are a people of peace. However, preemptive war and disproportionate response are not the actions of peace makers. Rather they are the inarticulate argument of fear. The sanitary art of dropping bombs is no less violent, no less destructive than the madness of jihad.

It was the Yesha Rabbinical Council which announced that “according to Jewish law, during a time of battle and war, there is no such term as ‘innocents’ of the enemy.” This statement eradicates any presumption of moral high ground that Israel might seek to claim. It is precisely the position taken by the Islamists. Nor is America exempt from the Pope's critique. As cardinal, he spoke against America's pre-emptive strike on Iraq.

The Catholic Church is not pacifist. Her history includes warfare and She has a well-defined Doctrine of Just War. The Iraq War simply didn't qualify under the Doctrine. Admittedly, the Just War Doctrine is a Catholic Doctrine and not one binding on non-Catholics. But it is also a reasonable doctrine developed over centuries and it deserves the reasonable consideration of reasonable men. Potentially, good reason might bind reasonable men.

Yet there is more to the Pope's clarion call. He invites both Islam and "the West" to a dialogue of cultures. In doing so, he specifically makes the argument that a form of "reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures."

To me, this is a key point of his address. As a Catholic, I have watched this conflict escalate. To be honest, though, I haven't felt that I have a dog in this fight. I'm in agreement with Buchanan's assessment that "we live not just in a post-Christian era, but in an anti-Catholic culture not worth defending or saving". I've hear the nonsense about the clash of civilizations and barbarians at the gate but it all rings hollow. After the Pope's lecture, I finally understand why.

The Church is the heart of Western Culture and without its heart, the West is just a dead man walking or if you prefer a more apt metaphor: a chicken without a head. It is an animated body with the life cut out of it, frantically acting out the final desperate dance of dying neurons.

And so, the choice to date has been between a culture of death and the death of culture. Neither seems like much of a bargain.

Now, with the Pope's speech, I've suddenly been given a seat at the table. Instead of a two-sided argument, it has become a three-sided discussion. Naturally, it's a discussion we might lose, but it is one worth having.

St Joseph, remember me in your prayers.


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