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Pope Benedict the Deeply Mistaken

When the Koran or a Mullah asks followers to subjugate or kill those who do not uphold the ideas of Islam, the line from civilized dialogue to rule by force is crossed. Someone who is required to “accept” Islam at the point of a gun has not made a moral choice.

Those who initiate force are not in the same category as those who use reason to persuade. Reason requires voluntary agreement while a gun allows no argument. There is no discussion, negotiation, or compromise possible with someone holding a gun. Only surrender to that person’s demands, die, or attempt to kill him first.

Force is the only way for men to deal with each other when they choose not to live by reason. When animals are forced by circumstances to compete against each other for territory or some other value, their only resort is to attack or run away. Reason is not an option for them; that is why we do not call an animal a “murderer” when it kills.

Recent remarks by pope Benedict quoted in two separate articles in the Wall Street Journal: “Benedict the Brave” and “Pope Provocateur“, frames this issue clearly, even as he commits to the same mistaken ideas that weaken the West in the battle of ideas against Islam.

“…Without the right balance between [reason and religion], the pontiff said, mankind is condemned to the “pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason” — in short, political and religious fanaticism.”

“In Christianity, God is inseparable from reason. In the beginning was the Word,” the pope quotes from the Gospel according to John. “God acts with logos. Logos means both reason and word,” he explained. “The inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of history of religions, but also from that of world history. . . . This convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe.”

“The question raised by the pope is whether this convergence has taken place in Islam as well. He quotes the Lebanese Catholic theologist Theodore Khoury, who said that “for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent; his will is not bound up with any of our categories.” If this is true, can there be dialogue at all between Islam and the West? For the pope, the precondition for any meaningful interfaith discussions is a religion tempered by reason: “It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures,” he concluded.”

“This is not an invitation to the usual feel-good interfaith round-tables. It is a request for dialogue with one condition — that everyone at the table reject the irrationality of religiously motivated violence. The pope isn’t condemning Islam; he is inviting it to join rather than reject the modern world.”

The Pope acknowledges the impact of reason in the development of a civilized Western culture. Due in to the reformations in Western thought initiated by Thomas Aquinas’ writings on reconciling Christianity with reason, the bloody religious wars of the Middle Ages gave way to the Western renaissance of the 15th and 16th centuries. The elevation of reason gave to those parts of the world that accepted it a modern and largely secular industrial society. Religion, no longer supreme, unleashed the magnificent forces of creativity and made possible the discoveries of men like Galileo, Einstein, and Christopher Columbus. Discoveries which when translated into material products by businessmen like Rockefeller and Bill Gates, made men aware that reason could offer them happiness here and now on earth, at least in the material realm, by giving them the power to control nature for their own benefit.

Contrary to what the Pope says though, there is no possibility of reconciling reason with faith. Perhaps this can be made clearer to the reader by restating what the pope is actually saying so that the terms are defined:

Belief in the unknowable and un-provable (faith), can lead to violence unless men also use their knowledge of reality based on sense perception (reason).

This is the untenable compromise the West has attempted to live by for the last 700 years.

The issue here concerns the realm of moral values. The stand that needs to be taken is to fully embrace reason and discover the moral principles reason demands in order for man to live on earth. Unfortunately, almost all of the secular theories of values have been as irrational as the religious ones. The West has been reduced to choosing between Christian universal absolutes such as “love thy neighbor” and the relativism of ideas like multiculturalism from the more secular intellectuals. One is just as arbitrary as the other; neither is grounded in reason and reality.

Attempting to reach a compromise between the contradictory principles of reason and faith, and unable to formulate a rational alternative to mysticism, the West is hesitant before the uncompromising but blind certainty of the Islamists. Blind certainty can only “convince” through unthinking belief or force.

What Islam and the West both desperately need to discover is a set of moral principles grounded in the bedrock of reality. That bedrock will grant real certainty to men’s actions. Not the false certainty offered by the religious view of man is a disembodied spirit, nor the equally false uncertainty offered by current secular views of man as an unconscious automaton. Bedrock certainty can only result from viewing man as he really is, as a biological entity possessing a unique type of consciousness