Monday, October 30, 2006


The furor over the recent speech made by Pope Benedict in Germany continues and has elicited a response from the Muslim community under an open letter written to respond to the Pope's message.

Not being a Muslim scholar, nor an expert on Islam, I cannot speak to the specific claims made by these Muslim scholars regarding Islamic teaching, but I can speak to some of the theological aspects of this letter with regards to an Orthodox Christian understanding.

The Muslim scholars first discuss the Islamic view of the Transcendence of God and say the Pope's message was an oversimplification. I find this a bit misleading since most Islamic complaints about the Christian doctrine of God is the complexity involved. Islamic scholars regularly claim that an Islamic view of God is much more simple and less nuanced than the Christian doctrine of the Trinity allows.

However, I will forgo this and take the scholars at their word that the simplistic understanding of transcendence in Islam is, in fact, more nuanced than I was lead to believe. If this is so, then this is wonderful news. It means that Islamic thought has the possibility of moving closer to the Christian understanding that God is both Transcendent and Immanent.

This is especially witnessed in the Christian understanding of the Incarnation, which Islam totally rejects. In the Incarnation, God become Immanuel, God with us. Islam has no place for such an understanding of either the Prophet or any other religious leader. They come closest to this incarnational model in their understanding of the Koran, which, in its original Arabic, is said to have been dictated to the Prophet directly from God Himself. So, a printed page can be the immanent Presence of God in Islam.

The scholars go on to speak about Greek philosophy and attempt to equate the Islamic understanding to the use of "logos" in classic Greek philosophy, but, in my opinion, they fail miserably.

The pontiff's speech was about the European loss of an Hellenic mindset and the absolute incompatibility of compulsion with regards to religious conversion. One cannot help but wonder if the Islamic scholars have ever addresses this issue with their fellow Muslims.

The weak historical arguments made in this Islamic response to Pope Benedict cannot pass without comment.

The notion that there were exceptional times when Islam as a "political" expression (an interesting caveat on the part of these scholars) where force was used to convert whole peoples to Islam is a bit hard to square with the historical data. Even given the nominal Christian societies where the armies of Islam conquered lands in the Middle East and in the northern parts of Asia Minor, the claim that forced conversions were the exception is difficult to believe.

These scholars claim that if Islam was indeed commanded to spread by the sword there would be no churches or synagogues left standing, a point well taken, please explain why so many churches and synagogues have been destroyed, and why there are NO existing churches in Saudi Arabia- none! All the while mosques are being built in the West at an alarming rate.

Finally, I am actually encouraged by this open letter from some Islamic scholars. Now perhaps we can get these same scholars to write a similar letter to their fellow Muslims.

I contend the theological challenges that await we Christians demand we begin taking seriously the theological challenges poised by Islam. Our people, ignorant of such deep theology like the doctrine of the Trinity, are ripe for another Islamic wave of "conversions" from nominal Christians, especially in the West where we have all but abandoned classical Christianity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would need to go read the Pope's speech and the Islamic response before I could really speak to it here, but given the Catholic Church's propensity in the Middle Ages for squelching any religious impulse that didn't come from their dogma, I'm not sure why you think Islam should be held to a higher standard. This with me having apparently a bit more knowledge of what the Qur'an actually says than you seem to have here.

You know as well as I do that undergoing a religious conversion of any stripe is an extremely personal process and cannot be forced. The Bible speaks to this as well as the Qur'an. If Muslims have ever forced anything having to do with religion it has been outward appearance and outward practice. That is all they can ever do, since they cannot control hearts and minds. The ones who are true to their faith know this and don't even wish to try.

As for Saudi Arabia, a cursory study of the conditions in that country would explain to you why churches are not allowed to be built. The monarchy lives in perpetual fear of its subjects and must present itself as a defender of the faith in order to hang on to its perceived legitimacy. This should sufficiently explain the presence of the religious police and the strict religious laws. Democracy is actually closer to the Islamic ideal than is monarchy or dictatorship, ironically enough.

I'm not sure why the Pope would hold a Hellenic mindset as important, since Christianity is not about any one ethnic group. It is supposed to be a universal religion; this is the literal translation of Catholic, as I'm sure you know.

Muslims have no room in their concept of God for a Son, so Immanuel will never be a valid religious concept to them. They are true monotheists, not breaking God down into parts or assigning him a partner or children.

I'm afraid you're just going to have to agree to disagree with 'em, even if all of them practiced their faith perfectly, which most (out of ignorance) do not.