Faith, Reason and the war against Jihadism

05 Mar 2008

By The Record

George Weigel, Catholic thinker and biographer of Pope John Paul II, delivered a lecture on Thursday on religion and world politics in which he argued that Pope Benedict XVI has provided a unique model for global understanding between Christianity, Western secularism and Islam.

In the lecture, Weigel also called on Muslim leaders engaged in
inter-religious dialogue to acknowledge and vigorously condemn the
specific abuses of human rights and religious freedom found among some
Muslim nations.

During the lecture at the University of Colorado at Boulder, sponsored
by the Aquinas Institute for Catholic Thought, Weigel said that Pope
Benedict XVI was uniquely suited to addressing world conflicts grounded
in religious differences.  Weigel believes that the Pope, especially in
his 2006 Regensberg lecture, provides a “grammar” to world leaders that
could help them understand and reform both the relativism of the
secular West and the violence of Islamic extremism.

At his 2006 lecture at the University of Regensberg, the Pope said that
religious violence and compulsion are rooted in the idea that God is
pure will instead of a rational, loving being.  He said that
Christianity’s belief in a loving, reasonable God has helped Christians
reconcile themselves to Enlightenment values of religious freedom and
human rights, while aspects of Islamic theology have hindered such
reform among Muslims.

Weigel countered the media portrayal of the speech as a “gaffe” for its
perceived insult of Mohammed.  Far from being a gaffe, he argued, the
Regensberg address was an important reflection that considered
questions important to world policy today.  These questions included:

“Can Islam be self-critical?  Can its leaders condemn and marginalize
its extremists, or are Muslims condemned to be held hostage to the
passions of those who consider the murder of innocents to be pleasing
to God?  Can the West recover its commitment to reason, and thus help
support Islamic reform?”

Weigel argued that no one other than Pope Benedict could have framed
the discussion in such a way.  “No president, prime minister, king,
queen, or secretary general could put these questions in play at this
level of sophistication before a world audience,” Weigel said.

Pope Benedict’s lecture has given the world political community “a
grammar for addressing these questions, a genuinely transcultural
grammar of rationality and irrationality.”

“Far from being an exercise in theological abstraction, the Regensberg
lecture was a courageous attempt to create a new public grammar capable
of disciplining and directing the world discussion of what is arguably
the world’s greatest problem,” Weigel continued.

Weigel also criticized some of the reactions to the Regensberg
lecture.  Though acknowledging that Muslim critiques of the West are
often “not without merit,” Weigel argued that the October 2007 letter
from the 138 Muslim leaders “sidestepped” the questions raised by the
Pope’s lecture.

Muslim scholars addressed the letter, titled “A Common Word Between Us
and You,” to global Christian leaders in pursuit of inter-religious
dialogue.  Many observers considered the letter an important

Weigel said the letter had spoken at length about the “Two Great
Commandments” to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. 
However, Weigel claimed, the letter said nothing applicable to relevant
issues of “faith, freedom, and the governance of society,” such as
death threats against Muslims who convert to Christianity or the
prohibition of Christian worship in Saudi Arabia.

He challenged the Muslim leaders to be more specific in future dialogue:

“Do these 138 Muslim leaders agree or disagree that religious freedom
and the distinction between spiritual and political authority are the
issues at the heart of the tension between Islam and the West, indeed
between Islam and ‘the rest,’ and even more within Islam itself.  Would
it not be more useful to concentrate on these urgent issues of
classical reason, which bear on the organization of 21st century
society, than to frame the dialogue in terms of a generic exploration
of the Two Great Commandments, which risk leading to an exchange of

“Why not get down to cases?” Weigel asked.  He further asserted that
authentic dialogue requires a “precise focus” and a commitment to
“condemn by name the members of their communities who murder in the
Name of God.”

Weigel also criticized the “secularization thesis,” which claims that
countries become less religious as time advances.  He argued that in
fact the secularization of the West was the exception, rather than the
rule.  The secularization thesis, he said, has clouded the analysis of
Western thinkers and politicians who cannot understand the religious
basis of many world movements, including Islamic extremism.

The centuries-long Catholic encounter with the positive Enlightenment
values of religious freedom and human rights, Weigel thought, could be
a model for Christian-Muslim dialogue.  While not compromising with
what Weigel called the “chaff” of Enlightenment scientific atheism,
past Catholic mistakes and successes could help Muslims navigate
reforms of their own religion.

Weigel cited Pope Benedict’s 2006 Christmas address as evidence the
Pope approved of a similar strategy.  In that speech the Pope said:

“In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the
fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent
task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon
Christians since the Enlightenment, and through which the Second
Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found
real solutions for the Catholic Church.”

Weigel’s lecture drew its content from his recent book, “Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism: A Call to Action.”