While it’s true that the Pope’s speechwriter could have found a better quote to make his point, I’m not really sure what all the fuss is about.
Read the Pope’s speech.
Here’s the offending text (approx. 3% or so of the total speech … I’ll describe after you read):
In the … conversation … [Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus] touches on the theme of the jihad (holy war). The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: There is no compulsion in religion. It is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.
But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels,” he turns to his interlocutor [a “learned Persian”] somewhat brusquely with the central question on the relationship between religion and violence in general, in these words:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
The emperor goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul.
God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….
The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: “For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.”
Benedict’s speech is lamenting the demise of formal logic in discussions of theology, particularly in the European university. The point he’s trying to make here is that it’s a central tenet of Catholicism that God is known only through reason (“logos“, for Benedict), and that to move away from reason as the path to God is to step further down a slippery slope away from humanism.
In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science” and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter.
This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.
Benedict spends far more time in this speech criticizing Kant and Protestantism than he does Islam; ironically — while it’s not explicitly stated in Benedict’s speech — the parallel between Islam and Red State Christianity is implicitly drawn. Whether God is experienced personally (as in Protestantism) or considered “beyond reason” (as in Islam) the result is the same — subjective interpretation of the Law and the end of universal ethics.
Liberalism IS humanism, and is critically dependent on a shared set of cultural values. It’s for this reason that European liberals like Pim Fortuyn reject the idea of a “society within a society” as Europe struggles to integrate.
Sure, Benedict might’ve chosen his words more carefully, but I see his point. In any case, the furore over an esoteric philosophical conversation sort of proves the point about the necessity of reason, don’t you think?