Allen and Weigel
In preparation for the Pope’s visit to the United Nations and the United States, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life sponsored an event with presentations by John Allen and George Weigel, followed by their responses to questions from reporters. I give one excerpt from a long and, to my mind, exemplary exchange.
BARBARA BRADLEY-HAGERTY, NPR: You made a perfect transition to my next question although I’d like to actually stay on Regensburg. I have a mini-question and then I’m going to attach my real one. Do you think Pope John Paul II would have made that kind of statement that Benedict made in Regensburg? Wasn’t that kind of a gaff that is so deep – that reflects his thinking and how different it is from Pope John Paul II.
Before you answer that, I want to ask you, the day before this pope was elected pope, he gave a talk about, a homily about the dictatorship of relativism. I’m wondering if that continues to be his kind of early legacy in much the same way that the fall of communism or attack on communism was Pope John Paul II’s. And, if so, that’s a pretty amorphous goal, so what are the concrete steps or actions that we see him taking to attack the dictatorship of relativism?
WEIGEL: Very briefly, John Paul II was the master of not only the public gesture, but the personal gesture. So when he goes to the mosque in Damascus in 2000 or 2001 –
ALLEN: May 2001.
WEIGEL: – and kisses the Koran, he’s not making a statement about the religious authority of the Koran. He’s expressing his personal esteem for the piety of Muslims. By the same token, if you read Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul II’s most personal statement, he says things about his theological reading of Islam there – that the anthropology and theology of Islam are very distant from us – that are far more critical than anything Benedict XVI said at Regensburg. So, again, I think there’s a communications issue here at work.
ALLEN: Yeah, quickly, Barbara, on that, I think he would have said, and in fact did say on many different occasions, the substance of the Regensburg address. John Paul met with Muslims more than 60 times. We don’t have to speculate about what his message would have been. All of his addresses to Muslims have actually been published, and so on. And he said the substance of this idea of the relationship between reason and faith, but I think he would have found a more artful way of trying to shoot the message out there and, again, it’s a communications problem.
Look, the dictatorship of relativism – you’re right, it’s amorphous; it’s hard to understand, hard to get your teeth into. But in a just quick bite about the pope’s legacy there, I think affirmative orthodoxy is his legacy. I think rather than worrying about approaching this in a kind of disciplinary fashion – that is, beating people around the head and shoulders for their failures to be orthodox – I think he is clearly calling Catholics to a stronger sense of what makes them Catholic, but understood and phrased in a relentlessly positive fashion to try to present the Christian message as the key that unlocks the mysteries of the human heart and, again, thinking against a long arc of time. I think he believes that over time that will create a culture, first inside the church and then in the broader world, that will somehow change history.
And don’t miss the full transcript here.