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Crossing the bridge to Islam

In an interesting dispatch from Nairobi, the Zenit news agency describes a speech in which Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran outlined Pope Benedict XVI's new direction in interreligious dialogue. He said that previous popes have built "bridges of understanding" to other religions, and that now is the time to cross those bridges and speak more frankly about differences.The time for dealing with theological differences was postponed, the cardinal said, but "in the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, that future is now." The previous method "highlighted the common elements we share," the cardinal said, adding that the pope " wants to emphasize, by use of reason, the distinctiveness of the Christian faith."The speech spells out the pope's approach to interreligious dialogue more fully than I'd seen before (and is similar to what Benedict said in St. Joseph's Church in Manhattan concerning interfaith relations).But I think some bridge inspectors should be called in before too much weight is put on these structures of supposed interreligious friendship. In particular, the bridge to Islam has corroded in the last three years. The chief engineer, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the Vatican's top expert on Islam, was moved from his key post and dispatched to Egypt. The pope then famously insulted Islam in his Regensburg lecture. And he upset Muslims again by giving such a high profile to the conversion of a Muslim journalist who criticized Islam, baptizing him in St. Peter's at the Easter Vigil.In short, much of the good will that John Paul II built up is being lost. There is reason to be concerned with this new direction.I agree that religious freedom should be addressed in Christian-Muslim dialogue. But how is that best done? Islam has a long tradition of respect for holy and humble Christian monks, dating to the faith's earliest days and reflected today in the ability of some Franciscans to relate to Muslims. This is the face of the Catholic Church that Muslims are historically receptive to, and Benedict needs to listen to those who've engaged Muslims on that basis.

About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009) and An Unlikely Union: The Love-Hate Story of New York's Irish and Italians (NYU Press, 2015).



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Maybe Benedict needs to stop reading Augustine whose preoccupation with getting everyone to be Catholic initiated the use of force majeure to bring all into the faith. Amazing in a world in which very few are entering the Catholic clergy (none from New York), Benedict wants to talk about difference. Perhaps he should shore up his own base.

Well, without defending the direction B16 is looking to go, I think the situation is a bit more complex than this. I would point out that he didn't insult islam at Regensburg -- Musilms took insult, as people everywhere often do, by taking a quotation out of context, and completely reversing his meaining in the process. I should think that particular point needn't be re-hashed in this forum.Lets all read down in dot Commonweal a bit further to the post about Iraqi Christians. The greater problem Christianity has is not in coe-existing and having dialogue with those Muslims who share the "long tradition of respect for holy and HUMBLE (my emphasis) Christian monks." The greater problem is in merely coexisting with the smaller group of Muslims who simply want to exterminate us in the name of purifying the world for Allah. How can we expect success by dialoguing with one group while the other group of Muslims simply wants to make Martyrs out of us?I do not have an answer, nor am I implying one; but with respect Paul -- it is not exclusively our responsibility to bbe humble in diaolgue with Islam. I think that some in their camp are vanquishing a lot more goodwill than us. Apostates do not equal Martyrs, unless one has a radically different idea of truth. And THAT is the bridge the Pope is trying to cross. "What is truth?"

Cardinal Tauran was recently quoted as saying that dialogue with Islam was difficult because Muslims hold that the Quran was dictated by the Angel Gabriel, or words to that effect. Fr. Fessio a lttle back attributed similar sentiments to Benedict himself, and then, as I recall, apologized for repeating what Benedict had said at a meeting of his former students.This sort of talk is unhistorical. Jerome and Augustine both talked of dictation by the Holy Spirit. The Council of Trent and the Reformers both spoke of dictation. Vatican I spoke of dictation, and so, unless memory deceives me, did Leo XIII. The use of modern critical methods was regarded in Rome as a conspiracy against the faith until Divino Afflante Spiritu (1943?). Some are still suspicious.

For wise commentary on truth, one only has to go to the archives of Commonweal itself:We want to know for sure, and to say that we know; or we want what lies beneath this sense of "knowing for sure" we want to feel that we are on the right track in some way we can check out by referring to an external referent, some certain way, a polestar. This, very often, will separate us from others and is even intended to do so; we are not like the Muslim in this, nor like Jews in that, nor like fundamentalist Christians in another way; we are at pains to show that we are not conservatives, nor liberals; or we search for a positive criterion, like the Bible, or a church which cannot make mistakes, either because the church's "long haul" or tradition is a reliable guide (as Orthodox believe), or because the church has a guaranteed source of infallibility in a magisterial protected from error (as Catholics believe). Or we look for political and social correctness as a criterion for what really matters, religiously whatever the vehicle is, as unimportant: nearly anything will do, so long as it persuades us that we are on the right track. John Garvey, "If You Had Been There"Commonweal, 12 21 90.

It would appear to be a gross misinterpretation to say that Benedict did not insult Islam at Regensburg. It also would be difficult not to say that Benedict believes that error has no rights even though he dare not use that language. Down deep he thinks the Catholic church has it all and others are just not that graced. One can see why he is a Platonist as he lives in an ideal world (doctrinal). He interprets history a-priori. Very sad. Because the presumption is that God would neglect two thirds of the world. Whatever can be wrong with Christians having humility. Jesus said he has given us an example by washing the feet of his disciples. Such unecumenical language asks Jesus to come down from the cross and call Homeland Security. Not that security does not have its role. It is just that Christians go beyond the merely visible and earthly.

Humility, the saints say, is truth. It's not partial truth. Fitzgerald liked to focus on points of agreement. That's a nice beginning but it's not dialogue. Dialogue respects the other's commitment enough to acknowledge disagreements as well as agreements.

Hasn't the ecumenical movement taught us that there are two levels, at least, to inter-religious and inter-faith relationships? Level one carried on by official representative and generally populated by theologians and religious leaders. That seems to be where the Vatican is.Level two, on the ground, is carried out by ordinary Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc., who at least in the U.S. negotiate all matter of issues like inter-marriage, school pagents and holidays, and in New York! suspension of alternate side of the street parking on religious holidays. That seems to be where the Franciscans are, along with the rest of us, fording the river where there is no bridge.

Margaret, I don't think ecclesial life is so neatly divisible: the Vatican has their concerns, we (and the gentle Franciscans) have ours, and never the twain shall meet.The life of faith involves adherence to a doctrine. We might as well have an honest pluralism--one that respects differences.

What's difficult about telling the difference between meetings of official representatives of religious institutions and those that take place in the supermarket?

The Orthodox have an expression: "The Best theogian in the Church is the little old lady in the fourth row."The Bible says"They shall all be taught by God."The little people are allowed to have doctrine too.

Peg, that is phrased so elegantly. I do think that the Franciscans offer a good model for the Vatican to follow and that John Paul II paid attention to it.

How do you measure effectiveness?-Muslim theologians are scheduled to dialogue with this pope Catholic church is being constructed in Qatar negotiations are underway for a church in Saudi Arabia

I'm not sure if you're a subscriber or a reader of Commonweal, Kathy, but you might find this interesting:

Thanks very much, Grant. I do look at the print version from time to time to see if there's anything good but I'd missed this.I always enjoy hearing Rita Ferrone's perspective.My own thinking is, first of all, Pope Benedict has been working on this front with subtlety and finesse and has made impressive strides that should be considered textbook cases of statesmanship. Secondly, it seems to me that the authors of A Common Word are a little naive. To engage in honest dialogue with the Pope is to risk meeting his Lord, the Logos. It's a dangerous thing; who knows what could happen next? Thirdly, like many, the authors and signatories think that there is more parallelism between Christianity and other religions than actually exists.

It has become a modern axiom that if there is no peace among religions there will be no peace in the world. Certainly, all religion have the "parallelism" which is peace. In the wake of two World Wars, the holocaust and people eating garbage in other countries, what could be more important than that?

Bill,Theological parallelism.

Kathy,The most powerful point of the message of Jesus is peace. Didn't the orthodox crucify him?

Bill,I agree with you to some extent: love of enemies is a great challenge of the Gospel. The exhortation to live in peace, both within the Church and with all people, rings throughout the epistles.However, this post is about means, not ends. I think the Pope's goals are very peaceable and that his means are uncommonly effective. So I don't see any reason to demand that he conform to a more conventional manner of leadership.One more general comment before I stop hogging this thread. It seems to me that hiuman beings have a useful but pesky internal consistency. It's useful because the way a person lives affects the way he or she believes. But it's pesky, because denying one's beliefs in one sphere, for example in interreligious dialogue, can weaken faith quite thoroughly. There's a publishing house, I won't say which, whose catalogue is filled with variations of the Sabellian heresy. Who knows how it got to be so bad--except that the noblest underlying sentiment expressed by some of its authors is the desire to live in peace in a pluralistic world.

Kathy,Dialogue does not mean compromise of beliefs. It means we grant that people sincerely believe differently than we do and seek away to live in peace with them. There is always the danger with mixing with others that we can be changed. To avoid this, people too often resort to violence. In New York City this creative Muslin teacher is being harassed and persecuted just because she wants to make Islam respectable in America.

This thread has taken some interesting twists. I certainly would not advocate that anyone deny his or her beliefs when taking part in interreligious dialogue. Certainly, the models I've suggested - John Paul II or the Franciscans who are active in dialogue with Muslims - would not advocate that.

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