Does the Islamic doctrine of Allah preclude reasonable dialogue? Please note, this is not to inquire whether adherents to the Islamic faith are capable of being reasonable. Obviously, many are. But when they are, are they being consistent with the nature and character of Allah as they conceive of him?Benedict's oration, the one that set afire the radical factions of Islam, answers the question.
In the seventh conversation edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor 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.The Pope then describes a "rapprochement" between Greek rationalism and classic theism, a tenuous and tense rapprochement at best, given the Crusades, the Reformation, the Inquisition, Vatican II, and a thousand other sticking points in Catholic history. But every ideology has its sticking points.
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 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." Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry.
Observe several ironies in Manuel II Paleologus's description of God's nature. God is not pleased by blood, he states, and yet God demands sacrifice for atonement. "Without the shedding of blood," after all, "there is no forgiveness." It is certainly not beneath God to inflict pain and suffering for the sake of justice, even unto death, even upon His own son.
Ah, but for the sake of conversion? The emperor claims, 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.... And yet, as Pascal reminds us, any reasonable conversion calculus must include the overwhelming weight of the threat of hellfire and damnation.
On a good day, the apostle Paul writes, "God's kindness leads you toward repentance." On a bad day, he theodicizes,
18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.We are a hairsbreadth from the transcendent God of Islam, bound only by His own whims, answering to no one but Himself. We are allowed to speculate--and, paradoxically, forced to judge.
19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, 'Why did you make me like this?' "[a] 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use?
22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— 24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
There is also a deep irony in Benedict's note that "Were it [the Islamic] God's will, we would even have to practice idolatry." Yet the Christian God has, at various points it time, commanded His followers to commit adultery, sacrifice a child, and wipe out entire ethnic groups (and even their livestock). Even in the New Testament, the meekness of martyrdom is temporary, a speed bump on the road to Revelation.
If Keith Plummer is right, and "theological convictions have undeniable practical outworkings," then let us be glad that, at least at present, the Greeks are winning.