Posts Tagged ‘Pope Benedict XVI’

Pope Benedict’s version of God and Islam

April 23, 2010

Nasir Khan, October 10, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI is the ruler of the Vatican City State and the spiritual head of more than one billion Christians across the world. What he says has an impact on political and religious thinking as well as on interfaith relations in the world. On 12 September, he delivered a well-prepared theological lecture before his home crowd of Bavarian academics and students in which he made a thinly veiled attack on the Prophet Muhammad and the notion of Holy War (Jihad). But instead of making a frontal attack on Islam, he used the derogatory remarks against Islam by a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, to convey his own message and thus to absolve himself of any responsibility for such remarks. Manuel II Paleologus had said:

‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by sword the faith he preached.’

Now, before I say anything whether such a remark has any basis in historical fact or is a mere crude misrepresentation of Islam, we should turn our attention to the method the Pope has used. It is common knowledge that whenever we use a quotation from other sources in our written or spoken words, we seek support for the particular point we may be making or we reject the view advanced by such a quotation by challenging it. To use a quotation in the former case does not need our comment; our using it evinces our – either direct or tacit — approval.

It seems the Pope has used the emperor’s words in support of his own criticism of Islam and of his theological standpoint. It may be a clever device, but it was in reality an unhealthy and unfortunate thing for a number of reasons.

First, Manuel’s formulation and accusation belongs to a particular era and historical setting in which the emperor was a direct participant in military and political struggle against the expanding Ottomans; however, his views on the Prophet and Islam have no relation to historical facts.

Secondly, the Pope is an influential leader in world affairs and he has a moral and political responsibility to help reach out to other faiths, especially Islam, to promote better interfaith relations in a world where conflicts and violence seem to be increasing; gross violations of human rights are taking place, and we are living through a time when international law and the norms of civilised behaviour are being eroded and ignored by the powerful and mighty states.

Thirdly, behind the seemingly scholarly rhetoric lies the Pope’s theology according to which Christianity is compatible with rationality, thus negating a similar compatibility in the case of Islam.

I do not intend to go into the details of such a theology, but such exclusivist views about the divine are excessively capricious and uncalled for in this century. His provocative and historically untenable remarks about Islamic teachings have led only to negative results; his ill-chosen words have inflamed the passions of Muslims throughout the world. In no way do I condone such violent responses, but at the same time we should be aware of the religious sensitivities of believers and not provoke them without good cause. We need to keep in mind that most believers, ‘the flock’, believe in a Divine Being and hold their holy books in high esteem. Indeed, they take their faiths seriously; they should not be assumed to be a gathering of philosophers, historians or doctors of theology capable of entering into dispassionate academic discussions. There are far too many people who are certain of their traditional beliefs and the authorities they rely upon. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell rightly says that the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves but wiser people so full of doubts.

The political objectives?

The Pope’s speech comes amidst the growing anarchy and destruction in Iraq. The American war of aggression against Iraq has not gone according to the wishes of the Bush Administration. As a result of the militaristic policies of America in Iraq and its so-called ‘war against terror’, there is growing anger and frustration throughout the Muslim world against the American wars and terrorist policies in the Middle East. Some observers see the Pope adding his voice to throw his support in favour of President Bush and his allies in what they call ‘Islamic terror’ and portray Islam as a violent religion.

Evidently much of the Islamic world is going through an extremely difficult phase at this stage. Two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been invaded and occupied by the armies of the New Crusaders – Bush and Blair – and two puppet regimes have been installed in these countries to serve the imperial interests. Also among the Western allies is Pakistan, whose ruler General Musharraf has admitted that America had threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age if he did not join the American ‘war against terror’. This he did. I addition to launching major military operations in the Frontier Province and Balochistan, Pakistan has rounded up any of its nationals who showed hostility towards American policies in the region. This has been carried out by the intelligence services of Pakistan in return for millions of American dollars and more than seven hundred such victims handed over to the CIA. Where and how are these prisoners being held or what has happened to them? The American government gives no information. Thus the crimes against humanity continue to mount and the only explanation is the flat statement that there is a ‘war against terror’.

We all know that the Christian Right, especially evangelical and born-again Christians, are open supporters of the American invasion of Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the systematic killings of Palestinians on a regular basis, not to mention the recent Israeli war against Lebanon.

The Pope is a learned theologian. He certainly knows what is happening in the Muslim world at the hands of the Christian Powers. But instead of siding with the victims, he attacks them by distorting Islam and its Prophet as well as the true message of Jesus. This is quite a sharp reversal of the path pursued by his predecessor, John Paul II, who had stood for interfaith dialogue and called for respect for other religions. It is well known that as a cardinal in the Holy See, Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) was opposed to John Paul II’s pursuit of dialogue. But the Vatican Council II (1962-65) had already taken some important decisions in the Catholic approach towards Islam and other religious traditions. To undermine these decisions of the Second Vatican Council by anyone, by whatever means, will constitute a leap in the wrong direction.

Benedict has held Christianity to be the foundation of Europe and just a few months before he was elected, he had spoken out against the Muslim country, Turkey, joining the EU. He has argued that Christian Europe should be defended. Turkey should seek partners in Muslim countries, not in Christian Europe.

Now, a brief comment on the charge against Muhammad and his so-called use of the sword to spread his faith. The Christian polemic against Islam is almost thirteen centuries old and Christian apologists have said and written much about it. To situate the whole discussion in a historical context, I did research for more than seven years on the topic. It has resulted in the publication of my book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey (Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2006). (The Norwegian Research Council had paid the cost of production to the publisher, and thus I have no financial interest in the sale of the book!) I have tried to show the problematic nature of such distorted views in detail, whereas Professor Oddbjørn Leirvik in his new book Islam og kristendom, Konflikt eller dialog? has given a brilliant account of the interaction between the two faiths and explored the possibilities of dialogue and cooperation, instead of confrontation, crude misrepresentations and mutual recriminations. I believe all those who are interested in historical facts will find these two books useful for study and reflection.

The present attempt by the Pope to claim that ‘violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul’; in other words, that such a view of God cannot be extended to Islamic teachings because here ‘God is absolutely transcendent’. He is ‘not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality’. I find such a formulation and explication simply baffling. This reminds us of the Holosphyros Controversy during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (r. 1143-80), where the official Melkite theologians had held that ‘the God of Muhammad was said to be holosphyros [made of solid metal beaten to a spherical shape] who neither begat nor was begotten’. If the Pope needed a good source for inspiration then he did choose the right epoch and the right mentors!

Finally, I would add only a short comment on the old Christian cliché that Muhammad stood for war and violence while Jesus stood for love and peace. There are many Christian believers who still believe this. There is no historical or scriptural evidence that Muhammad at any time in his life advocated war or encouraged his followers to spread Islam by means of the sword. But what did Jesus say?

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law; a man’s worst enemies will be the members of his own family’ (Matthew 10:  34-36).

I wonder if the Christian apologists by some strange mental confusion exchanged the roles of Muhammad and Jesus. But why do they still continue to ignore what the Bible says on the matter so clearly?

At the same time I want to emphasis that self-serving myths and dreams are not an alternative to historical facts. The question of forcible conversions in Islam is another big distortion because all the historical evidence points to the contrary. During the early period of Islamic Caliphate the Umayyad caliphs practically discouraged conversions to Islam. Far too many people had converted to Islam and that created administrative and financial problems for the State! In the Ottoman Empire, if any Muslim forced any Christian or Jew to convert to Islam, he was beheaded.

Pope urges Middle East peace effort

April 13, 2009
Al Jazeera, April 13, 2009

The pope addressed tens of thousands of people at the Basilica in St Peter’s Square [AFP]

Pope Benedict XVI has called for a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace in his Easter message, just weeks before he travels to the Holy Land for the first time as the Roman Catholic pontiff.

He told tens of thousands of people gathered in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City on Sunday that he would carry a message of reconciliation on his May 8 – 15 trip to the Middle East.

“Reconciliation – difficult, but indispensable – is a precondition for a future of overall security and peaceful coexistence,” the pope said in his twice-yearly “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city and the world) address.

“It can only be achieved through renewed, persevering and sincere efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

‘Cry of victory’

The pope also said in his message, delivered as Christians around the world commemorated Jesus Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday, that all those fearful of losing their jobs during the economic crisis should not to lose hope.

“At a time of world food shortage, of financial turmoil, of old and new forms of poverty … it is urgent to rediscover grounds for hope,” the pontiff said.

At the morning Mass, the pope told the faithful that the story of the resurrection was a “cry of victory that unites us all today”.

The German pope, who turns 82 this month, will visit the Jordanian capital Amman before heading for Jerusalem and Nazareth in Israel, and Palestinian-ruled Bethlehem.

It will be the first trip by a pope to the Holy Land since Pope John Paul II visited in 2000 and, at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, asked God forgiveness for offences by Christians against Jews over the centuries.

‘Stay hopeful’

It follows the worst crisis in Catholic-Jewish relations in half a century after Benedict lifted the excommunication of British Bishop Richard Williamson.

Williamson said in January that no more than 300,000 Jews lost their lives in Nazi concentration camps, rather than the six million figure widely accepted by historians.

Williamson also said he did not believe there had been any gas chambers at the camps.

The Easter celebrations at the Vatican took place nearly a week after a devastating earthquake killed at least 293 people in the Italian town of L’Aquila.

The pope, who says he plans to visit the disaster zone in nearby Abruzzo region soon, sent out greetings to those “suffering from the earthquake”.

On Good Friday, he prayed that survivors remain hopeful despite the tragedy, which made nearly 40,000 people homeless.

Pope ‘publicly distorted’ science in condom row

March 28, 2009
Middle East Online, March 27, 2009

The Lancet demanded Benedict make a retraction

One of world’s top medical journals accuses Pope of distorting scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine.

PARIS – One of the world’s top medical journals accused Pope Benedict XVI on Friday of having distorted scientific evidence in his remarks on condom use and demanded he make a retraction.

“By saying that condoms exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS, the Pope has publicly distorted scientific evidence to promote Catholic doctrine on this issue,” The Lancet said in an editorial.

“Whether the Pope’s error was due to ignorance or a deliberate attempt to manipulate science to support Catholic ideology is unclear.

“But the comment still stands, and the Vatican’s attempts to tweak the Pope’s words, further tampering with the truth, is not the way forward.”

The London-based journal added: “When any influential person, be it a religious or political figure, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record.

“Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

The pope made the controversial remarks last week when he travelled to Africa, the worst-hit continent for AIDS.

AIDS is a tragedy “that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems,” the pope said aboard his flight to Cameroon.

US Catholic bishops warn of Reiki therapy

Meanwhile, The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has warned Roman Catholics to shun the eastern healing art of Reiki because it lacks scientific credibility.

“Reiki therapy finds no support either in the findings of natural science,” said the USCCB doctrine committee in a document issued Thursday.

In health terms, using a therapeutic technique that has no scientific basis “is not generally prudent,” said the eight bishops on the committee, which in the past has issued guidelines on how to minister to “persons with homosexual inclinations” and frequently asked questions about why only men are ordained.

“There is a radical difference between Reiki therapy and the healing by divine power in which Christians believe: for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a technique,” the bishops said in a statement.

A survey conducted in 2002 by the US National Center for Health Statistics and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found that more than 2.2 million US adults have used Reiki for health purposes.

Activists slam Pope after condom slur

March 19, 2009

Morning Star Online, Wednesday 18 March 2009

DELUDED: Pope Benedict XVI touching a stuffed lion while meeting Cameroon President Paul Biya.

AIDS activists accused the Pope of spreading “blatant falsehoods” on Wednesday after he claimed that condoms are worsening Africa’s devastating HIV epidemic.

Kicking off a seven-day tour of the continent on Tuesday, Pope Benedict XVI declared: “You can’t resolve Aids with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

He claimed that the solution lay in a “spiritual and human awakening” and “friendship for those who suffer.”

The World Health Organisation position is that “consistent and correct” condom usage reduces the risk of HIV infection by 90 per cent.

An estimated 22 million people in Africa have HIV, the virus that leads to Aids, and three-quarters of all Aids deaths in 2007 were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Drawing on her 10-year experience of preventing and treating HIV in South Africa, Cape Town Treatment Action Campaign head of policy Rebecca Hodes stressed that condoms are “one of the only evidence-based means of preventing HIV available to us in Africa.

“There is very little evidence to support abstinence-only education campaigns as a means of preventing HIV,” Ms Hodes pointed out, declaring emphatically: “Condoms work in preventing HIV.”

She warned that the pope’s statement “is likely ultimately to lead to new infections because people will not stop having sex. Instead, they will stop having protected sex.”

Italian gay-rights group Archigay activist Aurelio Mancuso agreed, warning that the pope’s comments “contribute to the spread of the disease and especially in Africa, where there are not enough medical resources to treat patients.”

In Washington, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights organisation the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) accused the pope of “hurting people in the name of Jesus.”

HRC religion and faith director Harry Knox described it as “morally reprehensible to spread such blatant falsehoods on a continent where millions of people are infected with HIV.

“The Pope’s rejection of scientifically proven prevention methods is forcing Catholics in Africa to choose between their faith and the health of their entire community,” Mr Knox warned.

“Jesus was about helping the marginalised and downtrodden, not harming them further,” he said.

Pope’s wrong message on condoms

March 18, 2009

The pope is trying to take away one of the few things ordinary Africans can do to help themselves

Pope Benedict XVI has reiterated the Vatican’s policy that condoms do not solve the HIV/AIDS problem currently debilitating much of the African continent. The pope is visiting Cameroon and Angola on his week-long trip.

Angola is one of the few African countries in which AIDS has not yet become a massive “problem”. This is because visiting the country and gaining access to its interior has been severely restricted as it recovers from its 27-year-long civil war. The war has meant that there is a serious lack of infrastructure in the country. Coupled with the fact that no major trade routes have yet been established with Angola, the situation is one of mixed blessings. Although the consequence has been economic and social under-development, making it yet another unremarkable African country, it has also meant that AIDS rates are very low. This is not a blessing that will last forever.

The country’s president, José Eduardo dos Santos, is on the path to ensuring that the country takes up the mantle as one of Africa’s fastest-developing nations. Should he achieve his goals, trade routes will open fast and more and more people will be allowed into the country. If Angola is not equipped with a solid AIDS prevention policy that includes the use of condoms at its core, it will quickly follow in the footsteps of countries like Swaziland and South Africa where AIDS/HIV rates are the highest on the continent.

The Vatican policy on the prevention of HIV/AIDS is that abstinence is the best cure. There is little to no documentation on countries that have been successful in preventing the virus using abstinence as a primary policy tool. Uganda, which has probably tackled HIV more effectively than other African countries, has made condom use its main policy on the issue.

The problem with the Vatican and Pope Benedict’s policy on AIDS prevention goes beyond policy recommendations and mechanisms. Were these statements coming from a politician, as they did in the US under the Bush administration, the situation would not be so severe. The policies of foreign countries can be taken or left or they can be got around by policy manoeuvrings. When the pope expresses such views, they has an impact that goes beyond the theatre of politics.

According to the Vatican, in 2006, 17% of the African population were Catholics. More than this, Africa is a continent that is heavily religious and, south of the Sahara, largely Christian. Some belong to the Catholic church, many are Anglicans, but all take their belief in God very seriously. What the pope says will reach and matter to more than a mere 17% of Africans.

The Vatican’s stance is not simply irresponsible; it is immoral. African countries, as some of the most under-developed in the world, will arguably suffer the worst consequences of the “new” global challenges – climate change and the global economic downturn. The “old” ones also have not gone anywhere – severe poverty, malaria, the brain-drain, poor health, education and infrastructure, bad and corrupt leadership, civil war and genocide.

The last thing Africans need is to be told that religion, the last vessel of hope for many, demands that they ignore one of the very few things they are able to do to help themselves.

Israel Outraged as Vatican Calls Gaza a ‘Big Concentration Camp’

January 8, 2009

Foreign Ministry Says Cardinal’s Comments ‘Based on Hamas Propaganda’,

Posted January 7, 2009

Echoing Pope Benedict XVI’s repeated calls to end the ongoing bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, Vatican Justice and Peace Minister Cardinal Renato Martino urged both the Israeli government and Hamas to show more willingness toward peace talks and for the world to help them come an agreement that would end the ongoing Israeli invasion.

He also expressed concerns about the dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, saying “let’s look at the conditions in Gaza: these increasingly resemble a big concentration camp.”

Israel, as has been so often the case as the international community condemns the situation in Gaza, is outraged. The Foreign Ministry accused the Cardinal of making comments “based on Hamas propaganda” and likewise slammed him for “ignoring its numerous crimes,” even though he explicitly called for both sides to end their attacks. He said the Cardinal’s comments would not “bring the people closer to truth and peace.”

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compiled by Jason Ditz [email the author]

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