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Two Sides, At Least

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Written by Basil on 09/21/2006 8:28 PM. Filed under:

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Here is an interesting twist on the old proverb, “There’s two sides to every story.” As a son of the South, I am somewhat sensitive to the fact that stories can differ significantly by who tells them. However, I find the following statements absolutely incredible:

As both of these churches [Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox] detected a threat to their sustainability as powerful temporal as well as secular institutions, with the rapid (voluntary) spread of Islam, because the latter did not approve of an institutionalized priesthood of any order…, both of these institutions immediately sought to arrange political alliances with the monarchs and grand noble orders that prevailed in Europe then, which still was religiously considered “heathen” by these churches. The bargain that was achieved thus was as follows: the churches would give these despots “heavenly titles” to their thrones and the latter would impose Christianity “by the sword” in both of their manifestations then in their areas of jurisdictions, and the Church would give blessings to the harsh feudal order that kept Europe in the dark for centuries to come until even good Christians saw the mischief in this and decided on a Protestant revolt and eventually the Renaissance.

Now, perspectives aside, the Protestant Reformation followed the Renaissance. I know this to be true because I checked the generally accepted dates for both, and also because the Renaissance lays the cultural and intellectual groundwork for the Reformation. In other words, one follows the other logically, and it’s directly opposite from this gentleman’s opinion on the subject. Let’s continue:

Throughout the history of the Moslem Empires that prevailed since the death of the Prophet Mohammed (peace of Allah be upon him), Moslem rulers pretty much stuck to the Qur’anic dictate “there is no compulsion in religion”.[sic] Needless to say the Holy Book of Allah insists that even differences in religious views are to be “discussed” peacefully with non-Moslems with the idea that people should be led by reason and logical deduction to accept Islamic doctrine.

(Read the whole article: Pope Benedict XVI’s folly: A new crusade or facing the baptist challenge – Yemen Times)

This view is a single anecdote, and perhaps this gentleman is simply ignorant of history. I have seen many people who unconsciously twist history to support their religious beliefs, and I’m sure I’ve been among them. However, what if this view is not anecdotal but pervasive? Here’s the money quote: “Surely, Pope Benedict the XVI was not oblivious to these historical facts and surely, he is even more insulting when he attributes Moslem anger at his ‘academic’ comments in his homeland, of all places, to ‘misunderstanding’ of his intents.”

I will not assume that my readership knows what the pope’s comments actually were. I recommend that you read the whole speech (also available in PDF), or at least DrBacchus’ summary. Clearly this gentleman has not.

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7 Responses to “Two Sides, At Least”

  1. Theodora Says:

    Basil, thanks very much for posting this. After glancing at it (and intending to print it out and read it), I think what we have here is a failure of tact on the part of an academic addressing other academics, which would barely have been noticed had the speaker been any ordinary academic. Unfortunately His Holiness is not yet used to having his every utterance the topic of global conversation and speculation. I could wish that he had chosen a slightly different example, or at least not quoted the emporer verbatim.

  2. Johanna Says:

    I just read an interesting piece called “On the Western Confessions of Faith” by Aleksei Khomyakov, which, if you haven’t read it, I think would be very interesting to you. Its premise, about the emergence of Romanism & the Reform, is very simple in its essence, underneath all the verbiage.

  3. Basil Says:

    Theodora, I cannot quite see that the problem is one of tact. To turn the coin around, I am hurt, perhaps, when people throw the Spanish Inquisition in my face, but it is part of the shared history of my faith. The weight is on me, as a Christian, to explain why the general attitude and certainly the abuses that fueled the Inquisition are incompatible with the classical mainstream of Christianity. This is becoming more true of the post-Christian world than ever before.

    Muslims have an obligation to explain to us why certain elements of their history are not within the mainstream of their religious belief (if, in fact, they are not). Quoting an emperor whose Christian empire is on the verge of extinction because of a siege by its Muslim neighbors — with all the history of Jerusalem, Egypt, Northern Africa, Arabia becoming predominantly Muslim, why, and the treatment of Christians under the Caliphs — is not a failure of tact. However, it is a failure of reason to react with murders and church-bombings.

    So far, Muslims are not doing a very convincing job of arguing that theirs is a peaceful religion.

    (How’s that for tactless?)

  4. Theodora Says:

    I think the more important question is *why* such activities and communities as the Inquisition, followed by Calvin’s Geneva and the Puritans of Salem, even arose within a religion such as Christianity. It seems clear that Jesus’ command to love our enemies does not allow for genocide, “faith-icide,” or political and community oppression. My husband and I get into it all the time — he insists that any religion that can engage in violence in the name of that religion is fundamentally flawed. Christianity and Islam are the primary perpetrators, while Hinduism is less prone, and Buddhism does not possess this flaw at all.

    Having read the speech carefully, I still disagree that the quote was relevant, and therefore it was at best a failure of tact. The Pope was not asking Muslims to explain why their actions did not and do not match their words. He explained why himself — they do not recognize rationality as an attribute of God. Using a graphic quote from a beleagured emporer that established *nothing except* that Muslims were violent, (and let’s not forget that this was after the Crusades, when Muslims might have felt that they had ample reason to retaliate against Christians), did not add to the Holy Father’s argument about rationality. All he had to do was reference the violence and move on, and I doubt that any Muslim would have been able to disagree.

    Now, I will certainly agree with you that reacting to a speech at a university (did most people even manage to stay awake for the whole talk?) with murders and church bombings is completely nuts, to be precise!

  5. Basil Says:

    The timeline is:
    1) Muslims take by force formerly Christian lands in Northern Egypt, Arabia, Palestine, and Persia, and continue to whittle away at the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire.
    2) Western Christians, apparently oblivious to the fall of Carthage, Alexandria, and Antioch, decide Jerusalem must be delivered from the so-called “infidels.”
    3) On their way, they sack Constantinople for not aiding them. (See the political history of the council of Florence.)

    The question is whether the Christians in these formerly Christian lands, who were suddenly Muslim, converted because they were convinced of Islam.

    As for “Buddhism does not possess this flaw at all,” see the following links:
    Buddhism Betrayed: Religion, Politics, and Violence in Sri Lanka: Sri Lankan Buddhist monks take up arms against Hindus, Muslims and Christians, and other non-Buddhists.
    Zen Holy War?: A book review of Zen at War by Brian Victoria. Buddhism as the religion of the Japanese military during the Second World War.
    The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: A look at the darker side of Buddhism.

    I should note that I haven’t read through every single line of these pages. They were the pages that bubbled to the top of a Google search on Buddhism and violence. I only point them out because “Buddhism does not possess this flaw at all” just sounded a little too suspicious. Human beings being human, it stands to reason that every religion will have its darker moments. The question isn’t: which stands for any particular virtue most consistently. The question is: which is true? For insight on the question of truth in religion, see the book by Mortimer Adler by the same name (Truth in Religion).

  6. Theodora Says:

    Of course “Buddhism does not possess this flaw at all” is ridiculous; the Astronomer believes it, though. His viewpoint comes entirely from his close involvement with monks in the Theravada tradition, who represent the most orthodox of Buddhist practice. He’s never ever rubbed shoulders with normal Buddhist people, and considers events such as you mention to be non-Buddhist aberrations. (For a scientist, he holds his own religion pretty dear, while criticizing mine with great gusto…we established yesterday that he does this to get my *attention* for heaven’s sake, so I’m resolving to forestall such attacks from now on!)

    Okay, so I did not make a mistake in my timeline, but did not realize the entire timeline. Hopefully that will not make everything I said, suspect.

    Basil, I think which religion follows its own truth most consistently is a very important question. Christians believe that Christ IS the Son of God, it’s as true as gravity. Muslims believe that Christ is not the Son of God, it’s as true as
    gravity. Arguing over which of these things reflects actual reality is pointless. Following through consistently on the implications of such belief is certainly more convincing, and if you believe that human beings’ actions matter, we may even make things MORE true by acting. I realize that sounds very strange for an Orthodox person to say, but what I mean is, let us say…

    Love exists. It will always exist, whether we love or not. But if we do love, then MORE love exists.

    Violence exists only if we engage in it. But, if we do engage in it, there’s more of it.

    So I think our standing for the virtues of our religion is an extremely important part of the question, and is certainly the only part that is visible to others.

    Sorry, haven’t had time yet to look up the book you recommend.

  7. Whispers on Real Christianity | Kevin Basil Says:

    […] Although the comment she quotes is from another blog entirely, I can guess that her conversation on this blog about the pope’s recent injuring of Muslim pride has probably remained on her mind, especially the last few comments: Does the Hydra of violence rear its ugly heads in every religion or are some exempt by virtue of their superior doctrinal foundation? […]