The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine January-February 2009

Papal Encouraged Dialogue Beyond Catholicism in search of a Modern Apologetic

God and Man: Muslims' Priorities Bear Fruit

The Catholic-Muslim Forum, which grew out of the 138 Muslim scholars' open letter, A Common Word, issued on the first anniversary of the Regensburg lecture, had its initial meeting in early November in Rome. The two main agenda items were love of God, the theme desired by the 2007 Common Word initiative, and the dignity and rights of the human person, the theme preferred by Cardinal Tauran and prominent Catholic commentators.

The Forum's final communique contains an Islamic reflection on God's love for us, which interestingly is backed up by a Hadith saying of the Prophet, rather than the Koran itself. It is strikingly close to the Christian emphasis upon the overflowing love of God: "So immense is this love and compassion that God has intervened to guide and save humanity in a perfect way many times and in many places, by sending prophets and scriptures."

Pope Benedict's speech at the end of the meeting brings out how Christianity suggests a more perfect ultimate fulfilment of such divine generosity: "The Christian tradition proclaims that God is Love (cf. 1 Jn 4:16). It was out of love that he created the whole universe, and by his love he becomes present in human history. The love of God became visible, manifested fully and definitively in Jesus Christ."

The Pope goes on to enlarge upon this "foundational" truth: "This infinite and eternal love enables us to respond by giving all our love in return: love for God and love for neighbour. This truth, which we consider foundational, was what I wished to emphasise in my first Encyclical, Deus Caritas Est."

It is in this context that he mentions the second half of the Forum's agenda: "Only by starting with the recognition of the centrality of the person and the dignity of each human being [...] can we find a common ground for building a more fraternal world, a world in which [...] the devastating power of ideologies is neutralised."

Significantly the Forum's communique affirms: "the right of individuals and communities to practice their religion in private and public."

On his website Sandro Magister (www. chiesa) expresses regret that (even) more progress was not made, specifically concerning emphasising the right to convert. Such disappointment has, it seems, led to the proposed foundation of an alternative inter-faith forum set up by the retired archbishop of Algiers Henri Teissier and the prominent Algerian Islamic professor Mustafa Cheriq.

Christian View of Man and Saving Europe

A letter of Pope Benedict to the atheistic, Popperian philosopher and Forza Italia Senator Marcello Pena, has been published as the preface to the latter's new book Why we must call ourselves Christians. The two co-authored the 2005 book Without Roots, Europe, Relativism, Christianity, Islam.

The Pope's letter commended Pena's new book for its "brilliant" and "cogent" explanation of how "the essence of liberalism flows from its roots in the Christian image of God [...] of which Man is an image and from which we have received the gift of freedom." Pope Benedict said this is of "fundamental importance" in enabling Europe to "find its identity" and acknowledge its "Christian-liberal foundation."

In this context he praised Pena's emphasis upon dialogue between those of different religions which necessarily "places one's own faith in parenthesis" and discusses the "cultural consequences of foundational religious decisions."

In September 2007 Pena enlarged on these themes at the International Economic Forum in Poland. He pointed out that the secularist "recognition of human rights" is self-consciously founded upon a "belief in" human dignity (cf. UN Declaration of Human Rights sixty years ago). This, he said, is in fact a quasi-religious belief system which comes from Judaeo-Christianity. Dominant European secularism is in denial on this point. It calls its belief system humanism. It permits personal religious expression but contradictorily and dogmatically forbids religious "influence" in the public and political square. The drive for social and economic unity Europe has thus failed because while it "fills the human wallet it fails to fill the human spirit".

Last March Pena opened a Rome conference on freedom and Europe with the words: "Europe wants to avoid a war of civilisations and of religions. Its actions are having the opposite effect because [...] its lack of identity [and relativism] transforms Europe into terrain for conquest [... by a] terrorism and fundamentalism [which] attack the core values of our civilisation." This, he suggests, is dangerously similar to modern democracies' 1938 appeasement of Hitler.

Man's Religious Nature and Forming Civil Society

Thomas Farr, a Georgetown Professor of Religion and International Affairs, in an adaptation of and an article in Foreign Affairs, has argued in First Things that the fostering of democratic societies in Islamic lands must be linked with encouraging Islamic communities themselves to understand the value of religious freedom.

He says "The absence of religious liberty can yield democracy-killing religious conflict, religious persecution, and religious extremism. The presence of religious freedom is highly correlated with political, social and economic good."

A foreign policy which takes this into account must involve, he argues, "adopting an overarching principle: religion is normative, not epiphenomenal, in human affairs. [...] something that drives the behaviour of people and governments in important ways. [...] Ordered liberty demands realism about human nature."

This was at the heart of the founding principles of the USA, he argues. But it is sadly absent in modern US attempts to foster democracy in Islamic States, which look more like secular wishful thinking and risk reaping more of the whirlwind of 9/11.

Acknowledging Regensburg

In a Guardian article on November 3rd the prominent Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan wrote concerning the "debate between faith and reason, and over the virtues of rationalism": "The Pope's remarks at Regensburg have opened up new areas of inquiry that must be explored and exploited in a positive way, with a view to building bridges and, working hand in hand, to seeking a common response to the social, cultural and economic challenges of our day."

Faith Magazine

January - February 2009