The Road from Regensburg

FAITH Magazine January-February 2008

Ecumenical and inter-religious developments in the search for a modern apologetic

In his second encyclical, this time on Christian hope, Pope Benedict XVI has said that without faith in God, humanity lies at the mercy of ideologies that can lead to “the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice... Man needs God, otherwise he remains without hope.” He addresses the ‘crisis of Christian hope’ in modern times, and critiques philosophical rationalism and Marxism, with reference to the advent of science. The encyclical also includes a criticism of contemporary Christianity, saying it has largely limited its attention to individual salvation instead of the wider world, and thus reduces the “horizon of its hope... As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking, how can I save myself? We should also ask, what can I do in order that others may be saved?”Catholic Online, 30 November 2007


Papal Response to the Open Letter

Pope Benedict XVI has replied to a letter from Muslim scholars, stressing the need for dialogue between Islam and Christianity and saying he would be willing to meet Muslim representatives at the Vatican.

In a letter to Jordan’ s Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal, head of the Institute for Islamic Thought in Amman, the Pope praised the “positive spirit” behind the October 11 message signed by 138 top Muslims from around the world and sent to Christian leaders.
Benedict “was particularly impressed by the attention given by the 138 Muslim signatories to the twofold commandment to love God and one’ s neighbour.”

It recalled the pope’ s statement in August 2005 soon after he took office that “we must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.

“Without ignoring or downplaying our differences as Christians and Muslims, we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God,” the pope said in his reply, which was sent via the Vatican’ s secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

Referring to the Pope’ s letter, Vatican analyst Sandro Magister said: “In a dialogue to be intensified with Islam, we must bear in mind the fact that the Muslim world today is finding itself faced with an urgent task. This task is very similar to the one that has been imposed upon Christians since the Enlightenment, and to which the Second Vatican Council, as the fruit of long and difficult research, found real solutions for the Catholic Church. The pope is asking Islam to make the same journey that the Catholic Church made under pressure from the Enlightenment. Love of God and neighbour must be realised in the full acceptance of religious freedom’
AFP, 29 November and Catholic Online 30 November 2007

Patriarch Responds and Comments on post-Regensburg dialogue

In an interview with Il Foglio Cardinal Scola, Patriarch of Venice and founder of the Oasis cultural centre for understanding between Catholics and Muslims, said that the Open Letter to the Pope and other Christian leaders by 138 scholars from various Islamic traditions was “not only a media event, because consensus is for Islam a source of theology and law... The fact that the text is rooted in Muslim tradition is very important and makes it more credible than other proclamations expressed in more western language... It is only a prelude to a theological dialogue an atmosphere of greater reciprocal esteem. ...(such) theological dialogue is in no way possible if there is not a preceding respect.”

The Cardinal commented that before the Regensburg lecture there was a lot less such dialogue.

Vatican Bishop on post-Regensburg dialogue

The Bishop of Vasai, Bishop Dabre who was appointed in November to the Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue by Pope Benedict XVI, spoke to Asia News about the importance of the Pope’ s Regensburg ‘lectio’ in which he laid down the bases for a true and fruitful dialogue between Christianity and Islam.

Benedict XVI described religion as “a fundamental ingredient for dialogue in which faith is open to science and science to faith. Unfortunately some did not correctly understand the intention of the author and its great meaning, said Dabre.

He added: “His speech was a clarion call for dialogue between religions and faith on the one hand and reason and science on the other.

“For the Pope, Western intellectuals should be open to other civilisations and the societies who believe in God. In turn, religion must be open to reason and reason must be open to faith. …Instead, some in the West have exclusively emphasised the role of reason, science and technology neglecting the positive contribution that religions and faith can make to humanity. In fact [in his Regensburg speech] the Pope was telling Western intellectuals that they should be open to other civilisations and the societies who believe in God.”
News 21 November 2007

British Imam encourages dialogue on Infallibility

A Cambridge Imam, Abdal Hakim Murad Winter, one of the Open Letter signatories, has stated “Infallibility is an occasion for dialogue, not an obstacle”. Murad Winter, director of Britain’ s Muslim Academic Trust has written “For Muslims, the Koran is the integral, infallible word of God; traditional Christians believe something no less ambitious about Christ.” Muslims and Christians both have sincere convictions. This does not mean they cannot be “theologically challenged by others.”

Science lags behind in Islamic countries

Sayyed Misbah Deen is Emeritus Professor of Computer Science at the University of Keele and a Muslim with a family tradition of theology. In his book Science under Islam he argues that in the early days of the religion Muslim scientists led the world in many fields. But, he says, “for the past six hundred years, a darkness has descended over Muslim lands everywhere, preventing the cultivation of secular knowledge in all its forms, including scientific knowledge”. With the post-8th century weakening of the Caliphate, conformity and attribution of all physical causation solely to God became required. This put some scientists lives in danger. Philosophy became devalued. Today no Muslim country has a technical university of international standing. He argues that the only way forwardis to embrace religious and social transformation.
BBC Sunday programme, 21.10.07

Critic of fundamentalists calls for reason

In a Guardianarticle Ed Husain, author of The Islamist, has called on mainstream Muslims to “have the courage to stand and reclaim the faith” from extremists who are intent on creating a conflict between Islam and the West by promoting an irrational ideology.

“The modern West stems from a Judaeo-Christian-Islamic heritage. More than ever, Western Muslims need to stop viewing the world through bipolarised lenses and assert our Western belonging.

“Islam is not a monolithic entity. Inherent within Muslim tradition is a plurality of thought, practice and reasoning that can help create a genuine Muslim renaissance or tajdid in Arabic.”
The Guardian, 2 December, 2007

In an interview with the US online political magazine Frontpage, Moorthy Muthuswamy, an expert on terrorism in India and author of the new book, The Art of War on Terror: Triumphing over Political Islam and the Axis of Jihadasserted that the world’s enemy is ‘political Islam’ which holds that the faith should have a dominant say in governing the affairs of government.

“There are good reasons for this outlook, going back to Islamic scriptures,” said Muthuswamy. “Islamic trilogy, consisting of the Koran, Hadith and Sira, is the basis of political Islam. In the past few years sophisticated scientific analysis of the trilogy has been carried out. The Center for Study of Political Islam has published a series along these lines. Their analysis points to a very dominant political nature of the trilogy, i.e. domination of political deeds of Islam’s founder Mohammed – as opposed to spirituality.

In the context of the trilogy, inner political Islam prevents Muslims from acquiring new knowledge to create a better future for themselves; external political Islam commands them to wage a religious war (called jihad) with unbelievers until the whole humanity is converted to Islam. This strong political component also means that Islam may not be structurally amenable to reform or moderation. If one takes away this political component, there is no Islam.’, 29 November 2007

In one more of a continuing series of admonitions concerning religious freedom, Pope Benedict XVI has asked the Government of Indonesia to ensure that its Catholic minority and other Christians receive full religious freedom.

The Church, he said, “unequivocally condemns the manipulation of religion for political ends, while urging the application of international humanitarian law in every aspect of the fight against terrorism.”
Catholic Online, 15 November 2007


Purpose and Science
The Templeton foundation has sponsored a series of essay on whether “the Universe has a purpose?”, by a range of academic scientists. Their contributions can be seen at


At a day conference on the “Multi-verse” at Emmanuelle College Cambridge, the Cape Town Professor George Ellis, as agnostic bio-chemist from South Africa, suggested that the theory of multiple, even infinite, universes, of which our finely tuned one is just one, might be useful as an explanatory tool but not in terms of contributing to the theistic debate. It has little supportive evidence, is probably unnecessary scientifically, though perhaps not speculatively and politically. Its proponents can ignore inconvenient data and, often, the relevance of the philosophy of science.

A New Synthesis?

The Templeton Foundation has sponsored a Sarah Coakley’ s research project Evolution and the Theology of Cooperation. She has been on the Harvard faculty since 1993 and the Mallinckrodt Professor of Divinity since 1995, and is to become the Norris-Hulse Professor at Cambridge University. A number of her ideas dovetail with those propagated by Faithmagazine. Here are some quotations from her brief paper “God and Evolution”.
` is vital to avoid, in the case of precultural evolution, the presumption that “God” competes with the evolutionary process as a (very big) bit player in the temporal unfolding of “natural selection.” ...Rather, God is that-without-which-there-would-be-no-evolution-at-all; God is the atemporal undergirder and sustainer of the whole process of apparent contingency or “randomness,”...
`We can apply this same model to the problem of divine providence and human cultural evolution, ...we can think not deistically but trinitarianly and incarnationally of God. We can make Christ’ s agony in the garden, or his submission to divine will on the cross, as the hallmark and pattern of achieved human freedom rather than its supercession. ...we see human freedom, in its truest and best sense, as freedom-for-God, rather than freedom-against-God...

` is not that God has not intervened in the history of the evolutionary process to put right the ills of randomness and freedom. For in one sense God is “intervening” constantly – if by that we mean that God is perpetually sustaining us, loving us into existence, pouring God’ s self into every secret crack and joint of the created process, and inviting the human will, in the lure of the Spirit, into an ever-deepening engagement with the implications of the Incarnation, its “groanings” (Romans 8), for the sake of redemption. ...from a robustly theological perspective, (Christ’ s resurrection) might be entirely natural, the summation indeed of the entire trinitarian evolutionary process and thus its secret key.

`...Dogmatic “scientific” atheism... constantly goes well beyond the empirical evidences of evolution itself, and can give no convincing account of its own pessimistic reductionism; it thus falls on its own methodological sword. Intelligent Design, or ID, in inverse contrast, tends to assume a God who only occasionally bestirs himself to action; even if this were not already unacceptable theistically, its “solutions” prove deeply problematic and vulnerable scientifically as well...

`...we now need to consider how the discovery of “natural cooperation” – as what Martin Nowak calls the “third fundamental principle of evolution” (alongside mutation and natural selection) – might (help)... theology and metaphysics (need) together (to) strive to complete the vision toward which evolutionary cooperation seemingly gestures ...the phenomenon of cooperation... provides a significant modification of the “nature red in tooth and claw” image that Darwinism early accrued to itself...

`...At the very least, then, this is the seedbed for higher, intentional forms of ethical virtue, though these latter (with their complex forms of human intentionality and freedom of choice) are of a distinctively different sort from the prehuman varieties of cooperation, and cannot in my view be reductively subsumed under mathematical prediction.’

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