Pope decries faith by force

Lecture to academics in Germany expected to draw Muslim ire

September 13, 2006|By Tracy Wilkinson | Tracy Wilkinson,LOS ANGELES TIMES

REGENSBURG, Germany -- Pope Benedict XVI addressed religious violence yesterday, warning that fanaticism is "contrary to God's nature" and quoting a criticism of historical Islam likely to inflame tensions in the Muslim world.

Speaking to academics at the University of Regensburg, where he taught theology in the 1970s, the pope traversed centuries of Islamic, Greek and Christian philosophy to decry holy wars and forced conversions, and to hold up Christianity as the "profound encounter of faith and reason."

The pope's lecture was long, dense and subject to wide interpretation. Rather than criticize Islam directly, he cited a Byzantine emperor's harsh condemnation of Islam, its founder Muhammad and holy war.

Pope Benedict used jihad, choosing the emotionally and politically loaded Arabic term for holy war or struggle.

"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," he said. "Not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature."

In contrast to fanatic abuse of religion, the pope said, in Christianity "the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself."

Ultimately, the long exposition was not about Islam but about the dangers of secularism in the Christian West and the need to better know God, his favored themes. But the remarks on Islam, however couched, were likely to draw the most attention.

Pope Benedict's disdain for radical Islam, and the use of religion to justify terrorism, is well-known. Last year, during his inaugural trip as pope to Cologne, Germany, he chastised Muslim community leaders for failing to steer their youths away from "the darkness of a new barbarism," and he has asserted the fundamental importance of Europe's Christian roots and character.

In November, the pope is scheduled to travel to Muslim Turkey, a candidate to join the European Union, in what promises to be his most prickly expedition abroad thus far.

At the university in this medieval city, during a six-day tour of his native Bavaria, the pope quoted Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus in conversation with "an educated Persian": "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 the sword the faith he preached."

Departing from his prepared text, the pope added two reminders to his audience that he was quoting.

Manuel II was speaking at the end of the 14th century in Constantinople. It was a time of great tumult between the Christian and Muslim worlds and about 50 years before the fall of the fabled city, then the capital of Christendom, to the Muslim Ottomans.

The pope said the emperor would have been aware of Quranic instructions on the waging of holy war as he argued that the spreading of faith through violence "is something unreasonable." The Rev. Federico Lombardi, the pope's spokesman, said Pope Benedict was not attacking Islam but highlighting forced conversions and holy war as historical examples of the violent use of religion.

The pope earlier conducted an open-air Mass at a Regensburg sports field, with more than 200,000 people in attendance.

Tracy Wilkinson writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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