Sunday, September 27, 2009

Faith, Reason and Regensberg

Over at Weaselzippers you can find multiple links to stories from the Muslim world of cruelty to Christians for perceived slights and to the killing of apostates from the Muslim faith. I usually don't bring this up, not out of any political correctness, but out of the belief that my readers are already aware, and it is such an everyday occurrence. I would challenge us to think about the nature of the faith that permits or condones such excess. Defenders of Islam may say that such acts are not the product of "true Islam" whatever that would be, but I don't see widespread denunciation, so I assume there is theological justification for this. Pope Benedict asked the same question, more eloquently in Regensburg lecture in September 2006, not long after his election.

In my church, the saying I hear most often is "God is Good." With the response being "All the time." In Islam, I believe the most frequent phrase is "Allahu Akbar" meaning "God is Great." The difference in emphasis is important. The Christian sees God first and foremost as good, all powerful, but defined by goodness and reason. The start of the Gospel of John states that in the beginning the λόγος, (logos) was with God. Logos can mean either the Word or reason in the Greek. Ours is a religion of both faith and reason. We see the coming of the Messiah at a time when both a knowledge of the Jewish faith and the idea of Greek inquiry were both known throughout the Roman empire. As the Pope states:

A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act "with logos" is contrary to God's nature.
Our is a good God, who has chosen to be bound by the promises he puts in His Word, and we can therefor use reason to deduce his nature and character, even if not fully.

However, in Islam, we see reverence for the all powerful nature of Allah. The Pope states:

But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality.
I once read that this meant that in Muslim teaching Allah could even require idolatry of us. This has profound implications for a dialog with Islam, because a dialog requires that we be able to agree to points of reason (dialog comes from διά and λόγος, there's that word again words and reason).

Additionally, the belief that Allah's will is involved in everything that happens, that rationality and causality are mere figments, leads to outcomes that are themselves not reasonable. Stephen Richter, in Taki's Magazine stated this in June 2007,

This moral fatalism helps to explain why many American Muslims—even some of those who seemed genuinely horrified by what had occurred—were unable or unwilling to condemn the September 11 attacks directly. If Allah approved the actions of the hijackers by causing the towers to fall, then to condemn the September 11 attacks is essentially an act of impiety. It is one of the many ironies of Islam that the Muslim insistence on the radical freedom of the will can lead to a moral fatalism which those who wish to wage jihad against the United States can use in order to silence dissent among their fellow Muslims.

Just as Christians believe that we are made in the image and likeness of God, Muslims see themselves as a reflection of Allah. And as we wish to conform our will to God’s Will, they attempt to conform their wills to Allah. But here, the similarities end. If Allah’s will, unlike God’s, is not bound up with rationality, then the discerning of that will takes a very different shape. In attempting to understand God’s Will, Christians can turn to the world around us, to natural law, to history, to tradition. We see the rationality—the consistent reasonableness—of God’s Will in the world that He created. But in Islam, the appearance of order is only that—an appearance. To the extent that the created world seems rational, it is only because Allah wishes it to appear so. His will could change at any moment, however—and the new order, or lack thereof, that he would create would be just as “right” as this one.

Hope you had a great weekend, I will return to political blogging tomorrow.


  1. Good post, nice to have you get away from the politics once in a while without going down the Boy George weekend chill path!

  2. B-Daddy, great post. Link forthcoming.