Pope responds to the Islamic world
While it is encouraging to see any response at all, it is discouraging to note that, while the Muslim letter was genuinely synthesised from the views of numerous strands and traditions within Islam, to which 138 diverse leaders were signatories, the response comes from Papa Benedict alone, purporting, of course, to speak on behalf of the entire Church. Yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury was either preoccupied with homosexuals or taking further study leave, but where was the consultation with and input from the manifold Orthodox groups, the Lutherans, Baptists or Methodists, to whom ‘A Common Word’ was also addressed? The Pope’s response was sent to Jordanian Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal who is president of the Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought. It was signed by the Vatican secretary of state Tarcisio Bertone, and begins by expressing the Pope’s ‘deep appreciation’ for the ‘positive spirit’ which inspired the original letter.
But, presumptive Vice-Christ or not, Herr Ratzinger is a theologian of the highest order, and chose as his riposte to the Muslims’ ‘Common Word’ assertion a stern reminder that there are real differences between Christians and Muslims which should neither be ignored nor downplayed. Reiterating part of an address he made to representatives of Muslim Communities in Cologne, Germany in 2005, the Pope stressed: ‘We must not yield to the negative pressures in our midst, but must affirm the values of mutual respect, solidarity and peace.’ There is, of course, ‘common ground’ between Muslims and Christians, and ‘we can and therefore should look to what unites us, namely, belief in the one God, the provident Creator and universal Judge....There is plenty of scope for acting together in the service of fundamental moral values’.
Yet beneath the veneer of universalism is a subtle interweaving of the fundamental Christian exhortations: ‘Such common ground allows us to base dialogue on respect for the dignity of every human person, on the objective knowledge of the other’s religion, on the sharing of religious experience and, finally, on common commitment to promoting mutual respect and acceptance among the younger generation’.
The Pope also took the opportunity to slap down the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, stating that atheism has 'led to the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice', and has become its own 'type of moralism', rooted in the idea that a good God could not have made such an unjust world. But he said a 'world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope'.
The letter invited bin Talal and a delegation of Muslim scholars to the Vatican for tea and
At least while they are all talking, World War III may yet be averted.
Unless Mohammed Bear serves as a latter day Archduke Ferdinand…