Monday, September 25, 2006

People of The Book

I've read a lot about Pope Benedict's remarks and the outrage caused by his reference to a Byzantine Emperor's remarks about Islam and Mohammed.

The outrage was predictable, by the Muslims and by those who refuse to understand religion but feel compelled to comment about it. They brought up the Crusades. (No mention that the Crusades started because the "infidels" took over the Holy Land and were killing the pilgrims.) The Inquistion. The forced conversion of indigenous populations. (There lurks the idea that Frank McCourt gave voice to--that the natives were perfectly happy in their local religion and the conquerers had no business ruining their lives by converting them.)

However, one thing about having your religion written down is that you can look and actually compare it. And while the Koran does talk about forced conversions by the sword, the New Testament does not. In fact, the one time the sword is used by an apostle, Jesus tells him to put it away and heals the ear that was cut off. The conversion that happen on the first Pentecost, in the Acts of the Apostles, is due to the eloquence of the apostles. The Holy Spirit, speaking through them, touched the hearts of their audience.

The Evils done in the name of the Christian Religion were done by men and not at the direction of God. And there was probably as much carnage done to Christians by Christians and to non-Christians by Christians. (Doesn't excuse it; just demonstrates that religion has been misused.)

The Old Testament is pretty violent but I don't remember the violence being directed towards conversion. In fact, Jews have serious misgivings about prosletyzing and are even reluctant to convert the non-Jewish spouse in a mixed marriage. The battles I remember in the Old Testament were about freedom from oppression, securing their homeland, and protecting it.

I admit, I am not a scholar, nor to I have a Bible ready to hand to verify this. But I would have thought someone would have mentioned this.

So now Pope Benedict brings several leaders of Islam together and stresses the need for dialogue. Some commentators see that as groveling and appeasement. I see it as putting Islam on notice. Yes, Pope Benedict could have been more forceful. But his message was plain, especially the message about expecting reciprocal respect.

The imans had no comment, except for those from Turkey and Iraq. It's up to them to deliver the message. Will they?