Novak (novak) wrote,

Theological Notebook: Benedict on Islam

There was an interesting quotation of Ratzinger/Benedict XVI by John Allen in his The Word From Rome column today on Islam that grabbed my attention. In the 1997 interview with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, published as The Salt of the Earth, Ratzinger makes an observation on Islam I'd not heard before, which I reproduce here with a bit of Allen at the end:
"The consolidation of Islam worldwide is a multifaceted phenomenon. On the one hand, financial factors play a role here. The financial power that the Arab countries have attained and that allows them to build large Mosques everywhere, to guarantee a presence of Muslim cultural institutes and more things of that sort. But that is certainly only one factor. The other is an enhanced identity, a new self-consciousness.

"In the cultural situation of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, until the 1960s, the superiority of the Christian countries was industrially, culturally, politically, and militarily so great that Islam was really forced into the second rank. Christianity -- at any rate, civilizations with a Christian foundation -- could present themselves as the victorious power in world history. But then the great moral crisis of the Western world, which appears to be the Christian world, broke out. In the face of the deep moral contradictions of the West and of its internal helplessness -- which was suddenly opposed by a new economic power of the Arab countries -- the Islamic soul reawakened. We are somebody too; we know who we are; our religion is holding its ground; you don't have one any longer.

"This is actually the feeling today of the Muslim world: The Western countries are no longer capable of preaching a message of morality, but have only know-how to offer the world. The Christian religion has abdicated; it really no longer exists as a religion; the Christians no longer have a morality or a faith; all that's left are a few remains of some modern ideas of enlightenment; we have the religion that stands the test.

"So the Muslims now have the consciousness that in reality Islam has remained in the end as the more vigorous religion and that they have something to say to the world, indeed, are the essential religious force of the future. Before, the shariah and all those things had already left the scene, in a sense; now there is a new pride. Thus a new zest, a new intensity about wanting to live Islam has awakened. This is its great power: We have a moral message that has existed without interruption since the prophets, and we will tell the world how to live it, whereas the Christians certainly can't. We must naturally come to terms with this inner power of Islam, which fascinates even academic circles."

The pope obviously admires the religious and moral seriousness of Islam. In a debate with Italian intellectual Ernesto Galli della Loggia on October 25, 2004, Ratzinger rejected the argument that public conversation about the Christian roots of Europe offends Muslim immigrants.

"But this isn't what offends them," Ratzinger said. "It's disrespect for God and religion that offends them. This disrespect is a kind of arrogance in diminished reason. This is what provokes fundamentalisms."

Honestly, my impression was that Islam still suffered from a strong defensiveness of how outstripped it had been by the West in terms of civilization and its trappings. That "it" was feeling robustly confident to the point of having a fait accompli sense of victory over the West was not something I'd ever heard before, or that "Christianity had abdicated" and more-or-less vanished. Still, at the same time, I've heard enough, both first- and second-hand, to lead me conclude that the popular Islamic understanding of Christianity can be as profound and complicated as "They drink wine." I don't think Islam has as strong a tendency to try to understand Christianity as Christianity has tended to have toward Islam. I suppose that that might be one of the pragmatic benefits of the "stripped-down" nature of the religion itself.
Tags: benedict xvi, interreligious, islam, regensburg, theological notebook

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