Over at Duck of Minerva, Patrick Jackson has an interesting take on the Pope’s speech.
What is really going on here is that the Pope is using ‘Islam’ as a convenient rhetorical shorthand for currents of Christianity that he disapproves of. This is an old Christian tactic — it’s been going on for millennia. (R. W. Southern has a short and brilliant little book on this, if anyone wants to know the gory details.) It’s a classic “use of the Other” — but in this case, the Other is not taking too kindly to the way that they are being used.
Let me clarify a bit. Benedict’s lecture wasn’t about Islam, and it wasn’t about the question of whether one should spread religion through conquest and violence. Instead, Benedict’s lecture was about the relationship between faith and reason in the Christian tradition. Indeed, his basic question — according to the “provisional” version of the text released by the Vatican — is whether “the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true.” At issue here is the somewhat abstruse theological question of whether the Hellenistic notion that God is the logos is correct, or whether the “voluntarist” position associated with skeptics from Duns Scotus to David Hume (and arguably with Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Wittgenstein too, but that’s material for a much longer post — and probably for a different kind of blog) is correct. The former — God as the logos — position suggests that reason partakes of the divine and that therefore God cannot act unreasonably; the latter — voluntarist — position suggests that God is above reason, and is not bound by our conception of what is reasonable, and by implication also suggests that reason itself is more of a tool that we use to make sense of our world than it is a divinely-inspired way of seeing things aright.
So one might ask: What are out-of-context quotations from fourteenth-century Byzantine emperors, and especially quotations dealing with Islam and Mohammed, doing in such a meditation?