Saturday, December 02, 2006

Listening to the speech of Pope Benedict XVI

Opinion and Editorial, The Jakarta Post (September 19, 2006)

Al Makin

During his visit to his home country Germany, Pope Benedict XVI (formerly Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) dropped in on Thursday Sept. 12, 2006, at his former Regensburg University.
From 1969 to 1977 he was a professor of dogmatics at the school and this year he delivered a speech there, broadcast live on many German TV channels. More than 25,000 people in the hall of the university welcomed him and after the long formalities and various choirs, he spoke about Glaube, Vernunft und Universitedt (Faith, Reason and Universality).

The speech drew my interest as a Muslim, who by accident had turned on the TV and watched the live broadcast. The original text of the pope's speech can be read at
During his speech, the pope raised at least three concepts that seemed related directly to the current Muslim world and its relationship to the West. First, he mentioned three important scriptures in the modern world: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Koran. He clearly stated that they were "drei gesetze (three rules/laws)."

Second, he said the readers of the scriptures, the Christians and Muslims, should understand them through reasoning, not violence. To quote him directly, "Der Glaube ist Frucht der Seele, nicht des Kvrpers (faith is an expression of the soul not the body)." Taking an example, he said that to believe in the existence of God is to think with reason, not to use threats.

Therefore, any use of violence, war or weapons in the relations among believers of the same -- or different -- religion is unacceptable. God, he said, should be understood with "logos/words."
In doing so, the pope defined how and why God exists. In the Muslim tradition, logos may be equated to the kalam of both the classical and modern Muslim intellectuals. In both logos and kalam, people are told to exercise their intellectual facilities, to think of the theology rather than take up arms. As a Muslim, I totally agree with this, and I think nobody would argue it.
Then the pope raised the interfaith dialog issue. In his careful words and wisdom, he made an example of the dialog in the past between Byzantium Caesar Manuel II Palaeologos in 1391 and an educated Persian about relations between Islam and Christianity. In short, the dialog led to a conclusion that the use of reasoning should be put higher than violence in matters of faith. Accordingly, the dialog should not be performed by using weapons or threats. The parties involved should exercise their commonsense to understand others, the pope said.
Listening to the pope's speech one may also relate this issue to the contemporary crisis in the current world, in the Middle East or even in Indonesia. Although the pope mentioned the word jihad in his speech, he did not comment further on the issue.

After listening to the speech as a whole, one might question why the peace of the world is under threat.
It is because people tend to use weapons to solve problems rather than sitting down together and talking. The former is violence, whereas the latter is reasoning.
In the past, during the Renaissance, many people argued against the existance of religions, especially against the Church. Religion was far from a reasoned ideal of humanity, people were told. People repeatedly questioned the role of faith in society and was not strange that a figure like Friedrich Nietzsche emerged.

In many of his works he provoked us to think about the origin of humanity, good, evil and religion. That was then, this is now. The current world situation seems to be little about deep thinking and more about politics; with religion used to justify violence for political ends.
One example is United States President George W. Bush's speech commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, which is also available at He described when the terrorists ".... murdered people of all colors, creeds, and nationalities -- and made war upon the entire Free World."

The speech was made in the context of the numerous victims of the collapse of the twin towers. It was delivered on a day of mourning and it stressed that the security of the nation should be a top priority. It, of course, was Bush's right and duty to say this as a politician.
After that, the president spoke about the actions taken against the people responsible for the disaster: "Since that day, America and her allies have taken the offensive in a war unlike any we have fought before." During recent days the popularity of Bush and his Republican Party has been under extreme pressure and the Democrats will take any chance to lead public opinion, as the mid-term elections draw nearer. Bush reminded his people that "Dangerous enemies have declared their intention to destroy our way of life."

It would be misleading to compare the speech of the pope to that of the U.S. president; each serves its own purpose and has its own context. The first speaker is a religious leader, while the second is a head of state.

However, one thing is relevant. Both spoke about violence and enmity. Although the pope does not single out specific parties for using violence, reading his speech most people will understand that every war is violence. The pope delivered a clear message of peace.
The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University in Yogyakarta and Ph.D candidate at the Seminar fur Sprachen und Kulturen des Vorderen Orients, Heidelberg University, Germany. He can be reached at


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