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Criticizing Religions

I have long been an advocate of permitting criticism of Christianity, because I think allowing such criticism is good for my religion. I have friends who would regard my religion as a delusion, and I encourage them to speak directly about what they believe. This is not a matter of commitment to legal free speech, though I do believe that the first amendment should be protected. That is an area in which I might even be regarded as extreme. I say this from inside the Christian faith. If we try to use legal or forceful means to blunt or eliminate criticism, we will be the poorer for it, intellectually and spiritually.

Now we have the remarks of Pope Benedict XVI. I already commented briefly on those, noting that I’m not too much of a fan of the pope, but nonetheless I did not off hand see anything wrong with his remarks that would justify the kind of reaction they are receiving. Despite the Pope’s apology I have not changed my view.

In an article I read yesterday, but from the September 25 issue of Newsweek, Jon Meacham said:

Much of the Regensburg address was a meditation on faith and reason, the roots of religiously inspired violence and the need for believers to see God as a figure of love. Roughly put, his argument was this: to Benedict, Islam’s conception of God so stresses God’s will that God can be understood to command the irrational.

The problem is with a quotation from Emperor Manuel II. As is usual, many people have brought up the crusades at this point. But one should consider the fact that Emperor Manuel’s situation was one of being invaded by Muslim conquerors. I deplore the religious justification of violence other than as self-defense, yet this emperor was defending himself. Again, I’m not an apologist for the crusades, but one must remember that Christian territories were being conquered by Muslim conquerors. I’m not an expert on the history of that period, but I am certain there were various justifications from both sides.

The Christian actions in the crusades should not mean that we can no longer have dialogue. True dialogue is also impossible when one cannot criticize.

Again, quoting from Meacham’s article:

Then why did Benedict quote the emperor in the first place? The most likely answer is that, no matter what the Vatican says now, the pope believes in having what the Catholic theologian and papal biographer George Weigel calls “a hard-headed conversation

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