Interreligious dialogue with edge and purpose

George Weigel

The evening of September 12, 2006, was, in a word, memorable. My wife and I were having dinner in Cracow with two of John Paul II’s oldest friends when my mobile phone rang and an agitated Italian journalist started hollering in my ear, “Have you zeen zees crazee speech zee Pope has given about zee Muslims? What do you zay about it?” I replied that I wasn’t in the habit of commenting on papal texts before I had read them, which only drew the further plea, “Yes, yes, but what do you zay about it?” I finally asked my caller to e-mail me the text and call again the next day.

The “crazy speech” was, of course, Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address, which, far from being crazy, was a lucid, penetrating description of the challenges facing Islam in late modernity – an analysis lost in the media scrum over Benedict’s (arguably imprudent) quoting of a robust exchange between an Islamic ruler and a Byzantine emperor, many long years ago. What Benedict outlined in 2006 remains true eleven years later, however: In order to live in peace with “the rest,” Islam must find within its own religious and intellectual resources a way to affirm religious tolerance, and to distinguish between the institutions of religion and the institutions of politics; Catholicism took several hundred years to traverse that path; reflecting on that Catholic experience of finding a Catholic rationale for religious tolerance and free politics might help Muslims who wish to move beyond the intellectual stagnation in which they find themselves on these crucial questions; a conversation exploring how Catholicism’s wrestling with political modernity may or may not be applicable to Islam should focus the Catholic-Islamic interreligious dialogue for the foreseeable future.

There was no media blowback after Pope Francis’s fine address at Cairo’s al-Azhar University on April 28. But the money quote from the Holy Father’s speech fit neatly with what Benedict said at Regensburg in 2006:

“As religious leaders, we are called…to unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity and is based more on the ‘absolutizing’ of selfishness than an authentic openness to the Absolute. We have on obligation to denounce violations of human dignity and human rights, to expose attempts to justify every form of hatred in the name of religion, and to condemn these attempts as idolatrous caricatures of God: Holy is his name, he is the God of peace, God salaam. Peace alone, therefore, is holy, and no act of violence can be perpetrated in the name of God for it would profane his name.”

What kind of Islam could “unmask the violence that masquerades as purported sanctity” – and more than “unmask” it, condemn it and drive it to the peripheries of the Islamic world? Precisely the Islam that had taken Benedict’s Regensburg advice: that had dug deeply into its religious, philosophical, and legal traditions and had found there warrants for religious tolerance and a clear distinction between religious and political authority.

This approach differs in kind from suggestions that jihadist terrorism will only cease when Muslims become good Western liberals – which too often means good secular liberals. That just isn’t going to happen across a complex religious world that now numbers more than 1.6 billion souls. Moreover, secular warrants for religious freedom are not as sturdy as religious warrants, as we’ve discovered in the West in recent years. The secular defense of religious freedom crumbles when lifestyle agitations (“gay marriage,” the LGBT agenda) reach critical mass politically. By contrast, people who believe it’s God’s will that they be tolerant of those who have other ideas of God’s will are more likely to defend the religious freedom of the “other” when social and cultural pressures for intolerance (and political correctness) intensify.

Catholicism didn’t embrace religious freedom as a fundamental human right by surrendering core Catholic convictions to secular liberalism; Catholicism came to affirm religious freedom by recovering an ancient conviction that had gotten encrusted with political barnacles over the centuries: the conviction that (as the 1986 Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation put it, luminously) “God wishes to be adored by people who are free.” Can Islam make such an affirmation? That is the Benedictine/Franciscan challenge to 21st-century Islam, and it ought to frame the future of the Catholic-Islamic dialogue.

COMING UP: Not your “this-could-be-for-anyone” Christmas gift guide

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With Christmas rapidly approaching, many of us run into the problem of finding great and unique gifts for our friends and relatives. For this reason, we have come up with a gift guide that can make your Christmas shopping a little more fun.

For your friend who enjoys “Naptio Divina”

We all know that sleeping during adoration or prayer isn’t all that bad: you rest with Jesus, right? Well, we thought this quality would be worth honoring with this shirt from Elly and Grace that you can gift your “Jesus-took-naps” friend. The cozy baseball shirt is perfect for any man or woman who enjoys resting with Jesus. Visit EllyandGrace.com for more information.

It is great to nap with Jesus; but… it is also good to pray. Therefore, we have included Fr. Larry Richard’s “No Bible, No Breakfast! No Bible, No Bed!” Scripture Calendar, in case your friend is tempted to nap with Jesus every time, instead of talking with him. You can find this calendar on CatholicCompany.com and help your friend remain faithful to praying without napping.

For your friend who evangelizes while they drive

Is your friend’s driving accompanied by countless Rosaries and acts of contrition? We have the perfect gift! The Catholic Company provides numerous car accessories for the fast evangelizers. It reminds them to wait for their guardian angels on the road in their works of mercy. On the Catholic Company inventory, you can also find sacred images and pins, such as the visor clip for any parent who is worried about their children’s driving habits.

For your friend who fights for a cause

Religious art, yards, a great cause: everyone wins with one. Angel Haus is a Denver-based nonprofit that provides employment for the disabled by creating religious art, especially for yards. The founder is the newly-ordained Deacon David Arling, who has been operating it since its initiation five years ago. They have now sold over 300 Christmas Display boards and San Damiano Cross images. The family business has encountered much support from their pastor, Father Michael Carvill at Nativity of Our Lord Church. Nonetheless, they need your support to continue with this project. To purchase an item for your friend and help this great cause, email Arling at djarling2011@hotmail.com.

For your friend who is a lost cause

Okay, okay, no person is a lost cause; but we all know someone who is pretty close to being one. As soon as you think they’ve finally gotten it, an off-the-cuff comment smashes all your hopes. Hold fast and do not despair, St. Jude is here to help! This 3 ½” tall St. Jude wooden peg from Etsy.com will make sure that the patron saint of lost causes is constantly at work for your friend. Etsy provides a wide variety of religious hand-painted figures from Whymsical Lotus that range from the Sacred Heart to your favorite saints, such as St. Therese, St. Patrick, and Our Lady of Guadalupe. These charmingly detailed and delightful dolls make a unique gift for those friends who need a special intercessor.

For your little friend

Running out of ideas to gift your child, godchild, or short friend? The search is over. Faithful Findz from Etsy.com makes great replicas of saints’ attires. Take, for instance, the “Saint John Paul II the Great” costume, handmade out of cotton poly fabric (Hawaiian Pope mobile not for sale: sad, I know; but a miter and red cape can be purchased separately). Some of their popular costumes include the habits of Mother Teresa and Padre Pio (gloves included). Even more, the maker requests the person’s waist measurement to ensure the best fit. When in doubt, you won’t lose with the saints, and neither will your little friends.

For your priestly friend

He already has all sorts of things, what could he possibly want? Rosaries, religious art, and other religious accessories are probably some of the most common gifts for priests (or priestly friends). Nonetheless, we can assure you that very few have a custom-made priest bobblehead of themselves. It makes a great gift! All you have to do is send a couple pictures of your favorite priest to MyCustomBobblehead.com. Doesn’t sound like the best idea? Look at it this way: it is a way for your priest to remember and embrace his obedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church, as his bobblehead will constantly nod to God’s will and shake his head to refuse all sinful things. Plus, you’ll get a discount if you mention you saw this in the Denver Catholic.

For your friend who never gave up on comics

Why would anyone give up on comic books when you have great initiatives like The Ultimate Catholic Comic Book? A group of Catholic cartoonists joined forces to bring about this entertaining, clever, humorous, and enriching book for all ages. Although many of the parodies and puns may well go over children’s heads, the comics contain messages that remain true to Catholic Doctrine. You can buy it and check out the sample digital copy at CatholicComicBook.com.