Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J. asks about the possibility of dialogue with Islam

Fr. Joseph D. Fessio, S.J., the founder of Ignatius Press, has written another excellent essay, entitled, Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg which is clear, hardhitting, and fair. This is an excerpt:
Yet there is a crucial underlying principle that needs to be enunciated. Christianity and Islam make incompatible truth claims. Despite the difficulty in determining who can speak authoritatively for Christianity or for Islam, there are elements of belief common to all Christians which are incompatible with elements of belief common to all Muslims. The two most obvious and most fundamental are the Trinity and the Incarnation.

I would expect an intelligent and informed Muslim to consider me a blasphemer (because I introduce multiplicity into the one God) and an idolator (because I worship as God a man named Jesus). Should I be offended if he says so publicly? Should I not rather be offended if he conceals his position for the alleged purpose of fostering dialogue?

The question of respect is entirely distinct. Benedict is clearly aware of this distinction as evidenced in the official Vatican statement subsequent to Benedict's lecture, where the Secretary of State refers to his "respect and esteem for those who profess Islam". That is, one can and should respect Muslims (those who profess Islam) as persons with inherent dignity; but where there are incompatible truth claims, they cannot be simultaneously true. One cannot hold one as true without holding the other as false. Any religious dialogue should begin by examining the evidence for the incompatible claims.

It's worth noting, however, that while consistent Christians and Muslims in fact hold the position of the other to be erroneous in important ways, the Christian is not obliged by his faith to subject the Muslim to dhimmitude nor to deny him his religious freedom. There is a serious asymmetry here, which Benedict has criticized before. The Saudis can build a multi-million dollar mosque in Rome; but Christians can be arrested in Saudi Arabia for possessing a Bible.
Read the entire essay here.