00 5/14/2009 7:42 PM

The reportage on the Holy Father's visit to Nazareth today, 5/14/09, began on the preceding page, and includes the stories and photos on Mass as well as the text of the Holy Father's homily.

This one is a curious commentary that is in many ways uninformed or simply wrong. I can only assume Mr. Heneghan has not really been paying attention to some things that he should, as Religion Editor for Reuters - perhaps because of ideological blinders, perhaps because of deepset prejudices.

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses
Muslims’ argument to Muslims

by Tom Heneghan
Religion Editor

May 12, 2009

Well, not quite! And Benedict XVI - as I think John Paul II did before him, too - has always used the language of the Koran for God whenever he addresses a Muslim group. That's elementary courtesy and respect. And I don't see what Muslim argument he used that is not also a Christian argument!

At Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue.

The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out.

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the Pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.”

Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour.

Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it.
[Cautious about discussing 'love of God and love of neighbor'? No. The initial caution from the Vatican was natural caution one always exercises at the start of an unprecedented initiative, i.e., let's see what exactly they have in mind in terms of dialog.]

Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different.

[It still makes no sense for them to discuss theology but not because their views of God are different. Because everything else in their theology is different, beginning with their very foundation - and respective founders. Muslims revere Mohammed as God's direct channel to mankind, as it were, and consider Jesus as a minor prophet who preceded him. And Mohammed is not part of Christian theology in any way.]

Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.

[I take issue with this entire paragraph, because it simply is not true that the Vatican 'sounded different after three days of talk. So I have put in my two cents' worth below* to dispute Heneghan fut=rther about this important point.]

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. [As I commented at the start, he always has done so when addressing Muslims. It's just that Heneghan has only noticed it now.]

Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.”

He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.”

The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it.

Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way).

If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.

[Progress to what? Certainly not to theological agreement -which is completely unnecessary if one concedes, as one must, that the other two religions have a right to their own belief set.

I suggest Mr. Heneghan reread the final declaration from the Catholic-Muslim Forum in November 2008 to disavow himself of his delusion. It even makes distinctions between the Muslim and Christian concepts of love!

'Even if no agreement is possible', he says - does he really expect any of the faiths to agree to something that is not part of their fudnamental doctrine? It seems Heneghan thinks the three faiths can agree on a syncretic religious doctrine, in which case the word 'faith' loses its meaning altogether. No one trades in or gives up anything about his religious faith, or it not faith at all!]

On the plane flying to Amman, Benedict suggested the Vatican might expand its series of bilateral inter-religious contacts to include a trilateral forum with Christians, Muslims and Jews.

He hasn’t mentioned that since then, but it’s an interesting idea. Rabbis have attended some meetings between the Common Word Muslim scholars and Christian scholars.

After noticing the echo of the Common Word appeal in Benedict’s address, I checked to see whether his Muslim hosts were signatories of the document. They weren’t.

In fact, the only Palestinian I could find who has signed it is Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi, the head of the Islamic courts in the Palestinian territories. He’s the one who upset an otherwise harmonious interfaith meeting with the Pope yesterday with a fiery denunciation of Israel that Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi later called “a direct negation of what a dialogue should be.”

Right after his meeting with the Muslim leaders, Pope Benedict went down to the nearby Western Wall to meet Jewish leaders and insert a personal note in a crack in the ancient wall.

The prayer called Jerusalem the “spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims.” It was a continuation of the message he had just delivered up at the esplanade level.

He later went to meet Israel’s two grand rabbis and assured them the Vatican remained “irrevocably committed to the path chosen at the Second Vatican Council for a genuine and lasting reconciliation between Christians and Jews.”

*A word - or more -
about inter-religious dialog

Discussing the common belief in one God among the three monotheistic faiths is not theological discussion. And as usual, the secular journalists appear to misunderstand the nature of theological discussion in the context of interfaith dialog.

There is no dispute about there being one God. And I don't think anyone is inclined to engage in formal discussions about the different ways that the faiths may consider God - in terms of which aspects of God they choose to emphasize.

For the simple reason that there are as many ways of thinking of the one God as there are individuals - every believer chooses to address a specific aspect of God according to the circumstances.

Beyond the oneness of God, the three faiths diverge theologically about Christ and about the Trinity, which are at the core of Christian faith.

Neither Judaism nor Islam recognize Jesus as the Son of God, and for them, the Trinity is just some fancy Christian construction.

The Jews officially consider Jesus as just another rabbi who was crucified for being politically incorrect, and Islam considers him as just another prophet antedating Mohammed but less than him.

Given that the three faiths diverge so fundamentally on Christ, who is the center of the Christian faith, what sense is there in any theological discussion?

It makes even less sense if one considers that contemporary Judaism has several major denominations (modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist - to mention just the main ones], and Islam has more than just the mainstream Sunni and Shia factions.

Among them, whose theology are we considering - and why, for God's sake? We Catholics have enough to deal with trying to understand Catholic catechism, let alone having to take in the theology of other faiths which are just as splintered as Christianity itself!

Theological discussion only makes sense in ecumenical dialog, where all the parties recognize Christ as the Son of God - and the path towards Christian reunification necessarily passes through theological agreement.

The purpose of interfaith dialog is not to make the three faiths converge about religious doctrine. It is not another vehicle for trying to proselytize from the other faiths.

Its primary purpose is to establish a basis for common practical action to promote, defend and sustain the universal values that all three faiths support - values that depend on natural law and faith-guided reason, and do not necessarily have to do with theology.

Not only is Heneghan misinterpreting the outcome of the Catholic-Muslim Forum last November, as well as Cardinal Tauran's words [who has even delivered an address to state that the purpose of inter-religious dialog is not theological abstraction but practical action on common values.]

Heneghan is also ignoring what Benedict XVI clearly stated in his letter to Marcello Pera last November: “Inter-religious dialogue, in the strict sense of the term, is not possible."

But most of the secular journalists and commentators who write about religion for the general public either ignored the Pope's statement or found it puzzling [John Allen, among them, who like Heneghan, keeps insisting on the self-contradictory idea of interfaith theological dialog.]

This is a consequence of the mentality that has been fostered in the world of religion writers since John Paul II's first inter-religious jamboree in Assisi in 1988 - in which inter-religious relations are seen primarily in terms of an uncritical and amorphous kumbaya, feel-good movement, along the lines of the 1960s ultimately empty counterculture slogan 'Make love not war'.

Few see or report it as the serious and difficult practical undertaking that it is - what Benedict XVI, Bartholomew I and Kirill I (and Alexei II before him) mean when they say 'inter-religious dialog'. And none of them mean theological discussion! For these journalists, 'serious' means 'theological', which is a rather unthinking, reflex attitude.

The Russian Orthodox Church is very particular that Russian news agencies always report their statements about inter-religious dialog as the Christian commitment to promoting, defending and sustaining the fundamental Christian values that have universal resonance.

Unfortunately, the Vatican has no similar control over what anyone reports about what the Pope says - and so his message and his thinking on inter-religious dialog are never fully or faithfully reported.

[Edited by TERESA BENEDETTA 5/14/2009 8:00 PM]