Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI and the Clash of Faith and Reason

1. I have not made any public comment on the Pope's lecture on Faith and Reason at the University of Regensburg, except to my own Clergy and Religious. I have read the Pope's lecture twice—very closely. I have analyzed its tone, its premise, its main issue, the way it is developed, its conclusions. It is closely reasoned. It was given to scholars in an academic setting.

2. As a former academic, frankly I am completely shocked and bewildered by the vehement reaction to the Pope's lecture from various quarters of the Muslim world. TV has shown effigies of Benedict XVI being burned as an enemy of Islam. Churches in several countries have been attacked. The murder of a religious Sister in Somalia has been speculated on as a possible retaliation. I even surmised that the violent reactions could unfortunately confirm the wrong belief of many non-Islam people that Islam may, indeed, be a religion of violence. If this were so, it would be a great pity.

3. But most certainly Pope Benedict XVI is definitely not anti-Muslim. This I declare unequivocally from personal knowledge. I have talked with him several times when he was yet a Cardinal. I have referred issues of inter-religious dialogue to him. He was the closest and most trusted theological adviser of Pope John Paul II. I personally know that he shared the vision of the late Pope John Paul II with regard to inter-religious dialogue.

4. I know that he has the greatest respect for peoples of different religions, particularly of Islam. Together with the Pontifical Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue, he collaborated with the late Pope on the many significant papal documents and events that had significantly promoted respectful dialogue with Islam. He thought that dialogue with the great religious traditions had a lot to do with the deeply rooted cultural traditions of various peoples.

5. That is why I was not surprised when he placed the Pontifical Commission on Inter-Religious Dialogue under the Vatican office on Culture - a move that was misinterpreted by some critics as a down grading of the process of dialogue. I am sure that he thought of the move as enriching the process and emphasizing the role of culture in inter-religious dialogue. One can see his emphasis on cultural religious values on his insistence that Europe recognize this in its Constitution. One can likewise see this point clearly in his lecture at the University of Regensburg.

6. Further, he continues to regard the continuing war in Iraq with great disapproval. In his own academic style he severely and negatively judged the anti-Islam cartoons in Denmark. In doctrine and in practice, he certainly holds great respect for Islam and its believers. With his great predecessor, Pope John Paul II, he holds in common the conviction that violence is not to be justified in the name of religion, Christian or otherwise. The tragic blunders of religious belief in this regard have littered history with thousands of corpses.

6. The one fault the Pope could have had at the University of Regensburg is his "political" simplicity. Some might call it "naiveté." Certainly I see him as a simple person without any worldly political sophistication, a scholar "without guile". Perhaps he believed that everyone would understand his use of a medieval text in its proper context -- as a simple starting point for a wide-ranging scholarly discussion on the need for the West to restore faith and religious values into its secular mentality. Such restoration has to be done, he says, if the West were to successfully enter into dialogue with the great cultural religious traditions of peoples. Here I suppose he would include such traditions as Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, etc.

7. We now know, of course, from his message of September 16, that was covered live by Al-Jazeera that he does not endorse the medieval text. In fact, we are told that the German word that he used in his lecture to describe the statement of the Byzantine Emperor really means "crude."

8. I pray that things will settle down quickly with the apology so humbly expressed by this simple yet learned religious leader.

+Orlando B. Quevedo, OMI, DD
September 20, 2006

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Peace Negotiations Southern Philippines in Jeopardy.

1. The "breakdown" of peace negotiations is truly disturbing. But it is a possibility that I had always, kept in mind. The reason? The very reason for the "breakdown" as reported by the MILF and given some clarification by the GRP—namely the Philippine Constitution. In the past two years I have asked myself the question: How will the GRP understand the problem of ancestral domain? The answer that always comes to my mind—within the framework of the Constitution. After all, the Executive Branch has to have the Legislative Branch approve an "agreement" reached with the MILF. And on what basis will Congress approve the agreement? On the basis of the Constitution. Thus, the GRP is stuck with what Chairman Murad of the MILF describes very aptly as "in the box" mentality. But I guess this basic preoccupation with the Constitution is part of the democratic process. Fundamentally then, no matter who is at the helm of the GRP (FVR, Erap, Arroyo or her successor) would inevitably have to grapple with that issue. It is not a matter of personalities as some critics seem to think. It is a matter of one normative document for a democracy – a Constitution.

2. On the other hand, how does the MILF look at the issue of ancestral domain? Naturally on the basis of historical and current developments. The injection of current history into the issue of territory is one of the things I admired in the vision of the late Chairman Salamat. His was a vision of a Bangsamoro homeland blended with realism. But even the use of current historical developments could certainly go against the framework that the GRP has to use. Hence such problems as territorial contiguity.

3. I would not be surprised if the discussion on charter change would take on an added issue—the Constitution and the concept of ancestral domain in the light of peace negotiations and in the light of historical and current developments regarding territories.

4. What is certainly needed by both sides is what Chairman Murad has also so aptly described as "creativity" in resolving the issue. I believe this "creative" way is incumbent on BOTH parties. Hence a pause in the negotiations (not necessarily a breakdown) is imperative—for the negotiators to go back to their principals and ask the question: How can our group more creatively push the discussion forward and not remain "in the box" of our set perspective and position? The answer I dare say is a converging move towards a middle ground, which is only arrived at by way of a reciprocal "give and take" dynamic. This is why the peace talks are called "negotiations."

5. The views of a third party—constituted by civil society—could put some light on the present impasse. Somewhere out there are creative ideas to help both sides get out of the box. Could such a group come together to provide a breakthrough?

+Orlando B. Quevedo, O.M.I.
Archbishop of Cotabato