There is a certain school of thought among post-modernists that it is impolitic to make distinctions and differences that set people apart, especially when it comes to religion. What the banal expression “there are many ways to God” really means is “can’t we all just get along?”
Pope Benedict is being excoriated in the press for pointing out the obvious fact that Islam is different than Christianity. Jacob Levy at The New Republic argues that a theology isn’t worth much if it doesn’t make distinctions. If Christianity is God’s revealed truth, other religions that deny the deity of Christ and the necessity of the cross must necessarily be mistaken. People who are serious about their faith can be expected to be serious about the distinctions between themselves and followers of other religions.
I don’t expect Catholics to take their theology less seriously than Muslims do; I certainly don’t expect the Pope to take his theology anything less than wholly seriously. And what is a Catholic, committed to the truth of Catholicism, to think of Mohammed’s additions to and transformations of the Christian bible? What is a theologically serious Catholic to think about “what Mohammed brought that was new”? At a minimum he or she will think it false—and, because false, evil in distracting religious believers from an all-important truth.
… Neither do I expect Muslim clerics to take their theology less than seriously, or to pay those who stand in the apostolic succession the same respect that believing Catholics do! And I would find it very odd, a category mistake, for the Pope to insist on apologies from every Muslim cleric who describes Christianity or Catholicism as false, evil, or likely to lead humans into sin. — Jacob Levy, Those who take their theology seriously, The New Republic, 15-Sep-06
Which is why the Pope’s speech about Islamic violence and the Christian preference for reason is very important. (The full text of the Pope’s remarks can be found here.)
Levy quotes the Pope’s “offensive” remarks in context, which I wish more newspapers would have done. The Pope was not bashing Islam but making an illustration of an important difference between Islam and Christianity: Muhammed taught that violence and bloodshed were tools Allah would use to spread the faith; Christ taught that God expects us to live at peace with all men, in love and humility — even unbelievers.
That’s an important distinction. And unless God is a joker, only one of those things can be true.
(Thanks to Get Religion for the link to Levy’s essay.)