We have all seen the tumultuous response received by the Pope's comments last week on the incompatibility of violence with God. When quoting the late 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos ("Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."), did Pope Benedict mean to say that Islam is faith beholden to the sword? Did he mean to decry all Muslims as "evil and inhuman"? Clearly, the answer is no; for just previous to this quotation, the Pope mentions Surah 2, 256 of the Qur'an: There is no compulsion in religion. It seems exceedingly clear to me that the Pope's true intentions were to set the following axiom as a starting point for his discussion of the relationship between faith and reason:
(Note: I highly recommend that you read the entire text of the speech, for as we all know, words taken out of context can be twisted and manipulated to the vilest ends).
Unfortunately, it seems that this message was lost, especially in the Islamic world, and it is this point which I find most puzzling. I have often in the past heard many Muslims, horrified by the continued violence that stains the sands of the Middle East red with blood, echo this very sentiment: Violence is incompatible with the nature of God. I am most frightened by the response from the jihadist groups (I quote from CNN):
They are outraged that the Pope should decry the spread of Islam by the sword, and so they threaten precisely that: to spread Islam by the sword.
My real point, however, is not to point out the hypocrisy of the jihadists: their hypocrisy and irrationality is well known to all rational people of this world. What I want to stress is this theme which the Pope laid bare: Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. When we say the Prayer of St. Francis, we ask God to make us instruments of Peace - we ask him for nothing more than that he fulfill our basic Nature: we were made in the Image and Likeness of God, and so we, too, in our very nature, abhor violence and uphold peace. Unfortunately, we seem to have lost that innate desire for peace, and rather rage in war than strive to establish peace amongst ourselves and with all peoples. Have we not learned in the last 2000 years that blessed are the peacemakers? Have we not mourned the carnage of war waged through the history of the world for our own greed? Have we, a world of one common humanity, not understood that the destruction of one life is the destruction of a little piece of all?