Column Beurskens: Last scraps from Regensburg

(Second part of the column regarding the speech of the pope on Islam. Here below also the first part.)

Last scraps from Regensburg

Wim Beurskens

The pope said, that Muslims didn’t understand his lecture about reason very well. Western press went along with that and apparently decided to smooth it over. I didn’t follow all of it extensively, but in none of the reactions I saw, I have been able to notice that the media bothered much about what the pope really said. The consequence of all those little white lies is though, that Muslims look like they overreact and also as if they are bit stupid. This again seems to confirm the viewpoint of the pope, that they don’t have the Vernunft to look objectively to their ow religion and to refashion it here and there. A reading to the letter of the Koran is the only path left open. Really an impenetrable forest of misunderstandings. Let us hope that despite of this things will settle down after some time.
Nevertheless the lecture of the pope surely forms a nice entrance to think about Vernunft. Really astonishing is his eulogy on Greek reason in order to lay a foundation to his position. According to many the Greek logos is external to Christian tradition; according to others it can be used very well to promote thinking about faith; according to the pope it is an essential part of revelation and it is constitutive of the uniqueness of Christianity. And this last certainly isn’t mainstream catholic tradition. How is it possible the pope resorts to this kind of propositions?
To answer this question I would like to apply his thoughts to another contemporary problem of the church, her relation to woman. After all the pope invites us to fool around a little with his lecture. His invitation sounds like ... westerner, look for the roots of reason -and you won’t find them with Jesus- and Muslim, look for the roots of reason with the Greeks, so you might be able to handle you own texts. One cannot leave the holy texts to the people by themselves alone. Not that long ago Catholics weren’t allowed to read the Bible.
One of my patients, a devoted catholic, remarked that all of her life in the Catholic Church she had said and yet. At further inquiry this and yet never applies to Jesus or the Gospels, but always to something of the Church herself. I told her once that this was her feminist streak. This diagnosis wasn’t very welcome, because she associates feminism with something she wouldn’t want to be caught dead with.
This and yet, if indeed it comes from the female, or from woman, springs forth from the patriarchal element of the church. One cannot pinpoint it exactly, one cannot lay one’s finger on it, but it has something to do with the male. And then again everybody says it has something to do with the patriarchate of Biblical times. Islam has the same problem: its patriarchate is said to be rooted in the old, Arab world. But why this patient of mine never says and yet about Jesus?
The glorification by the pope of Greek thinking suggests to look for the cause of the patriarchate just there, with the Greeks. The mind can contain and control reality to set it to its own hands, even religious reality. Maybe also Jesus himself? The pope thinks Muslims ought to have something like this for the Koran, because somebody who doesn’t posses Vernunft, will be misled by religious texts, however holy they might be.
Fyodor Dostoevski goes a step further when he speaks about the same problem. The Grand Inquisitor meets Jesus in the streets of Seville and is startled when the people recognize Him right away. Tomorrow I will have you burned at the stake. Dixi ... he says. Finally the church managed to organize religion quite decently, but then there is this Jesus still around as a living obstacle. However, this bearded ascete, that piece of rope with knots in it, as Saint Teresa of Avila called one of her confessors, he is not the essence of the religious path. That is what Siddharta Gautama, the prince of Lumbini and the later Buddha, also found out, when he left the ascetes, with whom he spent six years. Six years he made every effort, to the cost of his own health, to organize his faith, when he realized he got not a single step further. When he understood this, the Buddha reached Enlightenment in one single night.
Greek thinking helps the church to organize faith and every feminist theologian agrees that it’s exactly this what the patriarchate does also. Jesus Himself however resists construction and organization. The improvement and embellishment of Jesus, the correction of the Koran by the Vernunft, that is the patriarchate, as feminist theology comprehends it. But in that case the patriarchate is originally Greek, and not Biblical or Koranic.
The patriarchate therefore is contained in the Greek logos, and not in the story of Jesus or in Biblical times. The pope sees a continuous development between Greek reason and the reason of our times, be it that the latter is an impoverished version of it, which is in great need of going back to its roots. If however the patriarchate originates from Greek reason and not from Jesus or from the Bible, we should find prominent expressions of it in our times, because while Christianity slowly but surely evaporates, reason is still extremely alive. This means we would be drenched in the patriarchate without knowing it, while at the same time we think we are emancipated. After all we have women’s liberation and that’s victory over the patriarchate. As is well known feminist theology isn’t very enchanted with women’s liberation, because it considers it in its deepest core patriarchal itself.
So this fits the theory of the patriarchate originating in Greek thought very well. In the West woman wants to be man. She wants to get away from behind the sink, and in the end she finds herself behind the cash-register of Walmart or behind another computer ánd behind the sink. The contemporary family cannot survive on one income. Women appear to be as much as ever slaves of Western competitive society without their own, leave alone feminine, influence. This now sounds very patriarchal and very Greek at he same time. In Greek society after all there were also a category of people who had to work hard and who didn’t have any power, the slaves. That is why the believing Muslim-woman isn’t attracted very much towards the Sisters-from-the-West, who want to liberate her, but in fact would lead her into slavery. In the meantime the Muslim-woman is viewed by the western female patriarchate as very backward. The emancipated women and the pope thus have a lot in common: both want to educate Muslims and both want to teach them to think. And that is typically a male myth. Bien heureux de se trouver ensemble.
So the patriarchate doesn’t originate from Jesus or from Mohammed. The patriarchate in the Catholic Church doesn’t come from Jesus. It is a later addition. That is already a very joyful conclusion from Regensburg, be it not that of the pope. The domination of reason over faith comes from the Greeks. Faith in the Holy Spirit for example might be something feminine. The Holy Spirit is not organized and blows where it wants. That is also something which Jesus preaches. Where two or three are together in My name I am in their midst. This kind of Vernunft might be alien to our pope and that is why he doesn´t see a way out with Islam. Walking on the spiritual path without an institute that thinks for you and at least keeps an eye on you? That doesn’t exist. Everything will go wrong. And those are typically male thoughts, which are not proper if one reads the Gospel with praying eyes.
This is why the pope says that Greek thought is an essential part of the deepest core of Christianity, since otherwise it would lack controllability. The catholic church should have allowed itself to be taught by feminist theology, which is about these things, and not about popular issues, like women-priests, but about the feminine in tradition, which has sunk so far away, that it is almost unrecognizable. Even the Mother of God, the feminine in the church preeminently, is caught in language, in infallible dogma’s, in male fetters that is to say, for which neither the Mother of God nor the world were waiting.
So the thesis is that the patriarchate in the church comes from Greek thought, not from catholic tradition as such. Then the patriarchate in the West must also come from Greek thought and large parts of womens-liberation movements and their concrete manifestations just must be a heightening of the patriarchate and a new slavery. And the woman in Islam is better off and she knows it. And the woman in the catholic church could be better off, if the catholic church but loosened itself more from the West. She would be helped very much by a good degreeking-program and by the return to Jesus, a return into the holy family. Some meditation about the Gospels might help here as well. Without drawing attention to -God forbid- a new story about the Magdalen here. Not that it doesn’t belong to the subject matter -in fact it does-, but not in the way it often happens in our days. Jesus, who has children with Mary of Magdala, here it shows that western man and woman can only think patriarchally about these texts. In that case Jesus is either the sterile ascete or he shares his bed with this and the other one and those are both heresies. The catholic church will always have a problem with sexuality and that is because of her patriarchal amendment on Jesus Christ. That is also why the West should keep quiet about these subjects, just because it cannot think about them in the most literal sense: it is not able to. And in the process it is also right that the West should keep quiet to Islam about the patriarchate, with which it is afflicted to a much greater extent itself than Islam is.
Journeying with Jesus himself through Palestine, that is a saving possibility for a human being. Being a disciple, man or woman, and just listening to Him, that is a redeeming possibility for a human being. The Savior is a guarantee to that Himself. You will not loose your way. And if one is hindered by the patriarchate of the church or western society, one must be attentive to always retain the vitality to be able to say and yet, because Jesus Himself is at the basis of those simple words.

Reason in Regensburg

Wim Beurskens

The pope held an interesting lecture for the university of Regensburg. What now initially trickles through in the press is that he criticized Islam. The theme was Vernunft, reason, and specifically the connection between reason and faith. It wasn’t an address ex cathedra, so some debate might be allowed and the pope even invites us to do just that.
It s a complicated and scholarly argument and in order to understand it to a certain extent one can best start at the end. He concludes that reason in the West needs a new impulse to be able to handle the dialogue with other religions. Western reason has narrowed itself down to the engine behind natural sciences and technology, and exclusively to the things that can be proven. It is an impoverishment of reason, which doesn’t allow room for religion, an accident that started with René Descartes.
With the help of a reason, which doesn’t believe, one cannot handle the dialogue with other religious traditions, because in the reason of other cultures faith is not excluded. It is self-evident for the pope that dialogue is necessary in view of the problems of our time, and more specifically he has in mind the dialogue with Islam. The impoverished, mathematical reason, as it exists since Descartes, is in the process of destroying the West. The heart of the criticism of Islam on the West is just this, since it also goes against this impoverished reason and its consequences on human beings. Man becomes a number and a robot. Words as 'culture of death' used by the late pope speaking about the West are analogous to what Islam says about it. So far there is no difference of opinion between the pope and Islam, while at the same of course there most certainly is a difference between the pope and the West.
Next, moving backwards into the argument, the pope points out to his audience in Regensburg, that if theology allows itself to be put under the yoke of modern reason, only an armseliges Fragmentstück, a poor piece of a fragment, will remain of it. Yet he wants to keep it at the university, because there reason, Vernunft, reigns and if one lets people without learning think about God, the threat will come up of subjectivity and Beliebigkeit, willfulness, an image of dread for the old Panzerkardinal, as he was called in former days, the armored cardinal.
Vernunft belongs to the university and it is an essential part of Christianity says the pope. He makes a connection between reason and the Greek logos. Reason springs directly from it and essentially equals it. Vernunft belongs to Christianity and it comes from the Greeks. The pope even goes so far as to say, that the logos is part of the uniqueness of Christianity. Das Zusammentreffen der biblischen Botschaft und des Griechischen Denkens war kein Zufall. The coming together of the biblical message and Greek thought was not a coincidence. God meant it to be that way. Saint John says that Jesus, the Logos, came into the world. The pope states, that this Logos is the same as the Greek logos. Together with Jesus there entered into the world a new way of knowing, a new epistemology. Here for the first time one holds one's breath and doesn’t believe one’s ears. Then again though a little further on the pope says, that ... es zwischen seinen ewigen Schöpfergeist und unserer geschaffenen Vernunft eine wirkliche Analogie gibt; that there is a real analogy between the eternal spirit of creation and created reason . If it’s put in a general sense like this any Muslim-scholar would agree, I think. This is also Islam proper, real Islam.
So Christianity isn’t unique only because of Jesus, but also because of its connection with Greek thought: those are extremely spectacular words from the mouth of the pope. The Church already has her hands full with the defense of what it claims about Jesus; if it also extends them to pure philosophical theory of knowing, it becomes sticky business. I still hope I comprehend it wrongly.
Jesus is the Savior, the Redeemer. He wouldn’t be Him because of his Hellenic traits, I sincerely hope. The pope suggests that Christianity, because of its theory of knowing itself would be better equipped to think about religion than other religions, exactly because of this connection with the Greek logos.
Greek logos indeed has afforded the possibility to the Church to systematize faith in scholastic theology. One can understand the pope doesn’t want to give that up. He got it into his system at his mothers’ breast and later on with catechism. Still this kind of statement gives rise to superiority-thinking in Christianity, which is external to Jesus. And it is even new in Catholic theology. The logos is essential, it seems, for faith, and religions which lack the relation with Greek Logos can slide off into error, as Islam does with Jihad for example; that is the implication of the pope’s words. Islam lacks reason, because it doesn’t know it. The pope observes that reason impoverishes in the West, but he posits that it needs its Christian and Greek roots to function at all. A bit plainly and bluntly stated the pope says in fact, that Christianity has its reason from the Greeks and in that way can know the Good. For knowing the old logos is also knowing the Good, not only just knowing. Islam doesn’t have this reason and so can end up in a violent expansion of the faith because of a fallacious reading of the Koran, which it has to submit to as if powerlessly, because they haven’t had the Greeks, who are part and parcel of Christianity anyhow.
The pope doesn’t speak about Vernunft in other religious traditions. About the Eastern religions for example, where the Greek logos really is absent, but not Vernunft. And indeed not about reason in Islam, which is present massively in Islamic tradition. Also he doesn’t speak about reason in Orthodoxy, which by its faith in the Holy Spirit can do well without the Greeks. Or about Søren Kierkegaard and the other existentialists, as Fjodor Dostoevski, who also fared well without the Greeks, but who still have contributed grandly to Christian tradition. And in the following Cardinal Newman surely won’t have meant the Greek logos only ... so that the studying youth can be demonstrated, how one can be a catholic and at the same time retain a sound mind, how one can love religion and also freedom . Here it goes against the mechanics of neo-scholastic theology and catechism-thinking, which are also the fruits of Greek thought. That is why Friedrich van Hügel said. ... it is a dead cadaver, which they (the scholastics) dissect. That is not much. Walk passed them with a sweet, a very sweet smile ... they are geometric figures; they posses a great regularity, but no reality whatsoever. There are elements in the Greek logos, which are typically Greek, especially in Aristotle, taken into Christianity by Saint Thomas Aquinas, but also elements, which are universally human, as with Plato, taken into Christianity by Saint Augustine. If the Buddhist says, that he recognizes much in the Greeks, then he doesn´t say that because happily enough and thank God in a miraculous way he got an injection of the Greek into himself, but because the universally human and the prophetic in Plato is just there also in other traditions. There is a Vernunft which is universally human and not typically Greek. And that Vernunft is also present in Islam. It is the instrument, with which God enables human beings to know Him and His beautiful creation. And that is not typically Greek and not typically Christian as well. Plato conquered myth and that is not typically Greek. Some people call him the first Catholic for this.
Outright eerie gets its there, where the pope says that Christianity got its Prägung, its definitive marking, in Europe. Would Jesus have had the founding of Europe in mind from the start? Would He be dependant on Europe? Dependant on history? Surely not. As Kierkegaard already remarked, where there is a supremacy of the logos, in the end Jesus Himself will disappear. Then religion slides away into ethics and morals, and we are lost, as Gerard Reve already said. In that case nobody can be saved.
As Maulana Jall-u-ddin Rumi, the Muslim and sufi-mystic said ... true faith is a reasonable faith, not one adopted and held in mechanical and parrot-like fashion. And somewhere else ... taqlíd, blind imitation has undone me. Cursed be that blind imitation! Intrinsic Islamic reason drives a wedge between terrorism and real Islam. Western reason isn’t able to do that anymore and that certainly is poverty. There is no justification for terrorism in the Koran -a murderer without repentance goes straight to hell- and this conclusion is provided for by the own intrinsic Vernunft of the Koran and Islamic tradition. The Greeks aren’t needed for that. Also there is no basis for propagation of the faith by violence, unless you want te read the Koran with an evil Vernunft, but that is a contradiction in terms as we saw. And for that matter exactly the same problem has been rampant in the Catholic church also as far as the propagation of the faith is concerned. I need not enumerate the countless examples. And just to say also something good in this connection taking into account the danger of making myself impossible: despite these evil aspects the two world religions have been able to spread largely because of the superiority of the idea, because in the end violence won’t hold. That Islam has acquired its billion adherents by violence is a carefully treasured western myth.
The pope also sees the problem with the Greeks and speaks extensively about degreeking -programs in the tradition of the church, be it to reject them in the same breath, but he looks at them seriously. The pope therefore respects degreeking-programs. The venom already is in the greatest. Thomas Aquinas in a mystical experience has stuck his head into a tabernacle and called out ... in comparison with this all my working and writing is like a piece of straw. Some feel that he might as well have put a match to it all while he was at it.
Another degreeking-proposal: where the Greek commences to cry never to stop, the Catholic commences to laugh, also never to stop, because when Saint Paul ascended the Areopagus, the Greeks were done for. After the words of Paul everything there was doomed to fall into ruins, and it did; that there still is so much left of it nowadays, is only because nobody found it necessary anymore to go out there, not even to clean up. Even in deepest tragedy in the end of it all there still stands Jesus Christ with out-stretched arms and that dumbfounded the Greeks, with the exception of Plato perhaps. Since that time theology could only be ancilla theologiae, the servant girl of theology, which might sufficiently be proven by its lonely and unfruitful excursion of the last centuries.
Christian Vernunft is not unique and other religions also have Vernunft. This Vernunft must be the vehicle for dialogue, but in that case western Vernunft, as the pope states himself, is in dire need of refurbishing. Nevertheless probably it has been cosy and snug among the old friends there in Regensburg and in an interview before he left for Germany the pope himself told us, that we shouldn’t take everything so tragisch, that hard, and so let’s not do that. His lecture has open ends enough to really rethink western reason of our times and that should be the goal.