Dr. Albert Mohler analyzes Pope Benedict’s speech last week on Islam.
HH: Another person who’s been on this campus, my guest now, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Mohler, welcome back. Always a pleasure to speak to you.
AM: Hugh, it’s always great to be with you.
HH: Now Dr. Mohler, earlier in the program, I began with Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things Magazine for the Catholic perspective on the Pope’s speech. I wanted to also talk to a Baptist. I know you greatly admire Benedict’s intellect. What did you think of his speech this past Wednesday before we get to the reaction?
AM: Well, I thought the speech was very clear on two things. First of all, and more importantly than anything the press picked up on, is what Benedict had to say about the role of reason and faith in Christianity versus Islam. And there, he nailed it. It was a very clear statement of the distinctions. Of course, most people wouldn’t even find that controversial, because they wouldn’t grab ahold of it. It was his statements, of course, quoting a medieval text, and a medieval emperor, having to do with Mohammed, and the impact of Islam that really led to the controversy. And I have to say, of course, I think what he had to say was accurate. It needed to be said, and we’re going to have to learn how to talk very honestly about Islam, because right now, it is the great big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about.
HH: What do you think he was attempting to say with that quotation? Father Neuhaus pointed out, as did Peter Robinson on this program, that this was really a faith and reason speech, something about the magisterium of reason and revelation, which must cooperate and must be understood to be in right relation, and that secular override has completely thrown that out, but that there’s also a problem in dealing with reason within Islam. What did he intend to say by that 14th Century quote?
AM: My guess is, first of all, that this Pope never says anything by accident. As a former head of the Sacred Congregation, as Cardinal Ratzinger, this is a man whose mind is about as precise as any I’ve ever known. And so I know he did it intentionally. And Hugh, what I think he was saying there is that when you get faith and reason, and you sever them, and you for instance, move in the direction of Islam, it necessarily leads to the breakdown and the kind of violence. And that’s exactly what the emperor was mentioning. And I think when the Pope spoke to that quotation, he was saying, perhaps more implicitly than explicitly, this is where the logic of Islam leads.
HH: I also thought that he was referring to correspondence between an emperor and a representative of the Islamic caliphate. And as a result, suggesting that these sorts of letters, blunt, to the point, and very open, were exactly the sort of approach that Islam and the West had to have right now. Or is that overthinking that, Al Mohler?
AM: Well, I don’t think it’s overthinking it. I just think that was a sublety that was largely lost on the audience, not to mention the larger global community.
HH: Yeah. Now what about the reaction? It’s not legitimate, in my view. I know you understand that. But what’s it tell us?
AM: Well, I think it tells us that the Pope’s statement was right on target. I mean, for instance, the kind of outrage you have from the secular left is the weak, empty-headed outrage of the person who has forgotten life actually is the living out of basic principles. And thus, when the Pope pointed to Islam in that regard, it was just considered rude, impolitic, impolite, out of place. Of course, when you look at the Muslim street’s response, you see that what the Pope had to say is exactly what happened. In other words, the logic of Islam, which by the way, Hugh, is very important, that Islam is an honor religion, in the sense that Christianity is not. And I think that has a lot to do with what’s going on here. In other words, we as Christians, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, follow a man who was despised and rejected of men. He was betrayed. He was spat upon. He was crucified. And so we understand that he even fulfilled the suffering servant role from the Old Testament, and thus, we do not follow an honor religion. When Jesus Christ is slandered, when Jesus is rejected, or despised, we’re not to take up arms. We’re instead to pray for those persons to come to faith in him. But Islam is an honor religion. They are duty bound to uphold the honor of the Koran, and the honor of the prophet. And so when any kind of criticism comes, the natural response here is to respond with protests on the streets, and outcries of a need for some vengeance.
HH: Now…Dr. Albert Mohler is my guest, from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, both an intellectual, but also a theologian of great repute and standing in the world. Let me ask you, Dr. Mohler. The American founding begins by a statement that says a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires we have to declare the causes of our revolution. And it says they’re compelled by the laws of nature, and of nature’s God, meaning the from the very beginning, we’ve balanced reason and revelation, and we have been open to argument. The West, I think, takes for granted that the rest of the world is this way, and it’s not.
AM: No. For one thing, we also began assuming with the meaningful unit of the individual, not the kind of autonomous individualism you have in today’s culture. But you go back to our founding, every single citizen is important. Every single perspective is to be respected. And this is alien from the rest of the world, and in particular, alien from the submission culture of Islam.
HH: Now let me ask you about Protestant and Catholic divide here. There is a menace in the world. It is the Salafist fringe, or wing, of Islam. And that menace really wants a war. It doesn’t want a peace, it doesn’t want land for the Palestinians, it doesn’t want better trade terms, it doesn’t want to be bought off. It wants submission. Should Protestants and Catholics be talking differently to each other, Al Mohler, in light of this?
AM: Well, we certainly should be talking to each other in words of honest witness. As you know, our differences, my differences with this Pope, and with the Catholic magisterium are many. And they’re deep, getting right to the central doctrines of Christianity. And honesty and integrity mean that I’m going to talk about those things. But I’m also going to recognize that there is an inheritance of a Christian civilization, and there is a claim, a purchase, upon the Christian tradition, that is held not only by Catholics and by Evangelicals, but also by the Orthodox Churches. And there’s a sense in which, when we’re looking at Islam, we’re looking at a competitive worldview that assails everything all of us hold as precious. And for that reason, I’m following the logic of your question, Hugh. Yes, this is where we ought to have a lot of really fruitful and humble, and I think very generous, Evangelical-Orthodox-Catholic discussion.
HH: But to do that, will that not invite the Crusader slander hurled against the West by al Qaeda and its leaders as well, Zawahiri, primarily?
AM: Well, Hugh, one thing that all of us had better agree upon here is that the Christian Church has no air force. No navy, no army. We have no marines to land. The Crusades, as a military issue, were not a proper representation of the Christian Gospel. The unity at that time of the state and Church in terms of the medieval kingdom, was something that doesn’t even fit our modern world. And so, we as Christians ought to be able to talk about how we would struggle for the souls of humankind, without recourse to violence, coercion, military intervention, or anything else. The Church has a distinctively spiritual mission.
HH: 30 seconds, Al Mohler. Does the West have a chance, absent its religious understanding of this conflict?
AM: Well, absolutely not, and I have to go even beyond religious, and say its Judao-Christian foundations. It was not by accident that Western civilization emerged from the European cradle of Christianity. And if we forfeit that, then we have nothing to build upon, a vacuum at the very foundation of this culture.
HH: Dr. Albert Mohler, always a pleasure. Albertmohler.com for his website.
End of interview.