My Grandfather told me once that if you throw a rock into a crowd, the fellow you hit is going to holler. As with most things, the old man was right.
Pope Benedict delivered this week a thoughful, reasoned speech on religious conversion. In one passage, he quoted a recorded conversation that occurred between a Christian and a Persian during the late 12th century. They were then debating the value of conversion by the sword.
The Islamic world is hollering.
The value of reasoned arguments lies in the ability to convince people to change. Popes, over the years, have used reasoned arguments to make the Church relevant in the modern world. Jesus himself was the master at the reasoned argument delivered in a soft voice. Christians of every stripe have long since decried the use of violence to perpetuate the word of Christ. The Church long ago apologized for the excesses of the Crusades and the Inquisition, and modified the behavior of the Church to make it more relevant in a modern world.
Religious criticism is important in the secular world to keep us focused on the spiritual realm. The Pope is the titular head of Christendom. He is not a politician, he is not a diplomat. Catholics believe that he is the selected incumbent for Christ on this earth. We expect Benedict to address the truth in religious matters and to make his arguments rationally and intelligently. We expect him to make those arguments even when the subject matter is uncomfortable to us.
Benedict threw a rock into a crowd last week. The fellow he hit is hollering. By failing to understand the words of the argument, they fail to make themselves relevant in a modern world. Islam has shown these past days that without violence it cannot survive.
I am no religious scholar, nor a scholar of any stripe. My words are pale echoes of much greater thinkers. Yet it seems to me that Islam doth protest too much. Islam would be much better served by making reasoned, intelligent arguments, not issuing fatwahs and firebombing churches. Conversion by the sword is a failed concept and religions that defend it are failed religions.
**UPDATE**: My words are indeed pale echos. Go here and read Francis Porretto's thoughts on the matter.