On June 15, 1999, approximately 500 Catholic “pilgrims” made a “siege” of Jerusalem. According to press reports, these people came from 30 different countries. The day chosen for the new “siege” of Jerusalem was the supposed date of the final siege and taking of the Holy City by crusaders more than 900 years before. Instead of entering Jerusalem as conquering medieval Catholic crusaders, these laymen entered the city asking pardon of the Muslims they met along the way and distributing a document to this effect in the name of their “Reconciliation Walk.” The Protestant Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, reported somewhat favorably on the event in its September 1999 issue. Giving it no serious attention, I thought the whole event odd at the time. Today, it strikes me as tragically naive.
But, how does one think clearly about what is going on in the world today? Conflicts between the East and the West appear unprecedented, but are they? James Schall has some interesting comments in his chapter, "The Real Alternatives to Just War", in The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays. He notes that a pregnant Muslim woman may strap bombs inside her dress and intend to blow her enemy, herself, her baby, and a dozen others up. But, a Muslim blowing herself up along with fifteen others, can pretty much rest assured that this utterly irresponsible type of approach will not be used against her own people. In fact, the Muslim can rest assured that her Western enemy is more likely to conduct a "Reconciliation Walk" than to resort to irrational terrorist acts. Why?
I suggest the root of the reason may be found in remarks I posted here on March 28, particularly the last paragraph in that post. Quite simply, as Schall contends, Muslims "look upon suicide bombing in their cause as martyrdom and an entrance to heaven. The fact that this position seems preposterous to many of us is one of the main reasons we cannot well deal with it." Muslims are religious positivists, with respect to the nature of law, and, consequently, there is no distinction between religion and politics. Moreover, since they are consistent positivists, God is arbitrary (whatever is ordered by God is a meritorious act). Hence, there is never a necessary connection between law and morality. If God has said that martyrdom as a suicide bomber is a meritorious act, then it is, regardless of how irrational such an act may be. With respect to the necessary connection between law and morality, there is no reasoning with a legal positivist, a Muslim positivist, or a biblical positivist.
What is at the heart of the legal/political/moral chaos today is a clash of civilizations or worldviews. And, central to a resolution is the relationship between revelation and reason. Perhaps the best introduction to this subject is Pope Benedict XVI's lecture at the University of Regensburg delivereed on September 12, 2006. The lecture is philosophically challenging for the average lay person, and highly nuanced. For an excellent analysis of the lecture read James Schall's The Regensburg Lecture. Pay no attention to what you may have heard reported in the media about the lecture. Schall's book unlocks the genius of Benedict XVI's attempt to engage all those of good will in a dialogue on the relationship between faith and reason.