Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
February 1, 2010
Benedict wants monotheists singing from the same page
While most of the media coverage around Pope Benedict's visit to the Rome synagogue on Jan. 17 focused on Jewish-Catholic tensions, little attention was given to the pope's call for a united front on important moral, cultural issues.
Obviously, there are differences between Judaism and Christianity. But the pope was at pains to emphasize that when Jews and Christians work together on moral issues God's "light comes closer and shines on all the peoples of the world."
The Ten Commandments, Pope Benedict said, are "a shining light for ethical principles, hope and dialogue." He called the Decalogue "a great ethical code for all humanity" and urged interfaith cooperation on three issues.
First, the Decalogue calls on all to reawaken "in our society openness to the transcendent dimension." Second, the Commandments urge us to respect life and protect it. Third, they call us "to preserve and to promote the sanctity of the family."
The pope went on to argue that the teachings of both Moses and Jesus call for "a special generosity towards the poor, towards women and children, strangers, the sick, the weak and the needy."
In short, there is - or ought to be - a joint Jewish-Christian voice for transforming the moral culture of society.
This is not the first time Pope Benedict has made such an argument. His 2006 trip to Turkey was, in part, an attempt to build bridges with Islam. As complex as the Church's relations with Judaism are, there is even greater complexity in building links with the Muslim world.
Nevertheless, the pope contends that moral confusion in the West led to the reawakening of the Islamic soul. That reawakening enables Christian-Muslim cooperation on moral issues. The issues he raised at the synagogue could provide a basis for a common voice among the monotheistic religions in addressing the West's moral crisis.
Pope Benedict is less likely to pursue such an alliance with the mystical Eastern religions because he sees them as a form of therapy with no inherent trust in reason.
A trust in reason is what the three monotheistic religions share. In his Regensburg lecture of 2006, the pope lamented that "reason which is deaf to the divine" is widespread in today's world. Such a constricted understanding of reason attempts to push religious faith off to the netherworld of private personal choice, excluding it from having any impact on the public debates of the day.
Benedict is aware that if religious faith and religious reason are going to regain their place in the public square, it will because the monotheistic religions sing from the same page. When that day comes, the interfaith harmony will perk up the ears of a world weary of the monotone droning of overly secularized reason and morality.
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