Posted by: bridget | 19 September 2006

The Pope and Euthyphro

Anyone who has been alive in the past few days is aware that Pope Benedict’s comments drew ire from the Muslim world. The ridiculousness of proving that one is peaceful by rioting aside, the Pope’s comments were, first, not his own; second, he was discussing the philosophy of religion.

Pope Benedict quoted one of his predecessors, Manuel II, who, in 1391, had a conversation with a “learned Persian” about religion and the dictates of God. Much of this is a restatement of the Euthyphro issue: does God (or the gods) love things because they are holy, or are things (or actions) holy because they are loved by God?

The Islamic position, after Muhammud, is the latter – we should do that which is loved (or encouraged) by God. Manuel II argued that the nature of God is bound by human notions of rationale: “Not to act reasonably is contrary to the nature of God.”

(At this point, His Eminence’s citation of his predecessor created international conflict when discussing, how, philosophically, a person can force a conversion on another: “God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death….” A call against violence; a call against proselytizing – how is this an issue?)

Benedict then considered the dehellenisation of religion; as the New Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek, the Hellenic influence (and all of its Platonic and philosophical issues) remains:
Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.”


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