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Pope Francis with Rabbi Abraham Skorka: Each of the last three popes has had Jewish interlocutors and friends among the rabbinate (photo: Andrew Medichini/AFP/Getty)

Perhaps the overriding intellectual imperative of a globalised world, in which no culture can hope to isolate itself or to avoid the encounter with others, is to make it possible for those holding different and potentially antagonistic beliefs to live in peace with one another. This is a particular duty for those whose vocation it is to teach with authority, whether sacerdotal or academic; yet it is a duty that is almost always shirked. For priests and professors alike are at home with the formulation of doctrine, the exegesis of texts and the preservation of tradition. They are temperamentally unsuited to the confrontation between theory and practice. Taking responsibility not only for what is taught but for what follows from the teaching, for what is done in the name of religion or ideology, seems to pose an almost insuperable challenge for the guardians of doctrine.

Yet doctrine, "teaching" or "that which is taught", implies, like the cognate term "doctor", worldly as well as spiritual authority. When the University of Oxford awards degrees, the Vice-Chancellor and his Proctors address the new graduate as Domine or Magister ("lord" or "master"). Popes are symbolised by (and until St John XXIII regularly wore) a triple crown, indicating their teaching authority, their Magisterium, over secular rulers; "Professor" takes precedence over other titles, even inherited ones; "Rabbi" carries a similar prestige. Those entitled to teach on behalf of a religion wield a unique kind of authority and their influence may be political no less than spiritual.

How then may the arbiters and exponents of doctrine be persuaded to soften their orthodoxy sufficiently to open up a space in which competing claims to truth may be resolved or not, as the case may be, but in any case without bloodshed? The greatest religious thinkers may range freely across an intellectual terrain they have made their own, but lesser minds tend to stick rigidly to rules and to the literal interpretation of scripture. The deadening effects of the latter are the reason why terms such as "doctrinaire" and "dogmatic" have acquired such negative significance. It is sometimes the case that the doctrinaire and the dogmatic elements within a faith community restrict, censor or even excommunicate the freer, more creative spirits. But it is also true that when the doctrines of the free spirit depart too radically from orthodoxy, perhaps in the attempt to achieve ecumenical goals, then the charge of heresy may indeed be justified and a parting of the ways becomes inevitable. The new doctrine either dies with its originator, or becomes the seed of a new religion. The distinctions between Sunni and Shiite, or between Catholic and Protestant, may have grown more entrenched over the centuries, but at their origins were genuine theological disputes. The Inquisition's most notorious case, against Galileo, was not against his discoveries but his adherence to a theory, Copernican heliocentrism, which not even the greatest of contemporary astronomers, Tycho Brahe, had been able to test to his satisfaction. One may deplore the anathematisation of Spinoza by the Amsterdam Jewish community, but his critiques of Biblical and Halachic authority were indubitably heterodox. In all these cases, the forces of change were resisted by the religious establishment on perfectly rational grounds. We must not expect anything to be different today — except that secular establishments are apt to be at least as protective of their ideological purity as religious ones are of doctrinal orthodoxy.

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Sergei Bourachaga
December 3rd, 2014
11:12 AM
At the end of his three-day visit to Turkey Pope Francis urged Muslim leaders worldwide to condemn in an unambiguous language the barbaric violence committed by Islamic radicals (ISIS) against innocent civilians. In reply, Turkish president Erdogan expressed an explicit contempt of the West by linking directly Islamic Terrorism on growing anti-Muslim sentiments in Europe and America, and the growing Western conspiracies to dominate the Middle East. Erdogan insisted during Pope Francis’ visit to Istanbul that there was a “very serious and rapid trend of growth in racism, discrimination, and hatred of others (Muslims), especially Islamophobia in the West.” Let us analyze closely the following verses from The Koran and see who hates the “OTHERS” more, the West or Islam: “Know that we send down to the unbelievers (Jews and Christians) Devils who incite them to evil. Therefore have patience: their days are numbered.” Koran 19:87 This verse is often chanted during the beheading rituals we often see on radical Islamic websites. For the pious Muslim beheading his defenseless hostage, it is an act of heroic proportion, because he is slaughtering the Devil incarnated in the human form of an Infidel. “Satan has gained possession of The People of The Book (Jews and Christians) and caused them to forget Allah’s warnings. They are the confederates of Satan; Satan’s confederates shall assuredly be lost in hell. The Believers are the confederates of Allah (Hizbollah); and Allah’s confederates shall surely triumph.” Koran 58:19 Another verse recited frequently in the background of beheading rituals, to reinforce the view that by slaughtering Christians and Jews, a pious Muslim is killing Satan not an innocent captive. “We will put terror into the hearts of the unbelievers (Jews and Christians). They serve other Gods for whom no sanction has been revealed. Hell shall be their home; dismal indeed is the dwelling place of the evil-doers.” Koran 3:149 A verse often used by Salafist radicals to spread terror and encourage Muslims to kill indiscriminately innocent children, women, and seniors attending a wedding or using the public transit system. After all Jews and Christians worship Gods that have not been sanctioned by the Allah of Islam, and they are all classified as evil-doers who shall perish in an earthly hell of Muslim design, make, and timing. “Do you fear the unbelievers (Jews and Christians)? Surely Allah is more worthy of your fear. If you are true believers make war on them; Allah will chastise them through you and humble them. He will grant you victory over them and heal the spirit of the faithful.” Koran 9:14 A favorite passage of Hizbollah fighters in Lebanon, who scored with the help of Allah a “Divine Victory” against the mightiest army in The Middle East (IDF 2006). Hassan Nasrallah, the supreme leader of The Hizbollah movement in Lebanon exploits this passage extensively in his fiery speeches to remind his followers that Allah’s will for the believer is very clear; his or her primary religious duty should be to wage war on the Jewish State of Israel to liberate Jerusalem, destroy Christian unbelievers who sustain the existence of Israel, and thus impose on the “Kouffar” Allah’s agenda for the salvation of humanity. “Cast into hell every hardened unbeliever, every opponent from the people of the book (Jews and Christians), and every doubting transgressor who has set up another God besides Allah. Hurl him into the fierce tormenting flames of hell.” Koran 50:21 Suicide bombers use this verse (in videos taped prior to their heroic operations) to justify the blowing up of their explosive charges on buses and in a variety of public places frequented by Jews and Christians. By becoming a “Shahid” (Arabic for martyr) and securing a place in Allah’s heavenly kingdom, the suicide bomber is hurling his victims (hardened unbelievers) into the fierce tormenting flames of hell-the inferno created by the explosion in a confined space. Believers, do not make friends with any men other than your own people. They will spare no pains to corrupt you. They desire nothing but your ruin. Their hatred is clear from what they say, but more violent is the hatred which their breasts conceal.” Koran 3:117 These verses are used extensively every Friday, in dozens of mosques located in major capitals such as London, Paris, Brussels, Spain, Toronto…to deepen the schism between Muslims and non-believers, and insulate them from any arguments that may challenge radical Islamist narratives. The time has come to reinforce the key principle that no democracy has any legal or moral obligation to tolerate the intolerable, including Muslim presidents like Erdogan. And to all Western apologists who believe that tolerance should remain one of the most distinct characteristics of democracies, I invite them to reflect on the following statement of British novelist Dorothy Sayers: “In this world it is called Tolerance, but in hell it is called indifference, the sin that believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing, and remains alive because there is nothing for which it will die.” Sergei Bourachaga

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