Could the Pope be joking?

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Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

The Vatican later claimed that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam."

It is hard to believe how this quotation can "cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue."

But could the Pope have intended to make a joke by comparing Islam to Catholicism? Or perhaps the Qur’an to the Old and New Testaments? And was that joke intended to hide what the Catholic Church teaches on a number of topics? Despite all the media "damage control" the Vatican has done since his controversial talk in Regensburg last week, it seems only His Holiness knows for sure.

To help the Pope next time he makes a speech comparing the teachings of any religion, including Islam, to the teachings of Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church, I offer here a few good points for the Holy Father to consider. In doing so, I have used only quotations from Catholic sources, or from the Old and New Testaments.

1. The Pope should state up front that the only "true" Christian is a Catholic.

Catholic scholar Darwell Stone wrote in "Outlines of Christian Dogma" (1929) that the word "Catholic" is used to denote the Church throughout the world in communion in contrast not only to particular bodies of Christians, but also "to heretical sects out of communion with the Episcopate [hierarchy of bishops]."

2. The Pope should make it clear that only Catholicism can address faith and reason.

"Among the statements of the Vatican Council on the relation of faith and reason," wrote Stone, "it was said: Although faith is above reason, yet there never can be any true dissension between faith and reason, since the same God, who reveals mysteries and bestows faith, has given to the human mind the light of reason; and God cannot deny Himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."

3. The Pope should explain the inconsistencies and violence found in Biblical books like the Old Testament’s Deuteronomy, a book that is holy to both Jews and Christians.

On Deut. 24:1-4, Stone says; "This passage, while it forbids the re- marriage of a divorced wife, sanctions re-marriage in the one case of a husband who has divorced his wife for adultery."

4. Similarly, the Holy Father should tell us if he believes in:

Deut. 7:16, "You shall destroy all the peoples … showing them no pity."

Deut. 20:12, "… All the people present there shall serve you as forced labour."

Deut. 20:14-15 and 17, "… You shall put all its males to the sword. You may, however, take as your booty the women, the children, the livestock, and everything in the town — all its spoil — and enjoy the use of the spoil of your enemy which the Lord your God gives you … You shall not let a soul remain alive."

5. The Pope should enlighten students and faithful about the following ideas:

In Leviticus 1:9, about "burning a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, if it could still create a pleasing odor for the Lord," or in Exodus 21:7 which describes selling one’s daughters into slavery. Should such practices be allowed?

Lev. 25:44 states that the faithful may possess slaves purchased from neighboring nations. Does this teaching include the Americans (who didn’t exist as a nation until millennia later)?

Ex. 35:2 states that anyone who works on the Sabbath (Jewish Shabbat) should be put to death.

Lev. 21:16-24 states that anyone among the descendants of Moses’ brother Aaron (those who aspire to priestly duties) having a physical "blemish" or defect — such as impaired vision — may not approach the altar of God. Why was that so? And how can it apply today when so many "blemishes" can be corrected with inventions such as glasses?

Perhaps — all joking aside — there are practical and humbling lessons here for all who attempt to justify religious arguments through isolated quotations, whether scriptural or not. Time and history demand that we both revere and examine teachings that are too often accepted so literally that they no longer make sense, and no longer embody the spirit of divine guidance under which they were originally set down. This is a challenge worthy of all three great monotheistic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — as they learn to dialogue in a 21st-century world.

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