The single line extracted from the pope's lecture to inflame the highly flammable is an excerpt from a 14th-century dialogue between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and ``an educated Persian'' about Christianity and Islam. Said the emperor:
``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.''
This one-sentence quotation was part of a wide-ranging discussion about the intersection of faith and reason, as well as the contradictory nature of religion and violence. Pope Benedict's key point was that faith through violence is unreasonable and, therefore, incompatible with the nature of God.
``The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature,'' he said.
Think fast: Who wants to spread faith with violence? Not missionary nuns in Somalia. Who wants to slit the throats of infidels? Not the Southern Baptist Convention.
Contrary to what fanatics have insisted, the pope was as critical of the West as of Islam, if not more so. While Islam suffers faith without reason, he said that Western culture suffers from reason without faith.
His point was that the two cultures cannot enter into a productive dialogue unless they both recognize that faith and reason are inextricably bound. Islam has to drop its sword and the West has to make room for the divine.
Pope Benedict's view is that by ignoring faith, the West -- but especially Europe -- is ill-equipped to engage a culture that is so firmly entrenched in faith.
``A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures,'' he said. Likewise, a faith-based culture that abhors reason cannot engage in civilized discourse or advance the goal of harmony.
In a nutshell, those are the central points of the pope's lecture. How interesting that the emperor and the Persian could debate these issues several centuries ago, but 21st-century man is driven mad by ideas that challenge him.
In the West, we have so blindly driven away faith from our life, that we are incomprehensible to those who make faith a matter of life and death. We may pay lip service to faith, but only as far as it is therapeutic and non-binding. While I whole-heartedly will condemn violence in the name of religion, what else is worth dying for? Those of us who follow Jesus should know the answer... absolutely nothing. Christianity is about bearing the cross and learning to die rightly.
The blind acceptance of reason's primacy over faith says something different. "Don't die! Be happy and contented with what you have and seek more." The Cross is foolishness to the wise, but to we who are perishing it is the wisdom of God.