Archbishop of Birmingham on 'Faith and Reason'

 The Most Reverend Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Birmingham, issued the following statement today, in the wake of the controversy over a quotation in Pope Benedict's lecture at Regensberg University. Muslims in Birmingham have expressed their deep regret and hurt at the words used by Pope Benedict XVI in his lecture at Regensburg University on Tuesday 12 September. I appreciate the restraint they have shown in expressing their views. Pope Benedict too, has made known how deeply upset he is at the offence that has occurred. The phrases used in Pope Benedict,s lecture are actually from a dialogue which took place in 1391; a Byzantine Christian king and Persian philosopher, a Christian and a Muslim, are talking together about their faiths and seeking deeper understanding. They were engaged in the kind of dialogue that we are seeking today. The thrust of the Pope's lecture, which so far has been entirely lost, is greatly relevant to today. His point is to emphasise the importance of our capacity for reason. He refers to violence only in as much as it is against right reason. He affirms that because it is against reason then it is against 'the nature of God'. Pope Benedict asks pertinent questions about the relationship of faith and reason in Islam. But the main conclusion Pope Benedict XVI draws is directly relevant to us. In his thinking we in the West are shooting ourselves in the foot in our search for mutual understanding between faiths and cultures by reducing our understanding of reason to mere practical reason based on observable evidence. Thus we give reason no part in this quest. If reason is not seen as one of the greatest capacities we have by which we explore the real meaning of life and give shape to moral principles then we are trying to build a harmonious society with one hand tied behind our backs. We are reduced to using focus groups to try and discover what is acceptable and right. There is a key sentence in Pope Benedict's lecture: 'A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of sub cultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures today.' This is exactly where we are in our life today. The Government has just established a Commission on Integration & Cohesion. I sincerely hope the members of that Commission read this lecture by Pope Benedict XVI. If we fail to see and use the true scope of our gift of reason and its links with faith then we will always struggle for a cohesive society in Britain today. This academic lecture by Pope Benedict XVI is perceptive and very relevant. I hope that we will not be distracted by the reaction to it that has been created on the basis of a misunderstanding, deliberate or not, of what he actually said. The challenge is clear: in our search for harmony can we discover again the true scope of our capacity for reasoning and in this search can we work in profound partnership with our Muslim brothers and sisters? Meanwhile, in Birmingham, some months ago now, all the Islamic leaders of the region issued a solemn and formal statement that violence against innocent people was totally against the Islamic faith. The leaders of all the faiths in Birmingham, just a few days ago, issued a statement in which they said that such violence was against the tenets of each and every faith. Here we work together for the good of all.

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