Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Speaks on Koran Burning

The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue released a statement a few hours ago on the "Koran Burning Day" planned by the pastor of a small christian community for the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which has been being talked about on the Internet for some time now. The members of the Council may have originally felt the best thing was to avoid publicizing the event any further, even by way of criticism, and decided to do so as it came to be more widely talked about anyway.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue received with great concern the news of the proposed "Koran Burning Day" on the occasion of the Anniversary of the September 11th tragic terrorist attacks in 2001 which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives and considerable material damage.

These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)

The statement, perhaps deliberately, states the principles pertinent to respect for religion somewhat vaguely. Does the last sentence of the first paragraph provide backup for the first claim, saying in effect simply that "each religion… has the right to respect and protection" because the dignity of the person who adheres to that religion requires it? Or is it qualifying or restricting the first claim, saying that each religion has the right to respect and protection to the extent that this follows from respect for the dignity of the person (but that a religion need not be protected to the extent that it promotes murder, injustice, etc.)?

In the end there isn't all that much difference between what's affirmed according to each of these interpretations. If respect for human persons is the reason for respect for a religion (supposing that one either considers the religion incorrect or holds a neutral judgment about it), then it must also be a measure of respect for that religion.

Instead of making such distinctions at the abstract level, the statement addresses the concrete issue of violence committed in the name of religion, condemning it. In a similar vein, the Holy See is apparently also seeking to prevent the stoning of an Iranian widow convicted of adultery.

One thought on “Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Speaks on Koran Burning”

  1. One difficulty with Koran burning is that Islam does not appear to be one religion at this point in time. Certainly it began as one thing, and certain that beginning was a violent one, but absent any central authority it does not make sense to consider everyone who holds the Koran holy to belong to the same religion. Consequently, burning the Koran is too broad a gesture.

    On the other hand, I would have no problem condemning the religion of the people who commit terrorist acts. They tell us that their religion requires these acts, and I see no reason to believe other "experts" who claim that these terrorists are wrong about what the terrorists themselves believe.

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