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The pope’s poverty myth

Nicholas G. Hahn III
The Detroit News

When the Rev. Jacques Hamel was martyred in France last month, faithful Catholics probably didn’t expect to be equated with the jihadists who murdered that good priest.

But that’s what Pope Francis seemed to suggest during a flight back to Rome after Kraków’s World Youth Day.

“If I speak of Islamic violence,” Francis responded to a journalist who asked the pontiff why he didn’t mention Islam after the 85-year-old priest’s murder, “I must speak of Catholic violence.”

Francis blamed such violence on “a small group of fundamentalists” and even implied jihadism had nothing to do with religion at all. “Terrorism grows when there are no other options, and when the center of the global economy is the god of money and not the person,” the pope said.

Only Karl Marx would say amen to that. The idea that jihadists do what they do because of market economics instead of Islam is a discredited myth.

Look at rural China or Pyongyang where millions live in abject poverty. The poor there aren’t blowing up buildings. Or consider that many homegrown recruits for the Islamic State come from middle-class, even wealthy families. Osama bin Laden was a billionaire.

If what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in a September 2006 lecture at the University of Regensburg is any guide, jihadism has more to do with a defective understanding of God than poverty.

Benedict met some flak in the Islamic world for one quote in the speech, but his critics missed what mattered. Benedict argued that converting others through violence is unreasonable because God is logos, the Greek word for reason. “Not to act in accordance with reason,” Benedict warned, “is contrary to God’s nature.”

But most Muslims don’t like that box for God. The Islamic deity is “absolutely transcendent” and “not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality,” Benedict said.

This presents a real theological problem for Islamic scholars. If God can will anything, why not suicide bombings? Christians debated this notion of God, and ultimately rejected it. A central authority figure in Islam might be able to similarly resolve disputes over God’s will, but that leader doesn’t exist yet.

Meantime, Pope Francis might pray over his predecessor’s Regensburg lecture before he answers another reporter’s question about Islam.

Twitter: @NGHahn3