Monday, October 11, 2010

Vatican II, Turkish Deliberations, and the Rethinking of Religious Belief

Every day I get my "Writer's Almanac" e-mail from Garrison Keillor. It's a great start for the day, with a new poem and a few interesting tidbits from literary (and other) history. According to today's Almanac, October 11th is the 48th anniversary of the day on which Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council (or Vatican II, as it's sometimes known in the language of sequels). Here's how the Writer's Almanac summarized it:

It was on this day in 1962 that Pope John XXIII convened the first session of the Second Vatican Council, also known as Vatican II, with the goal of bringing the church up to date with the modern world. More than 3,000 delegates attended, including many of the Catholic bishops from around the world, theologians, and other church officials.

As a result of Vatican II, Catholics were allowed to pray with Protestants and attend weddings and funerals in Protestant churches; priests were encouraged to perform mass facing the congregation, rather than facing the altar; and priests were allowed to perform mass in languages other than Latin, so that parishioners could finally understand what was being said throughout the service.

I was eleven years old in 1962, and attending a Catholic grade school, so we heard lots about Vatican II, even if we didn't quite understand the whole thing. We didn't know how controversial it was, or how much it would change the Church. Vatican II represented the realization of the church leadership (at least that of Pope John XXIII) that the Roman Catholic Church was an institution in need of making itself relevant to a world vastly different from that in which it was founded. Not in its fundamental beliefs, but in the way it organized and governed itself, operated day-to-day, and represented itself to the millions of Catholics around the world.

Many of the changes the Council instituted were (and remain) controversial - in particular allowing the Mass said in the local vernacular rather than in Latin. For centuries, the Church wielded vast secular as well as spiritual power simply because only the priests and bishops could understand Latin, and the faithful had to rely on their interpretations of scripture and the rules they imposed ... not all of which were particularly grounded in the Bible.

Which leads one to ask ...

When will we see the equivalent of Vatican II for the Islamic world?

The closest thing to Vatican II for Muslims is the ongoing effort being conducted by religious scholars in Turkey to revise the Hadith, the vast collection of sayings and commentary attributed to Mohammed and his original followers that are second only to the Koran in terms of their importance to Muslims.

Many Muslims regard the Hadith as absolute religious dogma, even when individual sayings appear to reflect more the social norms and realities of the seventh-century Arabian desert than a guide for spiritual and moral living (stoning adulterers, many restrictions on the rights of women, etc). The Turkish effort is designed to help sort out the Hadith and bring it into line with the realities of the 21st century.

The effort is, of course, every bit as controversial for many Muslims as Vatican II was for many Catholics. Nevertheless, it represents a desperately-needed move to accommodate Islam to a world that is vastly different from that in which it was founded. If nothing else, accepting the validity of translations of the Koran into languages other than Arabic - so that Real People could read, understand, and evaluate its teachings - would be a major step forward.

I'm not holding my breath, but it's a start.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.



Mike said...

I think it's going to take another generation to loosen up the Muslim culture. Internet information will infiltrate and beat down the hard line thinking.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for letting the world know the Turks are actually helping to bring the 21st Century to Islam (this would appear to complete the salient "George Washington" level good deeds tha have to be credited to Kemal Ataturk).

Until Islam reforms, as did the Church, there will be no peace on earth. True religious wars in Europe disappeared shortly after the "99 These" were nailed on the church door. After that, it was political warfare that murdered millions, which proves that religion isn't the cause of war, people are. Reforming Islam to reject its readical factions might be a big step toward peace on earth, good will toward men.

This is a good start and I hope to live long enough to see the benefits of it.

Eminence Grise