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Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI’s speech to the United Nations
A Message of Hope and Faith
By: - Nora Brathol

“Human Rights find their basis in natural law, in the heart of man.”

Pope Benedict XVI spoke these words during his speech to the United Nations on Friday, April 18th, 2008. In writing this article, it is my hope that his words will serve as a reminder for everyone - as they did for me - that the commonalities that exist between us are far greater than our differences, and that everyone should be accountable for the decisions they make within our collective society.

Another quote from Pope Benedict’s speech, “when natural reason is abandoned, religious freedoms and liberty are violated on huge scales,” reminded me of an edition of the CBS News program “60 Minutes” which focused on the plight of Iraqi Christians. In that program, the vicar of an Iraqi church stated, “When religion goes wrong, it kills others.” The problem is not religion in itself; it’s when religion is used to justify the loss and abandonment of common sense principles like tolerance, acceptance, or peace.

Of course there are major differences among people in this world – and especially among religions. However, as Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, whenever we are discussing different points of view we must never forget the rights of individuals because human rights have a basis in natural law.

Natural law does not refer to the scientific laws or to the laws of the universe. The concept of natural law discussed by such philosophers as Aristotle, Thomas Hobbes and John Locke; has been cited as a component of the United State’s Declaration of Independence, which in turn was used in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, natural law is defined as “the rule and measure of human acts is the reason, which is the first principle of human acts.” (Aquinas, ST I-II, Q.90, A.I) This means that human beings are naturally rational creatures, and that it is morally appropriate that they should behave in a way that reflects their rational nature.

Natural law, by definition, is valid everywhere – which is why I firmly believe that the “promotion of human rights is the most effective strategy for overcoming differences,” as the Pope reiterated on April 18th; and that “a vision of life deeply rooted in religion can help this.” Natural law, and subsequently the UNDHR, reflects an unchanging moral consensus that reinforces our social contract. It is a universal concept based on the reason that exists in every man’s heart.

Our collective society has recognized human rights as universal, and these rights can be interpreted and strengthened through religion. However, in the application of religion to human rights and vice versa, we must be careful to not allow ‘religion to go wrong,’ as the Iraqi vicar stated. Lyndon Harris, an Episcopal priest who was in charge of St. Paul’s chapel (which stood in the shadow of the twin towers in New York City) explained ‘when religion goes wrong’ this way: “God gave us free will, and some people choose to do evil. But the first heart to break on 9/11 was the heart of God.”

We all must emphasize the basic principles of tolerance, respect, and freedom that are in fact in all religions. It takes hope – and faith – to accomplish this.

When UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon was introducing Pope Benedict XVI, he stated: “Peace is based on the respect of rights for all. Whether we worship one God, many, or none; our faith needs to be strengthened in order to work together.”

Let’s all keep the faith in trying to continue to work together to achieve our common goals.


The views and opinions of authors whose articles and comments are posted on this site do not necessarily reflect the views of IQC.

Comments ( 6 )
Comment By   Amir Mansour     - 2008-05-07
Welcome Nora Brathol !
I want to welcome Nora Brathol back to our website. Nora has published one article long ago on our website, but she's stopped publishing on our website after someone posted a very offensive comment addressed to her. I requested to publish her last article here to enrich the English section of our website with  a different point of view. I've worked with Nora for a while and I saw how committed she is to human rights in general and religious freedom in particular. As you already know many people claim to defend religious freedom, while in fact they only use religious freedom to defend only the religion they believe in. And by doing so, they confuse religious freedom with religion superiority. However, Nora is not one of those; she truly believes in religious freedom; she has worked to help us during the Quranists' Plight, and for that I'm grateful. But of course we have our disagreements in opinions, I posting my comments on her article below...

Comment By   Amir Mansour     - 2008-05-07
When Religion Goes Wrong (1)...
Whether we like it or not, we’re living in a religious world. Even those who chose reject religion –atheists- they can be thought of as religious individuals who just believe in a different god. Whether we like it or not religions are going to exist as long as humanity will. Whether we like it or not, people are going to believe in different religions; there’s never going to be one religion that everyone believes in. We’re different! It’s a fact. Societies have different collective memories of the same past, different pools of knowledge, different attitudes, different judgments, different choices, and –consistently- different religions. Maybe we share the same hopes of the future, but we’re going to approach the future differently based on where we stand right now, and whether we like it or not, religions have a big say in deciding where we stand. It is very amazing to me how religions are alike. The core values in almost every big religion are so much alike. Even in many cases many religions believe in the same god; you have Judaism, Christianity and Islam believing in the same god, yet throughout history, wars between those religions were responsible for the killing of millions of people. So what has gone wrong? And more importantly, how can we fix it for the sake of our future? I think one of the things that went wrong is that people overlooked the commonalities that they have with each other; they focused on what differences they have. And even worse, they used such differences to build walls between each other; they shunned each other behind walls. And behind these walls, they distorted the image of the ‘other’, and with time such distortion grew to be hatred. The other is hardly another human being; the ‘other’ becomes the embodiment of what we are NOT. That’s when religions went wrong, humanity paid –and still pays- for that.

Comment By   Amir Mansour     - 2008-05-07
When Religion Goes Wrong (2)...
The answer for that problem is getting to know each other; is to redefine each other –not in terms of what we believe in, but in terms of the –FETRA- or the natural law that we share. Is to realize that religions build on the natural law and doesn’t override it. And there cannot be a real contradiction between religions and natural law- Yes, there’re going to be unanswered questions, but under no circumstances should you abandon the natural law. The speech was inspiring; I agree. But if not followed by real actions from the Pope to bring humanity together, I’d say it’ll be just fake/useless words said by the same Pope who had previously said divisive comments against a different religion like Islam, and different churches within Christianity itself. After all, saying the right words can be so easy and makes little or no difference, it is standing behinds those right words that can make a difference. When religions go wrong, it is the innocent people who pay for it. When religions go wrong, it is religious leaders who are the ones to blame the most- yet throughout history, they usually have survived enjoying a luxurious living while innocent people were killed. Whether we like it or not, religious leaders hold the keys to their religions, they have a big rule in making humanity flourish out of religions, but it takes so much more than just words…

Comment By   Aya Mohammed     - 2008-05-08
Walk your Talk
Hi Noura, It is good to see your thoughts and writings posted on Ahl Al Quran. Your article is quite deep too. I did enjoy reading it and I do agree with you in almost all of it. Though Amir hinted that he’ll oppose you, I can see that he almost supported your talk. Yes natural laws are the basis of any religion be it Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or Hinduism. They are all based on the natural laws of the common life. The all worship the Creator of the Universe and exert to do the good to be good. Religions are as simple as that. I believe that a religion is there to guide the way to the right path. There is no right religion and wrong one, but there is right path and a wrong path, and like what Lincoln said: I do good I feel good, I do bad I feel bad, and that’s my religion. Doing right is the natural law and it is the core of all religions on earth. On the other hand, I kinda agree with Amir in what he said about the Pope. The Pope’s words are so deep and very humane, but in fact, with all my respect to his highness, I don’t think that the Pope acts with integrity. Simply, he doesn’t walk his talk. You act with integrity when you walk your talk; when you act in the way you talk, when you are words are transferred into actions and deeds. The Popes words are so great but when you think of his continuous attack on Islam, you’ll never trust in the roses he’s presenting as there are hidden thorns on them. I’m not against the Pope out of being a Muslim. No! On the contrary, when I start writing I deprive my soul from any ethnic or religious feelings. I only feel like a human being, so simple as that. In fact most of the time, I just feel like a simple human being, believing in humanity and counting on the love of the Creator. I would prefer quoting the words of a person who “Walk his Talk” – someone like Gandhi. The Mahatma Gandhi is the best example of the human who believed in humanity and still had all the respect to his religion. He’s the one who used to walk his talk. We need to have more of Gandhi in our current time. Cheers, Aya

Comment By   Nora Brathol     - 2008-05-08
Reply
Thank you Amir and Aya for your comments, I'm glad to be back! I'd like to address the references to Pope Benedict's previous comments that are divisive or insulting to other religions. I'm assuming you are referring to two things: 1. Pope Benedict referring to Islam being spread by violence, as made during a speech in Germany in September. My response to this: as with most things in the media, these statements were taken out of context. Later in that speech, Pope Benedict did say that he did not agree with that scholar's point of view (and after the controvesary broke, he did apologize). However, that does not excuse the statement - public leaders (religious or otherwise) should be sensitive to how their words are perceived. This, I think, is one of the great differences between Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict - JPII was very endearing and able to connect with people on a very direct, personal level. This is something that Benedict is not the best at - even though many would agree he is more scholarly and a better intellectual theologian than JPII. No Pope is without his faults (many Catholics in America were very upset that JPII never addressed the priest sex abuse scandal). 2. Pope Benedict stating that only Catholics are going to heaven. My response to this: The word 'catholic' actually means 'universal' and therefore did not exclude Protestant Christians. I'm not Catholic but in church on Sundays I still pray to the "holy catholic and apostolic church" when saying the creed - elsewhere, people say "holy Christian and universal church" - it's a difference in translation. Again, however, Pope Benedict could have said universal instead of catholic, and that would have avoided this controversary altogether. I fully agree with both Aya and Amir that if Pope Benedict really wants to make an impact, he needs to walk the talk (as Ghandi has done so brilliantly). It is my hope that through the two instances referenced above, Pope Benedict has learned his lesson about making comments that can be widely percevied differently than he intended, and will be more careful of this in the future. What makes his speech at the UN so powerful to me is that this could be the begining of that 'walking the talk', and if so, that is something truly admirable. Billions of Catholics all around the world look to him as their spiritual guide, and therefore he has the possibility to influence on a much greater level than Ghandi has.

Comment By   Amr Jakoush     - 2008-05-09
Yes it was a good speech
I agree with Nora that the Pope's speech to the united states was a strong one and it represents a good basis for reconciliation among all religions, and in fact all humans. But for this to happen we have all to agree on the definition of two terms,Tolerance and Reciprocity. Until these two terms are well understood and embraced in the Muslim world in particular, Religion will continue to cause agony instead of tranquility, and peace as expected and hoped