Pope Francis I’s controversial climate change encyclical, which embodies redistributionist economic philosophy in the guise of environmentalism, and wraps all of that up in an eggshell-thin Biblical reinterpretation, doesn’t merely draw from secularist philosophy and environmentalist truisms: it draws from Muslim poet Ali al-Khawas.
The Pope writes that al-Khawas informs all of humanity not to “put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.” He then quotes al-Khawas directly:
The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.
Pope Francis’ decision to rely on the wisdom of Islamic poetry is a far cry from Pope Benedict’s use of Islamic philosophy to shine light on Catholicism. In 2006, Benedict famously quoted Byzantine emperor Manuel II Pelologus debating an Islamic thinker. The Byzantine emperor, Benedict said, ripped into Islam:
Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.
Pope Benedict’s quotation, needless to say, generated consternation among Muslims worldwide. Francis’ treatment of Islam, however, has generated no consternation – he routinely reaches out to the Islamic community, from openly recognizing the internationally-illegitimate State of Palestine to condemning anyone who would link Islam with violence.
Last December, Francis stated, “You just can’t say that, just as you can’t say that all Christians are fundamentalists… They say: ‘No, we are not this, the Koran is a book of peace, it is a prophetic book of peace.’” The following month, Francis said that the journalists at Charlie Hebdo should have known the limits of free speech with regard to blasphemy, telling journalists that if someone cursed his mother, they would have to expect to be punched.
Clearly, Pope Francis’ agenda extends far beyond the dictates of Catholic doctrine, and well into the field of international politics – and if quoting Islamic poetry in a Catholic encyclical will help build alliances, that’s a price he’s willing to pay.