September 17, 2006
Faith, Reason, the PC media and IslamBy Rosslyn Smith
I read Pope Benedict XVI's address 'Faith, Reason and the University'. It is too bad the media missed the lecture's main thrust of a challenge to modern secularists about their exclusion of peoples of deeply held faith, in their race to write inflammatory headlines. The Pope noted
Condescension towards people of faith helps explains both why a nation as imbued with PC as Great Britain is having so much trouble assimilating Muslim immigrants, why some voters who more naturally favor many of the policies of American Democrats have left that party and especially why newspapers and TV shows are serving an ever—shrinking audience.
Ignoring this criticism of their secular attitudes, the media latched one out of context sentence from that lecture. A quote from Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus circa 1391 in an ongoing debate with a Persian Muslim theologian became the key media story from the Pope's trip to Germany. That quote was treated as the Pope's own words and his only message. The headlines in particularly were misleading, with Yahoo's being perhaps the biggest example of irresponsible journalism. Pope enjoys private time after slamming Islam.
Such media coverage once again enflamed the perpetually irate Muslim street in time for Friday services and the well planned demonstrations we have come to expect afterwards whenever Muslim self— righteous indignation wells up. Violence aimed at Christians erupted, too, with a nun shot in the back in Somalia while working in a hospital.
The Pope had used the centuries—old debate as an introduction to his topic of the relationship of faith and reason. It was only after reading the entire speech that I clearly saw the implied parallel criticism of Islam in his choice of an opening point for the dissertation: that a faith which is deaf to reason not only acts in way that displeases God, such as through conversion by force, but also has problems entering into dialogue with different cultures. Thus there is also a challenge to the religious leaders in Islam from the 79 year old religious scholar turned Pope: Dialogue with me if you dare. Reason being the weapon of choice of the challenger and not the defenders, here.
When a largely secular and a—political friend e—mailed me about the Pope's tin ear, and what was he thinking in riling up the Muslims, I wrote back to her that to me the Pope's words were almost as well—chosen as Reagan's evil empire remark when read in the context of the entire lecture, if not as sound bite friendly. The Catholic blogger, the Anchoress, seems to have been thinking along similar lines with her comment,
After my friend read the lecture, she sent me another e—mail.
From other reactions I have read, my friend is not alone with that thought.
So how have the Pope's twin targets of secular elites and Islamic fundamentalists risen to his challenge so far?
The New York Times has predictably demanded the Pope apologize for giving offense to Islam and threatening to give the wrong idea about Christianity to those elusive, moderate Muslims who openly condemn violence. I am not sure what I found more offensive in the editorial. The Times used of quotation marks around the terms erudite and learned as the Pope applied them to the two competing late 14th century religious thinkers.
If the Times had taken issue with another passages in the Pope's lecture, would they have written of the 'philosophical' opinions of Socrates, Kant, Pascal, or Descartes, as so much papal hearsay? Those quotation marks underscore the mentality the Pope addressed in his defense of all religious belief systems from the intellectually fashionable disdain of modern academics — and fourth rate newspaper publishers. Then the Times called on the Pope to put aside his theological and cultural differences with Islam so that all might "heal" all, but most particularly those who are hyper sensitive to all alleged insults to Islam.
Earth to Pinch: The truth often hurts and true healing never comes from silencing the messenger.
Perhaps the biggest error the Times and all the others in the media are making is to confuse Benedict XVI's goals with those of a politician who seeks to avoid controversy and therefore will split every difference he meets. The Pope is not a politician, nor is he even a peacemaker. He is the most recent in a two millennium long line of men chosen by an elite within the Church while acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to be the guardian of both an eternal and universal Truth.
The Pope takes his authority from the words of Jesus Christ himself to the first Pope.
As the guardian of a faith, the Pope has every right to criticize another religious belief system in harsh terms as well as to defend his own against those who propose the spiritual suicide of dumbing it down to a form of let's all make nice now favored by the secular elite.
These secular critics forget that as Pope, Benedict XVI's goal is not to accommodate Islam and its many misguided apologists within their ranks. Rocks are made of sterner stuff than that. It is instead to tackle the unenviable task of attempting to revive the Christian faith across Europe while continuing its spread into Africa and Asia.
Nor is Benedict XVI journeying to Turkey later this year to reach out a hand of friendship to Muslims. His purpose is to try and reconcile an almost 1,000 year old schism with the Eastern Church.
As for a response to Benedict XVI's challenge from within Islam, so far it has been more of the same violent laced protests, grandiose claims and overplaying of the victim card we saw with the ginned up Danish cartoon controversy: Churches have been burned, Christians attacked and murdered, the Pope has been the subject of personal insults, lectured about the Crusades as if they had happened yesterday, been called un—Christian by a cleric who make the theologically ignorant claim there is no difference between Islam and Christianity and has been told without a shred of theological support that if Christ came back to earth today He would most certainly be a Muslim.
Even after Benedict has expressed regrets that people were offended by his remarks, they continue their rants. Perhaps the most farcical protest happened in Delhi. There two groups of protestors against the Pope turned on each other. A supporter for an injured leader of one of the protests is quoted
Not that this particular imam was defending free speech, freedom of religion or attempting a dialogue. He was engaged in a turf war with a rival leader. One doesn't have to be a skeptic to suggest that the participants on both sides that particular rumble had very little idea of what they were supposed to be protesting.
Nowhere in all this overblown outrage over a quote from one long dead Byzantine emperor have I seen a refutation of the main theological charge the Pope levied against Islam:
I do not claim to know the mind of God, but one image spoke volumes to me about the relationship of the two religions to a modern civilized world created on that foundation of Greek reasoning, and that was the shot of protestors outside the Hagia Sofia. That historic mosque was built to be the largest church in Christendom and was only converted to a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Whatever was done in a past Islam seems unable to leave behind, Christianity has long discarded the sword, let go of centuriwa—old slights and isn't currently seeking to reconquer long lost territory or expand into new worlds by bombing innocent men, women and children. No Christian group today is using violence to demand the Hagia Sofia be returned to them and that Istanbul be referred to as Constantinople. Even more importantly, if there were such a group, most Christians would openly express scorn, if not outright contempt, to the entire world that the members certainly did not speak for us.
So far Benedict XVI's invitation to secularist elites and Islamic fundamentalist alike to adopt the "rationality of faith" needed for a genuine dialogue of cultures has been met with knee—jerk political correctness by the media and mass hysteria across the Muslim world. Given that the first worships emotion—laden headlines, not faith or reason, and that the second can't seem to wait for a new cause upon which to vent its chronic outrage, I am not surprised.
What has heartened me immensely was the reaction of my apolitical friend once she understood the Pope's message. She has had a bit of an allergy towards religion of all types since her college days, and sometimes chides me for being a bit blind to Christianity's faults, so I was most pleased to read these words from her.
I suspect that increased awareness of the difference and the acknowledgement that those of us from a European heritage do have a decidedly Christian outlook no matter how rusty be our actual practice of the faith is the type of reaction for which Pope Benedict XVI prayed when he drafted his lecture. Such people were, after all, one of the principal targets of that lecture until the media distorted his message.
In that lecture Benedict XVI reminded us that the convergence of Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, is at the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe today. The question of whether acting unreasonably may or may not contradicts God's nature is one for theologians, but all across the world people seem to be taking increasing notice that acting unreasonably is certainly contrary to their idea of life in a civilized world.
More importantly, no matter what spin a politically correct media puts on it, these people don't like it when they see members of Islam acting unreasonably time and again in the face of 'provocations' as weak as a 600 year old correspondence or a cartoon in a newspaper that mildly pokes fun at their leader. Nor do they think much of Muslims plotting terror acts against westerners and Muslims murdering each other in Iraq.
Like my friend, they want challenges like the Pope's to continue until the they at last begin to hear loud denunciations from within the worldwide Muslim community over the violent, repressive, hate—filled and murderous actions and teachings of the supposed radical minority who commit atrocities in the name of Islam. Just as the Danish cartoon controversy resulted in a good many people rediscovering a fondness for Danish ham and havarti cheese so that Danish exports to America increased even with during an Arab boycott, count on this insane overreaction from parts of the Islamic world to result in a good many skeptics rediscovering something I have known all along.
All religions are not alike. Despite the best effort of the secular elite to blur the message, the Pope made his point that Christianity has a real edge over Islam in the willingness of its leaders to use reason instead of violence and coercion to win converts and meet critics alike.