September 17, 2006

Benedict XVI spoke deliberately

Posted in Benedict XVI, Islam, Religion at 12:32 am by billdawson

A few minutes ago I examined Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg speech of 12 September 2006 by quickly reading through the English text found at Catholic World News. First I must say that it’s really not a document to be “quickly read-through”, as I’ve said I did, if you really want to take it in and understand it. But I was not particularly interested in coming away with a clear understanding of his arguments concerning faith and reason or the “reasonableness” of “rais[ing] the question of God through the use of reason.” I was only interested in seeing how the much maligned statement about Mohammed fit in to the context of the entire speech; I specifically wanted to see what I could gleen of the Pope’s intentions in employing the anecdote about the Byzantine emperor and the learned Persian.

My opinion is that it does not take a close reading and understanding of the main points of the speech to recognize that the anecdote is peripheral and could easily have been left out. For that reason, I can only conclude that the Pope very deliberately included it in order to criticize today’s Islam. In fact, everything following the paragraph just after the long quotation of the Emperor reads like a different speech. His arguments concerning reason and faith throughout the remainder of the speech depend in no way upon the anecdote.

Allow me to put it another way: though one may perhaps argue that the anecdote can be seen to pertain to questions of faith and reason, certainly the Pope could have found other anecdotes that are much more obviously connected to that topic. The rest of the speech is decidely not about violent conversions, holy war or even violence in general. Instead, the rest of the speech is really a very highly philosophical look at reason and faith, a topic which is obviously very dear to this philosophical, academic pontiff.

So what were his intentions? I believe that this Pope understands the seriousness of Islam’s modern crisis and wants to continue to comment on it but feels that he needs to cloak his criticisms somewhat due to the ridiculous islamic rage that we have all come to loathe and expect anytime anybody of any significance offends the Prophet (pbuh) and his followers. (Said followers responded right on queue to the speech.) In Regensburg, the criticism was cloaked by relating it — however peripherally and perhaps clumsily — to a much larger philosophical topic.

It is a shame to have to say this, but such cloaking really is necessary for a man such as the Catholic Pope. How many more Holy Land christian churches would be destroyed if the Pope decided to base an entire speech on criticisms of Islam?

As it is, I find Benedict XVI to be rather courageous on this topic. You can see from the Vatican’s “clarification” of the speech that although he is willing to put on a friendly face and offer dialogue, he does not really intend to let angry Mohammedans silence him completely on the topic.

Pope Benedict XVI “sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful,” the Vatican Secretary of State announced in a clarifying statement released on Saturday, September 16.

That is no where near an apology, so I hope no newspapers are headlining it as such. I recognize there are certain dangers in relying on the English version of the Vatican’s clarification, since the Pope certainly did not give his instructions concerning it in English. But if the English is faithful, a word such as “sensitivities” is a clever choice. My first thought was, “indeed, the over-sensitive Muslims.” I am rather pleased with this “clarification”, for I do not want the Pope to apologize.

If there is any world religion today that requires criticism, debate and self-examination, it is indeed Islam. Sadly, Islam is the world religion least likely to accept criticism and most likely to respond with violence. I can defer to TigerHawk for a description of my own reaction to the muslim seething of the last few days (nay, years). He expresses my feelings perfectly:

For my part, I am sick of “Muslim rage.” Whether inspired by the pope or Danish cartoonists or the clumsy use of the word “crusade” by a Western politician, there is simply no defense for the behavior of these imams and their followers. It is barbaric, and everybody who is not barbaric or an unreconstructed apologist for barbarians knows it. The Muslims who commit arson and mayhem in response to some Westerner speaking his opinion — and the pope, as leader of the Roman church, is exactly that — have chosen to act as enemies of reason, peace, and everything that is good in the world.

Whether Islam or pre-Islamic cultural institutions are the source of the problem, there is no escaping the fact that a huge proportion of the Muslim world is economically, scientifically, culturally and politically incompetent by the standards of the world. It has chosen to invent nothing since the Middle Ages, preferring to stew in the juices of decline than solve its own problems. It is so insecure in its faith that the slightest criticism from a non-believer propels thousands of clerics and millions of followers into paroxysms of rage. Yet Islam needs jihad, which I understand means “struggle.” It needs a jihad against illiteracy. It needs a jihad against ignorance. It needs a jihad against sloth. It needs a jihad against corruption. It needs a jihad in support of women, without whom it cannot succeed in the modern world. It needs a jihad against the clerics who have — allegedly, according to “moderates” — perverted the truth of its religion. It needs a jihad against its governments — secular and Islamic — who have destroyed the future for more than a billion people. It needs a jihad against despair.

Until I see the arsonists and rioters among Muslims embracing these jihads, I will hold them responsible for the bad choices that they make, including the choice to reject secular education, the choice to destroy rather than construct, the choice to dwell in the past instead of dream about the future, the choice to obsess about Jews rather than wonder how they might emulate the Jews, and the choice to have so little confidence in the power of their own religion that they oppress and condemn and kill those who choose otherwise.

If Pope Benedict apologizes, I will resent him for the rest of his reign.

Read also the rest of the TigerHawk entry, because as its title — Infantilizing Muslim “Rage” — suggests, it concerns the pathetic (and, though they may not recognize it, condescending) treatment of these ragists by the Western elite.

[Updated 17.09.2006 19:45: Though the Pope has now issued something more akin to a classic apology, I would still say he is choosing his words rather cleverly.  To say that you are sorry about someone’s reaction is not the quite the same thing as saying you are sorry for what you yourself said or did.  Am I, myself, being too clever here? Perhaps, but it sure seems to me that those are some carefully chosen words in the so-called apology.  He doesn’t retract a word of what he said, and he makes it clear that he things that others are mistaken in interpreting what he said.

And, like in the original “regret”, which contained the word “sensitivities”, this new “apology” contains “sensibilities”, which I rather like.  I think John Hinderaker at Power Line is not giving the Pope enough credit for cleverness.]