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James Carroll on the Papal Provocation

TO: Distinguished Recipients
FM: John Whitbeck

Transmitted below is another worthy commentary on the papal provocation,
published in the /Boston Globe/ and the /International Herald Tribune/.

I have been watching on TV this evening scenes from this pope's highly
touted effort at "dialogue" with the Muslim world. Twenty-one envoys
from predominantly Muslim states were invited to the papal summer palace
at Castel Gandolfo to listen as the pope read a five-minute-long
statement (apparently not his own creation) and were then permitted to
shake the papal hand. No questions were permitted, and there was no
discussion.

Diplomats may make diplomatic statements to try to calm the rage, but I
doubt that most Muslims will consider the granting of this brief
audience an adequate gesture to attone for publicly characterizing their
religion and/or their prophet as "evil and inhuman". (Even relatively
relaxed Christians could be expected to take offense if the world's
leading spokesman for Islam were to publicly characterize Christianity
and/or Jesus Christ as "evil and inhuman", and most Muslims take their
religion much more seriously than most Christians do.) Regretting the
"reactions" of others to one's words, but not one's own use of those
words, is not an apology. The doctrine of papal infalliblity may make
any papal apology for any papal act or pronouncement theologically
inconceivable, but, while Muslims revere Jesus as a prophet and even
believe in his virgin birth, the relatively recent and self-serving
doctrine of papal infallibility is not one to which they subscribe.

In light of the widespread (and understandable) belief in this region
that the West's so-called "war on terror" is really another Western
crusade against Islam and Muslims, a belief fortified by President
Bush's recent formal shift in marketing terminology to a "war on
Islamofascism", the timing of this gross and gratuitous insult to all
the world's Muslims by the world's supreme representative
of Christianity, successor to those who launched the original
Crusades, could scarcely be less opportune. Today's appeal by the
President of the EU Commission for European states to speak out publicly
in support of the pope is unlikely to prove helpful, even if it is
ignored by governmental leaders with cooler and wiser heads.

If Osama Bin Laden is still alive, he must be offering particularly
fervent thanks to God tonight.


International Herald Tribune <http://www.iht.com>
A hierarchy of truth
James Carroll The Boston Globe
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 25, 2006
*BOSTON* Rome has spoken. Once, that meant the question was settled. Now
that means the question has been inflamed. In this case, the question is
whether to accept Osama bin Laden's invitation to the clash of
civilizations. Sure, why not?

Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the fifth anniversary of 9/11 by citing, on
the next day, a 14th-century slur that Muhammad brought "things only
evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith
he preached."

The patently false characterization of Muhammad's teaching, displaying
an ignorance of the Koran, of the magnificence of Islamic devotion, and
of history was offered almost as an aside in the pope's otherwise
esoteric lecture about reason and faith. After Muslim uproar, the pope,
while not really apologizing, insisted he had meant no harm.

President George W. Bush famously used the word "crusade," then backed
away from it. But playing by bin Laden's script, Bush launched a
catastrophic war that has become a crusade in all but name. Now Benedict
has supplied a religious underpinning for that crusade. Claiming to
defend rationality and nonviolence in religion, the pope has made
irrationality and violence more likely, not less. Bush and Benedict are
in sync, and bin Laden is grinning.

Even abstracting from the offending citation, the pope's lecture reveals
a deeper and insulting problem. Benedict properly affirms the
rationality of faith, and the corollary that faith should be spread by
reasoned argument and not by violent coercion. But he does so as a way
of positing Christian superiority to other faiths.

That was the point of the passing comparison with Islam - which,
supposedly, is irrational and therefore intrinsically violent, unlike
Christianity which is rational and intrinsically eschews coercion.

But this ignores history: Christianity, beginning with Constantine and
continuing through the Crusades up until the Enlightenment, routinely
"spread by the sword the faith" it preached; Islam sponsored rare
religious amity among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in the very period
from which the insulting quote comes.

More significant, though, for any discussion of reason and faith is the
fact that Christian theology's breakthrough embrace of the rational
method, typified by St. Thomas Aquinas's appropriation of Aristotle, and
summarized by Benedict as "this inner rapprochement between Biblical
faith and Greek philosophical inquiry," was made possible by such
Islamic scholars as Averroes, whose translations of Aristotle rescued
that precious tradition for the Latin West.

Benedict makes no mention of this Islamic provenance of European and
Christian culture. Indeed, he cannot, because his main purpose in this
lecture is to emphasize the exclusively Christian character of that
culture. The "convergence" of Greek philosophy and Biblical faith, "with
the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and
remains the foundation of what can be rightly called Europe."

Europe remains Christian. That is why the pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger,
opposed the admission of Muslim Turkey to the European Union.

Benedict seems to have forgotten that the European rejection of violent
coercion in religion came about not through religion but through the
secular impulses of the Enlightenment.

The separation of church and state, in defense of the primacy of
individual conscience, was the sine qua non of that rejection of
religious coercion - an idea that the Catholic Church fought into the
20th century. Even now, Benedict campaigns against basic tenets of
Enlightenment politics, condemning pluralism, for example, and what he
calls the "dictatorship of relativism."

The pope's refusal to reckon with historical facts that contradict
Catholic moral primacy has been particularly disturbing in relation to
the church's past with Jews. Last year, he said Nazi anti-Semitism was
"born of neo-paganism," as if Christian anti-Judaism was not central.
This year, at Auschwitz, he blamed the Holocaust on a "ring of
criminals," exonerating the German nation. By exterminating Jews, the
Nazis were "ultimately" attacking the church. He decried God's silence,
not his predecessors'. A pattern begins to show itself. Forget church
offenses against Jews. Denigrate Islam. Caricature modernity and dismiss it.

In all of this, Benedict is defending a hierarchy of truth. Faith is
superior to reason. Christian faith is superior to other faiths
(especially Islam). Roman Catholicism is superior to other Christian
faiths. And the pope is supreme among Catholics. He does not mean to
insult when he defends this schema, yet seems ignorant of how inevitably
insulting it is. Nor does the pope understand that, today, such
narcissism of power comes attached to a fuse.
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