Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Pope Said ... What?!

I go away for one weekend and the Pope puts his slippered foot in his mouth. Or does he? I guess that depends on what you think Benedict's intentions were when he quoted a 14th-century text that characterized some of the prophet Muhammad's teachings as "evil and inhuman." Now, considering the cartoon fiasco that rocked Europe earlier this year, and the general pins-and-needles state of relations between the West and Islamic countries, this seems like an insane mistake. In fact, just yesterday a friend asked me, "Has the Pope lost his mind?" Well, I am in no way qualified to render a diagnosis of Benedict's mental health. But I would like to briefly address the bru hah hah that has kicked up a new firestorm of words and threats. First, in Benedict's defense (and I'm not the Pope's biggest fan), his words were taken out of context. He was in a gathering of scholars, and he quoted from a dusty old text. His point was that violence in service of religion is never appropriate. And this is a modern concept. The Church has its own violent past to deal with. Speaking of which, I find it interesting to note that, at the time of the speech, Benedict never once said whether he supported the view of that particular text. Second, although he was taken out of context, Benedict should have known better. The media is soundbite hungry, and the general public has a 10-year-old mentality ("You said something bad about my dad! I'm gonna kick you!"). One of the best media responses comes from Australia:

Subtle Scholar, But What an Inept Politician The Age | September 18, 2006

Pope Benedict's speech was an academic address at a German university on an esoteric theological theme that had nothing to do with affronting Muslims. The apparently offending remarks were almost a footnote to the discussion… But it seems some elements in the Muslim world are looking avidly for something to offend them. Meanwhile, governments looking to boost their Islamic credentials are only too happy to seize on this, or nurture it, for their own political advantage.
You can read some more responses at NPR, which is where I found the Australian post. I'm thinking that Benedict should have just referenced the text and the conversation in it. He should not have quoted anything from it. He definitely should have pointed out that the text presented an outmoded point of view. At the very least, he should have had a few people in his office review the speech before he left the Vatican. A little vetting never hurt a scholar. So, until we have peer review for every public statment, can we just, like, you know, grow up? Update (09.20.2006): For those who are interested, there is a translation of the speech here.


stephen said...

Did you read the speech? I had to read it thrice over before I understood it. Whoever wrote that speech has been very very sly and careful. It was meant to provoke the muslim & the catholic alike. I can't shake the feeling that benedict has something on his mind.

Jim said...

Once again, the "religion of peace" proves to be anything but peaceful. The Pope speaks against violence in name of religion, and what is the response? Violence in the name of religion.

I tend to agree with Stephen - this wasn't done completely by accident. Perhaps the outcome wasn't fully anticipated, but I believe the Pope said exactly what he meant to say.

So, should we really have "peer review" of all public writings, speeches, and public statements? Maybe the UN can form an Islam censorship committee, that can strike any statements potentially offensive to muslims from all public dialogue. Of course, anything offensive to christians, jews, buddhists, etc. will be allowed through without question.

Seems like the way we are heading, eh?

brainwise said...

Honestly, no. I don't want peer review for everything. That would be an extreme (and poorly thought out) response that solves nothing. Implementing that "solution" would merely be an attempt to mitigate those who are employing what I called a 10-year-old mentality against words they don't like.

Hmmm...I think I am saying that peer reviews would be an extreme response to reverse an extreme response ... or something like that, am I not?

And in light of this recent news story about the Pope's apology, I also have to agree with Stephen. Benedict does know what he is saying ... and he has something on his mind.