Thursday, September 21, 2006

# Posted 10:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT THE HECK DID THE POPE SAY? I heard four opinions about what the Pope said before I read his actual words. First I read Anne Appelbaum's call for an end to apologies. She writes that:
Western politicians, writers, thinkers and speakers should stop apologizing -- and start uniting...

These principles sound pretty elementary -- "we're pro-free speech and anti-gratuitous violence" -- but in the days since the pope's sermon, I don't feel that I've heard them defended in anything like a unanimous chorus.
Not exactly joining that chorus is Kevin Drum, who writes that:
I finally got around to reading Pope Benedict's recent remarks on reason and faith, and I was appalled. The reference to Islam near the beginning of the speech was entirely gratuitous and disingenuous, as were Benedict's subsequent crocodile tears over the idea that anyone could have taken offense at his remarks. For the record, here's the nickel version of what he said:
Mohammed was a violent man. Violence is unreasonable. God loves reason. Draw your own conclusions.
Hmmm. I have a lot confidence in and respect for Kevin. The same applies to Anne Applebaum. Yet she argues that the only reason for the current outrage in the Muslim world is because:
Benedict XVI, speaking at the University of Regensburg, quoted a Byzantine emperor who, more than 600 years ago, called Islam a faith "spread by the sword."
And so the mystery deepens. Surely, I thought, public television would help me figure out what's going on. So I listened to a segment from PBS Newshour entitled "Pope's Comments on Islam Incite Outrage and Protest."

Well, you can sort of tell from the title what their spin on the matter is, but there was a very good discussion with Benedict biographer George Weigel and Islamic scholar Nihad Awad. Here is how Weigel summarized the Pope's message:
In a religious dialogue, genuine dialogue between people of different religious convictions must be based on reason. It can't be based on passion.

Secondly, attempts to justify violence in the name of God are themselves irrational and, therefore, impede that kind of dialogue. And, therefore, the challenge I think he was trying to pose to Islamic leaders throughout the world -- some of whom have accepted that challenge -- is to discipline and correct those within their own community who would make the case that God commands the murder of innocents.
Finally, according to Awad, the Pope
said that Muhammad commanded his followers to spread the faith by the sword. This [has] never happened.
As Awad explained, Muslims were offended by this historical inaccuracy.

So, then, what did the Pope say? First, of all, I should warn you that 90% of what the Pope said concerns esoteric debates within the Christian tradition about the relationship between reason and faith. I found them very, very interesting, but won't pretend that I really understand them.

From a narrower political perspective, the "key graf" of the Pope's lecture is this one:
In the seventh conversation [between the Byzantine emperor and his Persian interlocutor] the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war.

Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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".

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".
I think it's fair to say that the Pope's words were not politically correct. Then again, I'm no fan of political correctness.

As I read the Pope's lecture, I expected him to include an explicit refutation of the Byzantine emperor's characterization of Mohammed's teachings as "evil and inhuman", lest anyone misunderstand the meaning of his lecture. Yet Benedict did observe that the emperor expressed him "forcefully" and with "startling brusqueness". Clearly, the Pope wanted his audience to know that he appreciated the controversial nature of the emperor's words. Yet he did not explicitly refute them.

What are we to make of this? I like George Weigel's suggestion that the Pope's words were a challenge. Let Muslim scholars and clergymen demonstrate that they are willing to conduct an interfaith dialogue based on reason. With rare exceptions, it is not the clergymen of Europe or the United States who call for violence in the name of religion. Thus the burden lies on the students of Islam to demonstrate that they will take responsibility for eradicating the extremists in their midst.

This is not necessarily a friendly message. This is not how one conducts a touchy-feely interfaith dialogue. But it is also far from being the crude anti-Islamic propaganda I expected after reading Kevin's post. I also disagree with Kevin's characterization of the pope's apology as "crocodile tears".

In fact, I wouldn't even describe it as an apology. Rather, the Pope states for the record, once again, that he has tremendous respect for Islam and does not share the view of the emperor he quoted. But he does not retract his challenge.

Some might say this challenge isn't wise. Enraged Muslims are not ready for a spirited debate in which Christians fail to show exquisite deference to their sensitivities. But if bombing churches and burning the Pope in effigy is the most visible response of the Muslim world, I'm not sure that sensitivity and political correctness will do much good. Perhaps, as Anne Appelbaum suggests, a united front in defense of free speech is what the situation deserves.
(9) opinions -- Add your opinion

Still reeling from a note from a friend that three Christians were just executed in Indonesia an hour or so ago for defending themselves against a Muslim raid. And then the Fox journalists told to convert or die... and then the people who want to kill the Pope, attack churches, and murdered a Somali nun because he quoted someone else who suggested Islam was violent.
Actually, they were executed for leading a raid on Muslims. But you were close.
And, as the CNN articles and others in western media point out, international and local human rights organizations protested, saying the trial was a sham and they were most likely not the leaders, but (probably, and not even necessarily) people who got tangentially involved in the aftermath. Even many locals of both religions protested the executions. But you were close to the judge's decision :)
I'm inclined to the Applebaum and Stratfor view (sorry link not to hand). After hearing the media reports of the speech, I was pleasantly surprised. It's the only speech or material by any Pope I've ever read--I'm not Catholic--and I suspect that's the same for a fair few. Reading the speech, I felt that Benedict knew perfectly well what he was doing, that while at heart he's an academic, that doesn't mean he's not also a politician, and that he was staking out the strong claim for the intertwining of Chritianity and reason. And while Islam could reach the same place, Benedict clearly feels it has a fair way to go, and change and dialogue are needed to achieve that. Hence his disappointment with the reaction--perhaps there's not as much impetus for change as he'd hoped. On Kevin Drum's comment that the contentious dialogue had been tacked on, I felt the same on my initial reading. But once I read through it, thought about it, I believe it fitted, and worked to convey a larger argument and context than simply an otherwise obscure (I'm with you there) and innocuous thesis about faith and reason--it gave it modernity.
Are you protesting their executions (the death penalty is wrong) or the three Christians role in the violence?

Are you referring to this CNN article?

Where in any of these articles were these Christians 'defending themselves against a Muslim raid'?

Violence flared in the Sulawesi townships. The Indonesian government being responsible for law and order cracked down. Some Muslims got prison sentences. Some Christians got the death penalty. Yes, disparity. Deal with it. Bad things happen in bad places.

FWIW, Indonesia is an archipelago of 18,000 islands and 220M people. The area of the Sulawesi/Celebes Sea is a cesspool of pirates, not a bunch of innocents going to the church or mosque of their choice dressed in coordinated Gap ensembles.
Are you implying that folks who wear coordinated Gap ensembles are not threatening? I know many who are.

They are certainly more dangerous than the LL Bean crowd (although less so than the J. Crew crew).
Here is a very good response to those who have generally thought the Pope's comments not particularly bothersome, namely you and Belton.

New Pope Shows Spine
Islamonazi CAIR Is Not Impressed

http://www.terrorfreeoil.org/videos/MS091506.php - video

Please Call The Vatican Embassy In Washington, DC at (202) 333-7121 to Express Your Support!
So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14: If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15: For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17: If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. 18: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19: Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. John 13:12-20
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