Thursday, September 21, 2006

After being told repeatedly by right-wing commentators that I couldn't truly judge the Pope's address at the University of Regensburg without reading it in its entirety, I belatedly and made my way through the full text last night. I'd say the swipe at Islam seems like just as much of a cheap shot as it did before I'd read the whole thing.

Kevin Drum (who also forced himself to read the thing) says,

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.

I'm not sure "gratuitous" is the right word, though "disingenuous" sounds right. What Benedict says is that Emperor Manuel II Paleologus's contention that every innovation of Muhammad's is "evil and inhuman" is a swell "starting-point" (his word) for a discussion of the relationship between reason and faith. The Pope drops this bomb, then explains why Islam is anti-rational, then drops the subject of Islam for the last half of the speech -- in other words, he wants to be sure to get it all in and then he wants to pretend it's all just throat-clearing, never mind the fact that he gave it such prominence.

One member of the "you have to read the whole thing" crowd, Brett Stephens of the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, does a good job of summarizing the speech here -- with, however, a few blind spots:

In fact, Benedict saves his sharpest barbs for non-Muslim targets: Protestantism, which seeks a "primordial" form of faith; liberal theology, which reduces Jesus to "the father of a humanitarian moral message"; scientific rationalism, the ethics of which are "simply inadequate" to answer the "specifically human questions about our origin and destiny"; and what might be called Catholic pluralism, a culturally adaptive notion of the faith that Benedict denounces as "false" and "coarse."

Yeah, all of that's in there -- but it beats the hell out of me how you can say that these are sharper barbs than your Prophet's works are evil and inhuman.

Everything Stephens describes is there, but in polite, scholarly, bloodless language -- a sharp contrast to the quoted denunciation of Islam. Here's an example (and I won't take any points off if this puts you to sleep):

I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization. Harnack's central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favor of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. The fundamental goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.

All the "barbs" Stephens cites in his Journal essay are like this. And the Pope barely mentions these targets by name.

Kevin's "nickel version" of the speech is as follows:

Mohammed was a violent man. Violence is unreasonable. God loves reason. Draw your own conclusions.

I'd summarize its message as follows:

We're rational. Huge swaths of the population are irrational -- especially those Muslims. We need to have dialogue -- which requires everyone to change so they're more like us. Draw your own conclusions as to who needs to change the most.

No comments: