Friday, September 15, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI impersonating Urban II?

Or, "Just in case I haven't pissed everyone off at least once, I'm posting this."

Benedict XVI is drawing fire from Muslim clerics and the leaders of predominately Muslim countries the world over today for his supposed inflammatory statements about Islam during his speech at the University of Regensburg entitled "Faith, Reason, and the University." In particular, they object to his quoting a 14th century account of a conversation between a Byzantine Emperor and a Persian scholar. The ancients were discussing the truths of Christianity and Islam... Something that, despite their nearness to the Crusades, they could do with more respect for differences of opinion than we can now, I'm afraid. Here is the quote they object to: "[Emperor Manuel II Paleologus] 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 Muhammad 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.'" He goes on to say later in his speech that "The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to G-d's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, G-d is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our [Catholic?] categories, even that of rationality."

Muslim leaders in Pakistan are going so far as to compare Benedict XVI to "Hitler and Mussolini"... Uh, reality check... Sorry, but - No... The statements he's made are nothing to either of those tyrannical sociopaths. A better comparison would have been saying that Benedict XVI is like Urban II, the Pope who first preached the Crusades at the Council of Clermont in 1095. But even there, what Benedict said was not so bad as Urban II and it's not a fair comparison... In fact, what Benedict XVI said, if anything, is preaching the exact opposite of Crusade. He's calling people of all faiths to have a dialogue in order to end violence in the name of G-d because violence is wrong and against everything reasonable (and one could take his argument further to where G-d = Reason, and I think he'd agree with that... It's a pretty traditionally Greco-Roman influenced Catholic idea there...). Benedict points out with this controversial statement and some of those which follow that Islam, unlike Christianity, has explicit exceptions for when violence is good, holy and necessary in its holy writings. This is true; the Quran does discuss holy war in a frank and open manner, something that the Christian Bible does not... There are some passages in the Christian Bible and other writings that have been interpreted to justify violence in the past, but the Quran is different in that matter because it goes into the idea of a holy war in specifics. I believe that is what Benedict was pointing out. And if they argue with or take offense at that, I would tell them that they need to explain those passages of the Quran then.

Now, there is no love lost by me on the Pope... I disagree with a lot that he and pretty much every single one of his predecessors have done... There is little he is likely to do that will make me happy. ::shrugs:: I really don't care that much for Catholicism in general. And I disagree with a number of things he discusses in this speech, including what seems to be his main point here, that skepticism of religion (i.e.: Catholic Christianity) and the push for secularism is dangerous (to human society, culture, the world), and that Faith (i.e. Christianity) should have a place in Reason, that is, in the modern sciences, and therefore in the university. As a Jewess and as an American citizen, I believe in both skepticism and public secularism wholeheartedly. I believe that theology and questions of faith and G-d (as defined by any religion past, present or future) have absolutely *no place* in the hard sciences and are entirely a question of individual preference and education. (It is funny that this point has very little if anything to do with the state of Catholic-Islamic relations, and, in fact, that the statements he made that have so inflamed the Islamic communities were a minor footnote in his overall message.) I'm also offended on a number of levels by the way that the Pope speaks of "Catholicism," "faith," and "religion" as if all these words and all the ideas they imply are perfectly synonymous with one another... but he's the absolute spiritual leader of a religion which purports itself to be monotheistic (and therefore "the only *true* religion"), so it doesn't surprise me, even if it offends me. Furthermore, the statement that, "[The convergence between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry], with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remain the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe," strikes me badly in two ways that I can articulate. If I were a Turk, I wouldn't like that because it seems a dig against the Turkish desire to enter the European Union, as if he is saying in a way that Turkey, as a Muslim country, can't be a part of the European Union because it is not Christian. And at the same time, it strikes me badly because in context it equates "Biblical faith," a phrase that can be widely applied by itself, exclusively with early Christians, as if that's the highest "Biblical faith" there is... To give him the benefit of a doubt which I don't really feel, he is probably not meaning this as a slight to the legitimacy of the Jewish faith... It could just be the result of his upbringing in a society where anti-Semitism is unconscious but nonetheless pervasive... i.e. Europe... most especially, Germany... They can't help it. It's too ingrained at this point for them to realize that a statement such as this can be taken this way by someone of a different background, the same way that older white people in the South don't realize what they are doing when they do or say something that would be considered by everyone else to be grossly racist, and it doesn't surprise me anymore, even as it continues to be an irritant. So I would never go out of my way to defend any of his statements or actions arbitrarily.

I think the Muslim leaders who are angry with these statements are either, at best, being too sensitive, or at worst, trying to be deliberately inflammatory themselves, accusing the Pope of things he has not done by taking his statements deliberately out of context in order to stir up their followers to further violence and protest. If it is the first case, I can understand why leaders might be too sensitive. After all (and this might piss a lot of people off, but it's still true), Islam is not yet at the point in its development where it (as a whole) takes criticism and decent among its followers well, and you can forget about shrugging off criticism from outsiders. Islam is at the point in its development where Christianity was in... well... right around when the Crusades and the Inquisition happened. This isn't particularly good when all the other major religions on the world stage take critique much better... or ignore it altogether... But we have to deal with it anyway. ::sighs::

I think another idea of which Pope Benedict speaks here is interesting however... It is not one that he subscribes to - he does reject this idea, and anyone who knows anything about Catholicism will quickly see why... That of the trend toward "dehellenizing" Christianity in recent centuries since the Enlightenment. I find it interesting because if one was truly to "dehellenize" Christianity, it would end up looking a lot more like Judaism than any kind of Christianity that exists today... Jesus wouldn't be considered divine in any measure, Mary wouldn't be considered to have been a virgin, Christian baby boys would be circumcised as a matter of religious law, the Eucharist would be a lot more like an Oneg, pig would not be eaten with such gusto at Christmas and Easter, the idea of staying unmarried and childless would *not* be considered a good or godly thing... to point out a few... In short, there would be no Catholic Church as we know it, no offshoots from it, and Eastern Orthodoxy would not exist either. Christianity is *so* influenced by Greek thought, tradition, culture, etc that it would be utterly impossible to separate out all the Hellenized parts of Christianity and still be left with anything that looks fundamentally Christian to modern eyes. The Pope says as much in his speech and he is right in this. Seriously, if you took out all the Greek elements, what would you be left with? Like half the "New Testament" is written in Ancient Greek, for goodness sake, and the Hebrew Bible that they traditionally use is the Egyptian Greek translation, the Septuagint. And most of the stories in the "New Testament" are written with Greco-Roman literary influence and style... It was a Hellenized Mediterranean culture that produced it! So the idea of dehellenizing Christianity is the most absurd thing I've heard of in a while... Unless the goal is to not have a religion left when you're done with it. And you know, the ironic thing is that the Judaism that Christianity probably grew out of was a type of Judaism that was rebelling against the Hellenized Judaism of Judea's aristocracy and priesthood as it was being practiced right around the year 1 (by the Gregorian calendar... and we wouldn't have that calendar either since that comes out of Greco-Roman Christian tradition!)... LOL! I find it incredibly amusing...

It was nonetheless an interesting speech and so I encourage everyone to read either the entire speech delivered by the Pope, or the "key excerpts" at BBC News' website.

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