Back to previous post: The Royal Society vs. Exxon’s astroturf

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Checking in

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

September 22, 2006

Papal din
Posted by Patrick at 07:31 AM * 81 comments

For those of you who may have been blearily staring at recent headlines and wondering if the world was playing a big LARP based on the Fourth Crusade, two smart posts on the Pope’s ill-considered remarks, their context, and the fallout. One is from international diplomat and man of mystery Nick Whyte, and the other is by one Monsieur Homais, previously unknown to me. A bit from M. Homais:

Islam is really peripheral to his point. Maybe it’s a convenient rhetorical target, or the Pope did mean to denigrate the religion by resurrecting the old “inherently violent/spread by the sword” trope, or maybe he wanted to start a dialogue (he claims that’s the reasonable thing to do), or maybe (as he claimed in his sort-of apology) the Islam quote wasn’t actually his opinion, or maybe he just picked a really unfortunate example. But, the real thrust of the argument is directed, very unsubtly, at Protestants, various stripes of unorthodox Catholics, and unbelieving rationalists, all of whom have, so he says, tried to decouple Christianity from the Reason of the Greeks. From there, he takes a fairly standard line that religion decoupled from logos is simply unable to engage in reasonable dialogue, and is likely violent (are you listening, Protestants? He’s talking about you). Reason without the divine, on the other hand, is blind and unable to even justify itself on its own terms. It’s a variant on the old “science is sterile” argument.

In a nutshell, then, most of the Pope’s rhetorical force is pointed at Western debates, at people who for various reasons want to decouple religion from Reason, with perhaps a dark hint that the alternative is those violent, unreasonable faiths (ahem, Protestants, Muslims), or worse, bottomless relativism that can’t cope with the challenges of the day. None of which I buy, but it’s hardly shocking coming from the Pope, and doesn’t quite amount to frothing Islamophobia. I mean, really, are we so used to John-Paul II’s sweeping interfaith gestures that we’re now surprised when a Pope has the nerve, the nerve I tell you, to claim that Catholicism is true and other creeds have fallen into error?

That said, there is something dishonest, if unsurprising, when Benedict claims that Catholicism has the monopoly on marrying faith to Reason. Anyone who’s studied a bit of Islamic history will have probably raised their eyebrows at his assertion that Islam’s concept of God is transcendent, outside of Reason, beyond human categories, etc. Well, I guess that’s the whole story if you’re, say, Sayyid Qutb. But for the rest of the faith, it’s a much more mixed debate, way too sprawling to recount here. Suffice to say that alongside the transcendent tradition, there’s a long tradition of integrating Reason—including Greek thought and modern science—with Islam, from mediaeval times straight through Afghani, Abduh et al and their contemporary ideological descendants. If you’re going to insist on the rightness of integrating Reason with the divine, it’s not very helpful to ignore or deny the existence of such a tradition in Islam, now is it? Talking from the same script as that tradition’s opponents, insisting that Islam is precisely what Qutb-inspired neo-Salafis say it is, doesn’t seem like the best way to go about a dialogue, and it’s certainly not helpful to the perspectives you claim to want a dialogue with.

Read ‘em both.
Comments on Papal din:
#1 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 08:48 AM:

I think M. Homais's argument is the more important: Benedict's quotation of Manuel Palaeologos was an aside to his argument directed at both Protestants (especially evangelical Protestants -- I have a feeling that the Charismatic movement in the Catholic Church is about to hit some hard times) and secular rationalists like me who believe that reason is a purely human construct and that it leads to rejecting theisms. However, we live in times in which references to Islam excite a great deal of anger -- among both Muslims and us kaffirs -- and the focus that the Pope intended has been lost. Andrew Brown made a very similar point, and it is an issue worth debating.

Whyte's discussion of Manuel Palaelogus also raises a valuable, though I think, in this context, a less important point. Manuel II, as both Gibbon and Lord Norwich recount, sought to reconcile the Orthodox and Catholic Churches; in essence, he sought to create Western solidarity to defend the last shreds of the Byzantine state. He failed. It could be that the Pope is making a very subtle point about the 'clash of civilisations', though I doubt it.

#2 ::: Avery ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 10:02 AM:

I'm kinda raising my eyebrows if the Pope really implied that God is not transcendent.... My annoyance with conservative Christianity's view of God is that it is of a God who is only a little smarter than I am.

#3 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 10:23 AM:

John Allen over at National Catholic Reporter in his column "All Things Catholic" has some interesting comments to add.

Avery, I don't think Benedict meant to imply even the least little bit that God is not transcendent. Rather, he intended to decouple Reason from "scientism", the claim that only measurable information gathered through the use of scientific tools can be trusted, and everything else is "irrational." Scientism is, in the Pope's thinking, a corruption of science. He has no argument with science.

#4 ::: James ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 10:24 AM:

My memory of the little I knew of the tensions involving reason and faith in the "high mediaeval" period is somewhat old, but my recollection is that (in figures like ibn Rushd, the schoolmen's Averroes) there was a greater divergence between the claims of reason and those of religion than in the traditions of mediaeval Christian Aristotelianism. The locus classicus for this tension is the idea of the "two truths" (not the Cabellian ones, either) as an attempt to reconcile the two claims. It is notable that ibn Rushd had considerable doubts raised as to his own Islamic orthodoxy, because he effectively diminished the authority of revelation; and also that the idea of establishing separate domains for reason and revelation was ultimately rejected in Europe for the opposite reason, i.e. that if reason and experience showed something to be true it had to be reconciled with revelation in a single arena. For Thomas, if reason shows something to be true, then revelation must be interpreted in such a way as to accomodate the claims of reason at all levels, i.e. rvelation cedes to reason.

Of course, "Islamic thought" is a large and diverse set of strains, and it is subject to the same caveat which can be raised with regard to "Christian thought": is the fact that someone worked within an {Islamic,Christian} context and was considered to be a dutiful {Moslem,Christian} mean that their thought is representative of the religion, or just that the social context is somewhat different? (It's similar to asking questions like whether the Albigensian crusades were principally politically or religiously motivated, for which the answer is almost certainly different depending on which individuals one asks the question about.)

Protestantism is too diverse a set of variants to be generalized over, but there certainly are strains in it (Calvinism, especially as refracted through, say Barth) which are entirely distrustful, in principle, of human reason as a result of their views of the effects of original sin.

All of which goes to say that there may indeed be some useful distinctions to be made between the ways in which Islam and (Catholic) Christianity deal with reconciling reason and the divine, and it is possible that (from a Catholic point of view) the topic may be a real rather than a rhetorical one.

#5 ::: Andy Vance ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:21 AM:

Also worth reading: Patrick Jackson at Duck of Minerva.

#6 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:29 AM:

Given that the entrance of Turkey into the EU was opposed by him becuase it was an Islamic nation, given the longstanding strife over job discrimination in France and the strong anti-immigrant tone in Italy, and the same in Britain combined with all the Security Charade there, (and the role of Belloc and GKC in shaping the whole Coming New Crusade mindset in the Anglo-American/Anglo-Catholic intelligensia the past hundred years, and particularly since the 1970s thanks to Fr. Fessio & his friends at TAC), it's a bit disingenuous to say that Benedict was a) addressing only internal Christian divisions; b) unaware (and thus innocent of any intentions to do so) of any way that this could negatively affect European politics on-the-street, let alone in the wider context of the "War on Terror." He's a veteran of academic politics before becoming the head of the Inquisitioh^h^h^h^h Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, responsible for suppressing the heresies of Liberation Theology all over the world, after all - no political babe in the woods, ever.

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:31 AM:

I think that the Pope is not stupid enough to have made those remarks and used that quotation without expecting the response he got. He knew or should have known the reaction it would produce among Moslems, and went ahead anyway.

Look, the guy's been a hate-filled bigot for decades. Being elected Pope hasn't changed him one whit. And he's a smart guy. If Moslems were insulted you can bet he meant to insult them. If he hadn't, he'd have quoted a Moslem writer about the Crusades, which are also an example of spreading a religion by the sword, just one that indicts his own Church!

#8 ::: Rasselas ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:41 AM:

I wonder if Benedict thinks of what he did to Hans Kung as protecting the faith or academic politics.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:45 AM:

Hear, hear bellatrys. When the Grand Inquisitor becomes Pope, disaster is the result.

#10 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:54 AM:

Good point, bellatrys.

#11 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:56 AM:

Perhaps he got what he wanted, now that the news is full of videos where rioting mobs burn him in effigy and chant the equivalent of "Die! Die! Die!" If he's really that down on Islam, he might think they prove his point. Negative publicity for the Other Side, at any rate.

#12 ::: Laurie Mann ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:07 PM:

And the Pope is no longer "officially" infallible. Hasn't been in a long time.

Somewhat off-topic, I want to thank you for the links to the EC discussion and Bruce's passport discussion. The EC discussion doesn't surprise me at all (I did live in rural Ohio 27 years ago, and it's unlikely to have changed any).

#13 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:08 PM:

“there is something dishonest, if unsurprising”

And your point?

#14 ::: Francis ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:12 PM:

My annoyance with conservative Christianity's view of God is that it is of a God who is only a little smarter than I am.

A little smarter? To leave a tree in the garden like that, ban humans from eating it and expect his creations to obey for ever, dispite his omniscience? To get pissed off when people don't worship him and start smiting? [I could go on - and the very concept of (Conservative interpretations of) Original Sin reflects even more heavily on the creator for being a shoddy crafstsman than the creation for being badly made]

I'd give him an IQ of maybe 85 on a good day.

And re: Ratzinger, I'd have to agree that he knew exactly what he was doing.

#15 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:27 PM:

Oh, he knew what he was doing. But we secular humanists aren't inclined to rioting in the streets if the head of a religious organization says, for the millionth time, that we're dangerous.

If anything, I think we're too patient with that sort of insult: not that violence is appropriate, but that we're too ready to shrug it off. I am also tired of being told that it's wrong to say the kind of things about anything labeled as religion that religious people are allowed to say about secular people, even in the course of refuting attacks on ourselves, or on secularism (either rationality as an approach to the world, or the simple idea that religion and government should be separate, and that people should follow whichever religion they choose, or none, not the one that the government or their neighbors think is best).

#16 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 12:50 PM:

Laurie, #12 - the Pope isn't infallible. Never has been. Certain pronouncements he makes, called "Ex Cathedra", are supposed to be infallible, and are clearly labled as such. And that only since the first Vatican Council in 1869, and the declaration of papal infallibity appears to have been more about Italian politics than religion.
The only two widely accepted instances are on the immaculate conception of Mary, and the assumption of Mary. Two issues which again, appeared to be about asserting papal authority without disturbing too much theology. Oops.

#17 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 01:09 PM:

Well, if his target audience is Protestants and secular humanists, he probably knows that most Protestants and secular humanists pay very little attention to what he says.

But sliding in something nasty about the Muslims, who are paying attention, and they make enough fuss that the rest of us take notice.

It's a way to get around the fact that what the Pope thinks just isn't important for the people who's thoughts he wants to influence.

#18 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 01:13 PM:

I hate that guy. I hated him for two decades before he became Pope, and he really only affected Catholics then.

Now he's getting Christians killed by Moslem extremists, so he can make a point to Protestants and secular humanists? The guys a scumbag, pure and simple, and I don't care what color his zucchetto is.

#19 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 01:43 PM:

The Pope's statement has not only pissed off the Muslims; it has the potential to piss off the Eastern Orthodox.

Manuel II's unification policy was extremely unpopular. The Byzantines of his time still remembered the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, not to mention repeated attacks by the West for nearly a century afterward. There were people of that time who preferred the Turks to the Catholic Church. And as for today, the Balkan peoples have very, very long memories.

#20 ::: Scorpio ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 02:08 PM:

With regard to non-believers, the Pope is wasting air. "Blah blah blah" is the approximate reasonable content of his remarks.

Ratzo isn't very Christian, he isn't infallible, and the things he said should really make no difference to a rational person. Of course, the fact that his remarks have stung millions is only a comment on the lack of rationality that follows from dogmatic adherence.

#21 ::: testing ::: (view all by) ::: September 22, 2006, 11:51 PM:


#22 ::: Sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 12:34 AM:

Re: long memories of the Balkans;

We did a family trip to Greece & Turkey, and kept being asked if we were German. Now, my family name is German, and a good portion of my father's side looks it, but we were very confused as to why three Americans kept getting asked this all over Athens and Istanbul. Finally my mother asked the bag-check lady at the Acropolis. "Oh, because the Germans distroyed our cities in your Crusades."

The pope knew what he was saying, and I think the islamic extremists are proving that particular point quite well. John Paul raised the view of the church from barbaricly medieval to mostly modern. Retzinger is sliding the view backwards. I wish they had picked a Jesuit...even with the Society of Jesus' propensity for questioning the church. They generally challenge people to think, and aren't afraid to do a good bit of thinking themselves.

#23 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:25 AM:

The Pope made a speech in which he quoted a Byzantine emperor - who was speaking of Islam - to make the point that no faith could be legitimate if it practiced forced conversion or condoned violence.

This was taken across the Muslim world as a direct insult to Islam. Imams called for his arrest and execution. Mobs rioted. Fatwahs were intoned. Jihad was declared. Murder was done.

The Pope apologised, not once but three times, in increasingly humble terms. This has made no difference at all. Rolling-eyed crazies from Istanbul to Molucca are still baying for his blood and calling for everlasting jihad against practically everything. Others, who appear to believe that they are moderates, are still arguing, in effect, that nobody should be allowed to say anything about Islam that might offend Muslims, on pain of, well, serious pain.

Am I alone in thinking that the Pope was making a point, knew exactly what point he was making, and has made it rather well?

#24 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 02:34 AM:

Dave Luckett: Or was that the Pope's point? And why would he make that point by quoting the words of some ancient Emperor about Islam, words which the Pope himself don't really agree with in the first place (or so he says)?

And um... the Reason of the Greeks? I thought science and logic have advanced quite a whole lot since then. :)

#25 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 08:31 AM:

Not only that, bi, but it was the Church that forced the Greek logic schools to close.

#26 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 08:59 AM:

Patrick, thank you for bringing this up here.

I generally think that too much has been made of the Pope's speech here (for anyone who wants the Vatican's provisional English version, it is here.)

As to the topic at hand... This seems to have been a speech given to academics on the relationship of science and religion, in German in the context of a conference (and I am unable to find any English-language information about the context in a fair amount of searching--if there are German-literate readers who know something, please speak up). The reference to Islam was, as Benedict himself said in the speech, tangential. Oh, I've little doubt this Pope doesn't like Islam and Protestantism (is this surprising?) But this wasn't the subject of the speech.

This speech was brought to the attention of an Islamic audience by what we on in the internet would call "trolls"; people are, apparently, monitoring the Pope's words, looking for things which can be quoted out of context so as to provoke public outrage, thereby increasing support for their war with the rest of the world. This is a toxic situation, and a difficult one. I've little sympathy for trolling and less for the practice of directing a mass flame at even a well-defended target; even in the smaller world of the old usenet it was destructive. On this global scale it is horrifying.

I don't think the Pope can say anything that will make much difference beyond the official level, here--nothing catches up with malicious gossip, and, like the audiences of our own religious radicals, the people most influenced by these trolls mainly listen to the trolls, and I do not expect these to repeat the Pope's explanations. This seems to me one of those situations where all actors are taking steps which lead to conflict. The Pope, returning to his old academic environment, perhaps forgot that his every utterance is now scrutinized by the world. The Islamic trolls who ripped his remarks out of context and saw them widely published are deliberately trying to create global conflict and this is, I believe, un-Islamic by any reasonable construction.

#27 ::: Smashed ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 10:44 AM:

Over at The Agonist they've got several threads going covering this papal imbroglio - and some quotes concerning the "otherness" of God. Turns out that it's not just strains of Islam with this idea.

#28 ::: Andrew Wade ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 11:51 AM:
The Pope, returning to his old academic environment, perhaps forgot that his every utterance is now scrutinized by the world.

Which implies that random anti-Islamic bigotry is unremarkable in the academic environments he is used to. After all, academic environments are generally not lacking for scrutiny, no? But yes, stirring up Muslims doesn't appear to have been the point of his speech.

The Islamic trolls who ripped his remarks out of context and saw them widely published are deliberately trying to create global conflict ...

It appears that way to me too. It is unfortunate that so many of the supposed followers of Muhammad are behaving so badly. The muckrakers are hardly helping the image of Islam in the West, but then I suppose that isn't their aim. But none of this excuses the Pope: Manuel II Paleologus's libel wasn't accurate then, and it's not accurate now, and it calls for more a disclaimer than "startling brusqueness".

#29 ::: SeanH ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 12:54 PM:

Demonstrations and riots in the Muslim countries? Must be Tuesday. Honestly not an indicator that anything worthy of note actually happened. Though it is an amusing response to the suggestion that your religion isn't reasonable enough.

#30 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 01:00 PM:

So, if the Bishop of Rome does not agree with the line he quoted, it should be fairly simple for him to mention two or three things—or one—that he thinks Mohammed brought that are neither directly out of the Christian Scriptures nor are vile and inhuman. Right? Having done so, he puts paid to the idea that he agrees with the quote. If he can't, or won't do that, then I can see why people think he really does agree with the quote, however much he accurately claims that the words were not his.

Of course, if he wanted to, he could have at the time described the quote as something more than "forceful" or "brusque" (I'm using the Vatican's provisional translation, as my German is not good enough to pick up connotations—in English, neither forceful nor brusque imply disagreement with the content). He didn't want to, and didn't. Nor did he, in expressing regret for the hoo-hah, express regret that he did not in the speech make it clear that he disagreed with the quote.

Frankly, I don't see how this can be reasonably interpreted as anything other than deliberate offense. I would guess that, as David Luckett (#23) suggests, he is satisfied with the outcome, which was pretty much what he expected.


#31 ::: Nicholas Whyte ::: (view all by) ::: September 23, 2006, 02:30 PM:

Thanks for the nod, Patrick. A shame that some of your commenters don't seem to have followed your advice and actually read my piece or the one by Homais.

Vardibian, have you actually read the Vatican statement which lists a good half dozen points of agreement between himself and Islam? Also I have checked the original German ("in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form") which does look to my eye rather harsher than the English translation.

You say "Nor did he, in expressing regret for the hoo-hah, express regret that he did not in the speech make it clear that he disagreed with the quote."

The Vatican says "As for the opinion of the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus which he quoted during his Regensburg talk, the Holy Father did not mean, nor does he mean, to make that opinion his own in any way... The Holy Father thus sincerely regrets that certain passages of his address could have sounded offensive to the sensitivities of the Muslim faithful, and should have been interpreted in a manner that in no way corresponds to his intentions."

I have to say that for me the theory that he intended to cause deliberate offence is critically undermined by the subsequent apologies.

On the other hand, I have to ask Dave Luckett whether he has in fact been tracking incidents of Islamic activism quantitatively and systematically over the last few weeks, or just allowing lazy journalism to reinforce his prejudices.

#32 ::: Vardibidian ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 09:53 AM:

Nicholas Whyte: I hadn't read that text, so thank you for linking to it. I do think that the quotes from Nostra Aetate conspicuously make the point that the Church esteems Islam only insofar as it adheres to Church teachings, that is, insofar as they reverence Jesus, Mary and the Creator. It does not esteem anything "new" that Mohammed taught, and does not, as far as I can tell, conflict with "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." Unless, and I haven't the context for this, the document is praising Islam for identifying itself strongly with Abraham, which the Church historically has not done. I'm neither a Christian nor a Moslem, myself, but as a Jew, I think it would be fairly easy for me to name things that Christianity came up with that were new (or at least new to Judaism), and neither vile nor inhuman. I imagine ten minutes' study would give me the same with Islam. Doesn't mean I agree with them, you understand, but there's a difference between "not my cup of tea" and "vile and inhuman".

As for the other point, the idea that "he hopes they [those who profess Islam] will be helped to understand the correct meaning of his words" is not regret that he used the quote at all, in fact the statement clearly defends his use of the quote. It isn't even regret that his use of the quote was unclear. Such a statement would read something like this: The Holy Father regrets that, due to his failure to make his meaning clear, he gave the impression that the opinion he quoted was his own. Or, I suppose: The Holy Father regrets having repeated the opinion stated by Manuel II Paleologus. The argument could have been made without the offensive quote, and ought to have been made without the offensive quote. Either way, really.


#33 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 10:13 AM:

One of my friends said that Benny-the-Pope is unfamiliar with soundbites. He does seem more used to things that take much longer to spread, and, when speaking to academics, probably are not likely to spread far outside of the field. Maybe someone in the Vatican's broadcasting division should have a little talk with him. Or maybe they should be more careful about how they release information. (And I agree, that was a non-apology apology.)

#34 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 12:04 PM:

Xopher #18: Now [the Pope]'s getting Christians killed by Moslem extremists

Not quite. Moslem extremists are killing Christians in order to refute any suggestion that Islam is inherently violent.

#35 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 12:12 PM:

John Stanning #34: Christians are hardly blameless in such matters.

#36 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 12:45 PM:

Maybe someone in the Vatican's broadcasting division should have a little talk with him.

Um.... I don't think that's going to happen. First of all, this is the Pope we're talking about here.

And as someone remarked after his election, after a comment was made that Ratzinger was nearly 80, after all, and one might assume that he was going to be a "transitional Pope," "Joseph Ratzinger doesn't have a transitional bone in his body." I agree -- he knows what he's doing -- though judging by comments here and elsewhere, a lot of folks have a very rigid pre-conception of what this Pope wants to do. He is orthodox, surely (small "o") but organizationally and theologically he is stunningly creative. (For those of you who are interested in such things, in his book Introduction to Christianity he spends a great deal of time tearing apart St. Anselm's theory, developed in the Middle Ages, of the Atonement, acknowledging that as it has been taught it makes God into a monster, and developing a new theory using, among others, the work of Teilhard de Chardin. This book was written in 1968, and republished with his approval in 2000.)

He has no problem engaging theologically with Muslims. Per John Allen in the NY Times,

"For example, when Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, a member of the powerful Guardian Council in Iran, wrote a book comparing Islamic and Christian eschatological themes in the 1990’s, Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, swapped theological ideas with him in the Vatican.

Immediately after his installation Mass last year, Benedict thanked Muslims for attending an inter-faith meeting. “I express my appreciation for the growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians,” he said. “I assure you that the church wants to continue building bridges of friendship with the followers of all religions.”

I should also like to suggest that in the last 150 years the Catholic Church has been challenged to respond to the modern world, and in some ways -- NOT all -- has responded pretty well. The institutional church in the United States strongly supported the labor movement, and strongly now supports immigrant rights and the right of all to a living wage. It was against the war in Iraq. It is against the death penalty. It is moving, glacially, to consider an adjustment in the theological position on condom use in Africa which would help slow the spread of AIDS. It is, God knows, a fallible, human institution, in need of repentance and forgiveness. But perhaps -- and I don't know if the Pope intended his speech to be taken this way, or not -- the Church's terrible history of violence and political oppression allows it to turn to other faiths and say -- Don't go in this direction, as we did for so many centuries. It is destructive to the well-being of the human race and the planet, and to your message. It will corrupt you, even destroy you.

#37 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 01:11 PM:

On the other hand, I have to ask Dave Luckett whether he has in fact been tracking incidents of Islamic activism quantitatively and systematically over the last few weeks, or just allowing lazy journalism to reinforce his prejudices.

More the former, Mr Whyte. But what an interesting question! The wording of the second part clearly shows that you have already decided on its answer in advance of the very information you seek by asking the question. So tell me, which one of us can more truly be accused of prejudice?

#38 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 01:27 PM:

Lizzy L said (#36):
But perhaps -- and I don't know if the Pope intended his speech to be taken this way, or not -- the Church's terrible history of violence and political oppression allows it to turn to other faiths and say -- Don't go in this direction, as we did for so many centuries. It is destructive to the well-being of the human race and the planet, and to your message. It will corrupt you, even destroy you.

It's a nice idea, and certainly the Pope could have said something like that -- after all, barely a century before Emperor Paleologus was writing, the Teutonic Knights were busy "spreading the faith through violence" in Old Prussia. Unfortunately, he did not; the only references in the Pope's speech concerning the use of violence to promote one's religion are references to Islam.

And while the Pope acknowledges that the Qu'ran does say, "There is no compulsion in religion," he goes on to imply that this was a kind of self-serving rhetorical ploy, not some overriding principle ("According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat.").[*]

[*] Juan Cole points out that this interpretation is wrong; the verse in question comes from a time after Muhammad achieved control of Medina.

#39 ::: Anarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 01:55 PM:

I'm surprised that no-one here has raised the truly important point: Muslim scientists were the first to invent the still and hence gave us all the distilled liquors we know and love today. Thus do I refute Manuel Palaeologos!

#40 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 02:27 PM:

Peter Erwin at #38: No, he didn't say that. I wish he had done so.

he goes on to imply that this was a kind of self-serving rhetorical ploy, not some overriding principle

I don't agree that the line you quote implies what you say it does. There are plenty of other interpretations. But I don't think it would be helpful to go down that road. As the comments to Juan Cole's post make clear, even that eminent scholar may find himself disputed on the facts, let alone interpretations thereof. Given the historical record, I'm doubtful that either Juan Cole nor the Pope's "experts" are going to truly clarify the intent and context of something which was said/written down roughly 1400 years ago.

The Pope has said, quite clearly, that he did not intend to insult Islam. I see no reason not to take him at his word. Did he intend, as a subtext to a talk in God and Reason, to start a conversation about religious violence? I don't know.

#41 ::: Paul Lalonde ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 02:56 PM:

Notwithstanding apologies, I find it disturbing that islamic media/trolls are so successful at inducing violence in response accusations and intimations of violence. It strikes me that we would be better serving humanity in figuring out how to entice our muslim neighbours into peaceful discourse.
Sadly, airstrikes do little to help our position in such a debate.

#42 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 05:30 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #35: Christians are hardly blameless in such matters. (link to story about Christians attacking Muslims in Sulawesi)

Oh, certainly. Nobody is blameless; most faiths have murky pasts or presents. But that doesn't invalidate my point: in order to deny that Islam is inherently violent, Muslims resort to violence. That seems, if not inherently violent, at least inherently contradictory. Am I missing something here?

#43 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 06:33 PM:

John Stanning, #42: In order to deny that Islam is inherently violent, Muslims resort to violence. That seems, if not inherently violent, at least inherently contradictory. Am I missing something here?

Nothing ... except Christians attempting to defend the sanctity of human life by shooting or blowing up doctors who they believe to have carried out abortions.

(Who was that guy who said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone?")

This is not an attempt to start a "which is worse: Christianity or Islam?" food-fight. Rather, I raise it to point out that belief structures based on unquestioning faith tend to lead their followers into bizarre and violent patterns of behaviour, regardless of the ideology underpinning them. (If you think Zen Buddhism is immune to this, a quick look at the history of the Nichiren monasteries or Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg should ram the point home: it's not the belief structure per se, but the wilful elevation of faith above evidence that does the damage.)

In other words, the problem is not Islam but fundamentalism.

#44 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 06:46 PM:

"If you say we're violent, we'll kill you," is funny as a joke, maybe once, but it's not something you should mistake for reality. I'm sure you know that it's not true that, for example, the muslims who go to the mosque across the road from my flat start rioting as soon as the rabble-rousers tell them to. So it's an over-simplification to imply that all one billion muslims in the world rise up as one when the Pope is a little clumsy in his arguments and... um, what did they do again? Something violent, apparently. I'm sorry, poverty has caused me to drop my daily paper and I haven't been following the story as well as I should. There must have been some violent riots or a wave of Iraqi violence or some muslim self-immolation of some kind, as a result of the Pope's statements. Not just a bunch of muslims making a lot of noise or something, and a larger bunch going, "Oh, that. Again," and rolling their eyes.

Now, I had a point, what was it? Erm, "to deny that Islam is inherently violent, Muslims resort to violence". Yes, I think I was saying that this is not a useful thing to say, because it's not even bloody wrong.

There's a lot of violence in the world. There are a lot of muslims. Not surprisingly, these two sets intersect, but is there any higher proportion of violent muslims than, say, violent catholics or violent protestants or violent buddhists or violent shintoists or violent atheists?

How about we rewrite your comment as, "to deny that humanity is inherently violent, humans resort to violence." I can see a smug alien saying this to a protagonist, probably on the bridge of his ship just after threatening to switch off all the electricity on the planet. No violence there, as the telephones fail, as people die from lack of intensive care, from fires running out of control, from starvation as food spoils in the silos and refrigerators. Hang on, where am I? For a second I thought I was in an office in the Pentagon, discussing Baghdad. Oh, yes, spaceship, yes. Violence, yes. What was the question again? What have you missed? Well, I don't know; what do you think you've missed? And where did you last see it?

#45 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 07:24 PM:

The Pope has said, quite clearly, that he did not intend to insult Islam. I see no reason not to take him at his word.

Um...his decades-long history of calumny, lies, and misrepresentations to trash the gay community? The man does NOT have a history of integrity and truthfulness!

When you have a known liar who's smart enough to know that his statements will be taken as insulting Islam, and that he could soften the impact by pointing to violence perpetrated by Christians under similar circumstances, and he makes the statements without the softening, his denial of such an intent can be dismissed out of hand.

#46 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 07:27 PM:

is there any higher proportion of violent muslims than, say, violent catholics or violent protestants or violent buddhists or violent shintoists or violent atheists?

I'd lay odds violent Buddhists are the least common of these groups...Thailand being kind of anomalous in that regard.

#47 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 08:08 PM:

John Stanning #42: There seems to be a tendency to violence in monotheistic proselytising religions which claim a monopoly of the truth. Focusing on Islam alone is hardly honest. Charlie Stross's coment in regard to blowing up abortion clinics is very much to the point.

#48 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 08:09 PM:

Xopher #46: You might want to read up on Sri Lanka as well.

#49 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 09:19 PM:

Xopher at #45; I can't defend Ratzinger/Benedict's ugly and intolerant statements about homosexuality and gay people; I think what he says is dead wrong. But I don't think he's lied, I think he's telling the truth as he sees it. That's the problem. You say he's a "known liar." Can you direct me to where I might find this "knowledge?" I'm serious: if he is indeed a liar, I want to know.

I agree with Charlie Stross that "fundamentalism" is the problem. But I think it's important to look at exactly what we mean by fundamentalism, and to ascertain which characteristics of fundamentalist belief and practice lead to violence. When Religion Becomes Evil by Charles Kimball suggests that the following beliefs and practices lead inescapably to violence:

1) Claims of absolute truth which lead to rigid conceptions of and certainty about the nature of God,
2) The abuse of sacred texts,
3) Blind obedience to (charismatic) leadership,
4) Enslavement to doctrine,
5) Seeking political or state power,
6) Believing that the end justifies any means,
7) Dehumanizing others within or outside the group in order to protect the status quo,
8) Protecting the institution at all costs,
9) Declaring "holy war."

The word "violence" doesn't only mean political violence. It may mean slavery, massacres, genital mutilation, covering up for pedophile priests, or the Inquisition.

The above list is my extrapolation from a 240 page book, and is not meant to be definitive or exhaustive.

Is nationalism also a form of fundamentalism?

#50 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: September 24, 2006, 10:03 PM:

I'd second Charlie Stross #43, saying "In other words, the problem is not Islam but fundamentalism",

but add that this doesn't apply only to religions, but probably all belief systems, certainly including political (eg Khmer Rouge) & economic ones (eg, "drowning government in a bathtub"). Most of Lizzy's list fits without change, for instance.

I'm sure this has been pointed out before by others here, more than once. Like other important points, though, it sometimes recedes under the press of events & issues, so sometimes I fish it out & dust it off.

#51 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 01:22 AM:

I was nodding my head to your Buddhist monastery comment, and then realized on re-reading that you had a sects problem. (Ba-da-bomp!)

You're probably thinking of the warring monks of Mount Hiei, back when Kyoto was the capital of Japan, who at numerous times held the imperial government hostage, interfered with succession, and threatened to burn the city, in amongst their spear battles with rival monasteries. Nichiren Buddhists were among them, but are not Zen Buddhists. Nichiren is more related to the Jodo or "Pure Land" Buddhists, with some doctrinal principles like salvation through grace and reincarnation in paradise which set them apart from many other Buddhist sects. The Nichiren sect was based on Hiei, but most of the Hiei monks were of other sects like Shingon or Tendai, closer to present-day Tibetan Buddhism. Zen doesn't have its hands clean though; it was particularly associated with the nobility and samurai class who were also justifiably known for ruthless militarism.

That's an entirely superficial and misleadingly simplistic presentation but should be enough to leave most readers thoroughly confused.

Anyway, I haven't been able to think of any major religious group that hasn't taken up arms over something absurd at some point except possibly the Jains. Oddly enough, they never got much traction.

#52 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 03:35 AM:

Hey, Charlie, I think I've heard of Baron Roman von Ungern-Sternberg; one of the nutters in the disputed lands between China and Russia in the 1920s.

You're not putting him in a Laundry book?

#53 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 06:42 AM:

Dave (#52): give me enough Laundry books and I'll get round to him eventually.

Clifton (#51) and Mez (#50): yes (to both of you).

#54 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 10:49 AM:

That point about fanaticism of any kind holding the potential of violence is illustrated beautifully by Liz Williams' story "Mortegarde" (just caught up with it in a Year's Best anthology). Even "reason" isn't immune.

#55 ::: Aliosha ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 05:07 PM:

is there any higher proportion of violent muslims than, say, violent catholics or violent protestants or violent buddhists or violent shintoists or violent atheists?
Well, I never heard of atheists (or agnostics) killing to defend their (lack of) belief.
I have also some doubts about taoists, but maybe I am biased.
I am not saying that we agnostic taoistic atheists are less violent: I am just saying that we are violent for *DIFFERENT* reasons.

#56 ::: Tom Scudder ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 05:20 PM:

I do believe the Cultural Revolution would count toward atheists killing to defend their (lack of) belief.

#57 ::: Martyn Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 05:28 PM:

I think it interesting that Benedict shares the same milieu as so many of the mittelEuropean emigres who have accreted themselves to positions of influence in Washington. He seems to share their politics too. What he certainly shares is their devotion to 'business as usual' above all else. He is a bureaucrat whose main interest is the shoring up of Vatican control over the vast edifice that is the Roman Catholic Church (as opposed to the Roman Catholic congregation, which is supposed to be his main concern as its pontiff) His links with Ambrosiano and Marcinkus are too strong to be accidental.

His attempt to play the 'simple man of god misinterpreted' card is absurd. We know he isn't simple, or if he is then the half century of intellectual sharpness that got the white smoke from the college chimney is a fraud.

Whether he is a genuine man of god remains to be seen.

#58 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 05:37 PM:

Garry Wills said that Ratzinger ('Benny-the-pope') was a [relative] liberal until the student demonstrations of the late 60s hit his classroom, when he turned solidly conservative.

#59 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 07:31 PM:

#23: Am I alone in thinking that the Pope was making a point, knew exactly what point he was making, and has made it rather well?


#60 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 07:37 PM:

Actually, it all pretty much boils down to UKL's comments in #17. Add in the inherent blindness that Bene's various bigotries (as emphatically pointed out by Xopher), and the result is a horrible miscalculation on the reaction of the Muslim world. Maybe he's not the sublime player of the political game that many give him credit for...

#35: Fragano... Spot on!

#61 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 08:34 PM:

59 & 60: Mr Oleander, as far I can make out, you think both that the Pope didn't know exactly what he was doing, wasn't making a point about Islam, and didn't realise the effect his words would have - in other words, that he's a political dunce - and also (agreeing with Ursula L) that he did it so that his words would resonate with non-Catholic Christians and others who would normally ignore him.

Either is possible. (The former I think is unlikely, notwithstanding general opinion here or anywhere else, and the latter not exhaustive, but that to one side.) The difficulty for you is that though it could be one or the other, it cannot be both.

#62 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 09:06 PM:

The difficulty for you is that though it could be one or the other, it cannot be both.

It's only difficult for one who would divide all Truth into either/or and black/white catagories. Both of the choices are certainly possible as long as one does not insist that each be 100% true. I don't know much about your views Dave, but your thinking seems to run close to what I have come to expect from modern conservatives (i.e. Bush Republicans). They seem to believe that any non-either/or answer is needlessly cluttered with wishy-washy Liberalism, and the TRUE answer can be arrived at by selectively discarding facts/observations. Although my sarcasm is intentional, I know there really are people who think all issues can be boiled down to a stark black/white choice. I know of no way except fact-chucking to make that work...

The cooked person will see partial truth/wisdom in both observations. He WAS making a point, he DID know what point he was making, but he only THOUGHT he was being really clever about couching it the way he did. This is where your observation broke down, since he did not make his point well. He showed incomplete analysis and lack of foresight. I don't think even Bene wanted to see a Sister assassinated because of his words, so that says he was indeed something of a "dunce" (your word) by not thinking his words all the way through.

#63 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 25, 2006, 11:02 PM:

62: Mr Oleander, you concede that he was making a point and knew what point he was making, and that it was effectively done - that is, it had a definite effect along the lines he intended. This intention was, I think, to use an extremely slight, equivocal and deniable provocation to produce Muslim outrage and threats of violence, and hence convince many in the West that Islam is at present intolerant and prone to violence. His apologies and disavowals of the offending words then had the effect of presenting current Catholic Christianity as humble and reasonable.

I shan't quibble over whether an "effective" point is necessarily a "well-made" point, nor would I dream of arguing that either are proof of absolute truth, and of course I am happy to agree that the reaction was far more extreme than he wished. (Mind you, I am not prepared to say that the murder was done "because of his words". Only those who committed or actually incited that murder bear the guilt for it.) With that, I am content.

Perhaps you will recall your persuasive and reasonable arguments in favour of discerning nuance next time you feel moved to a single-word absolute affirmation of any complex question.

#64 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2006, 12:52 PM:

Dave Luckett: You're backpedalling. Even if the Pope "knew what point he was making", it doesn't mean that the point he was making is as you said, that "no faith could be legitimate if it practiced forced conversion or condoned violence". You've not shown that the point he's trying to make isn't "science is sterile".

So are you "content" with asserting that people are "conceding" to a more specific position than they're really conceding, and you're just hoping nobody will notice?

And why don't you just skip all your overtures of showing how open-minded and reasonable you actually are -- like how you "shan't quibble" over this, how you won't "dream of arguing" that -- and just go straight to the point? Or are you in fact not as open-minded as you think and you had to pad your words with all those hot air to convince yourself otherwise?

(Oh, just to clarify, that's not a prejudice. I'm genuinely curious. I hope you're curious about yourself too.)

#65 ::: Edward Oleander ::: (view all by) ::: September 27, 2006, 02:01 PM:

Dave, we seem to have a difference of opinion over what point Bene was actually making. You seem to be think that his point really was to upbraid Muslims for using violence as a recruitment tool. I don't think that was his primary point at all.

His message was intended for Christian ears. Re-read #17 for the clear statement on what the Pope was trying to accomplish. He may have also thought he could accomplish some minor tasks as well. Upbraiding Muslims and demonstrating his toughness to his followers by doing so were both just icing on the cake as far as he was concerned. Unfortunately, the flour the cake was made from had weevils in it. As does the logic of anyone who regards his actions to have been reasonable, well-thought-out, or in any way supportable.

#66 ::: liam ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 05:38 PM:

th'only problems with all this reasoning:

1) where I come from (UK) we're essentially secular
2) the enlightment gave rise to, a certain, amount of dominance on the part of reason
3)geting hung up on a textual analysis of catholicism is not helpful when trying to deal with islamic nutters from feudal pakistan who have a deep seated hatred for all things western
4) but then again, over a glass of wine the west has always hated itself

Maybe, as a man I should stop worrying, it's western women who have the most to lose.

#67 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2006, 10:42 PM:

The passage of the Pope's speech that is under debate here has nothing to do with science. It quotes the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus with apparent approval, saying that Islam brought nothing new that was not evil, and objecting that it was spread "by the sword", that is, by conquest and forced conversion, and hence was not reasonable. The apparent approval was later disavowed, and the effect formally regretted and apologised for - but the words themselves have not, to date, been retracted.

This was part of a longer train of thought, but surely nobody here will quarrel with the further argument that God is not pleased by blood, and that faith and reason are not opposed, but are fundamentally in accord. (Well, as to the latter, I would, perhaps, with some reservations, but nobody has gotten het up over that. Certainly not Muslims.)

What could be the point of quoting those particular words? And of the apologies that followed? It might be that he had nothing on his mind about Islam at all. But I don't think so, on the face of it.

Of course, this cannot be proven. It is impossible to read the Pope's mind. But the effect of his words and the following apologies was as I have said; and I for one find it difficult to believe that Benedict had no notion of the reaction he would cause. Give him his due: he is not naive, he has spent his whole life in a school where every word and every thought is subject to mordant analysis, and he has made a long and careful study of Islam. Intent is a slippery thing, but I don't believe that the words he used in reference to Islam were empty of intended meaning about Islam, and I think that meaning was clear. As to their effect, I believe it was also intended, to an extent.

I accept Mr Oleander's observation that the reaction was far more extreme than he would have wished. I agree with him that Benedict would not have wished to see murder done. But has that not served to add weight to his words? This, of course, is not the same as proving them.

I agree that his message was meant for Christian ears. Does that mean that he thought these were the only ones who might be listening? I think not. At least, it doesn't follow.

Were his words reasonable, well-thought-out, or supportable? Three different questions, all requiring careful definition of terms. "Reasonable", yes and no. On the face of them, yes, in the sense that they were rational. In what I believe to be their intended effect, no. "Well-thought-out"? Regrettably, yes. I believe Benedict thought them out rather well. "Supportable"? In what sense? That they were true? Pilate's shade chuckles. That I believe them? Not entirely, though it would take a tedious and long-winded excursion to explain. That they were not deplorable? Certainly not. They were deplorable. That they were foolish? Alas, no. On the contrary, I think they were very clever. Offensive to Moslems? Of course they were, as has been clearly demonstrated. Is that offence warranted? The offence itself, yes. The idea that the Pope has no right to say such things, no. Deplorable they may have been, but he had every right to say them anyway. The violent response, never. It was infinitely more deplorable than the words were.

And if I am to be classified as a neocon attack dog for saying that much, then so be it.

#68 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 04:17 AM:

Dave Luckett, I won't say you're a neocon attack dog, but I'll say you're a bare-faced liar. Or maybe you actually believe your own lies.

Well, you're certainly good at shameless backpedalling, nonsensical sophistry, and gratuitous shamelessness -- all while trying to present yourself as an honest intellectual.

Here's a news flash for you: writing bull in a high-flown style won't make you look credible.

#69 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 04:28 AM:

Ah, a troll. I should have known.

#70 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 05:07 AM:

Look, I've seen Mr. Luckett called all sorts of names, and had all sorts of nefarious motives assigned to him, and I've never read anything by him that'd justify them.

I have read lots of well thought out, clearly laid out, and worthy of detailed thought, writings.

I've certainly disagreed with him in the past, but I've never thought he was trying to do anything but engage in sincere and mutually beneficial dialogue. Indeed, I've always thought of him as a polite and reasonable commenters.

If you want to engage in mudslinging with a sci-fi setting, you could go here. Plenty of people there who really are " writing bull in a high-flown style".

#71 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 05:56 AM:

Is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to misrepresent other people's positions as closer to his own than they really are? And is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to engage in backpedalling when this difference is pointed out? Is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to spend an entire paragraph talking about how open-minded and how reasonable oneself is, that one "shan't quibble" over this, one won't "dream of arguing" that?

Back to the topic, Dave Luckett repeatedly dodges the point made by Homais', that the Pope's words were "a variant on the old 'science is sterile' argument". He keeps talking about Islam, Islam, and Islam. Now can we get back to the "science is sterile" part again?

Oh, and if I'm to be classified as a troll (again) and a mud-slinger (again) for saying these things, so be it.

#72 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 06:53 AM:

Is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to misrepresent other people's positions as closer to his own than they really are? And is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to engage in backpedalling when this difference is pointed out? Is it "sincere", "mutually beneficial", "polite", or "reasonable" to spend an entire paragraph talking about how open-minded and how reasonable oneself is, that one "shan't quibble" over this, one won't "dream of arguing" that?

Yes, to all that. And in case you were wondering, it is neither sincere, mutually beneficial, polite nor reasonable to attack someone on the basis that they use rhetorical techniques in argumentation as if you don't yourself. As far as I can see, the difference is that Dave Luckett has some genuine content in his messages, and is suiting the rhetoric to the context of the discussion and thereby advancing it; whereas bi, here, is adding nothing but insinuations and insults with a side-order of pretended righteous indignation on behalf of, er, people who think argumentation can do without self-representation.

That might be an interesting point to raise in a seminar on linguistic philosophy (although I have my doubts). It seems to me totally unsuitable for this discussion - and that at best, bi is disguising his trolling, and at worst, has succumbed to a case of severe category error combined with an excess of self-regard.

I seem to have forgotten to be polite, though.

#73 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 07:18 AM:

Quoth candle @72:

As far as I can see, the difference is that Dave Luckett has some genuine content in his messages

Amen, brother. It's a contrast I noted between bi and Edward Oleander, and it doesn't show bi in a very good light.

bi, how about arguing for something rather than against someone? The last two messages haven't exactly advanced the discussion. You're sounding you're angry and looking for a fight, rather than engaged on the topic.

Teresa's vowel box is already spilling over; I suspect she lines the hamster cage with them. She doesn't need any more.

#74 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 07:24 AM:

Hmm... so "candle" decides to ignore what I said about the "science is sterile" point, and then accuses me of adding "nothing" to the discussion. And then there's the suggestion that all rhetorical techniques are equal -- I use rhetoric, Dave Luckett uses rhetoric, so hey, I can't criticize him!

But since "abi" is asking, how about this:

"Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given ... Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded ... by the to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. ... The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. ... It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university."

Yes, these are the concluding words of the Pope's speech, which one can reasonably take to be a summary of the Pope's core message. So, is it about Islam, Islam, Islam?

#75 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 07:41 AM:

Well, that was the "science without religion is sterile" part. As for the "religion without science is blind" part:

"The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity - a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives. ...

"Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. ... it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was a preliminary inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. ... This thesis is not only false; it is coarse and lacking in precision."

I guess the "dehellenization of Christianity" has something to do with Islam Islam Islam, but I don't know what.

#76 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 08:02 AM:

So, the Pope's argument wasn't against Islam or even violent religions in particular, but against religions which haven't been subject to Hellenic influence in general, which aren't coupled with the λόγος of the Greeks.

Which means, the Pope could've chosen any non-hellenized religion in his discussion in order to make his point. Why did he choose Islam? Was it wise to do so?

#77 ::: candle ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 09:39 AM:

Fair enough, bi. Let me clarify: criticising the use of rhetoric on the grounds that it *is* rhetoric seems inconsistent. Criticising Dave's rhetoric on the grounds that it is intended to place him in a good light is a low blow when you do it by inviting him to admit that he is not as reasonable as he claims (in such a way that to deny the charge is to make him look unreasonable, in comparison to your stance of being interested only for scientific reasons). Criticising Dave's rhetoric of politeness and reasonableness on the grounds that you don't believe he is polite or reasonable would presumably require additional knowledge of Dave; or else the belief that anyone you disagree with is necessarily insincere; and it seems to miss the important point that to act polite is to *be* polite. Dave may not end up agreeing with you or with Edward Oleander. But his effort to be polite in the discussion doesn't make him a bare-faced liar. Whereas your insults *do* make you impolite and unreasonable, which traits even when sincere tend to be unwelcome on forums such as this.

But I appreciate the last few messages, and I realise I'm not making much of a contribution here myself.

On your substantive point: it's perfectly possible that the Pope's main purpose in his speech was to argue that science and religion need one another. In fact, it seems quite likely. But what we were discussing here - as Dave Luckett again made clear - is the surprising fact that he did incorporate a swipe at Islam into it. Dave L. thinks he did this deliberately to provoke a reaction which would prove his point that Islam was a more violent faith than some others; Edward Oleander thinks this was a bad thing to have done, I suppose morally (leaving aside whether it was what the Pope wanted to, and whether the Pope is evil etc.); Homais, and Ursula L., think that the Pope didn't intend any of this and was just trying to be provocative in general so as to get Christians to listen to him. (I apologise if I've misrepresented any of these people here, and am happy to be corrected.)

So yes, the swipe was gratuitous in the context and we're trying to understand why it was there. Personally, I don't know which if any of these explanations is right. I don't think I would have done it myself, though. I had been trying not to get involved. :)

#78 ::: bi ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2006, 11:04 AM:

candle: Claiming that Oleander did "concede" his earlier position to another position which happens to be the same and not the same, is simply not polite to me. There's more in your 1st paragraph I disagree with, but I'm busy...

Thing is, if the main thrust of the Pope's speech is that "science and religion need one another", then "Islam was a more violent faith than some others" isn't really part of the main line of argument, so why would he need to prove it anyway? Judging again from the flow of the argument, what he's trying to prove at that point would be that non-hellenized religions are a bad idea.

(Here of course science is conflated with hellenization: science = reason = λόγος = hellenization, or so the Pope implies.)

#79 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2006, 05:23 PM:

The current pope was a well-known doctrinal liberal until he fell afoul of another group of doctrinal liberals and decided that liberality was the barbarian at the gate.

If you think of him as, say, a neoconservative in politics or David Horowitz in education it all kind of falls into place. It's all infighting.

#80 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2006, 05:59 PM:


I have a friend getting a PhD in theology. He has spent some time working in German universities. He tells me that the entire German theological establishment takes it for granted that Benedict is gay. Takes it for granted as in, it is so well known that it isn't a point to be brought up in argument, but just a bit of background data.

Make of that what you will.

#81 ::: Lee sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: April 24, 2014, 12:13 AM:

Vietnamese spam? Or is that fractured?

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.