Well, another religious bubble has burst. The Pope makes mistakes, just like the rest of us. So much for infallibility—though the Catholic Church is smart enough to attach conditions to infallible Papal statements, leaving themselves an out when he makes a mistake.
Which I’d say he did in his recent speech to a German university, parts of which seriously offended Muslims. But I don’t think it was a mistake to quote a medieval emperor, who said:
"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."
That’s an interesting observation that deserves open discussion. Kudos to the Pope for having the guts to point out that Islam’s theology contains undesirable elements. Undesirable, that is, if you’re an infidel. Or a woman. Or a Muslim writer who criticizes his faith. Or on the receiving end of an Al Qaeda explosive.
I’m all for studying comparative religion. Let’s compare the most idiotic elements of every religion. We need a theological Consumer Reports that warns of beliefs which are hazardous to our humanity. Islam has its fair share. But so does Catholicism.
I suspect that Muslims would have found the Pope’s remarks about Islam more palatable if he’d accompanied them with mention of the Inquisition and the Crusades, just to show that things “evil and inhuman” are part and parcel of Catholicism also.
So far the Pope’s apology has been decidedly half-hearted. He must have an American public relations firm advising him. The tone of his apology is familiar: “I’m sorry that _____ felt offended by what I said. It never was my intention to make _____ feel bad.”
George Bush uses this half-assed sort of apology a lot. “I’m sorry that the defeatists and terrorist sympathizers in this country are offended by my decision to invade Iraq in order to keep this country safe.” Like the Pope, Bush tries to maintain an aura of infallibility around him, even when he’s caught in a major screw-up.
Again, though, it doesn’t bother me that the Pope said what he did. The mistake he made was saying it in such an incredibly boring fashion. I mean, given the attention his “evil and inhuman” statement has received, the Vatican had a great opportunity here to convey some gripping Catholic doctrine.
Yesterday I had some dental work done. My dentist, an anti-religious Taoist (much like me), said that he dug out and read the Pope’s entire speech via the BBC. I followed in his footsteps today, but decided to go right to the source. Yes, the Vatican has a web site. And a darn good-looking one, too.
Where I didn’t have much trouble finding…
APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
TO MÜNCHEN, ALTÖTTING AND REGENSBURG
(SEPTEMBER 9-14, 2006)
MEETING WITH THE REPRESENTATIVES OF SCIENCE
LECTURE OF THE HOLY FATHER
Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
“Faith, Reason and the University
Memories and Reflections”
Ugh. Boring, boring, boring. I managed to highlight my way through seven printed single-spaced pages, filling the margins with lots of question marks. What a letdown. I finally am drawn to read a Papal pronouncement and bummer, I could hardly make any sense of it.
Pope Benedict’s speech was so incomprehensible to me, I couldn’t even understand it well enough to disagree with him. Which I’m sure I would, if I knew what he was getting at. Something about faith and reason. And the university. I got that from the title.
But I’m not sure how faith and reason tie together. I read that “not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” However, here the Pope is echoing the thought of the medieval emperor, so I don’t know if Benedict really believes this.
Because he then starts to talk about the “profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God.” Hmmmm. As an admirer of the Greeks, I’m not sure about that.
The Pope moves on to speak about the “dehellenization” of theology. I gather he’s talking about the upswing of faith over reason, but it’s hard to tell. He does put down science if that means “the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements.”
God forbid that god and the divine might be considered empirical. If they were, people might expect to actually get in touch with them through religion. Then a Religious Consumer Reports could hold faiths accountable for their promises. Can’t have that.
So the Pope says that “any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be ‘scientific’ would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self.” That doesn’t seem like a bad thing to me, but I guess I can understand why the Pope would feel otherwise.
Anyway, I figured that Benedict would sum up his message at the end, making clear whatever the heck he’d been trying to say. So I read:
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.
Clear as mud.
Let’s see. Reason is good. Except when it is empirical scientific reason, then it’s not good. So reason has to be broader than what is empirically verifiable. That leads to faith. Thus faith and reason are the same thing. To the Pope. For most people, including moi, they’re quite different. But hey, I’m fallible.
If anyone wants to read the Pope’s speech in its entirety and make sense of it for me, I’ll be grateful. The BBC has an abridged version that, however, doesn’t do justice to the confusion of the original.