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.
The straw that breaks the camel's back always follows the results of earlier deeds.
The Pope's choice of words was brain dead, in my humble opinion, if he was seeking to spread peace. He could have appealed for cooler heads and humility from all sides using any other words, but instead he chose to quote Crusade era hypocrisy that was guaranteed to inflame Muslims. Now we see the backtracking and spinning that always follows the gaffes of those afraid of simply telling the truth.
More proof that religion is the opposite of truth, wisdom, and justice
The "infallible" Grand Inquisitor (the pot) sought to lecture Islam (the kettle) about spreading religion through dark deeds by quoting a Dark Ages text while the USA and Europe are in the midst of the Neo-Crusades. The irony and absurdity in this situation is amazing, to say the least. It evidences both the fallacy and fallibility of those who vainly and arrogantly pretend to serve the Creator.
Dear Pope, ever heard of Karma or the golden rule? Ever stop to remember how the Vatican and western nations became so rich and powerful over the centuries? Ever consider giving up your blood drenched wealth and earthly power to end the blatant hypocrisy of your vain, materialistic, and duplicitous empire? Ever think of forgoing your peacock's robes to walk the walk instead of simply talking the talk? Remember the "eye of the needle" and "log and mote in the eye" parables? Is this a demonstration of your infallibility, wisdom, or utter blindness? As another wise one once said; What goes around comes around!
The West has killed far more Muslims (and other dark skins) than they have killed westerners, yet our press and leaders can only see Muslim and "third world" desperation in the face of western military
economic dominance and oppression, (in the name of God and country, by the way), as sources of evil in this world.
Guess what guys and girls, war, violence, and injustice are evil, no matter what the excuse or cause or who is doing it to whom. Anyone who thinks the Creator would judge religion, war, or any other profiteering at the expense of others as wise or acceptable activities has a very big surprise in store.
Posted by: sevenstarhand | September 19, 2006 at 09:40 PM
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
Hello. I'm Muslim and no, the Pope's remarks would have remained offensive no matter what else he mentioned.
This is because the remark itself, in addition to being offensive, is downright false:
Thank you for hearing me out.
Posted by: Shukri | September 19, 2006 at 10:04 PM
Figure it out yourself vedanta/advaita/buddhist arsehole or better still use google ignorant puffy ass. Karma types who have forsaken christianity are the last pussyshit on earth who'll understand anything.
Posted by: Stephen | September 20, 2006 at 02:32 AM
"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."
"If anyone wants to read the Pope’s speech in its entirety and make sense of it for me, I’ll be grateful."
Brian, I despair of meeting an open mind if I try to make sense of this for you.
I found this speech comprehensible: the translation is in English, and uses a required reading level higher than the Oregonian or the New York Times.
The pope actually points out that "Holy War" is an oxymoron. He also says that he is grateful for the indulgence that true scientists afford theologians, because reconciling reason with faith is an on-going and unfinished business. And he thinks it is worth it because the traditions of Hellenistic culture are valuable.
But as long as we can point to the Inquisition, all Catholics will be wrong, wrong, wrong.
Applying hypocrisy as a benchmark means I will need to stop reading all history and literature. Unless I can be secure in my own convictions and use an open mind. If the word "pope" is always associated with the word "infallible," then I have a sensational laugh riot on my hands.
To me it is intellectually dishonest to criticize what you don't understand.
Posted by: Edward | September 20, 2006 at 10:58 AM
Shukri, thanks for the TIME link. This offers an informative counterbalance to the "forced conversion" issue.
I'm a big admirer of the Sufi side of Islam--I've read the entire (thick) three volumes of Rumi's Masnavi, plus lots of translations of his poetry. Nowhere in this literature is there any sign of the sword, except that wielded against our own ego.
Stephen, thanks for reminding me why I'm happy to be a "vedanta/advaita/buddhist arsehole" rather than a Christian. It's interesting how so often non-Christians practice "Christian" love and acceptance more than followers of Jesus do.
Posted by: Brian | September 20, 2006 at 11:04 AM
Edward, normally I'm capable of understanding highly intellectual and/or complicated writings. Somehow I got through "Being and Nothingness" and made good sense of it.
Maybe I just have a mental blind spot for Christian theology. Even after reading your explication, I still don't get what the Pope was trying to say.
It's like his apology: he seems to be trying to split the middle, to have it both ways, to embrace reason and faith equally, to honor science while also praising irrationality.
I admire people who have a clear position. Theologians like the Pope don't seem to. They waffle. I'd prefer it if the Pope would just say, "There's no reason to believe in Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic Church. So just take it on faith and be saved."
But he won't do that. From Augustine to Aquinas to whoever, Christians labor to rationalize what, at heart, is a mystery religion. Every element of Christianity was prefigured in Egyptian and Greek "myths."
Yet the world is expected to embrace these same myths as reality when they are expressed in the Bible. Crazy.
I'm glad that you read the Pope as respecting Hellenistic culture. The Greeks believed, above all, in dialogue.
When I see the Vatican engaged in a sincere dialogue with Catholic liberals and non-Christians, being open to change Catholic theology on the basis of enlightened reasonable argument, I'll be much more likely to accept your reading of this speech.
Posted by: Brian | September 20, 2006 at 11:14 AM
Look, the pope is a kook, but go back to the text: the use of reason is not to give pedestrian "reasons" to do or not do a thing. One of his points is that the reduction of the important questions posed by religion and ethics to the individual create a situation where there is no dialogue. That situation is unreasonable.
My explication currently runs 3 pages. I am halfway through.
I don't necessarily agree with the tripartate degradation of Christianity as Ratzo explains it. But I truly think you are reading non-classical meanings into the language of someone who is not concerned about the "reality" of "reality TV."
His apology wasn't vague. He has no intention of rescinding his remarks. To do so would be to waffle. He is a man in an extremely small world, clueless about the telegraphic communication we are used to every day in broadcast and print media.
Kathleen Madigan points out that the Vatican recently went to the Eastern Orthodox Catholics to apologize for a misunderstanding in the twelfth century... they are not even up to gravity for pity's sake! Don't hold your breath on theological amendments.
Posted by: Edward | September 20, 2006 at 11:48 AM
Edward, good advice. And good thoughts. You've helped me, a bit, to grok where the Pope is coming from. Or rather, to better understand why I may never be able to.
I think that others think like I think. I've only known directly one way of thinking in my entire life thinking history. So it's difficult, probably impossible, to walk in someone else's thought-moccasins.
I try, but whenever I look down I'm still in my own shoes.
Posted by: Brian | September 20, 2006 at 01:17 PM
Brian, did you preface your commentary intentionally or was this choice of words an expression of unconscious bias?
quoting:"Maybe I just have a mental blind spot for Christian theology... I still don't get what the Pope was trying to say."
If I begin my reply with an implied equivocation ('but'...) then everything that comes after is negated. This is the sum total of almost twenty five years of therapy, so I am a bit millitant about it. :-D
quoting further: "It's like his apology: he seems to be trying to split the middle, to have it both ways, to embrace reason and faith equally, to honor science while also praising irrationality."
This balancing act is something we all have to do, unless we choose sociopathy and/or schizophrenia. Surely you have studied great thinkers and their own struggles to balance both reason and faith. This intention to seek balance is, for the Roman Catholic Church, a sentient leap of consciouness that was not encouraged nor even tolerated during the eras you are fixated on.
The mistake was, in my opinion, comparing the forward progress of his own religion to another religion that he perceives as less enlightened. That is a misstep that seems fairly common to many forms of religion, especially those that demand rigid social compliance.
Can't we rejoice in the evolutionary progress of the collective consciouness of the church that the Pope's words reflect, or must we criticize endlessly that which is not yet perfect on our limited estimation?
quoting: "I admire people who have a clear position."
Wow. My experience of you is that you admire people who agree with you or at least with your style of reasoning. I guess I will have to work on greater clarity of thought.
further quoting: "...Theologians like the Pope don't seem to (have a clear position). They waffle."
(Did you just swiftboat the Pope? LOL!!!)
...or evolve and grow...
quoting: "I'd prefer it if the Pope would just say, 'There's no reason to believe in Jesus and the teachings of the Catholic Church. So just take it on faith and be saved.'"
And yet you and many others defend your own rights to be illogical in your deference to your own false gods and (to my way of thought) irrational beliefs.
I take on faith that God is real and that the Divine is reflected -imperfectly, yes, but noetheless reflected- in all that I encounter, both in times of reflection and in times of action, in the unusual and in the mundane.
Just as you take on faith all that current science demands as factual. hmmm.
I'll happily wear boots, slippers, clogs or whatever else Edward's elves tell me to wear. Occasionally I'll even try on a pair of stillettos just to remind myself why I don't normally wear them. For me, the trick is to remember that other people's taste and the shape of their feet demand their own choice of covering - and to judge it as anything less than a perfect fit for them is pointless.
Posted by: benandante | September 21, 2006 at 07:59 AM
I would love to learn more about this meeting that the Pope gave his speech. Did the Meeting have a title? Were there other speakers at this Meeting? If so, what did they discuss? Who was in the audience? The persons sitting in the chairs. Were they a diverse group of "Open Minded" persons? Did one of Edward's elves attend? If so, could I get the elve's name and e-mail address? I have some questions.
Don't forget, I'm the Newbie. A Newbie is a person that is New on the Block.
Posted by: Roger | September 22, 2006 at 08:12 AM
Roger, the speech was given at a German university where, I believe, the Pope used to teach. This helps explain the scholastic tone of his talk. But I still wish that he could have spoken with more clarity.
Posted by: Brian | September 22, 2006 at 08:24 AM
The Speech, given by the Pope, was offensive. Someone, or somebody has decided this. I would love to learn more about the nature of this Offensiveness.
Did someone go into "History" and the "Literature" to create the Offensiveness?
I'm guessing, from comments made above, that it is the Crusades? Which one? The first thru third? Seventh thru ninth?
Likewise, did the "Inquistions" aid in the generation of the Offensiveness? Which ones? Surely, each one was numbered. If so, anyone know which numbered Inquistion is involved? Surely, a court reporter was present to document the details.
Does the Offensiveness come from "Post Modern" times too? Any details there?
With this acquired information, maybe we can begin to understand more.
Posted by: Roger | September 22, 2006 at 09:19 AM
read it and decide for yourself
Posted by: Edward | September 22, 2006 at 11:20 AM
In Manhattan yesterday we encountered a man who began to walk towrd us with a lit cigarette.
My mind saw him immediately as a threat and I warned my young niece to secure her pocketbook. My sister thought he wanted directions. Who was right?
All these years in the city and I have become what I hated. I am suspicious now, and I resolve to allow myself the vulnerability to suspect everyone of altruism and not a potential crimial act.
The pope is a human being. If you want him to be a devil, he is. If you want him to be a seeker, he is. Patience allows me to build my case... I have learned that from the statisticians.
Or "you pick up the brushes, you paint your paradise and in you go!" Indeed
Posted by: benandante | September 23, 2006 at 04:22 AM
I used to think that Catholics thought the pope was infallible but I think he is only considered infallible if he sits on a certain chair. I have heard that no pope has set on that chair since 1961. Anyone know for sure on this one? Maybe the pope knew the reaction he would receive from the Muslims? He did not apologize for what he said only for their reaction to his words. Did they not prove him correct and in need of some soul searching? The Muslims have been successful in having everyone even the so-called independent news agencies walking on eggshells when it comes to Islam.
Posted by: william | September 30, 2006 at 11:31 AM
To be honest, prelates, popes and bishops never are really inspiring reading, either in the past or in the present era. Power seems to always corrupt religion and spirituality, in whatever form it takes.
I have far more admiration for the great Christian saints who worked out their spirituality in silence, awe and humility, people such as the desert monastics, the writer of the Cloud of Unknowing, and Meister Eckhart. Eckhart for me is far more representative of true Christianity than those who allowed power, wealth or privelage to get to their heads. (In this sense this is why I am a Churchless Christian).
Posted by: Greg | October 04, 2006 at 08:30 AM
Greg, I enjoy your thoughts and agree! I, too enjoy this Churchless Journey in Brain's church for the same reasons.
I also find the most amazing teachers in my life, I have always been blessed that way. Even as a child, my life taught me to find that inner place of peace no matter what. Then I was blessed to find someone to share that silent time, the inner contentment with.
I stopped taking communion years ago but occasionally would go to church to meditate, so long as they left me alone. :) When I moved to NY, I met an extraordinary man that happened to be a Monsignor at the local parish. He and I struck up a friendship, and he was quite firm in his belief that not only was I correct to raise my sons at home and not at mass every week (! extraordinary but TRUE) but he insisted that our family sharing of spiritual life and concepts directly rather than abdicating to the priests was PREFERRED. (sorry for shouting but Goodgollyalmighty I was not expecting that from a Monsignor!) He was a simple, very devout and holy man. I miss him a great deal since he moved to another parish and now (what a shock) do not get the same "thing" I got from attending mass that I did when he was there, so I am once again churchless. (well, parishless... well, rapport-less...)
I've become fascinated with the amazing people who do not strive for the top of the heap, or try to bury themselves underneath it, or who carefully stay on the periphery, but who gladly toil in the center among the rest of us. They aspire to average, but they are anything but in my eyes.
Posted by: benandante | October 05, 2006 at 10:01 AM