Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Dope?

"If the Vatican says something dumb about Muslims, people will die in parts of Africa and churches will be burned in Indonesia..." Father Thomas Reese, April 2006.
Apparently, the Pope has provoked "anger among Muslims" by saying Muhammad has brought the world only "evil and inhuman" things. Hmmm. The Pope's speech (full text here) does quote a Byzantine emperor saying that. I don't know why because it is quite tangential to the theme.

The real argument with Islam goes this far and no further: the Pope believes that true Christians believe that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature." God is reasonable. But, according to the Pope's idea of Muslim theology, "God is absolutely transcendent [in Islam]. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." Implicit is the idea that this is why Islam supposedly can countenance forced conversion, which was the abomination that the emperor thought was unreasonable, evil and inhuman. The largest part of the Pope's speech is really arguing against "deHellenization" within Christianity and has nothing to do with Islam. So why is such a sensitive subject being reported so poorly by the BBC?

7 comments:

doltrane said...

I'm not sure why the BBC's coverage is inadequate - and I have not seen enough to comment anyway. Except to say that in general the media see the 'Muslim reaction' as constituting the important 'news'. The substance of the argument is too abtuse.

The 'Dope' didn't help by his maladroit presentation - acting as though he was an obscure academic theologian talking to his own kind, oblivious to his political position. At least that is one interpretation. However there are others who see Opus Dei under the altar cloth, given his past negative remarks about Islam and about Europe retaining its 'Christian identity' - with reference to Turkey's canditure for the EC. Whichever, he has set the candles spluttering and thereby caused a few fires. This specific context, that of the broader international situation and political manipulation by both Islamist extremists and jumpy authoritarian regimes has fanned these to provide the televisual 'news'.

Passing over the irony that Manuel II Paleologos was sitting in a Constantinople that had sufferred as much from Pope Urban's crusaders as much as from Muslim Turks, y own view is that the Catholic church needs to look carefully at its own relationship with 'rationality' in both its history (its violence to both Muslims and Jews in Spain comes particularly to mind) and present day (opposing birth control could be argued as constituting violence against women and children in countries ravaged by AIDs). (And don't get me started on the 'irrationality' and violence displayed by Protestant fundamentalists!!)

A bit more humility, and genuine commitment, all round is needed to try to find a theological/philosophical language that can be used to explore the differences and commonalities as a basis for understanding between the major religions (and their various sects and churches) - and indeed the secular rationalists about whom the the Pope is equally bothered. Gandhi showed how this might be done: we have not taken his example very far in the c50 years since his death.

There is a good article on the substantive issue of the Dope's address by Giles Frazer, Vicar of Putney and lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College Oxford in The Guardian, Sat 16 Sept. And Karen Amstrong in today's Guardian (18/9) is also well worth the effort.

buyo said...

In these kind of cases it is often the cartoonists who sum it up best

doltrane said...

Brilliant! Theological hole in one!

Hasan said...

I'm Muslim and I don't necessarily find his comment offending. I read his whole speech and I understand under which context he is speaking, but that's not the point.

Again, I don't find his comment insulting, but rather worrying when you consider a few things:

- Post Sep 11th Western Governments fixation on portraying Islam as Fascist as a fact and a law that governs everything Islamic and everyone Muslim.
- Bush and Blair who use Islamic extremism to justify their wars thus resorting to polarizing the conflict into a Christian West vs. a Muslim East.

A person who has a trace of common sense will realize that just as Christianity has its extremists and violent history (Crusades in relation to us), Islam does as well as any group on this earth.

When you take these points into consideration, you will find it worrying that the leading authority of the world’s largest Christian sect is further more placing his blessings on the notion that Islam is violent and evil, affecting the minds of those uneducated and ignorant majority of the world today. This is only causing more misunderstanding and more fear between the two largest groups. Not good!

As a Muslim, I believe in Jesus, but I also believe that those committing the crimes during the Crusades and Middle Ages are not true Christians and are not following Jesus' teachings. I would be naive to label a whole religion based on the actions of not even a few, but many during that era.

I as a Muslim recognize our stagnation as a people is due to our ignorance and distancing from the true teachings of the Quran (which remains unedited to this day) which enabled the Arabs to reach such heights during their Golden Age and contribute numerously to the world.

The Muslims today are in no shape or form like the ones before the 13th century (during the Golden Age).

I believe, before anything else, it is our (Muslims) own fault. As God said in our Quran : "...Allah changeth not the condition of a folk until they (first) change that which is in their hearts..." [Qur'an 13.11]

God gave us Muslims a perfect book, perfect religion, we reached the top in record time when we followed it, and we reached the bottom in record time when forgot it.

I as a Muslims am more disturbed and distraught by our situation today. And the violant rections seen on TV in some Muslim countries is expected in any poverty ridden undemocratic society where people find any excuse to let off the steam of the oppression by their dictators, who most of them happen to be strong Us allies and their regiemes are kept in power by the US. Let's not forget how Saddam and Bin Laden got into their positions.

Sorry for the long post.

buyo said...

Thankyou for the long post.

I agree with you that the Pope's comments were not a good thing. Not wise. Not intelligent. Not insightful. Not right. Not the kind of words fitting for a major spiritual leader. They did insult lots of people and they insulted them for a reason. The Pope should issue a proper apology, not the weasel words he has put out.

My original point was different, however. As a journalist, I found the coverage of the words very worrying. This is by no means a trivial issue, in my opinion, because such coverage risks causing deaths in these types of cases. The BBC report I linked to implied that the Pope had delivered a speech attacking Islam as a central theme, in the most offensive terms. When I read the article my heart sank. I thought the last thing the world needed was a Pope who would deliver such a speech. So, it was with a sense of bafflement that I read the Pope's actual speech. The words quoted by the BBC were in the article, but only in a strange quote unrelated to the main theme of the speech. The quote was indeed strange. It was certainly worth reporting. The question of why it was included in the speech was very apposite. The answer might have some very profound things to say about the workings of this present Pontiff's brain. But the BBC reporting was dangerously substandard and that, being a journalist, is what I wanted to post about.

Sorry for the long reply.

buyo said...

Dear Hasan,

On your comments about Islamic civilisation, I do not feel particularly qualified to comment. Certainly, there are parts of the Muslim world who appear to be losing their way, and other parts that are showing great moral, intellectual and spiritual strength in very difficult times.

I have talked before on this blog, as a totally ignorant outsider, about the apparent contrast between Islamic civilisation's early history, when it was so confident that it ravenously consumed the best that Classical civilisation and any other civilisation had to offer (later helping fuel the Western rennaisance with what it had consumed, created and conserved), and the lack of confidence in some Muslim societies now, seeking to purify themselves of an admittedly very unclean West.

But it seems to me the problem is not only internal to Islam. I think the traumatic experience of Western colonisation and imperialism is a massive part of the troubled recent histories of some of the societies we are talking about. That experience continues.

Saying Islam is the problem, particularly if you are a Western Christian rather than a Muslim, is not only to miss a major part of the story but to participate in a discourse that is both a product of and tool of of imperialism. ie. Islam must be civilised in the image of and possibly by a supposedly civilised West. Sure, Muslims need to look at themselves and renew themselves but, as doltrane said above, the West (the other side of this dangerous Tango we are dancing) needs to look with some humility and intelligence at itself and renew itself. There is plenty that is outdated, ugly and decrepit to be found on this side of the dance.

buyo said...

In other words, I agree with you.