Northern Valley Beacon

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Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The Pope gets a taste of South Dakota politics

Muslims are rioting and committing violence because of something Pope Benedict said in a lecture at the University of Regensburg. His words have been contorted into an occasion for violence.

There are two main factors in the Muslim reaction against the Pope: an incompetent press and a malevolent rage to avert the facts by those who contrive justifications for their transgressions against humanity.

The Pope is getting pilloried, figuratively and in effigy throughout Islam, for quoting a Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Paleologos, in a 1391 A.D. conversation he had with a Persian scholar on religion in which the subject of the jihad, the holy war, was broached. Here is the quotation as the Pope presented it and as reported in the press:

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.

The press presents only those words that might inflame those looking for some reason to posture their outrage. It omits the next part of the quotation, which the Pope included.

God is not pleased by blood, and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death....

But the press totally ignored the reason the Pope was making these citations from a 14th century conversation. He was addressing the relationships between reason, as demonstrated through science, and faith, and he was engaging in a dialogue that is obviously prompted by the mass atrocities that have become the hallmark of the 21st century. Here is Pope Benedict’s all-important thesis statement which his lecture addresses:

This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

What happened to Pope Benedict is what a blogging colleague recently referred to as being “Newquisted.” He was referring to the practice that I strongly condemn of people taking other people’s words and making false paraphrases, taking them out their syntactic context to alter their meaning, distorting them into some pretext for outrage. This is the old straw man technique of propaganda and fallacious reasoning. It is done by contriving another person’s words so that they can be easily refuted or made the object of outrage, which justifies assassination of character or person in the minds of the authors of the propaganda.

The strategy behind misrepresentation of words is to hope that the outrage displayed will sufficiently characterize the words to other people and form their perceptions of them. The words themselves are dismissed.

Pope Benedict’s quotation of the Byzantine emperor were taken out of context—both the emperor’s and the Pope’s. Islamic radicals (a euphemistic term, if there ever was one) contrived the quotation from six centuries ago into a personal insult to Mohammed from the Pope. And so the rage in the world gets fed by a transparent, easily checked lie.

The press is fully implicated in the lie. News organizations are more about trying to get an audience than about giving carefully checked news stories. Watching the Muslims burn effigies of the Pope is far more arresting to the people out there than is a carefully presented summation of the Pope’s lecture at his old university. News organizations do not serve higher intelligences, and so the personnel doing the reporting can find potentially inflammatory sound bites but they cannot comprehend or report an act of communication that speaks to a complex issue. Instead of opening a dialogue on the sectarian violence that grips the world, the reporting of the Pope’s words inflamed the violent.

The Pope broached an issue that anyone who has had a religions of the world course is aware of. I am not a Catholic. I am a Lutheran. I graduated from a Lutheran College, which shared a campus with a seminary and required courses in religion for graduation. I minored in philosophy and religion, I taught at the college, and was a church councilman and synod representative. As Lutherans have carried on the scholastic tradition that the Pope was engaging in at Regensburg, I found his lecture significant.

He was initiating a dialogue on the issue that is consuming much of the western world: the mass atrocities committed in the name of Allah.

The Pope obliquely presented an issue that sends political and religious leaders into the bunkers. He brought up the three laws at issue: the Koran, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. He did so because there are issues that need resolution in order to end the violence that grips the world. The New Law, as the New Testament is referred to, militates against hatred and violence. The history of Christians battling each other, such as in North Ireland, is not escapable, but neither is the theological basis for good will and peace. The Pope spent a great deal of his lecture outlining how that theological call for peace is formed through the Greek tradition of intellect and how it has been regarded in theology through time. His point is that reason and faith together lead to respect and peace.

The problem facing religious leaders, particularly Christians and leaders of other peace-promoting religions, is that Islam has no overtly stated theological constraints against violence. That is why the face of Islam to much of the world is one of vicious atrocity.

Manuel II’s words about Mohammed connect with a face of Islam that is inescapable. While some Muslim scholars and clerics state that Islam is a religion of peace and compassion, their claims are feeble in the face of 9/11, the violence in Iraq, the acts of Al Qaida throughout the world, and the Muslim leaders who applaud those acts.

Islam is, simply, a vector for violence. Islamic atrocities are planned and supported through mosques.

If there are Muslim leaders and mosques that do not believe the jihad is the imperative of their faith, then Pope Benedict has extended an opportunity to talk about it and explain it to the world. He broached the subject in a scholastic setting, but it was appropriated by those who intend violence upon the world.

Sadly, until the people who are the stewards of the language—journalists, teachers, and theologians—demonstrate the integrity of the language, the inflammatory and the violent will prevail. The final words of Pope Benedict’s lecture, which were not reported either, lay out the task:

The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur – this is the program with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably (with logos) is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. 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.

Dear David,
With all respect I would suggest that it was the Pope who took his own words out of context. The context being the enflamed relations between a number of nations in the world, especially since 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq. Did he think he was talking in a library? One does not use the word Islam and evil in the same sentence, just as one would not use Christianity and evil in the same sentence, and plead ignorance of the possible outcry.
An argument about which religion is more associated with violence is pointless. No religion, even Gandhi's, is free of such association. Notice, I didn't say cause of violence, because it is often worldly politics adhering like a parasite on religions that is responsible for the violence. Religion in all societies is easily dragged in as an excuse to follow policies related to worldly power and riches. I would suggest it is not good thinking to make general statements about religions when their relationship to power varies radically over time and place. Religion was once used in America to justify eradicating heathen Native Americans. It was used and abused.
I wonder if South Dakotans are open to satire, a la Jonathan Swift and H. L. Mencken. I wonder if you will see the social use of exaggerating and making fun of the foibles of the celebrated people who still put on their pants one leg at a time and are only human, even if they are Popes. Well, it may irk you, but if you have the time look at my satire about the Pope's comments on my blog "The World Spelled Backwards" at You probably won't like it, but who knows?
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