Sunday, September 17, 2006

Reactions to Pope Benedict XVI's Speech on the De-Hellenezation of Religion

On September 12th, 2006, the Holy Father gave a speech Faith, Reason and the University, Memories and Reflections which has caused a violent uproar among Muslims. See my earlier post Holy Father's Speech on the De-Hellenization of Religion.

The part of the lecture that caused the uproar is where he said that, rationally, violence is incompatible with religion; and he quoted a Byzantine emperor who disparaged the spread of Islam by the sword. Some commentators have pointed out that the reaction is violent, which ironically proves the point of the lecture. Reactions include church burnings, the killing of a nun, and threatened assassination of the Pope when he visits Turkey in November.

The British Broadcasting Corporation—the BBC—is no friend of the Catholic Church and has badly reported the story. But due to its global presence and high respectability, this reporting has no doubt fanned the flames of violence. In the article Pope sorry for offending Muslims:
The 14th Century Christian emperor's quote said the Prophet Muhammad brought the world only evil and inhuman things.
Since the BBC has taken this quote out of context, it appears worse than what the Pope actually said. Here is the original quote:
...he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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 emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable.
Here is the BBC's story in Arabic: البابا يأسف لردود الفعل الغاضبة; I'd like to know what it says!

The Washington Post chastised the Pope for this "insensitive" remark:
The pontiff did not endorse that description, but he did not question it, and his words set off a firestorm of protests across the Muslim world.
but the Post did not question the reasonability of spreading religion through violence. The New York Times also fans the flames of violence:
...the speech, in which Benedict quoted a 14th-century Byzantine emperor as calling Islam “evil and inhuman.”
Pope Benedict did issue an apology (see Text of Pope's apology)
At this time, I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry [Italian: vivamente rammaricato = greatly distressed] for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.
Note that Pope Benedict did not apologize for what he said, but was sorry about the reaction to what he said. The Pope is not a career politician, but instead was a college professor for the first part of his career, and was lecturing as a scholar. He was lecturing on the relationship between faith and reason, with clear, well-defined arguments, and so has nothing to apologize about. The whole point of his lecture was on the need for reason and honest dialogue.

The Pope's main target of critique in his lecture was not Islam, but the West. Indeed, Islam shares the same Greek philosophical foundation as is found in Catholicism, and so a deep dialogue is possible between Catholicism and Islam. We shouldn't forget that the Pope quoted a dialogue "by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both." But dialogue between Islam and the secular West, which has a greatly narrowed philosophical basis, is not possible, for the secular West knows only power, and not the love of wisdom.

I have yet to read a story in the mainstream media which recognizes that the Pope's lecture was a condemnation of modern Western philosophy. Violence, unfortunately, sells more newspapers.

Pray for the Pope and for peace.


  1. I find it remarkable, when I read the different news paper reactions, that apparently nobody took the trouble to read what he actually said. I just had a look at it and the whole lecture is just a historical overview of thought on the title subject. The quote is just one example of in history among others.

    Further down in the text there is evidence that the Pope sees more things in common between Christian and Islamic theology.

    It looks like the western press is as guilty of crime, if not more. If they cannot read and understand a piece of text that openly appears on the vatikan website and manage to twist his words, how should we expect the muslim world to react peaceful. Should they express their appology?

  2. So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you? 13: Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am. 14: If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. 15: For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. 16: Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him. 17: If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them. 18: I speak not of you all: I know whom I have chosen: but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, He that eateth bread with me hath lifted up his heel against me. 19: Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. 20: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me. John 13:12-20