Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Trash-Talking Mohammed : Just what Was Ratzinger Trying to Say?

The man who calls himself Pope Benedict XVI addressed the faculties of Science at the University of Regensberg, Germany (his alma mater) one week ago today. In his remarks, he said some things that offended Muslims around the world, may have inspired the murder of a Catholic nun in Somalia, and moved Iran's "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to charge that the Pope was enlisting in a global "crusade" against Islam.

Meanwhile, the western media have bent over backwards to defend Joseph Ratzinger, pointing out that he was giving voice to ideas that were not his own, and that the specific words he used were "taken out of context."

The image this creates is of a rather naive leader of 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, someone who might choose his words carelessly without anticipating their consequeces, stumbling into controversy, meaning no offense.

Not everyone -- even in the Vatican -- is convinced of the Pope's naivete:
The Rev. Robert Taft, a specialist in Islamic affairs at Rome’s Pontifical Oriental Institute, said it was unlikely that the pope miscalculated how some Muslims would receive his speech.

I've avoided posting on this until today. Being a Catholic (even though some Catholics like Joseph Ratzinger might take issue with my claim of Catholic identity), I try to look as objectively and dispassionately at my Church and its leaders as I can (whatever disagreements of a political nature I had with John Paul II, I have had the greatest respect for his -- and the Church's --teaching on social justice, as made evident in his 1987 encyclical Solicitudo Rei Socialis). But I have trouble seeing Joseph Ratzinger as naive or intellectually lazy. I think he knew exactly what he was saying, and exactly what effect it would have. Madeleine Bunting, writing in the Guardian, apparently agrees:
This is a man who has been at the heart of one of the world's multinational institutions for a very long time. He has been privy to how pontifical messages get distorted and magnified by a global media. Shy he may be, but no one has ever before accused this pope of being a remote theologian sitting in an ivory tower. On the contrary, he is a determined, shrewd operator whose track record indicates a man who is not remotely afraid of controversy.

Ratzinger has had no problem with making insulting remarks about other religions in the past. Bunting observes that
what has become increasingly clear is that this is a man with little sympathy or imagination for other religious faiths. Famously, the then Cardinal Ratzinger once referred to Buddhism as a form of masturbation for the mind - a remark still repeated among deeply offended Buddhists more than a decade after he said it.

And in his "apology" (if it was one at all) for his Regensberg remarks, he managed to insult Judaism:
The Vatican was yesterday braced for Jewish reactions to a passage in the Pope’s Angelus address in which — having apologised to Muslims — he quoted from I Corinthians on the alleged role of Jews in the Crucifixion, an issue which in the past has aroused heated debate.
What exactly did Ratzinger say? Was it taken out of context? That is a matter of some interpretation. I have in the past seven days read and re-read his lecture, and can make some observations. One, his words were perhaps taken out of context, in the sense that any quote "snipped" from any public utterance is by necessity a removal from context. But I think the quote speaks for itself, and in my opinion creates the context for his entire address.

Ratzinger sought to reconcile faith and reason. But it is not for nothing he speaks. In truth, he sought to reconcile the Christian faith and reason. There is no point in arguing that he has respect for any other faith, with or without reason.
Particularly telling is the line directly preceding the offensive quote in question, which are Ratzinger's words and opinions, and not those of Manuel II Paleologos (the italicized emphases are mine):
(Paleologos) he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, 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."

Ratzinger frames the Byzantine Emperor's ideas as "the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general." By my reading, it seems clear to me that Ratzinger is trying to make a point that (my right-wing friend in NY) Howie is desperate to see gain credence: that Islam is, fundamentally, a religion lacking reason --an entirely irrational religion -- and therefore, fundamentally, a religion that worships violence.

This is, plain and simple, trash-talking Mohammed.

What is Ratzinger thinking?


Katharine said...

The world is going mad, and Ratzinger is helping it along.

Anonymous said...

What a crock of shit! Ratzinger's words WERE taken out of context! Read the whole goddamn speech! The real problem is those crazy fucking Muslims (the fanatic variety!) Raping nuns, fire bombling churches, calling for the assasination of the Pope! I mean what a bunch of fucking nutcases! Putting death sentences on writers, murdering film makers, going completely bonkers over a silly cartoon, declaring a "holy war" on all us infidels. Fly a plane load of innocent passengers into buildings full or more innocent passengers while chanting "Allah is good!" (or some other nonsense!) and the virgins will be waiting for you!

I'm not Catholic or a great fan of the Vatican either. As soon as I found out as a teenager that playing with my weenie was a sin, I turned my back on them...and yet compared to these fucking Muslims (yeah the fantatics are a minority but their ranks are growing and the rest of their flock remains for the most part silent about the homocidal maniacs in their midst), I'll take the Pope any day!

Dr. Fallon said...


Thanks for your profoundly rational response. You make my point as well as you make Ratzinger's.

You're entitled to call Ratzinger your own, even though he's not your co-religionist. I'm entitled to criticize his words, even though he is mine.