Monday, September 18, 2006

The Pope's dangerous meddling in international politics

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

Who am I to criticise the Pope?

And yet I feel I have a right to do so because of the importance attached to his office and the repercussions we might all feel for anything unwise done in its name. To fan the already smoldering flames between so-called Christian countries and those where the Muslim faith prevails is a totally irresponsible thing to do. It's not the first time the Vatican gets involved in politics but this time people have already died because of it.

It doesn't even matter very much if the Pope got it right or if he was wrong in his interpretation of the teachings of the Prophet.

According to the BBC:

In his speech at Regensburg University, the German-born Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.

Stressing that they were not his own words, he quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The emperor's words were, he 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."

Benedict said "I quote" twice to stress the words were not his and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".

"The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application," he added in the concluding part of his speech.

"Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today."

Read the Pope's speech here.

To say "I quote" twice doesn't change a thing in my opinion. He enunciated the inflammatory words. (Imagine somebody reciting parts of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion to make a point about Judaism!) Others have charitably said the Pope 'didn't think' about his words. I don't accept this for a moment. One may safely assume that the Pope always thinks before saying something, besides it's not the first time he made inappropriate comments about Islam.

It appears to me that his words are also contrary to accepted Catholic teachings.

Vatican II on Islam (Thank you, Juan Cole.)

The Church therefore, exhorts her sons, that through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, carried out with prudence and love and in witness to the Christian faith and life, they recognize, preserve and promote the good things, spiritual and moral, as well as the socio-cultural values found among these men.

The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes great pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God. Though they do not acknowledge Jesus as God, they revere Him as a prophet. They also honor Mary, His virgin mother; at times they even call on her with devotion. In addition, they await the day of judgement when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.

Since in the course of centuries not a few quarrels and hostilities have arisen between Christians and Moslems, this Sacred Synod urges all to forget the past and to work sincerely for mutual understanding and to preserve as well as to promote together for the benefit of all mankind social justice and moral welfare, as well as peace and freedom.
But, perhaps, what made me - a non-Muslim - the most upset is the Pope's ignorance of the history of his Church. First contact for natives in the Americas with the Spanish often meant their death. The Spaniards read the Requirement in Spanish, which the natives obviously didn't understand, and then massacred them blaming them for their own death. The "Christian" religion provided the "justification".

The Requirement:

I, Francisco Pizarro, servant of the high and mighty kings of Castile and Leon, conquerors of barbarian peoples, and being their messenger and Captain, hereby notify and inform you ... that God Our Lord, One and Eternal, created Heaven and Earth and a man and a woman from whom you and I and all the people of the world are descended. . . . Because of the great multitude begotten from these over the past five thousand and some years since the world was made . . . God placed one called Saint Peter in charge over all these peoples. . . . And so I request and require you ... to recognize the Church as your Mistress and as Governess of the World and Universe, and the High Priest, called the Pope, in Her name, and His Majesty [king of Spain] in Her place, as Ruler and Lord King. And if you do not do this . . . with the help of God I shall come mightily against you, and I shall make war on you everywhere and in every way that I can, and I shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and His Majesty, and I shall seize your women and children, and I shall make them slaves, to sell and dispose of as His Majesty commands, and I shall do all the evil and damage to you that I am able. And I insist that the deaths and destruction that result from this will be your fault.

Ronald Wright (who quotes the Requirement) discusses various population estimates of the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans in Stolen Continents and there is no agreement among scholars about how many people lived there at the time. However, one thing is certain, Europeans slaughtered millions and millions in the name of the Christian faith. They also destroyed invaluable treasures of the Maya, Incas and others, which many consider genocide as well.

It was not one of the greatest moments in the papacy of Benedict XVI and the words of Cardinal Walter Kasper do not not sound encouraging:

Europe's experiment with multiculturalism, or the side-by-side existence of different cultures, has failed throughout the continent. Integration requires a minimum basis of shared values, that is, a culture of mutual tolerance and respect -- in other words, what constitutes the heart of European culture. This is why integration is not possible without excluding those who do not recognize this culture.

The cardinal's tone sounds anything but apologetic and he's old enough to know that the "mutual tolerance and respect" were not practised when the Holocaust was unleashed in his native country while his church turned a blind eye not wanting to see the mass murder taking place. It's highly debatable that "tolerance and respect" constitute "the heart of European culture." I think the massive genocide of Amerindians and Jews as well as unprecendented destruction and killing in two world wars are much more the heart of European culture than tolerance and respect. Over 6 million perished in the Holocaust, milions and millions of Amerindians were killed in the name of the Christian God and doctrines such as Manifest Destiny. In the last century almost 100 million people were killed in war, most of them unleashed by Europeans.

Where does the cardinal see tolerance and respect?

Added September 25.

The Pope has said many things and talked to many people since he made the ill advised comment but one thing he has yet to say is "I'm sorry for what I've said". It's difficult, if not impossible, to say that when one is considered to be infallible.