Posted by: Steve Coplan | September 21, 2006

Irreconcilable differences

If there’s one certainty that can be identified in the from Benedict Brouhaha it’s that at the dawn of the 21st century the idea of God remains deeply contentious. I am surprised by the reaction of left-leaning commentators that amounts to Benedict was asking for it, and he can’t hide behind naivete. In fact, they argue, his intention in leaving his disavowal vague of a 14th century characterization of Islam as a religion of violence was to endorse it — only he would employ less “brusque” terms of description. I find it surprising since there are set of double standards at play here. These are the same commentators that justifably condemn Bush for defining his agenda based on his narrow view of faith but allow for a disproportionate response to the Pope’s remarks. Under what circumstances can attacking churches or nuns be justified? Among the churches attacked was a sixth-century Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza. This makes as much sense as attacking the Vatican because of something offending that the Archbishop of Cantebury said (which would probably involve homosexuality in any event).

This is clearly a complicated issue, and Ratzinger should have known he was traversing a minefield. On the other hand, much of the reaction was based on a longstanding fear that the West is gathering forces to conquer Muslim lands. Before we dismiss this as irrational, let’s consider how the invasion and occupation of Iraq can be interpreted. The Bush Administration has not provided a credible explanation for an adventure that has racked up tens of billions of dollars in costs, nor a clear objective for removing 120,000 troops. If the purpose was ostensibly to spread democracy, why is that Mubarak and the Saudi family are not being publicly pressured? Instead, its Iran’s democratically elected president who is branded public enemy number one. Added to this is the US’s unquestioning support for Israel despite its counterproductive Lebanon war. Against this backdrop, the vast distinctions between Bush’s brand of Christianity and the Pope’s position as head of the Roman Catholic Church fade.

The unfortunate reality is that Bush has strengthened the resolve of Islamists, improved their popular appeal as the group with the spirit and determination to oppose military  might and forced the parlous dictatorships to either crush them mercilessly (Egypt for example) or co-opt their stances.

So why shouldn’t Benedict apologize? Because his speech addressed the core issue of religion for the West: how can faith and reason be reconciled. And by reason, Benedict means specifically science and by faith he means allegiance to a higher moral power. If the notion of faith is corrupted, there is no way it can be reconciled with reason.

And on the lighter side: Maybe the Jew is right!

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