Tuesday, September 19, 2006


The Pope Knows

Lee Smith, writing in the Weekly Standard, astutely describes the controversy the Pope has created as a “prick in the conscience of Catholics the world over.”

Smith makes the argument that Pope Benedict knew full well how his remarks would be received. The Pope and his church know the bitter and violent history of Islam. Contrary to the view expressed by the Editors of the New York Times, the Vatican doesn’t need to “understand Islam.” The Roman Catholic Church has had 1400 years of first hand experience with Islam, as “the church has been contemplating its historical rival for about 1,300 years longer than the paper of record.”

Smith sees the Pope’s act as a clarion call to the faithful, and perhaps a warning shot that might cause “jihadi intelligentsia” to rethink their war against the West:

Sure the Pope is concerned about Islam, as are all Europeans. His sentiments about Muslim Turkey not belonging to Christian Europe are well-known. "Europe is a cultural and not a geographical continent," Ratzinger said back in 2004, a year before he became Pope. But he has stated repeatedly, and even in this recent address, that the major threat to Europe comes from secularism.

Here he is like many European Muslim leaders and ideologues, Tariq Ramadan for instance, who believe that the continent has been overcome with a spiritual malaise, a lack of purpose and self-esteem. Unlike secularism, Islam is a worthy competitor for men's souls--it is just an inferior doctrine, self-evidently so because it did not produce Europe. Moreover, and this is the point of the text Benedict cites, Islam is incapable of producing a Europe because its conception of God does not assume a rational divinity.

Now the Pope says this excerpted text does "not in any way express my personal thought." Really? So, the Vicar of Christ does not believe that Catholic doctrine is superior to Muslim teaching? Sure he does. The Pope does not want Christian Europe to regain its spirituality by becoming less rational, like Islam, but through an expanded concept of reason--one large enough to encompass a creator who is Himself rational.

AS THE CHILDREN OF A rational God, all men can think rational thoughts, but few are capable of philosophy. Early Christian and Islamic thinkers, especially those influenced by Neo-Platonism, understood the problem: The majority of men can only comprehend one level of reality, and only then through the use of symbols. Hence, what is most interesting about the Pope's speech is that he is operating on two different levels: There is philosophy, reason, and logos for one type of understanding, and there are symbols for another. Here, the symbols are those of the Catholic Church--the papacy itself--which he himself barely even hints at. Benedict left it to his dialogue partners to fill in the rest, and now every burned effigy of the Pope is a prick in the conscience of Catholics the world over.

Sure the European intellectual class believes the Pope is a moron for getting so many Muslims angry, but the elite is not his primary audience; rather, he was speaking over their heads to the masses of ordinary Catholics. What will they believe in? What will they live for and die for? Maybe the Church.

It is hard to get people to live, never mind die, for principles based entirely on reason. Most people need something real to fight for, something tangible. And this is the dilemma of liberal democracies that bin Laden, Nasrallah, and Ahmadinejad, among others, have rightly identified. It is only rational that the citizens of such a state would prefer to enjoy the privileges of such a life than to die. However, the jihadi intelligentsia have also made a less than thorough study of the war that they have chosen.

As John Paul in the fight against Communism and the Soviet Union, it may well be that Pope Benedict will prove an important ally in the West’s war on terror. If so, he would be a natural ally, and an ally on the basis of shared beliefs, values, history and culture.

This, Quite in contrast to the image of the religious fanatic and ideologue, a caricature which hate-mongers, apologists and appeasers seem determined to apply to the Pope. As is often the case in this bizzaro world of public discourse, should it strike us odd that such characterizations more aptly fits the leading figures of our enemies?

The violence of aroused Muslims the world over gave more ample proof of what the original source of Pope Benedict’s quotation alleged: that the Religion of PeaceTM repeatedly refutes its appellation.

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