Friday, September 15, 2006

The Pope's Big Slip

When the first German Pope since the 11th century was chosen last year, there was much talk of Germany's recent past and much hope that this representative of Germany would not relive it (despite evidence that he once supported it). Sadly, Pope Benedict has repeatedly demonstrated that he is not as worldly as his predecessor and at times has been outwardly prejudiced and racist.

Today, he has gone the farthest ever in embarrassing his Church and his nation by openly insulting about 1/5th of the world's population. In a speech given in the outskirts of Munich, he insulted Islam and Muslims and, like President Bush and other like bigots before him, chose to make his point by dwelling on the concept of holy war -- a concept that exists in both Judaism and Christianity. At least we can somehow credit Bush for (unknowingly) acknowledging this with his infamous "crusades" comment.

The routine damage control has involved Vatican officials pleading that the Pope's comments were misconstrued and misunderstood. The speech is actually a well-done research effort by someone (we can only assume it was not the Pope himself) and at times provides a fascinating account of history which is not normally read by people who are not religious scholars. Sadly, it unreluctantly ventures into bigotry.

A close examination of the speech itself leaves little room for doubt that the Pope is very comfortable glossing over and minimizing his own Church's extremely violent past but is quite happy to acknowledge the violence in Islam's past. To my continued amazement, these three religions -- Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- refuse to acknowledge how significantly similar they are to each other. In fact, there is very little to distinguish between them, their beliefs, their practices, their history, their concept of an all-powerful God (though, I'm told the Protestants vs. the Catholics do have one major difference in their relationship with God in that they tend not to use mediators: it is an increasingly personal communication that does not require a third party, namely a cleric).

His Holiness cleverly disguises what are obviously his own beliefs by quoting a 14th century Byzantine Emperor who, in a recorded dialogue with a Persian intellectual, apparently said "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". Mr Pope Sir, why don't you show ME any religion, including yours, that DIDN'T spread its faith through violence. The borders between religion and politics continue to be blurred: just as in politics, religious leaders shamelessly rewrite and reapportion history to meet their illogical and inhumane ends.

It is particularly interesting that the Pope himself (we can attribute the speech to him, despite whomever might have written it, since he is the one who spoke its words) goes on to say that "not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature" and that Islam (which, according to the Pope is, as such, contrary to God's nature) is a religion in which God's " not bound up...with rationality." This coming from a man whose own religion demands that its followers blindly accept that their Prophet was born of a virgin, died and came back to life, and will one day return again. Very rational that.

Muslims throughout the world are now protesting this pigeonholing of their religion, which is to some extent understandable, but what they really should be protesting is the Judeo-Christian establishment's hypocritical refusal to acknowledge its own sins. Not one of these religions is above reproach. Not one of them has an inherent respect for human rights and justice. Not one of them is better than the other.

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