Hitchens on the Pope

When Christopher Hitchens writes about religion, he is always reliable. Over at Slate he offers his thoughts on the Pope’s recent dust-up with the Muslim community:

Attempting to revive his moribund church on a visit to Germany, where the Roman congregations are increasingly sparse, Joseph Ratzinger (as I shall always think of him) has managed to do a moderate amount of harm–and absolutely no good–to the very tense and distraught discussion now in progress between Europe and Islam. I strongly recommend that you read the full text of his lecture at the University of Regensburg last Tuesday.

I have not yet had a chance to read the Pope’s lecture, but it’s on my list of things to do.

Anyway, here’s Hitchens’ conclusion:

To read the bulk of the speech, however, is to realize that, if he had chanced to be born in Turkey or Syria instead of Germany, the bishop of Rome could have become a perfectly orthodox Muslim. He may well distrust Islam because it claims that its own revelation is the absolute and final one, but he describes John, one of the apostles, as having spoken “the final word on the biblical concept of God,” and where Muslims believe that Mohammed went into a trance and took dictation from an archangel, Ratzinger accepts as true the equally preposterous legend that St. Paul was commanded to evangelize for Christ during the course of a vision experienced in a dream. He happens to get Mohammed wrong when he says that the prophet only forbade “compulsion in religion” when Islam was weak. (The relevant sura comes from a period of relatively high confidence.) But he could just as easily have cited the many suras that flatly contradict this apparently benign message. The familiar problem is that, if you question another religion’s “revelation” and dogma too closely, you invite a tu quoque in respect of your own. Which is just what has happened in the present case.

The Muslim protesters are actually being highly ungrateful. When the embassies of Denmark were being torched earlier this year, Rome managed a few words of protest about … the inadvisability of profane cartoons. In almost every confrontation between Islam and the West, or Islam and Israel, the Vatican has either split the difference or helped to ventriloquize Muslim grievances. Most of all, throughout his address to the audience at Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith. He pretends that the word Logos can mean either “the word” or “reason,” which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as heavenly truth. He mentions Kant and Descartes in passing, leaves out Spinoza and Hume entirely, and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible, when the whole effort of free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic illusion of “revealed” truth and its all-too-earthly human potentates. It is often said–and was said by Ratzinger when he was an underling of the last Roman prelate–that Islam is not capable of a Reformation. We would not even have this word in our language if the Roman Catholic Church had been able to have its own way. Now its new reactionary leader has really “offended” the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon–reason–that we possess in these dark times. A fine day’s work, and one that we could well have done without.

Comments

  1. #1 dogscratcher
    September 19, 2006

    “Now its new reactionary leader has really “offended” the Muslim world, while simultaneously asking us to distrust the only reliable weapon–reason–that we possess in these dark times.”

    I wish I would have said that. Good stuff.

  2. #2 SLC
    September 19, 2006

    Regardless of Dr. Ratzingers’ conservative views, his comments on Islam were absolutely correct and accurate. The reaction to those comments, including threats to kill him show that the Muslim world can dish it out (e.g. the notorious forgery, the Protocols of Zion is published all over the Muslim world) but they can’t take it.

  3. #3 CHRISTENSEn
    September 20, 2006

    Hitchens is an atheists, and hates religion.

    He has his own agenda. That alone qualifies his “reliability”.

  4. #4 somnilista, FCD
    September 20, 2006

    The Strib preaches:

    Editorial: Will everyone stop caricaturing Islam?

    If God, Allah, Adonai were a schoolteacher, he’d send Pope Benedict to one corner and the hotheads to another. Then he’d lecture on the real Islam. Perhaps he’d use Ulug’bek as an example. Ulug’bek was a 15th century Afghan prince and one of the world’s great astronomers. He believed passionately in knowledge and built wonderful madrassahs open to both men and women…
    Unfortunately, his passion was his undoing: Ulug’bek was assassinated in 1449 by Muslim extremists who took issue with his love of math and science. But then, and now, he represents true Islam.

    Excuse me, but who set up the Star-Tribune editorial staff as the arbiters of “true” Islam? And if the extremists do not represent “true” Islam, why don’t representatives of “true” Islam speak the **** up and complain about what the extremists are doing? In the past week I’ve heard approximately one muslim leader say that the comments by the Pope were no big deal.

  5. #5 somnilista, FCD
    September 20, 2006

    Hugo Chavez calls Bush ‘the devil’

    This will probably incite hordes of Satan worshippers to riot, screaming that Chavez’ statement is defamatory to the devil. Look for it in tomorrow’s paper.

  6. #6 somnilista, FCD
    September 20, 2006

    Nudes deadlier than bombs

    HARDLINE Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who was jailed for his role in the deadly 2002 Bali attacks, says scantily clad women on television are more dangerous than bombs.

    Great, now we’re going to see hordes of rabid nudists rioting in the streets.

  7. #7 JohnC
    September 20, 2006

    There is an argument to make that this spat is a good thing, and indeed that Ratzinger should have been blunter in his criticism of Islam. After all, Catholicism and Islam are incompatible dogmas, so either one or the other is “true” – or they are both wrong. As someone who holds to the latter view, I have no enthusiasm for the hypocritical efforts of “moderates” to paper over the differences.

    Both the pope and muslim leaders are separately engaged in sustained attacks on reason in defence of fairy tales they call faith. So having them diverted into a scrap with each other over which dogma is inherently more violent (ironic, isn’t it) doesn’t seem such a bad thing.

    The real problem is the absence of sensible secularism on the world stage – the leadership of the “free world” being in the hands of a cabal of equally zany religious zealots -that can remind these people not to involve the rest of us in their squabbles since frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn.

  8. #8 Uber
    September 21, 2006

    Hitchens is an atheists, and hates religion.

    He has his own agenda. That alone qualifies his “reliability”.

    By this same logic then you disregard the pope and any other preacher correct?

    This is simply a weak comment. Refute what Hitchens says not attack him personally. His argument is well reasoned, your comment sounds like that of a 5 year old.

  9. #9 Richard
    September 21, 2006

    Hitchens is a great critic of religious nonsense, but he seems to accept Bush’s BS hook, line, and sinker. It would be a nice change if he could turn his rhetorical skills on the rightwingnuts, but currently they are paying Hitchens’s bills. Or perhaps Hitchens just can’t bring himself to admit that he backed the wrong political horse.

  10. #10 Tyler DiPietro
    September 22, 2006

    Hitchens is a great critic of religious nonsense, but he seems to accept Bush’s BS hook, line, and sinker. It would be a nice change if he could turn his rhetorical skills on the rightwingnuts, but currently they are paying Hitchens’s bills. Or perhaps Hitchens just can’t bring himself to admit that he backed the wrong political horse.

    I think that Hitchens current views on the Iraq war and other areas of foreign affairs has more to do with his personal vendetta against Muslims (e.g., he’s a long-time close friend of Salman Rushdie) than sucking-up to conservatives. Hitchens has shown in the past that he has no qualms about pissing people who are otherwise his political allies off. While I agree that he’s nothing short of 100% wrong on the Iraq war, I don’t think it has anything to do with his affection for Bush or his ties to the neocons.

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