Friday, September 15, 2006

Ruth Gledhill on the Pope's remarks ...

From the Times UK. She's a little sympathetic, thinks he should have thought through this more, feels that the analogy was a little obscure, and easily misunderstood and that if he didn't insert all the disclaimers right away the implication is that he kinda thought the same way as Emperor Paleologos II did. Oh, and we should turn the other cheek and apologize. She would. And then this:
Now we have heard the quieter, more studied voice of Benedict, speaking indeed in a strong, compelling-them-to-come-in, Dominus-Iesus-type of way that some thought they wanted of him. "Be careful what you pray for," the saying goes, and perhaps we can begin to understand why.
Do what? I couldn't disagree more ... as if what the Pope does is really about this image, or that image, or just PR. As John Allen said, Benedict doesn't speak for the media. But most galling is the link that accompanied the words "compelling-them-to-come-in." Go read that sermon. Have you ever heard Benedict speak this way?

Sorry Ruth, not with you on this one. The Pope's remarks were in the context of an academic lecture, and he really does bring up a really important point on the use of reason in the realm of faith. No one in the media seems to at all focus on this, just on that one quote, or rather, half that quote, and portraying it in the worst possible light.
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assiniboine said...

The Holy Father's remarks have doubtless been misinterpreted.

And I am entirely convinced by the various apologias that have been issued that the Holy Father meant no provocation or offence.

But his advisers could surely have offered the suggestion that treading very very carefully is the order of the day when making comments about Islam. He is on record as having categorised Protestants as not churches at all but "faith communities," and that's fine: maybe it was time for some sober second looks at the enthusiasms of the Vatican II era.

(“Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he,” as my inclusivist-to-a-fault mother puts it: “He IS, after all, the Pope, and when all is said and done, it’s not so long since English Protestants were burning the Pope [not just Guy Fawkes] in effigy on the Fifth of November and referring to the Pope as the Whore of Babylon, and in Belfast they’re STILL ridiculously marching on the Glorious Twelfth of July and hollering ‘Up King Billy and down with the Pope.’ We can certainly cope with his holding us in some contempt; the feeling used to be mutual, and perhaps in his part of Germany they don’t intermarry at quite the rate we do in Canada, and they don’t need to be quite so nice about these things as a matter of family harmony, if nothing else, as we do.”)

(You may be as interested as I am to discover that in Western Canada, non-Catholics are now allowed into Separate Schools and Catholics into Public Schools: all are of course 100% funded by the provinces, but it used to be an article of law as well as faith that Catholic children MUST go to Separate Schools and that Catholics must not go to Public Schools (see when I was in high school there was a bit of a hoo-haw over a Catholic family who lived right across the street from the public high school I went to wanting to avail themselves of its services for their children instead of sending them a couple of kilometers away to the nearest Separate High School; nothing doing. As far as the Separate School System and the RC diocese were concerned, they would have had officially to renounce their Catholicism!

This came to my attention when my Mum asked me to provide some screed or other on some issue as to which I have modest expertise for the daughter of a fellow member of her Church Session – that’s Scotch Presbyterian for Parish Council. Who was enrolled at the nearest school, a Separate one. For heaven’s sake: are we now THAT civilised? Yes, it seems.)

But dealing with the likes of inclusivist-minded ivory tower intellectual Protestants of the Lutheran and Anglican and Presbyterian stripe is not the same as dealing with grassroots committed Muslims in the villages and towns and cities of Egypt and the West Bank and Iraq and Pakistan.

(No word yet from my Christian friends in Malaysia; one suspects that there the issue of Chinese and Indians driving the economy and needing to be mildly tolerated will moderate the response, though be it said, my Christian friends there are paranoid to the nth degree about official harassment. Plenty of word from liberal-minded Muslim Pakistani friends who are terrified on behalf of their Christian co-nationals as to the fallout from all this.)

And the fact is that it’s Christians on the ground in the West Bank and Iraq and Pakistan and Indonesia who catch the flak. It’s already at times a matter of life and death to front up at church on Sunday in Pakistan – Sunday Anglican services have been bombed in Bahawalpur and Taxila and Murree, and entire Christian villages massacred in West Punjab. Curiously, it is the Church of Pakistan, not the RC church in Pakistan, which seems to suffer the brunt of these aggressions: has the RC church in Pakistan thus far managed to distance itself from President Bush?

(A bunch of Sindhi law students at the university in Karachi ingenuously asked me, "Why does President Bush hate Muslims?" I forebore to say, "Well, there's 9/ you THINK?" I of course instead offered mealy-mouthed suggestions that, oh well, how could he have much idea of what Islam is REALLY about when the Islamic community doesn't lobby for their opinion to be registered, and all that...

Please don’t get me wrong here. I don’t for a moment seek to excuse peasant religious intolerance. Even though I shamelessly boast of the latitudinarianism of my own Scotch Gaelic-speaking forbears — I am, as I must have boringly reiterated in the past, among precisely the third generation, no more, which speaks English as a first language. There is a stock story in the department of linguistics at the University of Toronto as to how in rural Ontario communities in the 19th century there were invariably three churches: Scotch Presbyterian, Scotch Catholic and Scotch Baptist, and only one of them ever had a congregation of any size: it depended on which one had a Scotch Gaelic-speaking clergyman! (John Kenneth Galbraith engagingly discusses all this in his memoir of a southern Ontario boyhood in The Scotch ISBN: 0452250196.) And my Scotch Gaelic-speaking great aunt Vera explained the peculiar variety of the spelling of our family name by its various members, MacPherson, McPherson and Macpherson – I am sure entirely without any authentic warrant at all, on the basis of whether the name was recorded on the baptismal rolls of a Presbyterian, Catholic or Baptist church!

But when it comes to making comments about Islam, the Holy Father is NOT only dealing with higher theologians (there are of course plenty of those in the Islamic world) or even inclusivist and cosmopolitan middle class South Asian Muslims. He is also dealing with the Muslim equivalent of Northern Irish Protestant yahoos, but an equivalent with a considerably greater ability to make things very difficult indeed for their Christian co-nationals.

I was down in a nearby “Turkish” kebab shop last night for a late dinner. The proprietors and the cheap hired help are, it develops (as with several other “Turkish” kebab shops) actually Iraqi Christians and Jews and Iranian Bahais and Zoroastrians. We of course got talking — my “American” English provokes these things. It is always horrendously depressing, what they say: “Can you PLEASE tell your President that he is making life intolerable for us? We are dying because of his policies!” Well no, alas, I can’t, as indeed I couldn’t in West Papua many years ago when a similar question was asked, and the politics of the Vietnam war era meant that the USA was conniving at and implicitly encouraging the government of Indonesia freely to massacre Christian Papuans and take over their ancestral lands for Javanese settlers.

So no. With the greatest of respect for the Holy Father, it’s just not good enough to protest that his remarks were misinterpreted or taken out of context, or even, as you say, that Muslims have too thin a skin. For our Christian co-religionists in the Muslim world it is a matter of life and death.

There are a million – a MILLION, mind you – Christians in Iraq. And fifteen million in Pakistan. And all are now in mortal peril as a result of — well, not necessarily what the Holy Father said, but how his remarks were interpreted. It might have been anticipated, surely.

Gashwin said...

Hmm ... I think I'm going to sort out my thoughts a little and write a longer responses as a blog post. I do think Benedict did not expect this at all ... that's for sure. And the Vatican is extremely aware of the situation of Christians in the Muslim world ... which is why all Vatican statements sound like so much mollycoddling (which is also why so many are now saying: why bother? Has that gotten us anywhere?) ... Benedict is a professor and I think has had his first lesson in mass media 101.

As to his purported remark about churches: it wasn't him per se (either as Pope or as Cardinal), but a document issued by the office he formerly headed, Dominus Iesus, that said (in my opinion, a little opaquely) that the churches of the reform weren't "churches in the proper sense" of the word (i.e. they weren't churches in the way the Catholic Church understands the word "church." Which is kinda, "duh" but it was not the best language.), but rather "ecclesial communities." I don't think the World Council of Churches is going to change its name anytime soon, and I don't expect anyone (including the Pope) to start referring to the Lutheran church down the street as the Lutheran Ecclesial Community.

But, if one is talking hard quetions of ecclesiology, then there is a distinction that Catholic teaching makes between those churches that have properly preserved apostolic succession and the historic episcopate ("churches in the proper sense of the word") and those that have not ...

It's a separate question altogether what kind of existential difference this distinction makes on the ground or even in most ecumenical settings. But the purpose of Dominus Iesus was to demaracate clearly the lines in the sand, and that, it seems, it did.