Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Tongue of stone

Pope Benedict XVI is not someone who makes careless statements. You don't spend years as the church's Grand Inquisitor without learning that words have the power of bullets. So if his true intent last week was to promote "frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect" between Christianity and Islam, there were better ways to go about it. He could have said (in appropriately scholarly language), "Look, we don't agree on much, but I think we both know that women should shut up and stay in the kitchen, am I right? High five!" Now you've got everybody on the boat, sailing in the same direction, and there's room on board for fundamentalist Protestants, Latter-day Saints and Orthodox Jews. Because if the monotheistic Near Eastern death-cults share one basic premise, it's that women don't matter.

Instead, he dredged up a quotation from an obscure 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologos ("Stone-tongue Manny") equating Islam with violence. The quotation went further, treading on the inflamed bunion of Islam by mentioning Muhammad by name. Surely he knew that thousands of Muslims would make his point by responding with violence. This was no great insight: they respond to practically everything with violence. And when the effigies and churches burned, the pope's unstated but underlying point was made: "Nya nya na nya nya, my God's better than your God!" Which is always the point when a cult leader speaks in public. (He may not have counted on the murdered nun in Somalia, but as Donald Rumsfeld would say, "Stuff happens." At least it was only a woman.)

This is the difference between religion and philosophy. Philosophy says, "Your premise is interesting, but I don't agree with it." Religion said, "Your premise is interesting, but wrong. My God says I have to kill you and destroy your city. It's nothing personal, thank you for engaging in frank and sincere dialogue, with great mutual respect."


Post a Comment

<< Home