Irish doctor with too many thoughts, too little time and a blog that's supposed to check in on reality.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Sometimes Sorry is the Wrong Word

I’m not a theologian but…. (yes, any sentence beginning with one’s admission of lack of expertise followed by a “but”, is not a very promising start)…I don’t think Benedict should have apologised.

No doubt God would like us all to apologise when we’ve been wrong or hurt someone (even the other “Oh wise one” sings about “Sorry seems to be the hardest word”), but there are times when we should just resist.
In this Pope-versus-Islam celebrity deathmatch type showdown, Benedict 16 should have stood his ground. Admittedly his apology doesn’t actually retract the substance of what he said, he merely expresses sorrow at being taken out of context in the middle of large scholarly speech, but he shouldn’t apologise. It may be hard to stand your ground in the face of burning effigies and angry mobs killing nuns and the like – but dialogue about religion can’t be stopped every time someone of 1 faith disagrees with someone of another.

In the age of spiritual people and candle burnings, tenets of religious life have been reduced to morsels of love, peace, forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance and deep-breathing. You can be a tepid Buddhist or a “modern” Catholic nun (or like my grand-aunt, a nun, be both) and still have a bit of “whatever you’re having yourself”. But away from our birth crystals, there exists the structured nuances of religions – the Bible for Christians, the Catechism, Councils and Crinkly Old Church Fathers of Catholicism, the Koran for Muslims etc. While the reason of the 2nd millennial babies is vastly different to the Reason of Thomas Aquinas, both exist in our hearts as part of the continual questioning of our personal faiths. And when those faiths meet head on in the public arena of the world, stark dogmas must fight it out. Islamic thought unashamedly carries a by-the-sword ideology, while Christianity, despite a robust defence/just war exception beats those swords into ploughshares. We all can’t go home crying to Mammy everytime someone challenges something about our religion. While it’s trite to say, as some Christians do, “look at me, I didn’t burn pictures of Crucifixes in Urine when my faith was defiled in museums”, there is a contrast in our experiences of perceived disrespect. Democracy is something that is fully compatible with the Christian person, the “imago Dei” notion of all us, and with the recognition of our human nature, we’re more than happy with the whole Western democracy set up. Fair enough, not enough people want to go to Mass on Sundays, but we’re not going to round them up with swords or Bazookas (most parishes attempt more lethal versions of “This little light of mine”) or even subject them to capital punishment as one London based Islamic cleric called for.

To bridge these differences, robust debate is called for, where religious voices dialogue with the confidence of their convictions, from which respect is built. Having to apologise for statements of fact or having to hide out under couch from fear of fatwas is not advancement. The onus lies not on the Christian religions, and by extension the Western world to step up to the mark, but on leading political and religious figures in the Islamic tradition, particularly in Western countries to engage without fear and quick recourse to the “you’ve to say sorry” rallies.

For a few interesting articles on the whole point of the speech – religion and rationality – Thomas Madden in NRO; the Cedar Lounge Revolution (disagreeing) and the Anchoress has a comprehensive round-up post.

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Anonymous Noz said...

I think the fact that he hasn't retracted any of the substance of what he said is the important bit, but in this volatile age, it would have been irresponsible not to offer some kind of olive branch (while still not retracting what he actually said). I think it was very clever.

September 20, 2006 10:15 a.m.  

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