Sunday, September 17, 2006

What the Pope actually said versus what the media reported

There has been an intense negative reaction to some rather innocuous words from Pope Benedict. Much of the blame for the furor resides with the media for quoting the Pope out of context. It was as if the media intentionally sought to portray the Popes words in as negative light as possible, as if they were trying to create a scandal where none existed. As if the media had not a clue of the power of isolated "sound bites" taken out of context. As if. Or maybe the reality.

Here's an excerpt from the NY Times coverage from Wednesday, September 13, 2006 by Ian Fisher:

And he used language open to interpretations that could inflame Muslims, at a time of high tension among religions and three months before he makes a trip to Turkey.

He began his speech, which ran over half an hour, by quoting a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, in a conversation with a "learned Persian" on Christianity and Islam "and the truth of both."

"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread the sword by the faith he preached," the pope quoted the emperor, in a speech to 1,500 students and faculty.

He went on to say that violent conversion to Islam was contrary to reason and thus "contrary to God's nature."

But the section on Islam made up just three paragraphs of the speech, and he devoted the rest to a long examination of how Western science and philosophy had divorced themselves from faith -- leading to the secularization of European society that is at the heart of Benedict's worries.

[My emphasis]

Not until Friday, September 15, 2006 did the NY Times even note a transcription error:

Because of a transcription error, an article on Wednesday about a speech by Pope Benedict XVI in Germany, in which he addressed the concept of Muslim holy war, rendered incorrectly a phrase from a quotation by a 14th-century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus. The correct quotation reads, "Show me just what Muhammad 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." not "to spread the sword by the faith he preached."

It wasn't clear who made the transcription error, or if maybe it was a translation error.

The corrected paragraph would read:

"Show me just what Muhammad 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," the pope quoted the emperor, in a speech to 1,500 students and faculty.

The "official" text (in English) from the Vatican web site has the following paragraph:

In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (F×< 8`(T) is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

[My emphasis]

Note that the gibberish "*4V8,>4H" is the Greek διάλεξις in the Italian translation of the Pope's lecture. And "F×< 8`(T" is the Greek "σὺν λόγω." Alas, the Vatican has too much "faith" in their HTML editing tools.

The Pope's "speech" was in fact an academic lecture, entitled "Faith, Reason and the University - Memories and Reflections."

Clearly, the Pope was trying to make a point about faith and reason in the context of a particular audience and not intending to specifically address the topic of violent promotion of Islam. By taking one quote out of context, the media created a furor where not would have otherwise existed.

That said, the Pope did err by not realizing that this is precisely what the media would do.

I believe that the Pope also erred by offering only what I call a "fake" apology. He apologized simply for the fact that someone else was offended, but chose not to apologize for what he actually said that caused offense.

The fact that no one in the media has apologized for "soundbiting" in a way that misrepresents both meaning and intentions, is truly appalling, but not so surprising.

The problem is that the Pope used a quote for one purpose and the media used it for another. One could argue that the media are 100% at fault for misusing the quote and seeming to imply that the Pope believed that Islam encourages spreading faith through the sword.

The Pope should recast his argument with a differnt quote that did not use the language of violence. He should also point out that the quoted emperor was "baiting" his Persian guest with a reference to violence, when in fact the discussion was really about faith that was not based on "the Greek vision" of reason.

I would assess blame at 15% for the Pope, and 85% for the media.

-- Jack Krupansky


At 2:49 PM , Blogger Seven Star Hand said...

Hello Jack and all,

More proof that religion is the opposite of truth, wisdom, and justice

Now we have the infallible Grand Inquisitor (the pot) lecturing Islam (the kettle) about spreading religion through dark deeds and quoting a Dark Ages text while the USA and Europe are in the midst of the Neo-Crusades. The irony and absurdity in this situation is amazing to say the least.

Dear Pope, ever heard of Karma or the golden rule? Ever stop to remember how the Vatican and western nations became so rich and powerful over the centuries? Ever consider giving up your wealth and earthly power to end the blatant hypocrisy of your vane, materialistic, and duplicitous empire? Remember the eye of the needle and the log and mote parables? Is this a demonstration of your infallibility or wisdom? As another wise one once said; What goes around comes around!

The West has killed far more Muslims (and other dark skins) than they have killed westerners, yet our press and leaders can only see Muslim and "third world" desperation in the face of western military and economic dominance and oppression, (in the name of God and country, by the way), as sources of evil in this world.

Guess what guys and girls, war, violence, and injustice are evil, no matter what the excuse or cause or who is doing it to whom. Anyone who thinks the Creator would judge religion, war, or any other profiteering at the expense of others as wise or acceptable activities has a very big surprise in store.

Here is Wisdom!!
...and here too...


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