Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Saint Louis University

On Thursday and Friday of last week I attended the Saint Louis University conference on The Epistemology of Religious Belief, where I presented on the fine-tuning argument for the existence of God. Things went very well, and SLU always feels like home to me. When doing my MA at the University of Missouri I would frequently go to Pius Library at SLU to get things you just couldn't get anywhere else. And now John Greco, a world-class epistemologist, is there as well. It's one of the places I would most like to teach some day.

I met some cool young, bright priests and brothers there. There is apparently a relatively recent-but-flourishing Dominican community south of town on a beautiful acreage. Interested parties should inquire.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Benedict XVI and Muslim Rage

You may have read that the Pope "made inflamatory remarks" about the Islamic concept of Jihad.

I've yet to see very many accurate reports. The whole speech is available here.

The relevent portion will be reproduced below, but this summary by Stephen Bates of The Guardian is quite apt:

Benedict's offence, of course, was recklessly to quote this 600 year-old expression of the point of view of a medieval Middle Eastern potentate. He didn't endorse it, didn't say that it was his own view, attributed it in context. And is now told that he has "aroused the anger of the whole Islamic world." Most of which, probably, had never heard of Manuel II Paleologue before this morning. Perhaps the pope should be careful of bringing such subversive ancient texts to light.
On the other hand, if you cannot, as part of a lengthy and profound academic lecture, cite a 600 year-old text for fear of stirring the aggravation of noisy politicians half way around the world, what CAN you do? We might as well all retreat into obscurantism. And keep our mouths shut, for otherwise, who knows who we might offend. And if, as a result of the outrage, some Catholics get killed or their churches burned down by offended scholars and textual exegesists it might be thought that Manuel's original point had rather been made.

The furor came based on (in a sense to be discussed below) comments in a lecture entitled "Faith, reason and the university: memories and reflections" dilevered at the University of Regensburg in Germany where he had previously been a professor.

He illustrates a point by making reference to a dialog involving Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. Benedict records that

"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 ... 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..." (emphasis added).

You now see the force of Bates's summary.

This is close to a paradigmatic case of quoting someone out of context, but it goes way beyond that. The small problem is that domestic news sources will not say what needs saying: that the Pope was quoted out of context and the comments are being used by radicals to whip the masses into a frenzy. That is what is happening, it is evil, and they ought to, but largely will not, say it. This, as I say, is the small problem.

The big problem is the information lockdown in the Mid East. It's irresponsible of Western intellectuals who will--I have absolutely no doubt--unfairly use this as a scourge on the Pope. It's mean and illiberal as well. However, at least they have the *opportunity* to exercise their vice, which is not the case, largely, for most in the "hotspots" of the Mid East. It took me all of five minutes to find the full speach, the key passage, and the bottom of the story.

But the masses in the Mid East don't have this luxury. They are held subject to the flood of misinformation they are fed by their "government"-controlled "news" sources.

I could go into much more detail, but the documentation has already been done by the Middle East Media Research Institue. They have a host of programs which are worth checking out on a regular basis. Here are some worthy links:

Anti-Semitism Documentation Project: http://www.memri.org/antisemitism.html

Recent Headlines: "The Mufti of Egypt: The True Face of the Blood-Sucking Hebrew Entity has Been Exposed"

Former Pakistan Intelligence Chief on Al-Jazeera: ‘Israel is Our Main Enemy’

Syrian Deputy Minister of Religious Endowment Muhammad 'Abd Al-Sattar Calls for Jihad and States Jews ‘are the Descendants of Apes and Pigs’

There is also a website which has full streaming video of Mid East TV shows. http://memritv.org/

Recent Clips: Lebanese Shiite Leader Muhammad Hussein Fadhlallah: The Jews and Some American Powers May Be Behind 9/11

Iranian TV 9/11 Special: Western Experts Say Both 9/11 and Pearl Harbor Were Planned by the American Administration

I don't know how we can possibly overcome such radical misinformation. I suppose a start would be holding those who know better fully accountable. Once upon a time that was a service of the News Media.

There is a full documentary available online here: http://www.memrifilms.org/

PS - I composed this online, so sorry for spelling and grammatical errors.