Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Pope's Remarks

I haven't said anything yet about the recent uproar over the remarks of the Pope, because there really isn't much to say, despite the attempt of people to say a lot about it. There is an entirely predictable and reasonable response of moderate Muslims, making entirely predictable and largely reasonable criticisms; there is the less reasonable but still understandable anger of the Muslim man on the street; there are a few people who rightly noted that the Pope made a factual error or two; there are a lot of people who are being obviously unreasonable. But there's really not much said; the only surprise about what little is said is how few people recognize the difference between oratio obliqua and oratio recta.

I was amused, however, by Christopher Hitchins's utter failure to say anything of signifcance about the matter. For instance:

Most of all, throughout his address to the audience at Regensburg, the man who modestly considers himself the vicar of Christ on Earth maintained a steady attack on the idea that reason and the individual conscience can be preferred to faith. He pretends that the word Logos can mean either “the word” or “reason,” which it can in Greek but never does in the Bible, where it is presented as heavenly truth. He mentions Kant and Descartes in passing, leaves out Spinoza and Hume entirely, and dishonestly tries to make it seem as if religion and the Enlightenment and science are ultimately compatible, when the whole effort of free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic illusion of “revealed” truth and its all-too-earthly human potentates.

It takes cheek to call someone dishonest for not having a view of history that is obviously simplistic, utterly out of date, and poorly supported by evidence, particularly when it is clearly irrelevant to the point being made -- the Pope brought up Kant as an eminent example of modern self-limitation of reason, and Descartes, or, rather, Cartesianism, is only mentioned as background to Kant. The interpretation of the Gospel of John seems crude, particularly given that it's actually fairly standard in Christian theological tradition to interpret Logos in John as 'Word' or 'Reason'. Where Hitchens is getting 'heavenly truth', I don't know. The Enlightenment is mentioned by the Pope only to say that it should not be ignored. And Hitchens's claim that "the whole effort of free inquiry always had to be asserted, at great risk, against the fantastic illusion of 'revealed' truth" so obviously could only be accepted based on a highly selective reading of Enlightenment thought (in all the various, and rather diverse, forms it took) that it can be dismissed outright as mere rhetoric. The whole essay is like this.