As one can see below, MM has launched a spirited and nuanced defense of the now infamous speech by Benedict XVI. I share MM’s view that there is value in discussing the link between faith and reason, as well as having candid dialogues between cultures and religions. I am however surprised by his dogged defense of the entirety of the speech. While granting that the speech had some valid arguments, I am not surprised that it has been undermined by a terribly ill-timed quotation, and MM, and other pious Catholics like him, should not shy away from recognizing that.
Does the Vatican not have PR staff and speech reviewers? Could they not come up with a more neutral reference than the one that was used? Given how inflamed religious tensions are these days around the world, the last thing we need is the Church digging up old, highly inflammatory, quotations from the age of religious wars (regardless of the caveats applied). More pertinently, for Mr. Ratzinger to talk about conversion by the sword and not refer to his own religion’s track record is disingenuous to say the least.
I am also disappointed by the statement of regret that has been released, which reads like the product of a modern spin machine. The pope did not express regret over his poor choice of quotation per se; rather he (or his people) regretted that some Muslims may have been offended by what he had to say! To me, this sounds like “I know I am right, I am just sad that you think I am wrong, and I regret that you are offended by what I had to say (although I know I am right).” When one makes a visible mistake, one needs to show contrition, not give out smart sound bites.
Again, I do not disagree with the need to have discussions on faith and reason; in fact, I find such discussions intellectually intriguing and stimulating. What I find condemnation-worthy is the pope’s demonstrated lack of sensitivity in making his arguments. He is a world figure, and he needs to be much more careful in pushing his thinking. Otherwise he risks undermining the very dialogue he is trying to foster. Most importantly, now that we have a bit of a loose cannon in the Vatican, the bureaucracy there ought to reinforce the speech review process before Mr. Benedict hits the podium again.