Saturday, September 23, 2006

How the Rioters Proved the Pope Was Wrong

Here’s an additional irony for you. (For the ground-floor layer of irony, see "How About that Pope?" below.) The violent Islamist reaction to the Pope’s speech actually showed in a particularly dramatic way, that what the Pope was saying in the speech was wrong. I’m not referring that any thesis about whether Islam is or is not violent by nature. That wasn’t the main point of the Pope’s speech, as has been point ed out in an excellent editorial in The Times of London.

The main point was given in the conclusion of his talk. As translated by The Times:

“In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion to the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.”

The main point of his talk was to attack -- not some other religion, but -- their common enemy, the Western scientific rationalism that has gradually grown in influence since the Enlightenment. Ah, the irony of it! Here he is, telling us that the Enlightenment rationalists, people like me, cannot engage in a dialogue with other points of view, and the only people who refuse to dialogue with him about these issues, who try to violently shut down the discussion, are certain people who, like him, “supplement” reason with faith.

He is wrong in at least two ways. First, there is the obvious error, which I just pointed out. Second, we Western rationalists can and do enter into dialogue with those we disagree with: I am doing it now! Look Ma, no hands! In addition to that, and most curious of all, is the oddly twisted logic of the above quotation. He says that we rationalists are unable to talk to the denizens of the world's profoundly religious cultures. And what is the reason for this hobbling disability of ours? It is that they perceive our disagreeing with them “as an attack on their most profound convictions.”

Isn't there something obviously wrong with this line of reasoning? Yes, dialogue is blocked by the fact that certain religionists perceive the fact that others think differently as an “attack” on them. But that is not our disability, it is theirs! They are the ones who won’t enter into a dialogue, who still don’t get what a dialogue is and what it is for.

As a matter of fact, the idea of “dialogue” that the Pope is using here is not a Christian or religious idea. It was invented and developed by pagan philosophers and secular humanists. The fact that the Pope is now in favor of a dialogue between cultures represents a sort of progress. His intellectual ancestors spent centuries doing what the rioters are doing now: trying to stop it. I hereby welcome him aboard the liberal bandwagon. But he ought to figure out who the true friends of dialogue are.

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