I love irony. Except when people get killed.
When his election as Pope was announced, critics of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (myself among them), felt that the window of Vatican II had finally been slammed shut. For here was the Grand Inquistor himself, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, nemesis of such noted scholars and heroes of post-Vatican theology as Hans Küng and Edward Schillebeeckx , now occupying the See of Peter himself.
Of course being an Anglican, I don’t buy that whole business about the shoes of the fisherman, anyway. But, I’m writing post-modern irony here, so stuff it, will ya?
I figured it wouldn’t be long before the new Pope would trot out long-abandoned arguments about orthodoxy and purity and only-celibate-men-in-the pulpit. And I was right. Still, I never figured that Benedict would try, however inadvertently, to reignite the flames of the Crusades. He did just that, this past week, when at Regensburg University, he quoted 14th century Byzantine crusader Manuel II Paleologus: “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.”
Predictably, (and ironically) the Islamic world recoiled in protest. “We swear that we will destroy their cross in the heart of Rome ... and that their Vatican will be hit and wept over by the Pope," ranted Jaish al-Mujahideen of the Mujahideen's Army, who called Benedict the “the dog of the crusaders.” The Palestinian and Pakistani Parliaments condemned the Pope while other Muslims burned him in effigy. It went on and on, throughout the Islamic world.
Still more irony: Benedict was not saying that he agreed with the Christian crusader. Still, he never said he didn’t agree, and the full speech reveals Benedict’s view of the inferiority of Muslim theology about epistemology and theodicy. So, his apology sounds a bit strained to my irony-overloaded ears: “At this time I wish also to add that I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims. These in fact were a quotation from a medieval text, which do not in any way express my personal thought.”
Benedict, like George Bush, doesn’t even begin to understand Islam, or the regard in which it holds its Prophet, or the value it places on the opinions of the leaders of other world religions. If I, an insignificant Christian cleric, say something stupid or insensitive about Islam, not a single effigy will burn. But when the Pope, viewed as the leader of the world’s Christians (ironically by both himself and Muslims, in spite of the objections of the much of the rest of Christianity), utters the words “evil and inhuman” in connection with the Prophet’s name, Muslims take offense.
And now, somebody has died. Sister Leonella Sgorbati was shot outside a Mogadishu hospital, apparently by somebody who thought that killing her would punish Benedict.
Even the irony that the Pope had to apologize, thus destroying the doctrine of Papal Infallibility, is no longer amusing. Whether Christian or Muslim, it’s time to follow the Qur’an’s advice:
O humankind! We created you from a single pair of a male and female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know and deal with each other in kindness (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God (is he who is) the most righteous of you, and God is Knower, Aware. Qur’an, 49:13.