Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pope Benedict's speech meets the media monster; was the Prophet Mohammed defamed?

I blame the media for quoting the Pope's words out of context. I blame the media for sensationalization. I blame the media for letting their news values get the better of their corporate and societal responsibility. I blame our general media system that emphasizes timeliness, competition and excitement over responsibility.

Not all the international media were guilty of these. At least some bothered to put the context in the body of their news articles - though that doesn't help the many people who only read headlines.

Our 411 Prof expressed disappointment at BBC's coverage - and I felt likewise.

What Pope Benedict was actually saying
The Pope's speech was about establishing a common ground from which there could be inter-faith dialog - that common ground of reason. The bulk of his speech was about how secularization had resulted in a divorce between faith and reason - that people were no longer supposed to talk about and try to understand God through reason. This he briefly touches on in what he calls 'the 3 stages of de-hellenization' - hellenization meaning Greek thought, philosophy and systems of seeing and understanding things.

Now personally I do not agree about whether it makes sense or it is even possible to be able to talk about God using a man-made and thus finite system of logic and reasoning - I suppose such endevours can, and should be done with several conditions in mind.

These systems would help to explain in human terms the way things work, but they would fall short and be insufficient. Thus,

1) We must do so with an acknowledgement of these systems' limitations and shortcomings

2) We must use these systems against a backdrop and basis of faith and in truth - being the revelation of truth via the scriptures with the illumination/conviction of the Holy Spirit.

3) Keeping a crucial biblical principle in mind - knowledge puffeth up, but charity edifieth.

Let's be reasonable dear Muslims - just like God is
That being said, the 'reason' that the Pope has been talking about as a backdrop seems universal and neutral enough to be a common ground from which to begin with - and that's a good start.

I do agree the Pope was being insensitive in the way he brought up the medieval quotation. However, he was trying to illustrate a point - a point that has extreme relevance in today's world. People are hijacking the Muslim faith to commit irrational - and hence, the Pope argues -unreasonable acts which are contrary to God's will. This ground of reason could be a way to combat this militant extremism.

How dare you define our faith
What a shame it is that the leader of another faith needs to try and point out deviations and problems with your own. Feel insulted? I understand. To be frank, the history of Christianity has had many episodes of such abuse by its leaders - many committed by that same authority pointing its fingers at Islam now. Many still abusing it now. But, apart from the bombings of abortion clinics (which I detest - let 'free will' reign - everyone shall have to answer for himself before God during the judgement) Christians don't go about blowing up people of other religions anymore. But at least we're honest with ourselves. We suck too.

But this is something Muslims need to settle amongst themselves. Should Bush intervene and promote freedom and democracy? Should the Pope engage the Muslims on a common ground in order to temper their militant deviations? I honestly don't know. Muslims already have a dark, mysterious view of Bush. Of the Pope? Conspiracy theories, unfounded or otherwise, abound.

Pacifying the Media Monster
The Pope was taken out of context. There is an outrage at the media reports. Pope apologises and regrets the outrage. I think this is a fair apology. In fact - he's kind of apologising for the way the media reported his words out of context.

Defamation test
I don't know what else they want the Pope to apologise for. The Pope has already shown his moral dignity by regretting the unhappiness and outrage at that part of his speech. If you want a recant of the statement

"show me just what Muhammad 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"


1) you'll need to prove the falsity of the Pope's quotation, that Prophet Muhammad did not command, in any of the holy texts, to spread the Muslim faith by the sword.

2) evil and inhuman have no objective test in a secular context - some people would classify homosexual behaviour and eating of animals and abortion as 'evil' or 'inhuman' - thus it is a matter of opinion that is based on a fact; this fair comment defense would fail only if you manage to prove its being based on a false statement as described in 1)

1 comment:

Ben Ho said...

I agree with you that the media has to shoulder some - if not much - of the blame. Clearly, many journalists do not have the ability and knowledge of the wider world. When reporting a speech, most of them simply extract four or five sentences and construct a story... glad i'm not a journalist now, actually.