Monday, September 18, 2006

Religious Fanatics

Last week, the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor while expressing his opinions about Islam during a speech. A veritable storm of criticism has erupted.

"He said, I quote, '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.'"

He has since apologized, and the vatican has spent quite a lot of time trying to spin this. The Pope is saying he doesn't share this opinion, and that it was a poor choice of words. But he also has said that he doesn't believe that Islam can be "reformed". And yet he didn't intend to insult Muslims, of course.

These are not off-the-cuff remarks, the Pope knows that leaders and peoples worldwide listen to him -- whether they are Roman Catholic or not, the Pope is seen as an important world figure. His words are carefully planned, carefully written. If these are not his personal opinions, he is still the primary voice of the RC church and the views are those espoused by the church. What did he think was going ot happen when he suggested that Islam is "evil"?

And he is willfully ignoring (or denying) the fact that the Christian church has often spread it's own faith by the sword.

Do people forget the crusades? Do people think that the friars who accompanies the Spanish to the Americas converted the Indians by reasoned debates and loving hands? Do people really believe that the missionary Christians in Asia and Africa were great humanitarians rather than the foot soldiers of imperialism?

And the response of Muslim extremists to the comments? Even less reasoned and less acceptable. Burning effigies, protesting, and even threats that the west must convert or "die by the sword". Yup, that's the way to convince the world that Islam is indeed a peaceful religion.

The fanatics in charge, the tiny sliver of religious leadership that is extreme and inflexible (and yes, the players here on both sides, Christian and Muslim, are fanatics) are trying to create a world of religious polarization and intolerance. How is that going to improve things in the world?

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