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"Had we but world enough, and time..." *
All These False Notions9/23/2006 03:29:59
Combing through the Benedict speech at Regensburg (which I've written about already) again, I came across this passage near the end, as the Pope is insisting on the importance of "the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, as a source of knowledge." This discussion basically is one that I have tremendous personal sympathy with and take to be subjectively axiomatic. But after that he continues:
Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss."
This quotation raises an odd and perplexing proposition that could not possibly be true, particularly given what we have come to expect from the man stating it: does he mean to imply that the data of religious experience should be treated as we would treat "all these false notions"? At the very least he considers their correspondence close enough to warrant juxtaposition by analogy, which presupposes that its examples bear at least some relevant equivalence.
This reminds me of the epigraph to Stanford University Press's "Contraversions" series on Judaism, a quotation from Gershom Scholem: "The task of 'The science of Judaism' is to give Judaism a decent burial." I have been wondering, is this the same task of religious studies applied to religion as a whole? Is this what the Pope is out to re-Christianize Europe for?
Perhaps Benedict is referring to the way, as he notes earlier in the talk, that today's secular-scientific establishment phrases the existence of God in ways "making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question." Perhaps also, though, there is a strange sense in which even the Pope himself has taken on the conclusion that, at least in some perhaps limited sense, the core assertions of religion seem to be evidently, almost categorically, false.
Still I insist on the value of it as a "source of knowledge." And, in other senses, its truth.
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Devji on Secularism - 9/27/2006 01:53:55
The point of this controversy is not that Muslims have misunderstood the pope, that Benedict XVI has misunderstood the Prophet Mohammed, or that either party has acted out of hatred and prejudice. However true or false any of these points may be, the controversy's great irony is that the pontiff's Muslim protesters should engage so fully with the argument of his speech. They did so not by providing an illustration of what happens when faith and reason are separated, but rather by demonstrating how difficult it is for anyone including the pope himself to move beyond the language of secularism. This indeed is the crisis of religion to whose resolution Benedict XVI has dedicated his papacy.
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