Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Sad State of News Reports

What disturbed me the most, and still does, about news reports of Pope Benedict's comments and the reaction among Muslims, is that in none of the reports was there any mention of context. The first few reports failed to even mention that he was quoting someone else, making it seem like he had just gone crazy. By the second day, the reports uniformly contained the information that it was a quote, and a very old one. Yet, there was no mention of the context, that is, the way in which the quote was used. This is the sort of thing that drives me towards the deep end, and makes me think that my considerations on the current Dim Age are actually understated instead of exaggerated.

Why is this important? Well, if the words are not your own, then the only thing connecting them to you is why you are quoting them. The fact is, given the news reports, there was no way of determining whether Pope Benedict was agreeing with the quote, the main view, or using it as an example of previous misunderstandings. In the later context he may even have been using the quote in order to vehemently disagree with it, there was no way of knowing. However, everyone seemed to know. They didn't seem to need that information, or think it relevant enough to include in their news reports.

The same attitude is prevalent across the board in our reporting and presenting. It drives me up the wall when I see someone interviewed who clearly just contradicted what they said not five minutes ago, and the interviewer doesn't seem to even notice let alone think it worth mentioning, or, *gasp* bringing it up and asking about it.

How much damage was done, and will be done in the end? It is hard to say. There were reports of indiscriminant fire-bombings of churches for one. There was a increase in the perception of an irreconcilable divide between religions and cultures for another. And in the end, we will never know.

The actual context of the quote, should you be one of the few who may consider that important, was in arguing against the spread of religion by violence. An argument against holy war, almost started or deepened another one. If that information had been included the reports would not have been so sensational, nor as dangerous. They may have just been considered unwise, or an incomplete picture. Who knows? We never will. Nor will we know the next time.


jp said...

I couldn't agree more, Rev. In context, the speech is actually pretty remarkable. Now, I do think that he might have chosen a better example, all things considered. He's an intelligent man and surely knew that his quote would at the very least spark controversy.

The full text is here, btw:


There is a theory currently roaming the blogosphere that posits that this speech may actually have been aimed not at Muslims, but at the Orthodox. Interesting stuff:


Sir Francis said...

"The actual context of the quote, should you be one of the few who may consider that important, was in arguing against the spread of religion by violence..."

Yes, Troy+, and who better to take that to heart than the Roman church and their crusades, inquisitions, autos-da-fé, burning of books, heretics etc. etc. First came the soldiers/conquistadores then the priests...

This strikes me as a classic case of projection. if you're in an ecumenical mood I am not.

Rev. Troy said...

I can't say I understand, particularly the last line. I am in a reality-oriented mood. And we really can't discuss any possible meanings of what was said or meant, without knowing what that was. In the case of a quote, as I said, context is everything. It doesn't make it all sweetness and light, but putting it in context does take it out of the realm of pure projection. Those who “know” what was said from an out-of-context quote are the ones who are engaging in projection.

I have no love for the man, but that doesn't mean he said or meant something other than what he said or meant simply because that would reinforce my opinion. That would take us into the realm of us vs. them team-think that I loathe so much. And loathe the more when it leads to inciting violence.

And you needed look to some collective historical guilt either, Pope Benedict was the head of the current incarnation of the inquisition. As little as I care about such things, his role brought him to my attention a number of times, none of them favorably. It's not like he's going to change personally with the change of office and wardrobe. What has surprised many is that he has been more mild than expected.

Joe Daher said...

who better to take that to heart than the Roman church and their crusades, inquisitions, autos-da-fé, burning of books, heretics etc. etc. First came the soldiers/conquistadores then the priests...

Need I be the one to remind the few listening that the Roman Church today is NOT the same church that it was in the past? Okay, so the Catholic Church has done some pretty dishonorable things, of this I cannot argue. But we cannot call this current incarnation anything other than what it is TODAY.

Should we call all humans barbarians because we, at one point in the evolutionary cycle, acted as such? Are we still cavemen? Are we still living in the mindless era of the dark ages?

If we are not prepared to say yes to these questions, then we cannot call the current Roman church anything other than what it is CURRENTLY.

Because of this, what I found while reading the text of the speech was a generally mild tone that was directed towards a very purposeful topic. I think His Grace has received a lot more critique than he is deserved.

I will state it for the group: Christianity gets continually beat up by scholars, teachers, church officials, and anyone else who has a grudge with it on a constant basis. Why is it, then, that when Islam is questioned, the mobs turn to protests and violence? The context of the quote wasn't even the meaning of the speech, and to pull one quote out of the entirety to bring a man to the guantlet is just what it is...ignorance.

Sir Francis said...

Anger it seems does not improve one's aim (If I live another 62 years I may yet learn to count to ten...): With apologies for any careless words or thoughts, if I may clarify: said anger was and is directed *solely* at Benedict XVI and no one else; I can imagine no more disatrous indivual to head the Church in these times of all times. (And Joe, I neither said nor intended *any* blanket condemnation of canonic Christianity in general or Roman Catholicism specifically. I would like to think my views of the Roman church are at least reasonably nuanced, this venerable institution that gave the world Thomas Merton AND Domingo Guzman. Meister Eckhart AND Urban II. Mechthild of Magdeburg AND Anselm of Canterbury. An enormous palette of grays indeed. Tangentially, the few Catholics, churched or otherwise, that I know well and/or read possess, I would say, a commendable admixture of common sense and spiritual maturity, or at least the aspiration to it, that would set the current pontiff a salutary example. And with due respect I do not accept that "we cannot call this current incarnation anything other than what it is TODAY" if by this is meant that the Western Church's misdeeds of the past are academic or that "we should put all that behind us." History ignored tends to become history repeated. In the recent past the Catholic hierarchy helped enable the Holocaust, if only by their silence, and, more recently, have enabled South American juntas and dictatorships, in addition to any and all good works. I for one sleep easier knowing, to paraphrase Stalin, that the current pope has no soldiers, guns, or tanks.)

Troy, my distress was out of my impression that you were cutting Benedict slack the man does not merit. It seems to me his remarks were either deliberately chosen to be inflammatory *or* they were mindlessly careless, and, from my impression that the man has not one non-political bone in his body, I'd say option B is a long shot. This is after all the same man who recently leveled a seemingly thoughtless talk at another religious community. From


"... The current anger of Muslims is comparable to the anger and disappointment felt by Jews after his visit to Auschwitz in May. He gave a long address at the site of the former concentration camp and failed to mention anti-semitism, and offered no apology — whether on behalf of his own country, Germany, or on behalf of the Catholic Church. He acknowledged he was a “son of the German people” … “but not guilty on that account”; he then launched into a highly controversial claim that a “ring of criminals” were responsible for nazism and that the German people were as much their victims as anyone else. This is an argument that has long been discredited in Germany as utterly inadequate in explaining how millions supported the Nazis. Given his own involvement in the Hitler Youth movement as a boy, and his refusal to make a clean breast of the Vatican’s acquiescence in the horrors of Nazism by opening its archives to historians, this was a shabby moment in Catholic history. Not for this pope those dramatic, epoch-defining gestures that made the last Pope such a significant global figure.
Even worse, in his Auschwitz address, he managed to argue in a long theological exposition that the real victims of the Holocaust were God and Christianity. As one commentator put it, he managed to claim that Jews were the “themselves bit players — bystanders at their own extermination.
The true victim was a metaphysical one. ...”

I for the record do not hate the man or paint him pure black but in my book he has forfeited a presumption of good will or wise speech, and for such as us the proper reaction to him should be, where possible, to ignore him.

Lastly, I said "projection" thinking the Church has little high ground to chide other faiths who "convert by the sword." I could not begin to reckon the numbers but I am confident that on this issue we have at best a black pot and a black kettle. If mending fences was what he was about he might have done better to speak with contrition to the sins of *his* tradition not theirs.

Go and stay well.