June 22, 2005

Symbolism...

I need to quibble with Alan Sullivan about a portion of one of his posts. He writes:

...the Pope, claims that secular Europe is inviting jihad by refusing to put a clause about Christianity in the defunct Euro Constitution. Somehow this is supposed to offend the religious sensibilities of Muslims.
"Europe has developed a culture which, in a way never before known to humanity, excludes God from public conscience, either by being denied or by judging his existence to be uncertain and thus belonging to subjective choices, something irrelevant for public life," Benedict writes.

He dismisses arguments that inclusion of the reference would have offended Jews and Muslims, saying they are more offended by Europe's attempt to deny a historic fact.

"It's not the mention of God that offends the followers of other religious, but precisely the attempt to build a human community absolutely without God," he writes.
This is delusional. Muslim hatred of Jews is ubiquitous, God or no god; and Christians aren't exactly popular among the hardliners either. Let them be offended. Pope Benedict's rationale would also excuse the sex-crazed Arab men who demand that women wear veils on pain of rape or murder. But the women are not at fault, and neither is Europe. Not this time.

Actually, I think the Pope is making good sense. He must of course, like Bush, gloss over the craziest 10% of the Moslem world, beause he is trying to build bridges to moderates.

But, it's not Christianity or Judaism that offend Moslem traditionalists, but secular decadence and the attractiveness of superior Western culture and technology. I've read various accounts of jihadis, and very frequently one reads that they became fanatics after a period of exposure to the West. But it isn't cathedrals and synagogues and the faithful at prayer that drive them to fanaticism. It's the tempting fleshpots, the open hedonism and secularism that fill them with dismay. (And of course many believing Christians and Jews feel much the same, though we have a better idea of how useless violence is as an antidote.)

And Moslems have not, traditionally, hated Jews. That's a 20th Century phenomenon, copied from Europe, and mostly a response to the humiliation of having a modern, secular and extremely successful state thrust into the midst of their failed ones. Plus an endless propaganda campaign by those failed states, using hatred of Israel to distract from their own failings. Pious Jews (and Christians) have been living in Palestine all along, without inspiring anyone to foam at the mouth.

Also, the Pope isn't here excusing anything. To think that offending someone excuses their actions is a modern leftist or secular notion, not a Christian one. (And is normally used only to excuse privileged groups. You can offend white male capitalists all you want, without excusing their hideous transgressions.) A Christian should avoid leaving his money lying around, so as not to tempt someone to the sin of theft. But that doesn't excuse the sinner in the least.

Nor is the Pope literally saying (or thinking) that that clause will in itself make a big difference. It's symbolic of a larger problem. The Pope has to make symbolic points, he has no other leverage. And that EU Constitution is a very good symbol of what's wrong with Europe. (Fortunately, it's now looking like it will not become a large part of what's actually wrong with Europe.) The Holy Father says things like that, and usually they are ignored. But maybe, just maybe, one day, the time is right, and some symbolic point makes a lot of people suddenly stop and wonder if they are taking the wrong path...

Posted by John Weidner at June 22, 2005 3:18 PM
Weblog by John Weidner