The meaning of Pope Benedict’s remarks to Muslim leaders in Germany

The talk, given September 23, 2011, is not long (I’ve copied the text below). The pope does not directly endorse Islam in this talk. He does two other things. First, he says that “religion” is good, and that “religion” needs to have a public dimension in which to express itself. This seems to me to be an invitation for Muslims to express their religion more openly and aggressively in Germany.

Second, he says that mutual co-existence is based on the belief in the “inviolable dignity of every single person,” a principle that he says is found in the German constitution. Though Muslims were not thought of when the constitution was written 60 years ago, he continues, the same principle will work today with Germany’s much greater diversity.

Now, “the inviolable dignity of every single person” is a classic articulation of right-liberalism, also known as “conservatism.” Right-liberalism says that all men have equal dignity, therefore all men must be treated alike, therefore we must without discrimination let all kinds of men enter and be part of our society. But because in reality all men are not alike but belong to very different and mutually incompatible cultures, religions, nations, races, etc., the right-liberal respect for all kinds of individuals instantly leads to the left-liberal accommodation and surrender to those individuals’ cultures, religions, and races, which in turn leads to the destruction of the host society, including its right-liberal principles which caused the society to admit those individuals in the first place.

Thus Benedict can imagine that he’s cagily avoiding endorsing Islam as such but is stating principles of right-liberal respect for individuals which the Muslims must adhere to, and if they adhere to them, the Muslims’ behavior will remain acceptable and they will not pose a threat to Germany. But, in reality, the right-liberal principles simply put the seal of approval on the inclusion in Germany of every kind of person, particularly Muslims. The Germans will exercise the duty to respect every kind of person, while the Muslims, their numbers and power steadily growing, will use the same situation to assert their distinctive Muslim-ness, which of course does NOT respect every single person but requires the systematized inferiority of non-Muslims.

Thus Benedict says:

Mutual respect grows only on the basis of agreement on certain inalienable values that are proper to human nature, in particular the inviolable dignity of every single person. Such agreement does not limit the expression of individual religions; on the contrary, it allows each person to bear witness explicitly to what he believes, not avoiding comparison with others.

Ahh, but what if those individual religions are NOT in conformity with the principle of mutual respect? What if they mandate subjection of women, polygamy, systematized inferiority of non-believers, death to apostates, and so on? Benny never takes in that possibility. His talk simply assumes that Islam is or readily can be made to be in conformity with the right-liberal principle of respect for every single person’s inviolable dignity.

And that (for the thousandth time I’ve said it over the years) is the fatal flaw of right-liberalism. It posits a universal human sameness, and opens the doors of society to others on the basis of that sameness, but in reality this sameness does not exist, and the openness to the others is in reality an openness to incompatible differences which begins the destruction of the society.

Now one could say that the pope is not calling for Germany to be opened to Muslims; they are already there. True. But if he was about defending the West instead of surrendering it to Islam, he would not be speaking in a manner which encourages Germans to believe that the Muslim presence in Germany is all fine and dandy and there’s no reason not to welcome its continued growth there.

Full text: Pope speaks to Germany’s Muslim leaders
By Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, 23 September 2011

Dear Muslim friends, I am glad to be able to welcome you here, as the representatives of different Muslim communities in Germany. From my heart I thank Professor Mouhanad Khorchide for his kind greeting. His words show me what a climate of respect and trust has grown up between the Catholic Church and the Muslim communities in Germany.

Berlin is a good place for a meeting like this, not only because the oldest mosque on German territory is located here, but also because Berlin has the largest Muslim population of all the cities in Germany.

From the 1970s onwards, the presence of numerous Muslim families has increasingly become a distinguishing mark of this country. Constant effort is needed in order to foster better mutual acquaintance and understanding. Not only is this important for peaceful coexistence, but also for the contribution that each can make towards building up the common good in this society.

Many Muslims attribute great importance to the religious dimension of life. At times this is thought provocative in a society that tends to marginalize religion or at most to assign it a place among the individual’s personal choices.

The Catholic Church firmly advocates that due recognition be given to the public dimension of religious adherence. In an overwhelmingly pluralist society, this demand is not unimportant. Care must be taken to guarantee that others are always treated with respect. Mutual respect grows only on the basis of agreement on certain inalienable values that are proper to human nature, in particular the inviolable dignity of every single person. Such agreement does not limit the expression of individual religions; on the contrary, it allows each person to bear witness explicitly to what he believes, not avoiding comparison with others.

In Germany—as in many other countries, not only Western ones—this common frame of reference is articulated by the Constitution, whose juridical content is binding on every citizen, whether he belong to a faith community or not.

Naturally, discussion over the best formulation of principles like freedom of public worship is vast and open-ended, yet it is significant that the Basic Law expresses them in a way that is still valid today at a distance of over sixty years (cf. Art. 4:2). In this law we find above all the common ethos that lies at the heart of human coexistence and that also in a certain way pervades the apparently formal rules of operation of the institutions of democratic life.

We could ask ourselves how such a text—drawn up in a radically different historical epoch, that is to say in an almost uniformly Christian cultural situation—is also suited to present-day Germany, situated as it is within a globalized world and marked as it is by a remarkable degree of pluralism in the area of religious belief.

The reason for this seems to me to lie in the fact that the fathers of the Basic Law at that important moment were fully conscious of the need to find particularly solid ground with which all citizens would be able to identify. In seeking this, they did not prescind from their own religious beliefs; indeed for many of them, the real source of inspiration was the Christian vision of man. But they knew they had to engage with the followers of other religions and none: common ground was found in the recognition of some inalienable rights that are proper to human nature and precede every positive formulation.

In this way, an essentially homogeneous society laid the foundations that we today consider valid for a markedly pluralistic world, foundations that actually point out the evident limits of pluralism: it is inconceivable, in fact, that a society could survive in the long term without consensus on fundamental ethical values.

Dear friends, on the basis of what I have outlined here, it seems to me that there can be fruitful collaboration between Christians and Muslims. In the process, we help to build a society that differs in many respects from what we brought with us from the past. As believers, setting out from our respective convictions, we can offer an important witness in many key areas of life in society. I am thinking, for example, of the protection of the family based on marriage, respect for life in every phase of its natural course or the promotion of greater social justice.

This is another reason why I think it important to hold a day of reflection, dialogue and prayer for peace and justice in the world, as we plan to do on 27 October next, twenty-five years after the historic meeting in Assisi led by my predecessor, Blessed Pope John Paul II. Through this gathering, we wish to express, with simplicity, that we believers have a special contribution to make towards building a better world, while acknowledging that if our actions are to be effective, we need to grow in dialogue and mutual esteem.

With these sentiments I renew my sincere greetings and I thank you for this meeting, which has greatly enriched my visit to my homeland. Thank you for your attention!

- end of initial entry -

Howard Sutherland writes:

Isn’t every Pope’s primary mission to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations and call people—all people—to the Christian faith? Rather than make statements that imply an equivalence between Christianity and Islam, Pope Benedict should exhort those Moslems who have moved into Christian (or once-Christian) lands to enter into the life of those lands fully by embracing the Christian faith. (Of course, I would prefer that the Pope exhort Moslems in Europe—and everywhere else, for that matter—to embrace Christianity and then return to their ancestral homelands, there to proselytise among their kin still benighted by Islam. But if expecting the Pope to call Moslems to convert is unrealistic, how unrealistic is it to expect him to tell them to go home?)

It may be unrealistic to expect a Pope of today to do that, but Popes of times past were not at all shy about exhorting Moslems to embrace the Cross and decrying the invasion of Christendom by Islam. Thought experiment: if Pope Benedict were to do that, what might he say in response to the inevitable deluge of hostile criticism? I think it could be very simple: “This is my mission as Christ’s Vicar on Earth; what else should I do? The call is not issued in hatred; quite the contrary. If Christians hated Moslems, we should encourage them to remain in the spiritual darkness that is Islam. Instead we call them to the light, in love.” Should the Pope actually say that, giving those reasons, I think that—once over the initial shock—his own flock would support him. In any case, the new Western taboo forbidding substantive criticism of Islam would be broken. The only prudential reason I can see for the Pope’s refraining from calling the Moslems to Christ is the risk of bloody Moslem retaliation against the surviving Christians in Moslem-ruled lands.

I read the Moslem cleric’s remarks directed to Pope Benedict. Honeyed words, and rather at odds with Islam’s actual record. Taqqiya, anyone? The mention of how Moslems are succeeding in establishing Moslem Theology programs in German universities smacks of triumphalism. As for Moslem theology, I thought there wasn’t a whole lot of room for interpretation in reading the Koran and Hadiths anyway. All I would expect these programs to do is agitate for the imposition of Sharia in Europe, while being shielded from any criticism by the Diversity Doctrine.

I have great respect for Pope Benedict, and I still believe he represents an improvement over the line of John XXIII-Paul VI-John Paul II (I’m leaving out the unfortunate John Paul I, because I have no idea what he might have done had he any time in office). But these times call for a fighting Pope, and the scholarly—and elderly—Benedict is not that. My fear for the future is that any conceivable conclave in the near-term will be institutionally incapable of electing a fighting Pope unafraid to identify Islam as hostile to Christianity, even though it so plainly is.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

The bottom line is that from B-16’s perspective, Muslims are not relativists so they must be our friends. Of course this way of thinking misses the point that precisely because we are not relativists, we should recognize that the differences between people and ideas do matter.

N. writes:

Pope Benedict continues to tread a very odd line between Islam and Christianity, on the one hand the Regensburg speech, on the other hand things said since then. Threading this needle seems to me to suggest many concerns not being discussed openly. [LA replies: I disagree. There is no fine line. The Regensburg speech was abandoned five years ago. What he’s saying now is what he wants to say. He keeps surrendering to Islam.]

If, as several people have suggested at VFR, Benedict is trimming his rhetoric because of violence done by Moslems to Christians across the Middle East in the wake of the Regensburg speech, then what does that suggest? To me, it suggests that in essence Islam is holding the Christians within its sphere of influence as hostages. Hostages against Benedict and his words, specifically.

If true, if the Christians of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, and other countries within Islam’s dominance are hostages to the words of Benedict, then he cannot be expected to speak or write too much of the truth about Islam, ever. Very well, then is incumbent upon those of us who are willing to speak the truth of Islam to publicize this fact.

Liberals of all shades should be challenged with the fact that Christians in the dar-al-Islam are held as hostages, that Islam threatens to harm them in response to any words—not actions, words—that any Pope may utter deemed to be too hostile to Islam. Even liberals should be able to understand that hostage-takers are not “just like them,” one would think.

James R. writes:

I’m not a Catholic and there are various reasons why I cannot be, but I was originally heartened with Pope Benedict XVI and his original stand, invoking the observations of Emperor Manuel II Paleologus. You have already written much about the meaning of the Pope’s submission in the face of criticism (a criticism which was based almost entirely upon ad hominem, and not at all on substance, for the observation was factually correct).

What else is left to say?

Perhaps one thing: if a man such as Pope Benedict will falter, and indeed falter in part because he did not receive sufficient active support when the moment came (something a Vicar of Christ, as Vicar of Christ, should not need when standing for moral truths, but I digress), what does that say about the prospects for renewal?

There was—is—probably a large sea of people who believe what he (originally) said and stood for, but as a conservative you know that a silent majority is an impotent one, a sea of people means nothing without a stalwart authority of integrity to give them voice and to mobilize around. Yet they did not, and thus they lack a rock upon which to maintain their foundations.

I had some hope with the Tea Party movement but also a fear that they would not maintain that level of activism over time, they would do what conservative movements always do, and dissipate. As for the Pope and the future of Christianity, Christians have almost entirely accepted that it is somehow mean spirited and intolerant to stand for the belief that Christ’s message is the true message and others are, whatever their merits, ultimately false and to be replaced with the one true faith (spread by conversion, not the Sword as in Islam), and that this means speaking its truth rather than being syncretic-tolerant. All that this allows however is for liberalism to be treated as the One True Faith, and as a false faith it is ultimately vacuous, leading to the degeneration of our civilization and its replacement by another.

September 30

Clark Coleman writes:

I disagree that the recognition of universal human dignity leads to left-liberalism.

Point 1: The implication is that we must reject the human dignity of each person in order to avoid becoming left-liberals. [LA replies: No. I am not saying that we must reject the human dignity of each person. I am saying that we must reject the belief that the human dignity of each person is the highest value, displacing and ruling all others.]

Point 2: It is possible to say: “I recognize that you are created in the image of God and have the same human dignity as I do. However, in order for a human society to have a stable polity that can preserve itself for generations, each society must have a certain degree of homogeneity of culture. Therefore, I cannot let you come to my country, regardless of your individual dignity.” [LA replies: Of course. That is my position.]

If anyone disagrees, let them state that they deny that other individuals have equal dignity before God, and then we will know where everyone stands. I believe in equal dignity, and it does not lead me to become a left-liberal, because I assert that I am not abusing anyone by denying them entry to my country.

Howard Sutherland writes:

Clark’s point (2) sums up the necessary distinction. One can recognize the full human worth of another person, yet still find it necessary—without animosity—to deny that person any number of things. It is a distinction traditionalists understand and are capable of making, without hostility to those they end up excluding. The practical problem is that it’s a distinction liberals, left and right, are no longer capable of making and do not understand. As things now stand, everyone in the American elite—including every declared Republican presidential candidate—is in this sense a liberal. When a traditionalist says a society needs to restrict or end immigration “in order … to have a stable polity that can preserve itself for generations,” because “each society must have a certain degree of homogeneity of culture”, he is speaking a language liberals cannot understand. They presume such a statement is racism-in-code.

Liberals see a decision to deny someone a presumed social benefit (e.g.: denying Moslems the “right” to immigrate to Western nations; denying women the “right” to serve in combat units; denying homosexuals the “right” to serve in the armed forces or “marry” each other) as a statement that the denier considers the denied unequal to himself—and equality trumps all. I phrased those examples the way I did on purpose; for liberals everything exists within a framework of rights alone, which up-ends logic. Normally someone proposing a radical change with predictably negative consequences should have to show how the proposed change would in fact be beneficial; in a stable society the presumption should be in favor of preserving the status quo. But in Liberalworld, where everything is considered in terms of individual rights and the burden is always on the denier, it’s not the Moslem wanting to come West who must make the case for why he should be admitted to a nation where he and his religion are alien, but those presumably small-minded people who would refuse him who must make the case for the status quo, against a social presumption that change is good for its own sake. Traditionalists are now compelled to explain why they would deny the wannabe Westerner his “right” to settle among us. A healthy society would recognize that in fact he has no such right, and that the burden of proof is on him to demonstrate how his presence would benefit the country he wishes to move into—and that that country has the right to deny him no matter how persuasive his case may be, simply because he has no inherent right to settle there. Clark’s point (2) makes the traditionalist case in two sentences, but on premises that are inadmissible in the liberal brain.

It may be that some of the political figures who support restricting immigration do understand this, but frame their arguments in liberal terms to preserve their political viability, but I’m not convinced. In a political arena where every debate is framed in terms of rights alone, those taking the conservative position always lose in the end and accommodate themselves to the new reality, because the principled arguments for saying “No” are not rights-based. Larry has given example after example of that at VFR, and identified the need to re-insert more traditional—and I would say practical—considerations into public debate.

Ultimately, the distinction Clark is making is the secular or prudential analogue to hate the sin / love the sinner.

LA writes:

Notice that the pope doesn’t just speak of dignity, but of the “inviolable dignity of every single person.” This does strongly imply that nothing may ever be done that violates or lessens to the slightest degree a person’s dignity. Consider how this idea is applied. Pope John Paul II said that to refuse to allow prospective immigrants into your country is an violation of their inviolable dignity; specifically he called it an expression of the Culture of Death, implicitly equal in its egregiousness to aborting a human fetus (see this and this). Thus Muslims, liberals, and the U.S. government believe that to subject Muslims to more careful scrutiny in airports is a violation of their inviolable human dignity. “Inviolable” human dignity means that no other value can ever be allowed to intefere with a person’s dignity. Yes, I think that there is a core of human dignity that cannot be violated: for example, you cannot torture people or interfere in their bodily integrity. But that is a restrictive view of the human dignity that cannot be violated. Benedict and liberals generally have an extremely expansive view of the human dignity that cannot be violated.

Another expansive “dignity” formulation, regularly used by Robert Spencer, is “the equal dignity of all human beings.” Now I don’t think that all human beings have equal dignity. A street thug does not have the same dignity as Pope Benedict. But once we speak of the “equal dignity of all human beings,” this dignity becomes an unqualified, all-encompassing idea that rules all others.

Clark Coleman writes:

You said:

Notice that the pope doesn’t just speak of dignity, but of the “inviolable dignity of every single person.” This does strongly imply that nothing can ever be done that arguably violates or lessens to the slightest degree a person’s dignity. Consider how this idea is applied. Pope John Paul II said that to refuse to allow prospective immigrants into your country is a violation of their inviolable dignity; specifically he called it an expression of the Culture of Death, implicitly equal in its egregiousness to aborting a human fetus …

Right, John Paul II said that. My point is that we have to choose between disputing the things that liberals argue are violations of human dignity, or agreeing that we are violating human dignity and then arguing that sometimes it is necessary to do so. I think the former path is both true and prudent, and the latter path is both untrue and politically imprudent. This approach contrasts with my approach to non-discrimination, in which I advocate limited discrimination in order to preserve the institutions of society. Therefore, I have to make the case that discrimination is not necessarily a violation of human dignity. I hinted at (and Howard Sutherland expanded upon) how this case is made in previous comments. For example, I do not deny marriage to homosexuals because I believe them to be inferior or to possess less human dignity or worth than heterosexuals; I deny them marriage to preserve the institution of marriage.

I don’t think there is any viable alternative to this line of argumentation. We have to confront the latent assumptions that Howard Sutherland mentioned, flush them out into the open, and either defeat them or (at the least) show that conservative positions are not based on the dark motivations that liberals assume of conservatives.

So, I am happy to say that human dignity is inviolable, and then proceed to argue over what that means with respect to homosexual marriage, immigration, etc. The word inviolable does not scare me any more than the word inalienable in the Declaration of Independence [LA replies: That’s “unalienable.”] Both have their place in political discussion due to the philosophy of natural law and natural rights.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 29, 2011 09:55 AM | Send

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