Friday, September 22, 2006

Papa Ratzi 5

I have just read an extremely interesting analysis of Pope Benedict's lecture and the ensuing row on the Duck of Minerva blog - Misdirected Offense.

In my earlier comment Papa Ratzi 3, I wondered why His Holiness had chosen to include the offending quotation, which didn't seem to add any logical weight to his argument. As PTJ points out, the lecture wasn't actually about Islam at all, but about the place of force within Christian tradition. So why did the Pope talk about Moslem violence, when history contains so many examples of Christian violence?

PTJ suggests that the Pope was merely adopting a cheap rhetorical trick against Christians who disagree with his Hellenistic position. Many Christians have believed that God is above reason, but the Pope chooses to associate this belief with Islam (which he regards as an alien and inferior religion), and then uses the ad hominem fallacy to dismiss this belief without proper argument.

Whom was the Pope addressing in the offending lecture? Some people have noted that the Pope's words have caused some violence in the Moslem world, and imagine that this violence somehow proves the Pope correct. (It doesn't - he wasn't talking about that kind of violence.) And imagine that he was talking directly to the Moslem world. Surely we cannot see the Pope as some kind of provocateur, deliberately stirring up trouble in the Moslem world in order to demonstrate that Christianity is more civilized? This seems extremely unlikely, if only because this Pope probably doesn't think the superiority of Christianity needs any demonstration.

PTJ constructs a system frame in order to make sense of the out-of-context quotation - what assumptions does the Pope seem to be making about his audience, in order that this quotation might contribute (albeit fallaciously) to his argument. According to PTJ, the Pope thought he was addressing Christians who share his ignorance about (and aversion to) Islam. If Islam is the Other, then the only acceptable course for Catholics is to believe the opposite of whatever Moslems believe.

In short, PTJ assumes that the use of the offending quotation was carefully chosen to produce some (rhetorical) effect within some (academic) context. This explanation appears to be sufficient to explain the Pope's original speech, as well as his professed surprise when the speech was widely interpreted as anti-Islamic. Within the system frame of giving an academic lecture, it might seem reasonable for the Pope to ignore effects outside this frame. But this system frame is embedded in a much larger system frame. The Pope has advisors who can warn him of the wider effects of his words, but only if he choses to listen to these advisors.

In this situation, the Pope's lack of awareness and lack of consideration must be regarded as (the consequence of) a strategic choice.

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