Monday, September 25, 2006

Omne Ignotum Pro Magnifico

The irony that so many commentators have been bashing away at in re. the Pope's recent, now infamous, Regensburg address is itself, methinks, a trifle ironic. They've all sunk their teeth so deeply into the fact of the absurdity of a violent response by certain Muslims to a (perceived) accusation that Islam is a religion of violence, that they themselves have gone and illustrated the very "reduction of the radius of science and reason" which the poor Pontiff spent the bulk of his speech bemoaning ... For--it should go without saying at this point--the speech had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. The quote from Manuel II Paleologus was anecdotal, and was employed only to introduce the true substance of the lecture: a rather tidy piece of scholarship outlining the process by which Western man has alienated himself from the proper study, and use, of reason.

In brief Benedict's argument runs as follows: he traces (what he calls) the "program of dehellenization" to three distinct causes. The first: the Reformation, and by extension, the Enlightenment. The second: the "liberal theology of the 19th and 20th centuries." And the third: the contemporary worship of "cultural pluralism." He concludes that, compounded of one another, these movements have had a massively detrimental effect on man's capacity to reason, and that we have far to go in restoring the proper order of things in order to achieve the possibility of any kind of beneficial progress.

... But, as I say, ironically, so stuck are we now in the thrall of the last stage, that not even the Pope's defenders could be bothered to notice the exquisite proof they themselves provide of the consequences of dehellenization: that a purely philosophical criticism of Europeans and, more particularly, of Christians, has been thinly construed but widely accepted as an attack on Islam. (I should exempt Gerald Owen from so many of his contemporaries in this. And, indeed, Father David Curry--who, as an Anglican priest, might be among the very few entitled to take semi-legitimate exception to the Pope's argument. And who doesn't (take exception), by the way--precisely because he's bothered to take the time to understand what was actually said.)

It really is amazing. A better expression of our 21st century alchemy need not be found. We've succeeded in creating something from nothing; burned churches and murdered nuns, picketed cathedrals with hateful slogans and threats, all because the Pope didn't say something and then didn't expound on it. (And as you'll observe, as with all alchemy, the something that has been produced is, really, only more nothing ... Behold the mysterious and consuming efficacy of nothing!)

It would appear to be the consensus now, from all quarters, that a perceived slight--blinkered as it is by the inclusivist's sensitivities--is a slight. The rallying cry (explicit and tacit) has gone up: Firebomb reason where it stays the forward steamroll of cultural pluralism!

And thus we have, in other spheres, the conspicuous absence of scruple in suggestions such as this: Alfonso Gagliano--found by the Gomery report to have played a central role in the sponsorship scandal--has come forward to defend Joe Volpe--under scrutiny now, for the second time!, for shady dealings in re. his leadership campaign--to suggest that it is not his or Mr. Volpe's indisputable criminality that makes them unfit for public office, but the fact that we are prejudiced against Italians. (A suggestion that I hope, at least, the majority of self-respecting Italians will strenuously object to.)

Now. While I have no doubt that many people would concede that such an accusation is absurd, I'm fairly certain that none of them would go so far as to condemn it for what it really is: a malicious and contemptible lie. Such, alas, is no longer part of our equipment. Indeed, that it is a malicious and contemptible lie that, first and foremost, flagrantly begs the question, will ironically enough be proven to be immaterial. (Honestly: you just watch the Toronto Star wring every conceivable ounce of copy potential out of Gagliano's claim, while at the same time running stories confirming Volpe's culpability in the Montreal fiasco.) Do remember the lengths to which we went and succeeded in vindicating Dee Brown--who was caught red-handed drinking and driving--because of an absurd, impossible-to-substantiate, and wholly beside the point conjecture that the apprehending officer might've been a racist.

Our dehellenized age is, I think, an instance of what Blake meant by "fearful symmetry"--and it is precisely this that is the Pope's concern. For the correlate threat to what Benedict XVI has identified as our reduced capacity to effectively reason is not so much what might happen to a world deprived of religion, as it is the reduction in our capacity to distinguish between fact and falsehood. Thus Dee Brown, Joe Volpe and (if I might be allowed to paint it with so broad a stroke) Islam--all as victims, when they are rather evidently anything but.

ADDENDUM: I came across this in my searches re. Dee Brown. A priceless piece of anti-reasoning that illustrates rather perfectly, I think, the degradation of thought in the absence of reasoned (and reasonable) argument. A sample:
Fairgrieve, the Court of Appeal found, failed to "appreciate" the argument being advanced by Brown's lawyers that racial profiling is not necessarily an overt act, that "it can be a subconscious factor impacting on the exercise of a discretionary power."

Judging by the howls coming from police quarters, that concept seems to be lost on the force as a whole.