In his speech at Regensburg University, the Pope explored the historical and philosophical differences between Islam and Christianity, and the relationship between violence and faith.
He quoted Emperor Manuel II Paleologos of the Byzantine Empire, the Orthodox Christian empire which had its capital in what is now the Turkish city of Istanbul.
He quoted the emperor:
"Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman,
such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Pope said "I quote" twice to stress that the words were not his, and added that violence was "incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul".
There has been quite a kerfuffle, with various groups of "outraged" people calling for an apology, and even some good old fashioned effigy burning (reminiscent of Belfast in the 70's).
Even in the UK some groups have called for an apology. Baroness Uddin said that politicians must put pressure on Pope Benedict to express regret for the "disappointment and hurt" that he caused by his remarks.
The Muslim Council of Britain's secretary general, Mohammed Abdul Bari, said that the emperor's views about Islam were "ill informed" and "frankly bigoted".
The British Muslim News newspaper has called for the Pope to apologise and "withdraw the insulting remarks".
Is it now illegal to quote from the past?
Let me make two points here:
- The Catholic church teaches that the pope is infallible; as such he can say what the fuck he likes, because God is speaking through him.
Ain't religion wonderful?
That being said, given this hotline to God, it would have been self evident that using such a comment from a long dead emperor would have caused a reaction from some quarters.
Therefore the question not being asked, that should be asked, is why did he say it?
The Vatican is now seeking to clarify the Pope's comments. Given his infallibility, surely this is unnecessary?
Maybe the Pope is not infallible?
That would kind of undermine a central part of Catholic teaching.
- With regard to the hysterical reaction from some Muslims, I would note this; where a religion is mature, intellectually resilient, open to debate and has faith in a "well rounded" deity, comments made by non believers should be easily weathered. Indeed the deity worshipped by that religion, given his all powerful nature, should be well able to stand up to verbal sticks and barbs without the need for hysteria amongst his earthly followers.
It seems that such hysteria indicates that, at least amongst those who are hysterical, their faith and understanding in their own religion is not intellectually based but programmed into them; ie they have no real understanding as to why they are followers of that religion, and are afraid to question their own belief in their religion lest they find an answer that they don't like.
God, if he exists, does not need the creation of flawed man made religions to validate his existence.