Maggie Gallagher

Just what in the world did the pope think he was doing?

For a Catholic like me this last week has been deeply trying to the soul. Pope Benedict cannot apologize for defaming Islam, because he didn't. But he did apologize for the distress of the Muslim faithful, and clarify that the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor (issued before the final Islamic conquest of Constantinople) suggesting Islam's innovations were "evil and inhuman" did not represent his opinion.

Like many ordinary Catholics, I find this surprisingly galling. I have sudden new sympathy for Peter's position in the garden of Gethsemane: Jesus is surrounded by soldiers, and Peter naturally wants to do something about this to prove his courage and his faithfulness, in spite of the clearly overwhelming odds. So Peter pulls out his sword and chops off the nearest guy's ear.

"Put your sword back into your sheath," Jesus orders.

Harrumph. Pope Benedict -- a better Christian than me? Who would have thunk it?

But if a mere speech is worth conducting a worldwide day of anger over (this Friday), passing parliamentary resolutions (Pakistan), making death threats (Great Britain), burning churches (Palestine), issuing supercilious and deeply offensive orders to the pope to apologize for Catholic theology (New York Times editorial board) and slaughtering a nun (Somalia), perhaps it is also worth actually reading and thinking about.

The New York Times in a news story this week (to give credit where it is due) tried to point out that the pope's point was not attacking Islam at all: "The speech was largely a scholarly address criticizing the West for submitting itself too much to reason."

Oh, dear. Wrong again. What Pope Benedict was trying to say was the exact opposite thought: that in restricting reason to "science" (or that which can be empirically verified through the scientific method), the West risks reducing the "radius of reason" in ways that are dangerous. Why? Because (among other things) we risk relegating almost all the great important questions about human beings to the realm of unreason:

"If science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by 'science,' so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective."


Maggie Gallagher

Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.