So, what did the pope say and when did he say it? Actually, that is not the issue right now as we finish day two of this media storm, a day dominated -- to the tune of 1,000 major media reports or so -- by Muslim outrage about Pope Benedict XVI's remarks in Germany about faith, reason and jihad. Click here for an early but updated collection of public reactions to his words, gathered by the awesome Christianity Today weblog crew.
Once again, it helps to read what the pope actually said. It also helps to know that no one should doubt his grasp of the basic facts involved in a discussion of Christianity and Islam. He is a scholar on these matters. The pope will be harder to dismiss or shout down than a circle of cartoonists.
At what point do people start burning the Vatican flag or this pope's personal crest?
Or angry Muslims could do this, I guess.
At the moment, the press is covering the reaction of the streets. For those interested in the intellectual issues that are involved, the more important moment will come when the pope himself responds -- especially in light of his planned Nov. 28 trip to Turkey. What will he say about the religious rights of minorities and the recent murders of priests there?
Meanwhile, here is the Washington Post summary of the basic facts:
In the lecture, Benedict quoted extensively from a book that recounted a 14th century conversation that purportedly took place between a Persian scholar and Byzantine Christian Emperor Manuel II Paleologos on the merits of Christianity and Islam. Benedict told the audience at the University of Regensburg that the "erudite" emperor addressed the scholar "with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: 'Show me just what Mohammed 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.'"
According to a transcript of the lecture on the Vatican Web site, Benedict said Manuel explained in some detail "the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul."
Benedict did not explicitly endorse or repudiate Manuel's views. But he repeatedly returned to the emperor's comments on Islam, noting that Manuel was also quoted in the book as saying: "God is not pleased by blood -- and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats."
It is not yet clear if reaction to the pope's comments will snowball into something more violent, as was the case when a Danish newspaper published cartoons last year satirizing Muhammad. Deadly riots erupted across the Muslim world.
The pope, by contrast, is a world religious leader whose comments come in a broader context that also advocates tolerance and cultural dialogue. Rhetorically, though, the fury was spreading. ... In Kuwait, a high-ranking Islamist official, Haken Mutairi, called on all Arab and Muslim states to recall their ambassadors from the Holy See and expel any Vatican diplomats "until the pope says he is sorry for the wrong done to the prophet and to Islam, which preaches peace, tolerance, justice and equality," Agence France-Presse reported.
I guess you could state the big doctrinal question this way: Will Pope Benedict XVI be willing to kiss the Koran? Or, will he insist that he has the right to air his own views about the contents of Islam and its relationship to Christianity and other religions?
How many legions does the pope have? Good question. And will any governments in the postmodern West rally to his support -- perhaps the United States or the European Union -- should he decide to stand firm? What if the street reactions to his remarks, ironically, turn violent?
In terms of news coverage this may be the quiet day. It all depends on what happens (a) in the demontrations and (b) in the private debates between the traditionalists and modernists inside the Vatican.