Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Empire Strikes Itself

Pope Ratzinger seems confused, though he starts off well enough:

Some assert that religion is necessarily a cause of division in our world and so they argue that the lesser attention given to religion in the public sphere the better ... Certainly, the contradiction of tensions and divisions between the followers of different religious traditions, sadly, cannot be denied.
Certainly we do; many of us assert this regularly. Less vaguely, we say: "attention given" to religion is less the problem than "political power given" or, even more to the point, the "attention" we would like to see diminished takes the form of confusing religious "ways of knowing" any sort of default status as credible sources of truth claims. Prayer and meditation may not be completely pointless in all cases and for all purposes, but they rank below more rigorous forms of inquiry.

It follows that people who assign themselves authority on the basis of some or other communion with god or "the way" or the great cosmic spirit or whatever are suspect -- they are grounding their authority illegitimately. Indeed, some of us say this kind of thing all the time.

Which brings us back to Pope Ratzinger, who bases his worldly authority on an unfounded communion with imaginary beings. The Pope, continuing:
However, is it not also the case that often it is the ideological manipulation of religion, sometimes for political ends, that is the real catalyst for tension and division, and at times even violence in society?
Um, sure. That's not the only sort of trouble that religion can wreak on society, but it's a common and important enough one, and a strange one for the Pope to be making, since he counts himself both a head of state and the leader of a large religious body. He mingles political and religious authority as a matter of course, in the very clothing he chooses to wear.

I suppose he could try to evade this by leaning on the word "manipulation," but that gets to the fundamental trouble with religion -- how one believer's "manipulation" is another's "observance," and how the god whose will they're debating never shows up to adjudicate the debates. That's really the thing some of us are always saying -- that there is only so much to be gained from arguing over the wills, ways, and wants of imaginary beings.

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