From the Battle of Lepanto to the Synod at Rome
When this respect is violated in a society, something essential is lost. In European society today, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good. This case illustrates a peculiar Western self-hatred that is nothing short of pathological. It is commendable that the West is trying to be more open, to be more understanding of the values of outsiders, but it has lost all capacity for self-love. All that it sees in its own history is the despicable and the destructive; it is no longer able to perceive what is great and pure. . . . Multiculturalism teaches us to approach the sacred things of others with respect, but we can do this only if we ourselves are not estranged from the sacred, from God.
Now, as much as I respect the Pope Emeritus, I emphatically disagree with him that people who slander Judaism or Islam- or, for that matter, Christianity- should pay a fine. Europeans (and Canadians) tend not to "get" freedom of speech, and the damage done to freedom when even "hate speech" is prescribed rather than disapproved of. Saying malicious things about other people's religions is something one ought not to do, and when one does, he or she should face the disapproval of the group. But taking it a step further and criminalizing speech crosses a line which cannot be effectively redrawn. If one can be fined for criticizing or even demeaning someone else's religion, what about their politics? Their hairstyle? Their taste in music? Respect for others is a matter of good manners and civility. It cannot be coerced without destroying freedom itself.
But nevertheless, the former pontiff has a valid point. In Europe, even more than on this side of the pond, there's a double-standard where religion is concerned. Somehow Christianity stands alone as the one belief system which need not be respected.
Nicholas Frankovich of the National Review reminds us of the recent 444th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, in which the Holy League organized by Pope Pius V defeated the Ottoman Turks and secured the independence of Christian Europe.
Now, he points out, the Pope has summoned his legions in a very different war: that against ethical apostacy, sexual licence, and the assault of a hostile Western world on Christian values.
He seems, Mr. Frankovich observes, to have summoned them not to battle, but to surrender- surrender at a moment at which Christians in the Middle East are facing persecution by Muslims and have nowhere to flee but a Europe increasingly under threat of conquest by Islam once again.
No Pius. No Benedict. How, indeed, the barque of Peter has drifted.