Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Press, The Pope, and the Truth

This just keeps getting stranger and stranger -- not because more smoking guns in Benedict XVI's speech have been discovered, but because what has been reported is becoming more and more obviously a creation of the press.

My surfing this evening began with a posting on GetReligion titled "Read Pope Benedict XVI's Lips". This led me to a variety of blogs and other sources that have taken the time to go to the sources themselves to discover what Pope Benedict XVI actually said -- and didn't say.

To begin: What was reported by the various US media was from an English translation of an original German prepared text for Benedict XVI's remarks at Regensburg. Can you see where this is headed? But note that this was a prepared text -- the Pope gave a talk closely resembling the prepared text, but differed somewhat at various points. You can hear a portion of his talk (auf Deutsch) from YouTube:


Now we go to Timothy Noah of Slate Magazine, who posted "What the Pope Said" on September 18, 2006, and noted that the English translation had changed, causing him to suggest that the Pope had "revised and extended" his remarks in an attempt to deflect some of the criticism.

The original prepared Vatican text showed the Pope saying this:
"...Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor 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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. ..."
The revised Vatican version says this:
"...Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness which leaves us astounded, 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". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. ..."
Horace Jeffery Hodges, who blogs at the Gypsy Scholar, has listened to the talk in German and posted "What the Pope really, actually said in Regensburg...". If you understand German, or can follow it, the words in question begin at about the 2:40 point in the YouTube video (linked above) and continue for about 30 seconds. You will hear clearly the following:
"...in erstaunlich schroffer, uns überraschend schroffer Form ganz einfach..."
and Hodges translated it as
"...with an astonishing brusqueness, for us an astounding brusqueness, bluntly..."
With my non-idiomatic understanding of the German language, even I noticed that something was missing from the original Vatican English translation. And something else is missing from the revised Vatican translation -- the last two words of the Pope's actual phrase, "ganz einfach", which I would translate as "completely simple". Hodges -- whose knowledge of German was honed by several years at the Eberhard Karls Universität in Tübingen, Germany -- translates this idiomatically as "bluntly".

So where does this leave the Slate Magazine article? To Timothy Noah's credit, a correction was made after three people fluent in German listened to the words in question. Unfortunately, this is another in a string of misleading accounts of what the Pope said and why he said it. Reading his entire presentation gives a far different view than the "Pope attacks Islam" view that we were presented with by journalists who should know better.

And where does it leave us? It seems to me that a lot of unecessary anger and hatred has been unleashed due to misunderstandings, mistranslations, and careless reporting. It has also become obvious that there are certain areas of inquiry and discussion that are effectively closed, when they should be openly discussed, not with rancor or ridicule, but with true concern for how we can understand other religions and cultures.

A final note -- in navigating around the Gypsy Scholar, I found a blog that is truly a pleasure to read. Jeffery Hodges is an interesting man who has a wide variety of interests. It's worth some time looking around.

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4 comments:

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Mr. Hancock, for your link and your kind words. I'm not sure that my German is really so finely honed -- my Korean wife, who obtained her doctorate in German in Germany is much better than I am.

The Regensburg controversy seems to be dying down, but we'll see more reactions over perceived 'insults' against Muhammad or Islam. Islamists and some media have vested interests in manufacturing controversy, I reckon.

You appear to have an interesting blog yourself. Did you take your name from Izaak Walton's The Compleat Angler? It's one of those books that I have on my long-term reading list, which means that I'll probably never get around to it...

Jeffery Hodges

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Denis Hancock said...

The Reformed Angler is a combination of "Reformed Christianity" and "Angler".

My German came mostly from when I lived in Heidelberg while my father was stationed there in the mod to late 1960's. I had three years of high school German during that time, and have tried to keep up at least my reading ability. I did listen to to the 4 minute excerpt that was posted on YouTube, and the Pope spoke slowly and clearly enough that I could follow it reasonably well (especially with the German text in front of me)

He raises some interesting points. It's a pity they can't be discussed openly in today's climate.

It makes me wonder how Palaeologus and his Persian scholar friend got along?

Thanks for dropping by, and I I hope we run into each other on the blogs.

Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I caught the reformed angle (so to speak) and your love of fishing. I had simply wondered if you were also punning on Walton's Compleat Angler, which was written to persuade non-Anglicans of the truth in Anglicanism.

The Pope's lecture is extraordinarily rich -- and perhaps more critical of Protestantism than of Islam (though I'd need to re-read, and closely) -- too rich for most journalists, I fear.

I hope that the talk does get more discussion, and Muslims need to interact with it on an intellectual level rather than on the streets.

The issue of God's nature is an important one, perhaps with the implications that the Pope implies.

Here's an interesting commentary by Lee Harris on the Pope's lecure: Socrates or Muhammad? Joseph Ratzinger on the destiny of reason.

Jeffery Hodges

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Denis Hancock said...

I have read The Compleat Angler although I will have to reread it for the meaning you ascribe to it.

In fact, my first choice for domain name for this blob was piscator.blogspot.com, but someone had already hooked it. I cast about for another domain name and came up with The Reformed Angler.

In spite of a reputation for puns (some outrageous), I did not think about Isaak Walton at the time, except perhaps subconsciously.

I read the Lee Harris article. He raises some interesting points and when I have some time to read it more closely, I may have some further comments. As it happens, for some time now I have been thinking about and discussing with friends the "reasonableness" of faith in the context of the disputes in the scientific community.

With regard to your impression that Benedict XVI might have been more critical of Protestantism than Islam, it would not be surprising. He is, after all, the former head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

But I'm a computer geek, not a theologian...