by Stella Ramsaroop
(Originally published in Guyana's Kaieteur News on 21 September 2006)
There has been so much commentary and discussion on what Pope Benedict XVI said last week that my initial thought was to simply let this issue slip away without addressing it in my column.
However, very few of the remarks regarding the Pope’s speech were from women. It always strikes me as odd that half of the world’s population (the female half) often chooses not to weigh in on important matters such as these.
In his speech at the University of Regensburg, Benedict criticised Islam and the Prophet Mohammad by quoting the 14th century Byzantine Emperor, Manuel II Palaeologus, who wrote that everything Mohammad brought was evil and inhuman, "such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
Although I am no longer a practicing Christian, I was raised in a Christian home and even I am offended at the Pope’s statement. Such a statement coming from any world leader would be considered careless, insensitive and imprudent. Coming from the Pope, this statement is deadly.
The response by some Muslims is ironic to say the least as well. To counter the Pope’s injudicious statement of Muslim violence with violence is just as imprudent as the statement itself. The reality is that intolerance for other religions is foundational in most predominant world religions.
Whether it is Muslims calling Jews infidels or Evangelicals telling Jehovah Witnesses they are going to hell, there is usually very little charity for any religion outside of the one a person chooses to practice, which is also ironic since most religions preach charity as one of the cornerstones of their faith.
Guyana is unique in that, for the most part, people practice their faith without the radical condemnation that is typically taught in regards to other religions. Kaieteur News printed an article last Sunday entitled, “U.S. report finds religious freedom abounds in Guyana,” that spoke on this very subject.
The article said, “Although significant problems existed between the country's two main ethnic groups, tensions were generally racially, not religiously, based. According to the IRF [International Religious Freedom] report, religious leaders frequently have worked together to attempt to bridge these differences.”
While Guyana’s religious leaders work to bring peace to the country, the Pope is thousands of miles away, on a whole other continent, making statements that could nullify all of their efforts. One very human man should never have so much influence over so many minds.
I am not going to say that the world would be better off without religion. Faith in a deity has different meanings to different people. For my mother, her religion is what gave her the strength to live her life. For me, religion sucked every bit of life out of me and I never felt like I could be myself until I rejected the same religion my mother embraced with such fervour.
There are some who say God helped them become a better person and for these people I am happy. Even I will admit there are times when I want to believe there is something or someone out there bigger and wiser than us mere humans – like when murderers invade your workplace and execute your co-workers.
Still, even within the context of how good religion can be for certain people, it should not escape our attention that the escalation of religious tension in the world is very close to that of The Crusades – thanks in large part to extremists from both Christianity and Islam.
What the Pope said would have been a tragedy of intelligence at any point in history. However, in the current setting, with Muslims feeling victimised by the Christian West and when even something so slight as a cartoon can cause conflict and incite a passionate reaction, why on earth would anyone of a sound mind make such a careless statement?
This is the discussion we should be having. By all accounts, the Pope is a highly intelligent man. So why would he pull a statement out of history and insert it into today’s already precarious atmosphere?
When we can answer that question and stop making excuses for the stupidity of our world leaders - that is when we will find peace, with or without religion.