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Monday, November 13, 2006

Islam and reason

Quite an interesting article on Prospect's website, unhappily entitled The Pope was Wrong but helpful in giving examples of significant Islamic theological engagement with the Hellenistic philosophical tradition. The author doesn't seem to have a particularly clear take on matters Christian - the use of 'Catholic modernists' to include Benedict is very infelicitous! - but this is fair enough for a lecturer in Islamic studies, I suppose.

I rather like Prospect. It doesn't have any particularly strong ideological bent, at least as compared to the rest of the intelligent or would-be intelligent media in Britain; its articles are as likely to annoy a Guardianista as a Spectator-reader, and the editor is keen on debate: this month's print edition had an article in defence of the Pope's Regensburg address (only the beginning visible to non-subscribers on the web).

At the same time, the religious illiteracy so prevalent in the British media is certainly present. The article defending the Pope is (from a Catholic point of view) an exercise in stating the obvious, an outsider's guide. The cover picture (which should be shown next to the cover story) is also particularly frustrating: whichever part of the editorial hierarchy is responsible for that, just doesn't get it.* I should be used to this sort of thing by now, but it still surprises me. The dominant part of the British intelligentsia are simply cut off from their past - they are part of a different conversation (is 'conversation' the new 'discourse'? or have I just been unduly affected by nine years of New Labour?), and Christians have to get used to talking to and with this entirely different cultural sphere. Um, that's a bit of a mixed metaphor (do you think the new liberal cultural sphere looks like this?!), but you probably know what I mean - especially as I may be the last Catholic in the West still to be surprised by this development!

I do wish that the Telegraph and the Spectator weren't the only non-religious papers in Britain whose writers regularly seem to have A Clue about religion - and even then, all too often there are columns defending religion as a useful cultural artefact regardless of the matter of truth. It's unfortunate that being religious is so often now associated with right-wingery, in the minds both of BBC/Guardian types and of Tories who happen to be religious themselves.

* In case we have any American readers who aren't familiar with the whole EU deal: in the Prospect picture, some clever graphic designer has clearly thought, 'Ooh, wouldn't it be cunning to illustrate this headline by taking the EU flag and using the stars as a halo on Jesus and Mary?', apparently quite oblivious to the fact that the twelve stars on the flag were apparently chosen precisely with the Virgin's crown of twelve stars in mind, so it's really a bit daft to use them a) for Our Lord's halo as well and b) as if the combination were in general an exciting clash of iconographies. Sigh.