New York Times: Kiss the Koran, big guy

pope koran 01And thus it came to pass: The content of Pope Benedict XVI’s speech stopped being the story — including the fact that the speech was an attack on secularism in the West — and the reaction of many Muslim leaders became the story.

That could only lead to one conclusion, in the mandated Unitarian-Universalism of the New York Times editorial-page suite, the holy of holies for the blue-zip-code faith. All religious roads have to lead to the top of the same mountain (even if saying that is, itself, an affront to Islam as well as to traditional Christianity). Otherwise, we would have to do basic, balanced, factual journalistic coverage of people on both sides of historic, complicated, emotional, intellectual religious issues. We would have to be journalists.

There isn’t much I can say about the Times editorial ordering the pope to apologize. GetReligion doesn’t focus on editorials very often, since this site is about the news coverage of religion events and trends. Besides, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher has already been up since dawn dissecting the editorial and some of the events linked to it. Read it all.

But Rod also mentions something amazing that happened at an event that I attended as well. Here is something to chew on, if you care about intellectual freedom, press freedom and religious liberty. (See the edited transcript.) Dreher writes:

Longtime readers of this blog will remember that I was at a Pew Forum religion conference earlier this summer, at which an Ivy League professor considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on Islam and Islamic history declined to talk with us journalists about certain relatively minor aspects of early Muslim history on the record. Why wouldn’t he? Because he was afraid that to do so might get him killed. That is astonishing, isn’t it? That a leading scholar did not feel free in the United States of America to discuss this or that aspect of Islamic history, for fear that Muslim fanatics would hunt him down on his campus and take his life for blaspheming the Prophet. This is not an uncommon situation; ask Salman Rushdie and the Danish cartoonists. But the Times takes out against the Pope for one remark in a long speech about how violence can never be used for religious goals, only reason? Astonishing. And outrageous.

Now, it does appear that the pope will try to back down, to one degree or another. But will he go to Turkey after all? Will he take the risk?

But let’s be honest. A soft apology will not be enough for the Times editorial board. The principalities and powers in that domain will want him, when the time comes, to go further than that.

Will Pope Benedict XVI kiss the Koran?

Will he say that the Gospels are worthy of veneration and not the Koran?

That is all he has to say to insult the Times. And who will cover the news story for the newspaper of record, when this showdown takes place?

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

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  • ck

    Not all Unitarian Universalists subscribe to the view that “All religious roads have to lead to the top of the same mountain (even if saying that is, itself, an affront to Islam as well as to traditional Christianity).”

    I understand that many do (I’m a UU myself and just taught a class on religious pluralism–one which did NOT teach versions of the blind men and the elephant or the mountain-path metaphor). And I understand why UU would be an insult, but maybe you could check your facts first. Since the denomination doesn’t have an official creed, it’s impossible for us to espouse the doctrine you cite.

    Rather, most UUs are focused on practical (not theoretical) religious pluralism. And a large number of UUs that I know would say that Islam and Christianity are just plain out wrong. Too, many are Christians, but happen to be Unitarians (some are Universalist, but not all).

    By the way, I agree with you that the Pope ought to be able to say what he wants about Islam, since Muslims seem to be able to say what they want about Christianity and Judaism.

    A practical pluralism would support that free speech, and efforts to allow both religious to live peacably together, without having to renege on core doctrines.

  • Dwight Welch

    “principalities and powers”
    The polemic is hardly being contained in this piece. But to agree with ck, pluralism is not the same thing as universalism or relativism. (and of course not every form of universalism is the same either) To say that God is at work, even in a salvific manner, in other religions is not to claim that all religions are the same, or that every idea that somehow gets associated with a religion is therefore valid. It only means that God’s salvation history is larger than a a given community and tradition.

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  • tmatt

    I have met very few Universalists who were not Universalists. You know what I mean?

    I chose the UU label because I didn’t want to say secularists. I have met very few secular people in elite newsrooms. Almost everyone has a kind of, well, all the roads lead to the top of the same mountain stance (and anyone who does not agree is a bigoted fundamentalist and we’ll write about them the way that we want to write about them).

    So, if UU was wrong (and I am glad to admit that it’s a narrow term for what I was trying to say), what term should I have used?

    The key here is Universalism, the belief that all are saved no matter what (the top of the mountain). And, as I said, this stace is an insult to Islam as well as to traditional Christianity.

  • tmatt

    Oh, and please note that I said the UU stance was mandated in the NYT editorial suite, not the full newspaper itself.

    I think much of the religion coverage at the Times is excellent and have said that here many times. I even praised the original Times article on the pope’s speech.

  • jean


    Why not just say something like “religious pluralism” or “religious relativism” or even “religious political correctness” instead? That’s what the issue really is – a mandated blindness, whitewashing and leveling of all distinctions, regardless of what the current events reveal about a large number of followers of a particular belief system, and regardless of the texts/concepts within that system that provide justification for their behavior.

    Universalism? Who knows if the NYT editorial board collectively believes in any type of salvation, outside of the sort available in this world? I think the issue is more along the lines of “my truth” and “your truth”, religious belief and religions being considered entirely subjective and in the eye of the beholder. This view isn’t just limited to many UUs, of course, it’s part of the vague post-modern thinking that generally permeates the “spiritual-but-not-religious” crowd.

  • ck

    I would go with Jean’s suggestion of “politically correct religious relativism” or something along those lines. To be fair, that is a live option in Unitarian Universalism today. I and other bloggers (The Daily Scribe is a place to find some of them) are talking about this problem.

    My concern, though, is that a site devoted to religious coverage that is fair ought to give the same kind of charity to others (even heresies…)

    There are religious pluralists trying to walk the line between “truth in all” and “everyone saying the same thing.” They don’t necessarily succeed, and there are problems, but the term “religious pluralist” doesn’t have to be a disparaging one.

    I wonder, too, what mountaintop the “elite” you mention are envisioning? Could it be that they’re envisioning a non-literal one, putting them in the place of a secularist? Just curious what your experience has been.

  • jack bennett

    Is this not the same NY Times that once said in a similar editorial that as long as Pope JP2 was apolgizing for the sins of the Catholic Church (back in 2000) that he should apologize to homosexuals and to women because of the Church’s stand against abortion?

    Is this not the same NY Times that once published a defamatory article on its Op-Ed page on Catholic devotion to the Virgin Mary by Marina Warner on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception which led to a rebuke from that noted right-winger Fr. Andrew Greeley

    Is this not the same NY Times that refused to show the Danish cartoons of Muhammed because it offended Muslims but in an article about the non-printed Danish cartoons showed the picture of the Virgin Mary covered with pornagraphic images and elephant dung that appeared in the Brooklyn Museum – even though that picture had nothing to do with the article?

    Is this not the same NY Times that had an Op-Ed by the man who is NOW General Editor of the entire paper, Bill Keller, at the height of the Sex Scandal in which he pronounced himself a “collapsed Catholic” who didn’t care what happened to the Catholic Church but still compared Pope John Paul II to the Soviet Commissars who killed their own people and said the Catholic Church was the enemy of progress and of civilization and must be fought against?

    Is this that same NY Times? And we are surprised they had the gall to call for Pope Benedict’s apology why?

  • M Chasin

    Has anyone, Muslim, Catholic, UU , or NYTimes, actually looked to see if the Popes quote was in fact an accurate quote. Even if the quote is accurate, it still doesnt mean the statement is true.

  • Judy Harrow

    Y’know, if the Pope had wanted to make the (entirely valid) point that religious-based violence is evil and inhuman, he could just have cited the Crusades. The mention of Islam was completely gratuitous. Didn’t the Real Big Guy say something about taking the beam out of your own eye before disussing the mote in somebody else’s eye?

  • FzxGkJssFrk

    Gratuitous? Hardly. If he had neglected to mention Islam, it would look like he whad been living in a cave for the last ten years.

  • jean

    for those who want to read the actual words that started this:

    if you don’t trust the vaticans translators and can read german

    I wonder if the NYT isn’t also showing a bit of knee-jerk europhilia in their reaction to the popes address. The French press certainly came down pretty harshly on the pope after this speech, and I would imagine the NYT editorial board pays close attention to what the european papers of record have to say. At least the european press has a weak excuse for their blasting of the pope – they have restive and poorly integrated muslim populations to worry about.

  • Stephen A.

    Leave it to the religious Leftists to become HORRIBLY offended when someone is labeled as having a Unitarian Universalist mindset. It kind of perversely, and ironically reflects the Islamic extremists’ being HORRIBLY offended by the Pope noting in passing the fact that their Prophet (PBUH) was at one point violent, and converted by the bloody sword – then threatening violence and beheadings as a reaction to such a “slur.”

    I’m kind of biased, having attended a UU congregation for nearly a year, but UUers are generally hateful of organized religion, even their own, and despise conservative Christians almost as much as Howard Dean does.

    And the analogy works perfectly for some newsrooms, where enforced secularism and anti-Christian/anti-religion biase seems to be the only True Religion.

    The hypocrisy of the NYT bowing to pressure not to ‘offend’ the easily offended ‘Muslim street’ bu ready to offend others at the drop of a hat, was nicely pointed out by Jack Bennett, above. I want to know when reporters for major papers in the West became such wimps – selective wimps, anyways – when it comes to not offending certain groups.

  • Jim Toye

    So, a few days ago we read about conversions to Islam of western reporters at gunpoint. Then, a few days later, the Pope dares to say that violence is never a valid tool for spreading religion.

    The Muslim community should take this personally. And then they should heed the Pope’s message.

  • Dwight Welch

    universal salvation an affront to traditional Christianity?

    I’ve never considered Origien or Barth in that category before

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Noone seems to care to analyze if what the pope said is a correct assessment of today’s problems with terrorists and violence as having roots in certain religious views. All that we get is knee-jerk pandering to mobs issuing savage threats and more hysterical calls in the West for political-religious correctness so stifling one could call it self-imposed dhimmitude (4th class oppressive citizenship Moslems inflict on non-Moslems when THEY are in the majority.)

  • Dennis Colby

    I don’t really think the pope’s clarification is an example of him trying to back down. It’s a classic non-apology apology: “I’m sorry if you were offended,” which is not a million miles from “I’m sorry you were too stupid to get the point.” Which is fine; the pope has nothing to apologize for.

  • MattK

    “The principalities and powers” huh?

    Tmatt, it was not to long ago that I read your words defending the Times as a good newspaper with hardworking reporters who try to get the story right.

    But now you call at least some of their staff with demons.

    I’m glad you’ve finally sided with truth. :)

  • Martha

    I’m wondering, while the Big Cheeses of the media are mandating apologies all round, does the media feel any responsibility for this?

    Y’know, as in splashing “Pope Slams Islam!” headlines all over the place and making a Really Big Deal out of the quote he used? Or is it all the Pope’s fault: if only he’d said nothing at all about the role of reason in belief, then we the media would have said nothing at all in turn?

    I think using Byzantium is a very subtle way of alluding to Islamic-Christian relations. The same media that are happy to endlessly recycle ‘Oh, Those Evil Crusaders!’ are, as you know from the experience of seeking a correction on a matter of fact, somewhat ignorant of what exactly went on way back when. But then, what do I know? I’m not an infallible editor!

  • tmatt


    Let me repeat what I said above:

    “Oh, and please note that I said the UU stance was mandated in the NYT editorial suite, not the full newspaper itself. I think much of the religion coverage at the Times is excellent and have said that here many times. I even praised the original Times article on the pope’s speech.”

    Watch your quotes.

  • ck

    Leave it to the religious Leftists to become HORRIBLY offended when someone is labeled as having a Unitarian Universalist mindset.

    Heh. I wasn’t horribly offended, just surprised that tmatt would have stated things that way. I happen to agree with his point, and thought it ironic, since I am a Unitarian Universalist. What’s fair for Christians is fair for others was my point.

    I’m sorry that Stephen A had such a poor experience in a UU congregation. He’s right that individual UUs can be hateful, just as can individual Muslims, Christians… need I go on?

    The point was merely theological, and I was careful to point out that I agree with tmatt aside from that one issue. Too, I did read the Pope’s address, and thought his main point–about violence and compulsion not being compatible with religious faith–was obscured by much of the news coverage.

  • Philocrites

    Terry, perhaps you could have made your point by saying “universalism” rather than “Unitarian Universalism.” The idea that there are diverse real paths to salvation is not the distinctive doctrine of the Unitarian Universalist Association; however much UUs may have embraced that idea, it’s distributed (as you know) much more widely. Be accurate.

    And keep in mind that even though we’re the butt of your jokes, some of us Unitarian Universalists actually respect and appreciate the work you’re doing and strive to understand and not misrepresent more conservative expressions of Christianity.

  • M. Everest

    It might be interesting to see an article or two exploring something that “Mohammed brought that was new” and yet is not “evil and inhuman.”

    Anyone journalists want to challenge Manuel II Paleologus’ claim by providing some good examples?

    Warning: That might require abandoning the postulate that all religions teach the same thing!

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