In recent comments, Matt has raised the issue of how to criticize religion fairly and appropriately, a question that has stymied many people far wiser than I. Spike mentions that this was a question Marx sincerely and seriously grappled with. Here's an editorial by Jonathan Freedland from the Guardian about the Pope's comments and how NOT to critcize religion. A couple of excerpts:
The Pope seems unaware that, for hundreds of millions of people, religious affiliation is not a matter of intellectual adherence to a set of abstract principles, but a question of identity. Many Muslims, like many Jews or Hindus, may not fully subscribe to the religious doctrine concerned, and yet their Muslimness, or Jewishness or Hinduness, is a central part of their make-up. Theology plays a lesser part than history, culture, folklore, tradition and kinship. In this respect, religious groups begin to look more like ethnic ones. Which means that a slur on a religion is experienced much like a racist insult. Plenty of secularists and atheists struggle to understand this - wondering why they cannot slam, say, Catholicism the way they might attack, say, socialism - but the Pope, of all people, should have no such trouble. He should realise that when he declares Christianity a superior religion, as he did some years ago, that is heard by many as a statement that Christians are superior people.
What makes me shudder about the Pope's Regensburg lecture is that he appears to join Osama bin Laden in this effort to cast the current conflict as a clash of civilisations. Complicatedly, and dense in footnotes, he is, at bottom, trying to establish the superiority of one faith over another. His argument is that reason is intrinsic to Christianity, yet merely a contingent part of Islam.
But what sense is there in such a contest? If the most senior figure in Christendom effectively takes Bin Laden's bait and says that, yes, this is a war of religions, ours against yours, how can this end? Such a war cannot be quieted by the usual means of diplomacy or compromise. There can be no happy medium in matters of core belief: Muslims cannot meet Christians halfway on their belief that God spoke to Muhammad, just as Christians cannot compromise on Jesus's status as the son of God.
Good times, aye?