Thursday, January 24, 2008

Intolerance in Academia: The Pope in Italy

Sometimes it seems that about half our posts could have the title “Intolerance in Academia.” And that’s because academia is today (especially in the very tolerant United States) an island of political correctness in the sea of a generally open-minded society.

But when you put European intolerance (which we have blogged about here and here and here) together with academic intolerance, you get out and out fascism.

Which brings us to the Pope:
After three days of rising protests from students and professors, Pope Benedict XVI has pulled out of a long-scheduled visit Thursday to Rome’s historic La Sapienza University. The surprise announcement Tuesday afternoon caps a high-stakes academic firefight between fiercely secular scholars and the former professor Pontiff that included a letter from 67 faculty members calling for the cancellation of Benedict’s speech.

The Pope’s opponents burst out in celebration at the east Rome campus when reached with the news of the cancellation. The Vatican released a statement saying it now viewed the visit as “inopportune” in light of protests they say could damage the Pontiff’s image. But by backing out under pressure from his secular foes, the 80-year-old Pope may yet have the last word in this battle over the meaning of “reason” in today’s intellectual debate. For the whiff of censorship toward a figure who is welcomed in myriad settings across the world — both for his position and his intellect — may offer ammunition for Benedict’s belief that he is something of a “Pope under siege” in the face of the prevailing secular winds of his times.

The Pontiff had been invited by the La Sapienza rector to speak at the annual ceremony to inaugurate the academic year. Over the weekend, unwelcoming banners were already appearing on campus saying “No to the Pope” and “La Sapienza Hostage to the Pope,” and several left-wing student groups had promised widespread heckling for Benedict’s arrival on Thursday. But perhaps most notable was the professors’ letter, which was printed in the Rome daily La Repubblica, calling on school officials to cancel the papal appearance, which they said was “incompatible” with the university’s secular mission.

The letter, which was signed by several notable members of the physics faculty, cites a 1990 speech made by Benedict, then the Vatican Cardinal in charge of Church doctrine, describing the Church’s 17th century heresy trial against Galileo as “reasonable and fair” . . . . The future Pope’s words, reads the text of the professors’ letter, “offend and humiliate us as scientists faithful to reason and as teachers who dedicate our lives to the advancement and spread of knowledge.”
Of course, academic leftists believe they should never have to tolerate speech which offends them.

And it is a puzzle how a bunch of secular academics could be humiliated by having the Pope take a postion they disagree with.

Of course, if Marxism is a philosophy that has the protection of academic freedom on campus, a defense of the Church’s treatment of Galileo should too. But then, there are other people’s orthodoxies, which the secular academic ayatollahs want to shut up, and one’s own orthodoxies, which everyone wants to protect.
But being a lifelong man of study and reflection, Benedict also sees the source for much of the conflict in how ideas germinate and spread on university campuses. Biographers say his experience as a professor during the student upheavals of the late 1960s — where he believed a godless pursuit of personal freedom was spiraling out of control — helped shape his view of contemporary secular culture and the current state of academia.

Forty years later, he appears only more convinced that something is awry. In the same Regensberg lecture that criticized Islam for lacking a fundamental belief in reason, the Pope was also sending a warning to the West that reason itself was suffocating faith and destroying its historical identity. By offering himself up as victim of the La Sapienza professors he can cite further evidence for this argument right in his own backyard.

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