Good riddance to Pope Benedict XVI.

Back in 2006, the Pope created an uproar when he said during a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, quoting a Byzantine emperor: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only bad and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

Muhammad didn't issue such a command, as dozens of top Muslim clerics pointed out in a letter to the Pope in response.

"The notion that Muslims are commanded to spread their faith 'by the sword' or that Islam in fact was largely spread 'by the sword' does not hold up to scrutiny," the letter said. "'There is no compulsion in religion' [in the Quran] means now what it meant then."

The Pope engaged in a standard vilification of Islam, a stereotype that has continued to exercise a hold on people's imagination, in spite of scholars repeatedly debunking this.

"Muhammad did not achieve victory by the sword but by a creative and ingenious policy of nonviolence," writes Karen Armstrong, perhaps the foremost comparative religionist (and an ex-nun, no less). "The last time Muhammad preached to the community before his death, he urged Muslims to use their religion to reach out to others in understanding, since all human beings were brothers: 'O men: behold we have created you all out of a male and a female, and have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.'"

In fact, Muhammad developed a reputation as a peacemaker in his lifetime. He is said to have signed several peace treaties.

"There are many accounts of interventions by the prophet in which he utilized skills and principles in arbitrating or mediating disputes; these examples serve as powerful referents and resources for conflict resolution efforts," writes Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer, the author of a landmark work on Islam and peacebuilding.

And, contrary to popular perception, Muhammad was a reluctant warrior. Scholars point out the completely nonviolent conduct of Islam's prophet during his more than a decade in Mecca. The early Muslims were beaten and even tortured in Mecca by their opponents (with at least one death), but even then refrained from retaliation. Instead, Muhammad preached the value of patience and steadfastness in resisting oppression.

When Muhammad finally did take action in response to the oppression, it was with the nonviolent act of emigration (hijrah) to Medina, an act held in reverence by Muslims. Although there was a shift after the emigration to Medina due to the exigencies of circumstances, it can still be said that Muhammad was an essentially nonviolent person who most often applied skillful diplomacy rather than force to win over enemies.

But the Pope did not pause before repeating a centuries-old calumny against Islam. Indeed, when there was an uproar, he hid behind the facade that the words were not his and never offered a full apology.

The Pope's remarks in 2005 on the relationship between Christianity and the Holocaust took the opposite tack, with the Pope claiming no substantial relationship between the two. The Pope asserted that the Nazi worldview was "born of neo-paganism."

By doing this, the Pope refused to acknowledge Christianity's influence on Nazism. In "The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945," Richard Steigmann-Gall contends that the Nazi ideology had a much closer relationship to Christianity than people think.

"Steigmann-Gall buttresses his case with a wealth of information drawn from across the period of National Socialism's existence," writes British Professor Martyn Housden in a review of the book. For instance, "Josef Goebbels once interpreted Nazism as involved in the struggle of Christianity against Marxism. So the purpose of the author's discussion becomes the case that many Nazis understood themselves to be the true political expression of Christianity."

The broader question here is how much the Nazis' anti-Semitism drew from traditional Christianity.

"Nazi hatred of Jews was born of two parents, and the other one -- the long history of Christian anti-Judaism -- the Pope did not mention," writes James Carroll in the Washington Post. "The crimes of Hitler were not the crimes of Christianity, but the Final Solution depended, both for the recruitment of active perpetrators and for the passivity of a continent's worth of bystanders, on the ingrained anti-Jewishness of Christian theology, liturgy, and tradition."

Here's hoping that Benedict's successor will be more open to honestly examining his own faith -- and less prone to pointing fingers at others.

If you liked this article by Amitabh Pal, the managing editor of the Progressive magazine, please check out his article entitled "John Kerry's Conventional Mindset."

Follow Amitabh Pal @amitpal on Twitter.



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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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