Sunday, July 08, 2007

Unintended Consequences

Where political correctness still mistakes condescending fawning for real humility and indifference for compassion, a word of candor can seem like an inexcusable faux pas at best and an act of aggression at worst. Knowing all too well of these dangers, I chose my remarks at the open session of the Colloquium on Religion and Violence conference only after overcoming (just barely) a great deal of reluctance. I have no regrets about what I said, which I think will be vindicated by events, but my concern for their possible misconstrual would have been heightened had I been mindful of the possible presence of journalists, who naturally gravitate to controversy.

As it happened, the coverage that the conference received in the Dutch press was dominated by reference to my brief remarks. I was mentioned several times in the short article, eclipsing mention of the keynote speaker or any of the other extraordinary speakers at the conference. Indeed, RenĂ© Girard’s name only appeared, as though in passing, after several excerpts from my remarks were quoted.

Embarrassed to have become the focus of the press attention, when my conference colleagues deserved much more attention for their much more substantial contributions to our deliberations, I decided to write to the editor of the Dutch newspaper. I am leaving both the letter and the decision as to whether or not to send it to the newspaper with my Dutch friends, who will translate it into Dutch if they decide to submit it.

In any case, and for what it might be worth, here is the letter:
To: Editor, NCR Handelsblad

The article in the July 8, 2007 edition of your paper about the conference of the Colloquium on Violence and Religion dwelt on a few remarks I made as one member of a four-person panel at the opening session of the conference at the Free University of Amsterdam. The quotations were accurate and fairly characterize the points I wanted to make. I stand by them. However, what gave my remarks their pertinence was their context within the much broader discussion which the conference was organized to foster. Taken out of that context and highlighted as they were in the piece by Maarten Huygen, my comments lose their relevance to the larger discussion of which they were a part.

The conference – co-sponsored by Pax Christi The Netherlands, the Blaise Pascal Institute, and the Free University of Amsterdam – was a rich and multifaceted exploration of the very complex challenge now facing Europe and much of the rest of the world: How to continue to honor the historic commitment to cultural openness and generosity without eviscerating the religious and moral sources of that very generosity? My rather candid remarks were made simply as a small contribution to that much larger discussion and should not be taken as emblematic of it.

Gil Bailie,
The Cornerstone Forum

1 comment:

Athos said...

I recall something you once said in a tape series, Gil, about the Sacred (in the anthropological sense) seeming like a conspiracy because of its stateliness, rhyme and reason, all carried out seamlessly at-a-distance (or words to that effect). The Dutch press, obvious, only caught knee-jerk catch phrases in your remarks as combustible material with no comprehension of mimetic theory whatsoever.

The odd bedfellows of Muslims and leftists leave many scratching their heads, others scandalized, and still others indifferent. I am thankful that the wisdom of the Church, assisted by mimetic theory, can help us thematize and face the hydra-headed Sacred with comportment.