Monday, September 18, 2006

Fatuous comment - BBC highlights it

One minor curiosity about the BBC's online coverage of the Pope Benedict affair.

The BBC makes great efforts to encourage user interaction and feedback, one way being the reader comments. To make it an obvious and easy task, they plonk one reader's comment in the middle of the page under the banner 'Have your say' and provide the link to do so.

Normally, as stories develop, and new articles are posted, the comment displayed changes as well. For a story like this, they would have no end of choice, and it's hardly an onerous job. In fact, I would have thought there would be some nifty little JavaScript program to do it automatically. Or maybe not, because you would want to be a little bit careful, wouldn't you? Just in case there was an important point to make.

Strangely, on all the BBC reports that I have seen about this affair, they have displayed only one comment of the hundreds that they have received. It is the following:

Pope Benedict probably should self-criticise Christianity's violent past before commenting on the other faith
John Lin, Illinois
Examples here, here and here.

There are several things to note about this, though it hardly seems worth the effort.

First, it's the argument we learn first; before even setting foot on the school playground, we've mastered the finger-pointing, "You, too!" Mind you, it's not as if it grows out of its usefulness: it's what passes for political debate between heavyweights on 'Flagship' news programmes, and it's certainly a perrenial favourite in the listeners'/readers' comments.

Nevertheless, it is only an effective counter in the most blantant examples of hypocrisy for the obvious reason that it avoids the point of the argument entirely. It's ad hominem. It adds nothing. Besides, if it were taken seriously, no-one would be able to use the word 'should' to anyone else. 'Don't hit your sister, Junior.' 'Ha! That's rich coming from you, Dad. There are 7 documented cases of you hitting yours between the ages of 4 and 10. And as for your treatment of your girlfriends, ...'

Secondly, John Lin is obviously not well informed. The Vatican has been almost embarassing in its confessional profusions in recent years, in particular with regard to the very point that the Pope was raising here: the relationship between the faith and violence/coercion. Pope John Paul's 'apologies' to the Jews and for the Inquisition are the two most notable instances. More importantly, there is no part of Catholic theology or approved practice that allows for violence for just the reasons that the Pope gives: it would be against the nature of God.

Thirdly (and this is the most interesting), note who the comment is addressed to: the Pope. It turns the reader's attention not to the important point that the Pope was making, nor to those who are demonstrating its importance by their acts and words. It makes the question, "Did he have a right to say that?" more important than the real question(s): "Is he right in 'his' interpretation? What to do?"

So why does the BBC continue to highlight this fatuity?

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