Five years ago today (one day after 9/11’s fifth anniversary), a soft-spoken, 79-year-old former professor visiting his old university in Germany delivered a speech to a group of academics. In 30 minutes, it was all over. forty-eight hours later, the world exploded.
To say that Benedict XVI’s Regensburg lecture was one of this century’s pivotal speeches is probably an understatement. It’s not every day a half-hour lecture generates mass protests and is subject to hundreds of learned (and not-so-learned) analyses for weeks on end.
In retrospect, however, we can see Regensburg taught us many things. Leaving aside the response of parts of the Middle East, reactions elsewhere underscored most Western intellectuals’ sheer ineptness when writing about religion. One well-known American Jesuit, for instance, opined that Regensburg illustrated how Benedict hadn’t yet transitioned from being a theologian to pope — as if popes should only deliver the type of banal poll-tested addresses we expect from most politicians.