Pope Benedict XVI doesn't believe in smoothing things over; he believes in saying things as they are. He maintains, for example, that the Catholic Church, which he leads, is the true church, whereas other religions, including the various Christian denominations, do not represent the truth, but at most represent different types of affiliations, faint versions of it. Putting this in a less diplomatic manner - the non-Catholics deviate from the single truth in which the Pope believes.
Pope Benedict XVI does not maintain that interesting insights and good intentions cannot be found among non-Catholics. On the contrary, he is a great believer in dialogue and mutual study. However, mutual study is the business of human beings while salvation is the business of God.
The actual redeeming truth is the truth upheld by the Catholic Church. This statement wasn't taken well by many of the West's non-Catholic Christian churches. Ostensibly, there is no surprise here, because what according to him is the whole truth is in their view a deviation from the truth.
After all, the founders of the Protestant churches maintained that the Catholic Church was a corrupt organization that distorted and falsified the messiah's message, and that its head is, if not Satan himself, certainly his loyal servant.
As each religion believes in absolute truth, its own truth, they cannot reach a middle ground on matters of faith. At most they can treat each other civilly.
Yet the response to the pope's statement did not express religious dissent, but rather, it expressed shock at his actually taking a position. In today's western world telling the truth is analogous to using bad language in a respectable society. Just as everyone knows why the bride is getting married, one mustn't be rude by saying it out loud.
Telling the truth is offensive and hurts others' feelings; it is inconsiderate. In public one is better off speaking entirely in clichés that everyone can identify with. I respect you and you respect me.
And why do we respect each other? Not because we really respect each other's views, but rather, because we all lack opinions; because no one has taken a real stance. Instead, they resort to beauty pageant expressions such as the desire to achieve world peace and international and interracial understanding.
What is so disturbing about this trend of smoothing things over gracefully is not the transformation of an inter-religion dialogue into a dubious farce in which all sides create saccharine versions of their religious stances (versions that have nothing whatsoever to do with what these people say among themselves). After all, if the alternative is a religious war, perhaps saccharine lies are preferable.
The problem is that not telling the truth has become an affliction that has spread throughout western society. Public figures refrain from saying things as they are. No more blood, sweat, toil and tears speeches.
The truth is always likely to offend someone. We had rather cover them with thick layers of sanctimonious nonsense – "a Jewish and democratic State," "two states for two peoples," "peace and security," "social justice." These are empty words and nothing more. Everyone knows that the words are hollow and that the politicians will never, but never, tell the truth.
The political outcome is emptying democracy of content. And because politicians lie, and everyone knows that they are lying, we elect them not according to agendas and promises, but rather, according to some vague gut feeling. Then our elected figures do as they please, in the name of democracy, and in our names as well.
Pope Benedict XVI is conservative. He believes in telling the truth – to the Muslims, to the Protestants and to those in doubt. This is not an absolute truth. It is his truth. But at least we know where he stands. About how many of our elected figures can we say this?