16 January 2015

The pope's diminished freedom of speech

Did the pope just display an iota of sympathy for the zealots who massacred Charlie Hebdo staff? In response to a question about the attack, he replied, "One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith."

The pontiff justified his position by stating that if someone cursed his mother, he would punch them. "It’s normal," he insisted, "You cannot provoke." With all due respect to the pope's logic, an institution is not your mother. If insulting an institution justifies violence, then why only religious institutions? Many people are as profoundly and passionately committed to their political beliefs as deeply as others, including the pope, are to their theological beliefs. Why, therefore, should religious believers be spared offence, but not political believers?

If religions did not intrude on public life an exception might be justified, but they do. They have done terrible things throughout history, causing much suffering and death, and they still do. They have earned no right to avoid criticism any more than any other kind of institution.

One can sympathize with the pope's sensitivity to satire. His institution has been subjected to a flood of criticism, including much mockery, for its provision of sanctuary to pedophiles and other sins. There must have been times when the pope would dearly have loved to give mother church's tormentors a damn good punch. There was a time when such as he could have and would have. The Catholic Church has in the past often punished heretics with as heavy a hand as the Islamic zealots punished Charlie Hebdo. One hopes the pope's sentiments aren't flavoured with a trace of nostalgia.

1 comment:

  1. Bill: No one in his right mind would condone the killing of those French cartoonists. However, there is a difference between intellectual criticism and inflaming, insulting or provoking another person's beliefs.

    You must have noted that one of the Co-founders of Charlie Hebdo had said that his former company had a penchant for exploiting Islamophobia for profit.

    Did you know that Muslims don't eat pork because they regard the pig as unclean? So how do you think they would react when they see a cartoon of their Prophet fornicating a pig?

    Like Catholics, Muslims also do not accept homosexuality. While there is nothing wrong in criticizing them for their intolerance, how do you think they would react when they see a cartoon of their Prophet kissing another man?

    Then apparently there was also the cartoon of their Prophet having a good time with little girls. I suspect some Catholics would be very upset to see cartoons of the Virgin Mary entertaining the local hockey team. I suspect also that Jews would be very upset too to see inflammatory cartoons of the Holocaust victims.

    I used to live in a Muslim country. They were so sensitive of pork that they would cordon off a corner of the wet market where pork could be sold. All the Muslims avoided that corner like the plague. We knew enough not to call a Muslim a "pig" because it was considered a great insult.

    No, I think the Pope is correct here. I think you might have misunderstood his reference to his mom. No, his mom is not an institution but what I got from it was the message that one should not insult or provoke one's fellow humans but one should show some respect for their beliefs whether one agrees with them or not.

    Recall the Confucius saying: do unto others as you would them do unto you. A bit more of this would make the world a better place for all, no?