People have some very strange ideas about free speech. They think it means they get to say whatever they want to say, but nobody else can. Specifically, nobody can openly express disagreement with the things they say, point to faulty logic or false assumptions or omitted – or even invented – facts.
Pope Francis’ reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attack is an interesting example of this thinking. While saying that “To kill in the name of God is an absurdity,” he also said that there should be limits to free speech and that “each religion has its dignity” and “there are limits.”
“You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it.”
Oh. You mean like Jesus, when he said, “Do not give to dogs what is holy” and “do not throw pearls before swine.” You know, because Gentiles (i.e. Pagans) are to be equated with “dogs” and “swine.”
The guy you built your religion around mocked other people’s faith. The Old Testament is one long anti-Pagan diatribe, and the New Testament isn’t all that friendly either. Sunday sermons around the world are literally jam-packed with anti-Paganism.
Yet somehow, for this Pope, free speech ends at criticizing religion. I’ll believe him when they re-write the Bible and get Jesus to retract his words.
Some people have taken this to mean that the Pope has “gone soft on free speech,” but it is not only religion he is defending. He is saying that “Freedom of speech is a right and a duty that must be displayed without offending.”
Ideally, we would all listen to our grandmothers and if we did not have anything good to say, not say anything at all, but the world doesn’t work that way. If somebody’s beliefs include extinguishing my right to my beliefs, I am certainly well within my rights to stand up and say something about it. In fact, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when they came for him, realized belatedly that we have an obligation to do so.
Here’s another problem though with the Pope’s ideas about free speech. If you insult his faith, he reserves the right to punch you in the nose:
[If someone were to use] “a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. That’s normal.”
It might be normal. But Jesus said to turn the other cheek. You would think the Pope would know that. I mean, he’s the Pope, hello. He should have a basic familiarity with the Gospels that lie at the center of Christianity.
And in fact, while saying “freedom of speech is a right and a duty that must be displayed without offending,” the Pope also offended people who criticize religion, calling them “provocateurs.” In other words, trolls.
Well that’s not nice.
I’m trying to parse this: So it’s okay to insult those who criticize religion but it is not okay to insult religion. Don’t get me wrong. This Pope has moved a long way from his predecessor’s claim that his capital-T Truth trumps my religious freedom, but I respectfully submit here that the Pope needs to reconsider his thinking on free speech.
It’s a tricky subject, as anyone will admit. After all, we must recognize that words themselves can be a form of violence. Are those words still permissible?
Even – or especially – France got it wrong, marching for freedom of speech even while they arrest French comedian and polemicist Dieudonne for using his own freedom of speech. You don’t go to prison in the United States for hate speech, but Dieudonne is only one of many standing trial.
It is difficult to understand. And at the same time, not.
The thing is, if I say something here, you have the right to disagree with me. I prefer, of course, you bring a cogent argument to the table rather than ad hominem attacks (attacking my character rather than the argument), or Straw Man arguments (misrepresenting my position so you can refute it).
But I can’t force you to do that. You have the right to simply contradict everything I say without providing any reasoned argument whatsoever. I will probably just ignore you in those cases, of course. There is no point arguing with somebody who has already proven they do not understand the subject.
So now you know how I feel.
You also know how Bill Maher feels, if you have been listening to him. He isn’t happy with the Pope, not at all.
“I was starting to really like this Pope,” Maher said Friday. “He’s dead to me now. Oh yeah, f*ck the Pope. Look, George Bush said it: you’re either with us or against us. Apparently the Pope is not with us.”
Well there you go. Was the Pope the troll in this case?
And then there is Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League, who showed he really doesn’t understand how any of this free speech stuff works:
Liberals hate bullying, alright. But they’re not opposed to using it. When they casually throw out words like ‘bigot’ and ‘racist,’ it does cow people into avoiding this debate. And if you’re doing that, you don’t get to wear the #JeSuisCharlie button. The button you should wear says #JeSuisPartOfTheProblem.
So Donohue thinks he is not bullying when he attacks Muslims or anyone else. He’s simply exercising his right of free speech. But if anyone attacks him for attacking Muslims, it’s suddenly bullying.
It’s difficult not to agree with Bill Maher here when he says in response to Donohue, “You don’t get free speech. You’re just a baby who can’t stand to live in a world where you hear things that upset you.”
And after all, it’s not like Donohue has ever hesitated to call Maher an “anti-Catholic bigot.” Or say that non-religious people are insane. Or bash gays. Or smear church-abuse victims as active participants in their own abuse. Or, for that matter, attack the Pope.
But he complains people are attacking him.
Free speech is not unidirectional. It is omnidirectional. Everybody has it. So if you have an opinion, somebody else has a right to argue against your opinion.
Conservatives by far suffer from the most confusion about the idea of any sort of freedom, be it speech or religion, thinking it is something that only they have. For years we have watched them lie and insult and then demand an apology when they are, quite rightly, called on it.
Conservatives are not the victims here, not when you have Laura Ingraham saying what the GOP needs is a 2016 nominee willing to “Swift Boat” Hilary Clinton.
Nor is religion the victim, especially not when Christianity is the world’s largest religion and Islam is the world’s second largest religion. And they both got there by killing a lot of people, because both religions condone killing nonbelievers.
And certainly a Pope ought to be more sensitive himself to the long history of evil done by his own Church, as George Carlin quipped, “millions of dead mother*ckers, all because they gave the wrong answer to the God question.”
I think that just as there is one person – Mike Huckabee – who should not criticize another’s parenting skills, there is one entity who should not play the victim card, and that is the Catholic Church. That includes the Pope and his cardinals and bishops, and it especially includes Bill Donohue.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.