Alluding to an attack on a French magazine that left 12 people dead in reprisal for satirical depictions of Muhammad, Pope Francis today condemned the violence, but also said there are limits to free speech — especially when it involves religion.It is?
In particular, the pope said, one shouldn’t abuse freedom of expression to “provoke” or “offend” others deliberately, and also shouldn’t be surprised when they react to such taunts.
Even in the case of a dear friend, Francis said, “If he says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. That’s normal."
"People who make fun of, who toy with other people’s religions, he said, risk running into “what would happen to [that friend] if he said something against my mother.”Well, the Pope justifying a violent response to an "insult" should help put to rest all inaccurate meme that Jesus Christ was a "pacifist," if that whole Driving the Money Changers Out of the Temple with Whips Thing did not do so already. But ... wow! What a sad day for the Catholic Church!
On Thursday, Francis was asked a question by a French journalist about how to balance religious freedom against freedom of expression, and he immediately linked his answer to the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“You’re French, so let’s talk about Paris, let’s speak clearly,” he said.
“One cannot make war [or] kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God,” Francis said. “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”
That said, Francis also insisted that free speech does not imply total license to insult or offend another’s faith.
“One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith,” the pope said, speaking in Italian.
“Every religion has its dignity … and I cannot make fun of it,” the pope said. “In freedom of expression there are limits, like in regard to my mom.”
No, it’s not “normal.” The individual moved to violence over an insult has lost control, and that’s unacceptable. It is unequivocally wrong to hit someone in the face regardless of the circumstances that led to that outburst, which is a lesson that parents around the world teach their children every day. Good luck now, mom and dad. When even the Pope says it’s “normal” to go on a violent rampage because your feelings were hurt, those opposed to this uncivilized behavior have lost the ability to appeal to moral authority.And instead of fighting it like the Church did after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Church will be leading it.
When broadcasters effusively praise the bravery of the Charlie Hebdo journalists but refuse to show the work they are praising for fear of retribution from either extremists or attorneys; when the head of the Catholic Church can find some sensibleness in religious violence; when those who speak their minds are imprisoned for doing so, you know that Europe is on the verge of a new dark age.
Are the stakes that high? Indeed, they are. Victor Davis Hanson:
Western civilization’s creed is free thought and expression, the lubricant of everything from democracy to human rights.Law Professor Jonathan Turley gets it:
Even a simpleton in the West accepts that protecting free expression is not the easy task of ensuring the right to read Homer’s Iliad or do the New York Times crossword puzzle. It entails instead the unpleasant duty of allowing offensive expression.
Westerners fight against pornography, blasphemy, or hate speech in the arena of ideas by writing and speaking out against such foul expression. They are free to sue, picket, boycott, and pressure sponsors of unwelcome speech. But Westerners cannot return to the Middle Ages to murder those whose ideas they don’t like.
“Parody” and “satire” are, respectively, Greek and Latin words. In antiquity the non-Western tradition simply did not produce authors quite like the vicious Aristophanes, Petronius, and Juvenal, who unapologetically trashed the society around them. If the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo loses the millennia-old right to ridicule Islam from within a democracy, then there is no longer a West, at least as we know it.
Of course, people can insult the faith of others. It is called free speech and you are not allowed to punch someone (or in the most recent case, massacre people) out of a sense of legitimate outrage. Clearly, Pope Francis was not condoning the massacre. He remains a leading voice for Peace and tolerance. However, the discussion of limits on free speech in the West has spawned a trend toward greater criminalization and prosecution for unpopular writers and speakers, including a crackdown in France after the march in support of free speech.And David Harsanyi describes the slippery slope the Pope has just endorsed:
Pope Francis added that people who make fun of religion “are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.” Presumably, the victims are Charlie Hebdo would be considered such “provocateurs,” precisely the image advanced by Muslim extremists insisting that they were incited to violence.
I still admire the Pope but he is less inspirational on free speech, particularly anti-religious speech, in making these comments. Ironically, free speech is the greatest protection of the free exercise of religion. It is the right that allows people of faith (as well as people who are agnostic and atheist) to speak out about their values and beliefs. That freedom comes with a certain covenant of faith in free speech: that we all can speak our mind without fear of prosecution or retaliation.
Someone should ask the Pope if provocateurs should expect an asymmetrical response? For instance, if Gasparri uttered a curse word against the Pope’s mother, should he expect to his family blown up? That would be a more pertinent analogy.As a proud ROMAN Catholic (That's right! Not just Catholic - ROMAN Catholic! All the way back to the ROMAN EMPIRE! Julius Caesar! SPQR, baby!!!), I am deeply offended by the Pope's provocative statements on this issue.
But let’s take it further. Where are the limits? Why does “mockery” hold a special distinction in our debate? And what constitutes contemptuous language or behavior towards another faith? For instance, can we intentionally criticize another person’s faith without expecting to be punched? What if that faith is in direct conflict with the beliefs of your own set beliefs—beliefs that deserve, according to the Pope, the same respect as any other? Is it ever worth getting punched in the face?What if one of these faiths is unable to live in free and open society because the principles of their faith conflict with those of others? What if one religion feels mocked by the things that other religions put up with in society—like wearing skirts above the knees, or eating pork sausages, or failing to accept that Muhammad is the Prophet? What if those of a certain faith feel this is ridicule towards them? What if they believe it worthy of retaliation? Should the rest of us avoid these things so as not to upset anyone?
Because he made statements that offended me, do you think he'd mind if, in response, I punched him in the nose?