That rules out the Gospel then

Pope Francis puts in his two denarius’ worth on Charlie Hebdo.

Pope Francis on Thursday condemned killing in God’s name but warned religion could not be insulted, weighing into a global debate on free speech ahead of a rapturous welcome in the Philippines…

“If a good friend speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched, and that’s normal. You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it,” he said.

If a man smite you on your right cheek, offer him your left also. But if he insults your mother, POW!

I wonder if he remembers that Muslims consider it an insult to say that Mohammed is not God’s prophet, or that Islam is not the true faith, or that Allah is not the one and only true God? Has he forgotten how the Gospel itself insults all men by calling them sinners who deserve to be punished in Hell? In fact, it’s an insult to our intelligence to even claim that the Bible is the inspired word of God. But perhaps he meant that only religion is off-limits for insults. Well, religion, and his mother. But that restriction also rules out any preaching of his own religion to others.

There are indeed limits to free speech: terroristic threats, libel, slander, child pornography, and such like. And even legitimately free speech, such as insults, can become problematic if taken to extremes (for example, by flooding the social networks with harassing tweets and insinuations in order to try and destroy a person or drive them offline).

But let’s face it: religion itself cannot exist without the freedom to explicitly or implicitly criticize other people’s religious beliefs. If we outlaw criticisms of religions, then proselytizing and/or conversion no longer exist as legitimate options. If you want to be religious in a free society, and to have the right to preach your Gospel, then you’re going to have to suck it up and accept the fact that other people have the right to say things you don’t like about the things you believe.

And by the way, isn’t it great to be a secular skeptic? You can’t insult my religion because the only thing I believe in is reality itself. If you disagree with reality, if you mock and insult reality, if you outright deny reality, don’t expect me to feel sorry about it. I might pity you. Or I might just laugh. But your insults and mockery have no power to do any real harm to reality. (You can do harmful things based on your rejection of reality, and if they’re harmful to me as well, then I’ll get mad. But your words, by themselves, do not harm reality.)

The reason religion is too weak to withstand criticism is because it is a fiction, a massive, ongoing, role-playing game that people keep going by loving it and believing it. Insults are harmful to make-believe because they take the fun out of believing, and that has the potential to shut down the whole game. That’s why the Pope wants special protection for religion. And that’s precisely why it does not deserve it.



  1. sqlrob says

    You can’t insult my religion because the only thing I believe in is reality itself. If you disagree with reality, if you mock and insult reality,

    Actually, it’s pretty easy. Psalm 14:1. Granted, that’s insulting us rather than reality itself.

  2. Al Dente says

    sqlrob @1

    The response to that verse is Matthew 5:22:

    …but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire. (KJV)

  3. sqlrob says

    @Al Dente:

    Although that works in a bible fight / theological discussion, I don’t think it’s relevant here.

    “He insulted my religion”
    “He’s a bigot, ignore him”

    That doesn’t seem consistent with Francis’ position.

  4. lorn says

    IMHO religions are, with a few exceptions, quite sensitive to criticism and insult because, despite several thousand years of exposition, laudatory commentary, and apologetics, religions in general still lack a logical basis in verifiable fact and physical reality. If they had a logically consistent argument they could trot it out and intellectually spar with the criticism. Unfortunately for them, their best arguments are deeply undermined and made moot because they all require the assumption that a supernatural deity exist.

    Failing that they have pretty, and not so pretty, tales, and the documentation of humanities faltering attempts to find reason and direction in what is, by best estimates, a profoundly uncaring universe.

  5. John Morales says

    I have noticed Christians don’t ever “turn the other cheek” (never mind “love their enemy”!) in practice.

    (How they so very seriously pay lip-service to their impossible goal never ceases to bemuse me)

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