The pope tells us what we can and can’t say

The pope says we can’t insult religion.

Well he would, wouldn’t he. Anyway he does.

In provocative remarks which may cause consternation in France, the Pope said that freedom of expression had its limits, especially if it involved insulting or ridiculing religion.

He made the forthright comments to journalists on board his official plane as he flew from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the two stops on his week-long visit to Asia.

That would be convenient for the Catholic church, wouldn’t it – but it’s wrong. Religion is one of the institutions that most needs insult and ridicule (as well as criticism and defiance). The pope’s religion undertakes to give us all orders, and we all get to answer back. We need to answer back.

Gesturing towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who organises pontifical trips and who was standing next to him on board the plane, he said: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

Throwing a pretend punch, the Pope said: “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Has the pope been watching Sacranie on Newsnight? Stephen Law summarized what he said last week:

Towards end of the programme cartoonist Steve Bell was interviewed alongside ‘moderate’ Muslim Sir Iqbal Sacranie, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Great Britain. Sacranie unequivocally condemned the attack on the Charlie Hebdo journalists. But he went on to suggest that there are limits to free speech. Sacranie drew an analogy popular with many Muslims between offending someone by insulting a dear member of their family and offending a Muslim by insulting their Prophet. Sacranie said he ‘would not dare’ to insult a member of your close family with the intention of hurting your feelings. He added that if he did, ‘I would perhaps get a punch on my nose’.

Maybe so, in both cases, but that is beside the point. A direct personal insult to one individual’s mother is not comparable to a generalized public insult to a public figure, especially one who has been dead for 14 centuries and is shrouded in myth anyway.

The Pope did not refer specifically to [Charlie Hebdo] but said that insulting religions was unacceptable and dangerous.

“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said.

“They 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.”

That’s a disgusting thing to say.

The Pope in no way condoned the attack on Charlie Hebdo, insisting that violence carried out in God’s name was “an aberration.”

“One cannot make war [or] kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God.”

But those who ridiculed another religion should expect some sort of reaction, he said.

A frown, a roll of the eyes, a swear word, a decision never to buy the magazine again. That kind of reaction. But that, pope, is not what’s under discussion, so it’s irrelevant.


  1. says

    Fuck the motherfucking pope. He still has an inquisition. And for him to say that killing people over a cartoon is bad humor coming from the head of the institution that put people to death for asking if Adam had a navel.

  2. Cassidy McJones says

    “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

    Ah, Christianity. The religion of peace! If the pope was a normal person instead of the pope (or a member of any other extremely privledged group) he could likely expect to be charged with assault if he carried out that punch to the nose. Yo, Frankie – if Gasparri insults your mother you have the right to talk back at him and fire him, not physically attack him.

    I would hope this interview starts to chip away at that pristine PR bubble the Vatican has deployed and many people (including some who really should know better) have bought into but I won’t hold my breath.

  3. Brian E says

    How is professing a particular faith not an offense to all other faiths that don’t share that set of beliefs?
    The shahadda: There is one god and Mohammad is his messenger denies that Jesus is the saviour. Isn’t denying Jesus is the saviour offensive? And so on…

  4. Saikat Biswas says

    Oh heavens to Betsy !! … he really believe no one has the right to insult others’ faith? Well, good. So just tell your minions to stop saying that Jesus is the only road to salvation. That is mighty insulting to a lot of Muslims, Jews, Hindus …… and, well, anybody with a brain cell.
    But who am I kidding really? This is what happens when an incontinent dimwit puts on a funny dress and blathers from the wrong end of his body …..

  5. maddog1129 says

    It’s that weird word, “but,” again, that negates what goes before it.
    “I don’t condone the murders, but …” well, really, I *do* condone the murders because you shouldn’t have insulted a religion!

  6. Andrew B. says

    The Pope’s response is typical of a very popular religious game that many like to play. The trick is to be as open and boastful and chauvinist as possible about your little cause, but when your group, ideology or religion starts to receive push-back or criticism, immediately clam-up and claim that your belief is a VERY PRIVATE MATTER AND HOW DARE YOU. It’s bullshit. If your religion were very private, you wouldn’t be seeking to control and convert everyone who disagreed. You wouldn’t be telling strangers that they are living their lives all wrong because they choose not to be part of your group.

    I don’t make it a habit to vocally disagree with those who regularly keep their beliefs to themselves, but when one DOES spends a great deal of time and effort advancing one cause or ideology, it isn’t unreasonable to expect that others might make their disagreement known.

  7. says

    In provocative remarks which may cause consternation in France…

    See what they did, there…

    And, really, and in the category of à propos, seeing as I see direct criticism of self-important superstitions (and especially those meddling in, among other things, reproductive rights, and supporting dehumanizing attitudes toward persons of sexualities other than straight) as essentially a civic duty, and thus arguably a secular sacrament, I trust pope whosits here will understand if anyone of similar persuasion feels the impulse to punch him in the nose or somethin’, now…

    (I wouldn’t, mind. As, apparently, I have better impulse control than those he so helpfully urges us to keep in mind. But, also apparently, the point is he shouldn’t say what he did, therefore. Goose, gander and all.)

  8. sambarge says

    You see, it’s not the violent response to religious criticism that’s the problem. It’s the level of violence in the response. It’s very subtle. Punching is okay, bullet to the head is not okay.

  9. says

    … guess on the same topic: I again find myself wondering, reading this, if the religious think their anger, specifically is somehow special, different than other anger? Or maybe they think they’re the only ones get angry? Or maybe just them and children under five?

    I dunno. I mean, there doesn’t seem to be much of an encyclical here I can examine to clarify this. I guess popes, too, talk without thinking too hard about what they’re saying, on occasion.

    But for what it’s worth: I do suspect he’s probably quite right it’s ‘natural’, at least, as he says…

    But here’s the thing: I make this assumption, indeed, because I can sorta relate, here.

    As far as the impulse, at least. As yes, shocking confession time, now and then, when he and his lot open their endlessly quoted mouths, especially in efforts like this one to stifle criticism, to privilege their daft cosmology and by extension themselves and their institutions, I, too, do occasionally find myself thinking of really very illegal and unneighbourly uses for lead pipes…

    Yes, I do. Briefly, at least, before I catch myself, and go to the breathing exercises. In case anyone was wondering. But let’s be very, very clear–vastly clearer, might I mention, at least, I think, than he managed in the attached–that I do not want anyone to take this as a threat. At all. Nor some kind of advice that they watch what they say..

    Indeed, had Pontifus Pugilist here not gone where he just did (and as his ilk seem continually to go), I doubt I’d have brought such visions up. I can imagine few other contexts in which it would be at all appropriate, as yes, doing so does generally present problems in what we might like to be a constructive discussion. Working out where I might feel it appropriate to mention, geez, where? Maybe with a duly qualified therapist, were I genuinely worried about my ability to continue to handle such twitches, going forward, that’s about it.

    So anyway, no, do not imagine any threat is intended, here. Quite the contrary. As I figure that impulse, that’s my problem. And, knowing this, I will suppress it. And I hereby prescribe that anyone I know or do not know who fails this essential test of membership in our civilization, regardless of the ‘insult’, ought to have to answer to the law. Were I to prove to lack such self-control, I would expect the same treatment. I wouldn’t be saying, well, geez, you mocked an idea of mine, what did you expect?

    Maybe this needs to be communicated more clearly? Hey, pope guy, and hey, religious types in general: other people do get angry. They just don’t imagine this somehow gives them the right to punch/kill/maim/etc., or that they can expect some special understanding when they do, or that this puts the onus on anyone else not to say stuff they just don’t want to hear. Rather, they attempt to require themselves to continue to behave like adults, or, failing this, at least keep their hands off the blunt instruments, even if they do find either of these things require some effort.

    Or, I guess, more precisely, some of them probably do imagine such unlikely rights to maim etc., but, generally, if they get quoted saying so in the papers, it’s just because they were sufficiently foolish as to put it on the record in court…

    After which, of course, it is considered in sentencing. And not generally to their advantage.

  10. Pianoman, Church of the Golden Retriever says

    But Your Holiness, it isn’t that i would wish to insult your mother. Even if I did, at least I could feel confident that I was insulting someone who definitely existed.

  11. sailor1031 says

    Anyway what does laughing at religious hypocrisy to do with insulting the pope’s mother? Am I just missing the equivalence or something? Just like I’m missing the equivalence of the bloody murder of seventeen people compared to a punch in the nose…..I’m thinking this is going to be yet another walkback for Francis; getting old I’d say.

  12. says

    A direct personal insult to one individual’s mother is not comparable to a generalized public insult to a public figure…

    And it’s even less comparable to critical public discourse about the beliefs or policies said public figure supports, or of the consequences of such beliefs or policies when put into action.

    “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose.”

    If your mother preaches a doctrine that is clearly dishonest or false, and/or has observable evil consequences when put into action, then you and she had better expect some harsh criticism from me, and from anyone else affected by her blithering. And if you punch me in the nose for it, I’ll bloody well punch back.

    If you and your religion can’t handle criticism, Pope Cuddly, then SHUT UP AND RESIGN.

  13. says

    He made the forthright comments to journalists on board his official plane…

    Yeah, that says a lot right there. So much for his “humble man of the people” act. One of his predecessors, Pope John Paul II, explicitly forgave the guy who shot him in the gut and damn near killed him, even after that wound started his long and unconcealed physical decline. If this latest stooge can’t even forgive mere verbal criticism, then he’s in the wrong fucking line of work.

    PS: Can anyone cite a Bible passage where Jesus says you can never insult religion? ‘Cause I remember him fielding a lot of harsh questions, but I don’t remember him telling anyone to shut up or face any sort of retribution. In fact, IIRC, he took a lot more punishment than he ever gave out.

  14. says

    I again find myself wondering, reading this, if the religious think their anger, specifically is somehow special, different than other anger? Or maybe they think they’re the only ones get angry?

    It’s mostly about power and bullying: the people in power (in this case the Catholic Church and other big denominations) are, by definition, the only ones who have any right to get angry; and everyone else’s anger is to be both mocked and suppressed by whatever means prove useful, and then used as justification for further suppression and marginalization. That’s pretty much how bullies always operate, whether the bullying is ethnic, racial, religious, economic, ideological, or just personal.

  15. says

    That’s okay, I forget who I stole that phrase from. Most likely someone here. In any case, I won’t be using it anymore; “Pope Smirky” seems more fitting now.

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