Pope needs to think more clearly
Was I the only one to be surprised to hear that the pope would “punch” a “good friend” who uttered a “curse word” against his mother?
Apparently, “it’s normal”.
The words I have quoted are an unknown translator’s rendition of what the pope said, so maybe they are inaccurate, though I have not heard of any protest by the pope’s entourage over inaccuracy.
In words which, I assume, the devout will take as gospel, the pope is advocating violence against those who insult something or someone one finds dear.
So are we supposed to accept that this is a correction of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:39, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”?
In other words, turn the other cheek.
Or does it only apply to pontiffs?
I think this is more serious than the media seem to have presented it. Of course, you could argue that the lack of gravity in the reports of this remark indicate a feeling, at least in the UK, that the pope occupies a marginal position in society.
My view is that he still occupies a position; that a substantial number of people, even in the UK, adhere to his words; and the sight and sound of anyone in the media advocating such a dangerous message will still have an effect, however subliminal.
Where the pope went wrong
The pope’s more general point is that he believes that one doesn’t have the right to verbally attack another’s religion. He said, “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith”. Well, obviously, one can, in the sense that it is possible (otherwise the pope would not need to say anything on the matter)—I assume this a quirk of the translation.
But we should have that right and, in the UK, Europe and the US (under the first amendment) we do.
The pope’s problem, if I may be so bold, is that he understandably wants to curb the effects of enflamed religionists, but he thinks not being provocative is the answer. Because he apparently doesn’t consider the following to be relevant, he is left advocating a silly solution which helps noone but the irretrievably bigoted.
To curb provocation isn’t the solution. Because that way leads to a worse situation, by far.
The answer is that noone can make us feel or do or think anything. To argue otherwise is to assert that there are some parts of our brains over which e have no neurological control and, further, over which others do have control in ways that are both predictable and beyond the ability of the ‘recipient’ to alter. This is just plain wrong.
It’s obviously wrong. If a cartoonist, say, pokes fun at His Holiness The Flying Spaghetti Monster, only a proportion of His adherents will be offended. So, if it were the case that, for those people who were offended, it was the cartoonist’s fault, how come the others weren’t offended? Clearly there is some characteristic of the minds of the people in the two groups; in other words, it is down to the recipient, not the transmitter.
But, it’s even simpler. As Viktor Frankl pointed out, in any situation, the last thing that can be taken form a person is his or her ability to make a choice. Anyone who is offended could choose not to be offended.
I go through this in more detail in this blog: Harassment v free speech
A better response
The pope’s message to would-be provocateurs, and simply those who wish to exercise the right to free speech, would be to acknowledge the truth in the judgement of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr that, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic.”
In other words, no rights without responsibilities.
And, to those who would be provoked, the pope might suggest considering why they are choosing to give in to provocation rather than to let it go, to turn the other cheek.
An exceptionally cogent (and terse) piece on this subject appeared in the Jewish chronicle by Oliver Kamm: Offended by freedom of speech? That’s life (15 january 2015, Jewish chronicle).
As he says,
We have been here [the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo shootings] before, when in 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran issued an edict suborning the murder of Salman Rushdie for the crime of writing a novel. The then Chief Rabbi, Dr Immanuel Jakobovits, lamentably remarked: “Both Mr Rushdie and the Ayatollah have abused freedom of speech.”
Mr Rushdie had done no such thing. He had satirised the religious beliefs of Muslims. Charlie Hebdo did likewise. That’s what free speech entails. It is how knowledge advances.
The notion that people’s deeply held convictions, merely by being deeply held, merit respect is inimical to the principles of a free society. Beliefs merit respect to the extent, and only to the extent, that they can withstand scrutiny, evidence and criticism – even mockery and derision.
The notion that avoiding (let alone punishing) offence is any part of public policy is pernicious. If the state starts concerning itself not just with citizens’ welfare but with their feelings, there is no limit to how far it can encroach on liberty. We shouldn’t go there.
> blog: Harassment v free speech
> Offended by freedom of speech? That’s life [external link]
© 2015 Jeremy Marchant . note added 26 november 2015