Monday, February 06, 2006

The Vatican on free speech

Dad29 posts the Vatican's comment in light of the hysteria in the Muslim world over the Danish cartoons. I'll have a column addressing this in the MJS, but, while I have the greatest respect for the Vatican, this statement seems unhelpful. It is wrong to say that the freedom of thought and expression cannot imply the right to offend the sensibilities of religious believers.

I acknowledge that there is a point at which something becomes so offensive that it has little chance of acting as communication as opposed to provocation. But it is often that with offends us that shakes us sufficiently unsettled to examine what may be our mistaken presuppositions. My sense is that southern Christians once found ti quite offensive to be confronted with the notion that segregation was inconsistent with the witness of Jesus Christ. But it was and they eventually had to accept that.

If Muslims are offended by the image of Muhammed with a turban fashioned into a bomb, it may do well for them to ask why someone else felt it necessary to depict the Prophet in that way. Maybe they will conclude that there is no justification to connect Islam with terror. Maybe they won't.

To restrict speech to that which will be accepted by the least tolerant among us makes the least tolerant the arbiters of what can be said. And encourages others to be just as vigilant on what they find offensive.

3 comments:

Sean Hackbarth said...

"If Muslims are offended by the image of Muhammed with a turban fashioned into a bomb, it may do well for them to ask why someone else felt it necessary to depict the Prophet in that way."

Many of the cartoons were offensive. If I were a Muslim I'd be upset. Just like I was upset when an artist deemed it necessary to photograph a crucifix in urine. After seeing that I didn't ask myself, "Self, why did someone feel it necessary to depict the Jesus in that way?" I took it as the anti-Christian bigotry it was.

Dad29 said...

Thanks, Sean--you're right.

It is very dangerous to regard "freedom of expression" as an absolute right. While I don't think that S&S goes that far, the argument is really over 'religious sensibilities.' That's what the Vatican's statement is all about.

There is NO good reason to offend religious sensibilities, period. S&S seems to argue that those who offend have a right to do so, if only to make their targets "reflect" on whatever motivates the "offender."

I think that argument is weak, at best. If one wishes to inspire rational discourse, it is not accomplished by offensive chatter or behavior--precisely what the Vat's statement says.

elliot said...

My response to the contention that religious criticism shouldn't be treated as free speech.