Monday, January 19, 2015

Charlie Hebdo and the right to offend


The massacre at the office of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamic terrorists sparked outrage throughout much of the Western world. There is talk about freedom of speech and freedom of expression, even for blasphemy, of which the cartoonists most certainly were guilty of. The cartoonists were thus not exactly nice people, so even though gunning them down is wicked, some might think they deserve what they got. Even worse is the constant attack on freedom of speech and expression from certain sources like this, with the idea that we should not have absolute freedom of speech and expression.

There are two issues here: One of consistency, and the other concerning freedom. With regards to consistency, the issue is that the West is hypocritical when it comes to freedom of speech. Theirs is the "freedom" to ridicule those deemed acceptable to be mocked, but try mocking (actually only just need to disagree with) the LGBTQIA lobby and see what happens! Is there really freedom of speech in Western countries? The disgraceful dismissal of Atlanta Fire Chief Kelvin Cochran for "thought crime" certainly establishes the bigotry of the LGBTQIA agenda. So much for actual freedom of speech and expression in the West!


The second issue of freedom has two aspects: civil and religious. In the civil realm we have countries that categorically deny freedom of speech and expression on principle. In the religious realm, we have the argument that blasphemy should be criminalized Either way, the idea is that there should not be actual freedom of speech and expression.

The civil aspect focuses on the idea that peace and harmony in society depends on forbidding speech that offends. Now, as a practical concern, this is certainly a factor to be considered when one implements freedom of speech, but practice is not identical to principle. One could very well affirm freedom of speech on principle, while citing practical concerns for imposing some limitations on its exercise in society. The principle however should be defended, for the main issue is this: Who gets to define what speech is offensive and what speech is not? Does the State get to determine matters of religion and philosophy? Is it even qualified for that task? Of course not! And that is the main issue here: One man's religion might be another man's blasphemy. Islam for example categorically denies the deity of Christ, whom they call Isa. In Christian theology, denial of Christ's deity is heresy and blasphemy, so should Christians insist that Muslims do not teach that Christ is not God? Most certainly not! Muslims should have the right to deny what Christians assert to be true! That the State has the capability to decide what kind of speech is and is not offensive is ludicrous to the extreme. What happens is that such determination becomes totally arbitrary and the State becomes, as it were, "God", to determine by fiat what is and what is not considered "acceptable speech."

On the religious front, yes, blasphemy is a moral sin. It angers God, and blasphemers will be punished by God, personally. But does that mean on the civil realm we should punish blasphemy? Those like Tim Bayly who argue for blasphemy laws clearly do not have a sense of Church history especially the 30 years' war, where people are killed simply because they hold to a difference confession of faith. As I have mentioned earlier, one man's religion is another man's blasphemy. Who gets to determine what blasphemy looks or doesn't look like? The State? How about Tridentine Roman Catholicism, which bathed the European continent in blood with the French wars of religion, the Dutch war of independence, and of course the 30 years' war? Perhaps Bayly would love 16th century Italy, whereby Protestants of all stripes were routinely burned at the stake for heresy? Yes, blasphemy is sin, but not all sin is to be punished by the civil government. Can anyone imagine what would happen if the State decides to punish all lying? I guess the politicians would all go to jail first, followed by the rest of the people!

So while blasphemy is a detestable sin against God, in the civil realm, there must be a right to blaspheme. Christians have the right to express outrage, to organize boycotts and so on in response, but blasphemy should never be a civil crime.

In conclusion, there should be actual freedom of speech and expression, not because that would result in an ideal society, but because the alternative to that is a society not under the rule of law but under the arbitrary whims of government. Better some blasphemy and hurt feelings, than the Orvellian society of Nineteen Eighty-Four.

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