Monday, 19 January 2015

The Pope missed the point

The Pope, the leader of a Church with over 1Billion followers, is reported to have said that there are limits to freedom of expression.  He states that

"You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others. There is a limit."

On an individual level I agree with this up to a point, it would certainly be unfair to deliberately insult someone's faith in an aggressive manner.  And certainly penalising someone for what they believe or inciting others towards vicious attacks (verbal or otherwise) based on those beliefs is frankly not sporting.

There are plenty of things that we believe (e.g. I believe I'm not bad at dancing ... I secretly suspect this is not the case) that others may find silly.  Common decency demands that we play nice otherwise things descend into a free-for-all where everyone is exposed as silly and upset at others for pointing that out.

However, to quote Brian Cox (scientist and ex Pop Star):

"The problem with today’s world is that everyone believes they have the right to express their opinion AND have others listen to it. The correct statement of individual rights is that everyone has the right to an opinion, but crucially, that opinion can be roundly ignored and even made fun of, particularly if it is demonstrably nonsense!"

I agree completely with that quote but given what I said above it's probably sensible to temper things with something like the golden rule.

However, what the Pope got wrong is in the underlying assumption that faiths as a whole are in some way beyond criticism and ridicule.  I personally prefer to use the word 'faith' for an individual's belief and 'religion' for the collection of ideas, rules, and dogma.  I don't believe the Pope was making that distinction.

While individuals may have 'silly' beliefs, what religions hold true can be, as we've seen, downright dangerous.  And this is where Brain Cox view is particularly pertinent.  While most of us will keep our beliefs to ourselves, the point at which those beliefs break the golden rule is where the line is drawn.

The Pope's example of this scenario is (from the BBC article) the following:

"  'If my good friend Doctor Gasparri [who organises the Pope's trips] speaks badly of my mother, he can expect to get punched,' he said, throwing a pretend punch at the doctor, who was standing beside him. " 


Definitely not.

You're advocating violence against someone for the words they use.  It's a VERY short step from there to saying that insulting a religious figure should result in the kind of extreme violence seen recently.

First of all the scenarios are entirely different.  As far as I am aware the Pope's mother has led a blameless life and would not be deserving of any criticism.  So the correct response to anyone saying anything bad about her is to ignore or even ridicule them for the unsupportable comments.

You don't go and beat them up.

Someone verbally attacking the Pope for his views (which is essentially what I am doing) should NOT be physically attacked.  I'm attempting to give a reasoned argument.  I believe I am supporting this with logical points.  Feel free to point out any errors.

Someone verbally attacking, and even attacking the Catholic church and religion, based on taking apart aspects of dogma which are logically ridiculous should be completely free to do so.  There are many people who would see that as provocative and insulting.  That is their opinion and they are welcome to defend their views verbally also.

Ultimately any consensus should be reached on valid, logical, and supportable (with evidence) arguments.  No violence is required for any of that.

And in none of this does any one person or groups beliefs get special treatment.  You cannot derive a superior or protected position in an argument just because *you* believe that should be the case.

So the correct response to someone criticising your religion is to ignore them, possibly even ridicule them in a clever and humourous way.  That generally wins more arguments than beating someone up.  Generally people like clever comebacks and will side with someone being attacked and defending themselves with style.

Resorting to any kind of violence (are you listening to this your Pope-ness) generally loses the argument quite rapidly.  For example, I read that Charlie Hebdo had a circulation of only 60,000 before the attacks and was viewed by many as racists and marginal.  They supposedly printed 6,000,000 copies of the latest run and sold out at that.

This is probably not a victory for reason however you look at it, just an escalation of one group metaphorically punching another for saying something bad about their equally metaphorical Mother.

Given the Pope's stupid comments above it's clear that being the leader of over a billion followers does not in any way make you wise.