In the wake of the religious inspired attacks in Paris, France, Pope Francis ruined the progressive image he had been fostering by insisting that “One cannot provoke; one cannot insult other people’s faith; one cannot make fun of faith.”
(Photo from Wikipedia’s Pope Francis page.)
Putting it politely, Francis is a blithering idiot to say such a senseless and ill-considered statement. There are two distinct fallacies in what he’s said: first, that faith is an idea which cannot be made fun of, and second: that one should not or must not make insult the faith of others.
One would think given his leadership of an organisation that once conducted one of the most extensive and feared programmes of terror, the Spanish Inquisition, would know when to keep his mouth shut regarding religions having unfettered control over what people should think or say. Scientists, free-thinkers, atheists and believers of other religions, amongst others, were mercilessly pursued and tortured by a band of religious halfwits and bigots secure in their own unassailable power.
Francis, too, is the head of a single branch of a monotheistic religion, one of three Abrahamic faiths. Devout catholics will swear theirs is the one, true branch of christianity. Devout protestants will declare theirs is the one, true branch of christianity. Each will declare this to each other, and equally, each will declare to members of both the Jewish and Islamic faiths that theirs is the one, true religion. The members of those faiths equally believe theirs is the one, true religion.
Those statements alone are technically insulting to believers in other faiths. So Francis’ statement, “one cannot insult other people’s faith” only has one logical conclusion: no one of faith should be allowed to make any utterance regarding their faith so as to avoid insulting anyone of another faith. (Of course, as is often the case in these situations, the claims of immunity are pointed directly at secular society: secularists and atheists are prohibited from criticising or mocking religion because that’s mean and disrespectful.)
A dictum that it isn’t permitted to make fun of faith raises faith to an unassailable position: that it’s beyond reproach or questioning.
“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” roared Oz, in “The Wizard of Oz”, desperate to stop Dorothy from unmasking his dirty little deception.
Those of faith insist their faith is an intrinsic knowledge – that it comes from deep within and is known without explanation or need to articulate reasoning. “I believe” is and should be enough.
If that’s so, then there is no way that mockery or satire can hurt a religion or a person’s religious beliefs. If their knowledge in their faith is so very secure that they do not need to explain where this “I know” comes from, then a cartoon of a prophet or a joke about a priest and a rabbi walking into a bar can make no difference – none whatsoever.
If however, that mockery or satire can in some way affect a religion, then it equally tells us the supposed intrinsically understood truths aren’t so much truths as they are just ideas, and all ideas should remain subject to analysis, humour and introspection. If “I believe” is enough for it to be an intrinsic truth, then nothing another person says or does can harm that intrinsic truth. If “I believe” is not enough to shield the believer from discomfort over the utterances of another, then it equally cannot be a sword that prevents another from making the utterances.
This new pope has demonstrated at times a refreshingly modern attitude towards social justice, but in demanding that faiths are inviolate and beyond mockery, he demonstrates a profound conservatism that should be constantly challenged.