Heather Wilhelm argues that Christians should get comfortable with blasphemy.  Allahpundit reports with some alarm that a majority of Americans don't think they have the "right" to blaspheme.  It's a ticklish subject, even when no one is threatening to shoot up the place.  Where it most often goes off the rails is in the muddiness surrounding the word "right."

I'm sure I have, and should have, the legal right to blaspheme.  No matter who thinks I'm blaspheming, I don't want him to have recourse to the government to come and shut me up by force, nor do I want him to get a free pass for killing me to stop my intolerable threat to his peace of mind.  I should think we'd had enough centuries of bloodshed to settle that question of policy by now.  Nevertheless, I don't think I have the moral right to be intentionally offensive about someone's religion for no better purpose than to put a stick in his eye.  If I hold an opinion of some aspects of his religion that strike him as less than flattering or orthodox, I expect him either to get over it, or at least confine himself to nonviolent retaliation--preferably in the form of reasoned discourse, though he's free to snub me socially and professional as well.  Good manners and charity should lead me to express my disagreement as tactfully and unhatefully as I know how.  But if the problem is that no doubt or contradiction can be brooked, I can't help the guy.  He may not be capable of living in a free society.

So I decline to participate in campaigns to keep pigs and sausage out of children's books, while upholding the right of anyone who doesn't like them to decline reading them, even to the point of taking their kids out of school if it comes to that.  Although I wouldn't dream of drawing a race-baiting caricature of a Semite, whether Arab or Jew, or of a black man, I also wouldn't lift a finger to prevent someone else from doing so, beyond refusing to support his effort with either my own patronage or tax revenues.  Nor will I accept "religious rage" as a defense to murder any more than I've ever been impressed with defenses like "homosexual panic."  Maintaining a free society means expecting grownups to control their emotional impulses, not parade them.


MikeD said...

By Beelzebub's burly butt, I agree. Now, having the right to do something is surely not the same thing as it being right to do that thing. I think blasphemy is an offensive thing to do, but should it be a legal offense? Obviously not.

Grim said...

I think what you say is reasonable.

I also think blasphemy is a useful test. If people are out there blaspheming my religious beliefs (as I encounter them doing every single day), do I find my religious beliefs sullied by it?

No, not at all. That's how I know the beliefs are solid: mockery doesn't embarrass me about them. AC/DC can sing, "Hey Satan! Paid my dues / singing in a rockin' band" without me either thinking (a) "I should be embarrassed of my beliefs since such a popular band feels free to mock them," nor (b), "I'd like to pay my dues to Satan too!"

What I end up thinking is that they're being silly (and perhaps foolish).

Cass said...

Christ nailed this one (pun fully intended): Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God those things that are God's.

Blasphemy is firmly in the group of things that are "God's" to judge.

Eric Blair said...

One encounters a problem when just by existing, you offend.

Texan99 said...

That's true, and I judge a murderer more harshly if what drove him to murder was that he simply can't tolerate the existence of blacks/Jews/gays/whatever, than if he lost his temper in a fight. It's a question of which risk of future murders from the guy strike me as more toxic for society. But that's a judgment of motive for a murder, and motive generally is relevant to me. It's accidental that the information I get about his motive may come from his speech. The speech itself, divorced from a crime, is not something I'd want to use the state's power to punish.

I think the hardest line to draw comes when someone is using speech to incite violence by others. Most arguments against things could be taken, in extreme cases, as incitements to violence against the people who believe or do those things. It's an area where great care is required, lest we end up with laws against criticizing anyone or anything, for fear that weak-minded people will hear the message and go on a killing spree.

Dad29 said...

Maintaining a free society means expecting grownups to control their emotional impulses, not parade them.

James Madison said as much. The MORAL right must be distinguished from the LEGAL right, and the MORAL right must triumph to maintain civilization.

Which does not excuse murder in the case at hand.