“One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion — that is, in the name of God,” Francis said. “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”Now bear in mind that the Pope's "cannot" here is not a legal cannot, but a moral one aimed at Catholics who take his authority seriously. You have the legal freedom, but a good Christian -- the Pope is telling his flock -- wouldn't do these things. In another context, that would be a noncontroversial thing coming from a Pope, a bishop, a priest, or a nun.
But then the pope began to outline what he sees as important limits on free expression. Francis began by joking that if someone were to swear against his mother, “a punch awaits him.”
Continuing more seriously, the pope said: “One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other people’s faith, one cannot make fun of faith.”
“There is a limit,” he said. “Every religion has its dignity.”
The important part for me is this endorsement from the Holy Father of a reasonable amount of violence in response to intentional provocation as a natural, normal part of human morality. We talked about this in the comments to this post.
I am not sure I condemn violence against people who are doing their best to provoke it. I condemn murder, of course, but I often think we go too far in condemning all violence. If the father of a soldier forced to endure a Westboro protest at his son's funeral were to punch one of them in the nose, I'd think we should do nothing whatsoever to punish him for the action. If Westboro seeks to press charges against him, as they always do, I would think the proper response would be, "What did you expect to happen?"We agreed, after discussion, that just when such violence is justified is a judgment call that is going to need to be subject to reasonable standards and social/legal controls. But that's true of the more serious violence we justify too: the 'stand your ground' laws justify lethal violence, subject to a whole series of legal controls and reviews by members of the community -- the police, prosecutors, juries, etc. Even where we want to craft a positive law creating a specific authorization to use force, all those modes of review are necessary to ensure it isn't misused or unreasonably applied.
This attack violates a number of my principles -- against murder, against using firearms against unarmed and weak persons, against ganging up on people, and so forth. There's plenty to condemn.
But I think maybe there is a point at which we should say, "Of course you have the right to say it, and nobody will stop you, but don't come crying to us if you get bopped in the nose for it." If we drew the line there, maybe there'd be more nose-bopping and fewer gratuitously offensive cartoons, and we'd reach a place where we were both less violent (no mass murder, and probably pretty quickly no need to nose-bop) and less indecent (fewer ugly public statements meant to insult).
The very idea is upsetting to some at Hot Air, who have bought into the line that all violence is wicked and children should be taught never to hit.
“In freedom of expression, there are limits, like in regard to my mom,” Francis continued. “If he says a swear word against my mother, he’s going to get a punch in the nose. That’s normal.”You're missing the Pope's point, I think. First, he specifically sets aside lethal force in these cases. His chosen example is very close to mine, actually: a punch in the nose. But he isn't advocating punching people in the nose so much as he's advocating not being an ass. If everyone follows his advice, nobody will get punched in the nose. It's only when people don't follow the advice that we get to nose-bopping. But the nose-bopping is itself a natural feedback mechanism, especially if society endorses its reasonable application. It's just by endorsing standing up to people like Westboro that you get fewer of them. It's by protecting them from natural feedback that you get more.
No, it’s not “normal.” The individual moved to violence over an insult has lost control, and that’s unacceptable. It is unequivocally wrong to hit someone in the face regardless of the circumstances that led to that outburst, which is a lesson that parents around the world teach their children every day. Good luck now, mom and dad. When even the Pope says it’s “normal” to go on a violent rampage because your feelings were hurt, those opposed to this uncivilized behavior have lost the ability to appeal to moral authority.
This is a very old position, by the way: here's St. Thomas Aquinas on the subject. Should anyone ignore the Pope's introductory remarks and take to killing people, the Church also endorses the right of self-defense.