murders still grabbing the headlines, Pope Francis talked about the issues of religious violence and the limits of free speech in a
on his way to the Philippines:
"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."
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."
Overall, this was a wonderful message. It drew a stark line against those who use religion to kill or debase others. But I was very troubled by the pope's "joke" about punching out someone who insulted his mother. Isn't that the same logic that inspired terrorists to lash out at
's cartoonists, who had insulted their religious father?
I know Francis was not suggesting that violence is OK in response to insults. But I would have been happier if he had suggested other remedies, especially those found in the gospel: dialog, praying for your enemies and turning the other cheek. OK, so this was an off-the-cuff remark from a pontiff known for shooting from the lip. But still, with the threat of violence and counter-violence so high, this was a missed opportunity at best, and playing into humanity's vilest instincts at worst.
When it comes to speech, the pope is struggling with the same prioritize we all are. IN a pluralistic society, one where censorship is scorned and the rights of the individual are raised to heights unimaginable in the ancient world, we are faced with contradictory feelings. One the one hand, we believe that citizens should be able to express and publish any opinion they wish. On the other hand, we want to live free of constant harassment for our lifestyles and opinions. In other eras, the government and church decided what kinds of expression were permitted. Stray too far against crown or altar, and you would find yourself in a dark and deadly place. Today, our governments (for the most part) allow us to say what we will. You don't have to go too far on the Internet to find some utterly vile talk about President Obama, or Muslims or gun-banning liberals. That's worked well, mostly, and has resulted in discomfort and irritation, but in surprisingly little violence. Where government sanctions were once used to rein in loose talkers, the mass of citizens self-polices to keep crazy talk from becoming crazy actions.
The aberrations are telling.
A deranged shooter in Connecticut guns down 26 schoolchildren and teachers. A lone nut in Norway massacres kids at a camp. A mentally ill shooter in Arizona fires a bullet into a Senator's brain and kills several others. As much as I oppose the obscene scale of the sale of guns in this country, the fact seems to be that, while we kill ourselves in suicides and accidents, guns have not yet been used in large scale attacks against political targets. No riots. Yet. No revolutions. Yet. Somehow, the rage of the masses has been kept in check. The threat of imprisonment is a factor, no doubt. But also, there is the sanction of family members and society at large to consider. Cliven Bundy Can rant and threaten federal officers with guns. But his archaic, racist rants made him a laughing stock among most Americans. Rather than becoming a leader of an anti-government movement, he became distasteful enough to most people to relegate to the trash heap of history.
While I agree with the pope that people should voluntarily refrain from disparage the religions of others, I think he needs to consider that most people are capable of policing their own actions, if not their own tongues. He needs to encourage those who disagree with the opinions of others to nurture the ability to dialogue with the peacefully, or just to ignore them.
, or all of its current popularity (5 million copies of its latest issue were snapped up) has a normal readership of only 60,000. In modern societies, we need to learn to tolerate even the most irritating and hateful speech. Paraphrasing Voltaire, "I will defend to the death your right to publish
, but I don't have to buy it."