Saturday, 17 January 2015

The pope is a right Charlie

Pope Francis has just spoken out in support of terrorism. I’m guessing that this isn’t what he meant to do, but that was the meaning of his words. He said that if someone insulted his mother they could expect a punch in the face, and insulting someone’s religion was much the same thing. “You can’t insult someone’s faith,” he said. If that isn’t saying that the Charlie Hebdo people were basically asking for what happened, I don’t know what is.

Do I have the right to insult the Pope’s mother? Yes, I do. Would doing so without good reason make me an arsehole? Yes, it would - and there is but one commandment; try not to be a dick. However, I could criticise the Pope’s mother if I thought I had good reason to do so (I’m sure she is a lovely woman and she seems to have raised a son with, generally speaking, a good social conscience, so well done her). Likewise, I can criticise a religion - or any idea or set of ideas. And that is an important difference; a religion IS a set of ideas and is not a person. It is open to criticism, yes, and if the the ideas are ridiculous they are open to ridicule. And the people who believe those ideas are, by definition, not the ones who decide whether what I say is opinion, criticism or insult. If I say that, because there is no god, Christ was not divine - or, in fact, there is no evidence that such a person actually existed - or that, for the same reason, Muhammad was not inspired by god you may feel insulted by these statements but they are not inherently insulting.

But, you may ask, isn’t Muhammad a person? Well, he certainly was a real person but, as I say, I do have the right to insult a person although doing so may make me an arsehole. However, as a supposed prophet and founder of a religion, Muhammad has become an idea more than a person and, what is more, the very act of saying that you are not allowed to criticise someone or something makes it almost a duty to do so. That is the case whether this is a political figure like the current Turkish prime minister or a religious one.

And, don’t forget, while my criticism of religion may be overt all religions criticise the others by their very existence; for example, the tenets of Islam and Judaism state Jesus Christ was not divine, thereby entirely negating the reason for the existence of Christianity. All religions state that they have the one truth so, by definition, the adherents of the others are at least misguided. As an atheist I say that all the religions are correct, on this one point at least. And it is my right to do so. If there are ridiculous ideas that I think are doing harm, I will ridicule them. If you do bad things and I think part of the reason you do them is the ideas you hold - or those ideas are the reasons you give for doing those things - I will criticise and possibly insult you. If you are a good person, I don’t really care if you hold some beliefs that I find silly; I almost certainly hold some that you do, too. Maybe we can have a friendly debate. I fully recognise that trading insults is not an effective way to win an argument but if you place even the possibility of debate out of bounds, then expect some ripe and inventive abuse.