I just read this article about the Pope’s response to the situation surrounding the terror attack in France. Take a read and let me share with you why he got it wrong.
To summarize, Pope Francis says there should be free speech, but there are limits. And those limits, it seems from the article, are determined by the sensitivity of others, or we might expect the reaction we get. In other words, if you speak out against another’s religion, you are crossing a line and may really deserve what you get.
Let’s start with Pope Francis’ example. “If my good friend… says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” While this may be an understandable response, it is not a justifiable response. If the Pope clobbered his best buddy for saying the wrong thing about his mother, or his faith, the Pope has just committed assault. And certainly it conflicts with the example of the Head of his church.
Second, he says “You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.” If faith is off limits, we have no way to critically assess the value of a particular faith. It is “shut up and believe, or disbelieve.” Who will set the limits? Who will judge whether a comment is a critical, honest question, or mockery? And who will determine whether something is blasphemy or simply a disagreement in beliefs? For some, you can’t say anything critical about their prophet, or their god, or you have set yourself up as an enemy and a blasphemer who is worthy of death.
Third, he said, “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”
It is horrific that the Pope would equate popping a buddy in the mouth for saying something evil about his Mom with shooting him and eleven of his closest friends. After all, I hear him saying, “you get what you get.”
Lastly, the Pope seems to be worried about the ability of true religion to stand with silence, power, confidence and peace in the face of ridicule, criticism and even blasphemy. And yet, Jesus did just that. No faith of any substance will stand or fall on the verbal accusations and criticisms of the unbeliever. But it will crumble with the weak, reactive, violent and unholy actions of its believers.
Should people be respectful of other people’s beliefs? Of course. Disrespectful and dishonoring attitudes don’t persuade others to change and neither does law. If the desire of a religion is to change the hearts of people, we must remember that no law has ever changed the heart. Also no word, no matter how offensive, justifies a physical, life-threatening response.