Yesterday was the International Blasphemy Day, supposedly meant to protect freedom of expression from intrusions by religion, and offer solidarity to victims of persecution in countries where real or de facto blasphemy laws exist. As it happens, however, not all voices were for more freedom of expression, even within the secular community. Case in point: one of my own fellow SIN bloggers, Jacques Rousseau, invites us to ponder whether exercising our right to free expression is a good idea or not:
But when you mock someone’s god (which you have every right to do), there’s no way to target only those followers of that god that do bad things as a consequence of their faith. Your offense is delivered by shotgun, causing emotional harm to anyone who feels strongly about that faith, regardless of how that faith plays out in their day-to-day lives. So it is justified to think about the costs versus the benefits of this sort of offence – you assert your freedoms, yes, and you might also remind people that there’s no obligation on the rest of us to take what you do, seriously. And, Muslims who are peace-loving, kind, trustworthy and so forth must be rather saddened, in that it would strike them as perhaps gratuitous, but certainly the (indirect) fault of Muslims who seem nothing like them, except for the fact that they both identify with the same (roughly) religious tradition.
Poor, poor souls! The “peace-loving, kind, trustworthy and so forth” people are going to be saddened! It is rather interesting that with despite all the positive qualifiers, they are utterly incapable of growing a thicker skin. Well I am mighty pissed that, according to so many of them, I am going to be roasting in hell forever and ever for not sharing their beliefs. Any chance they are going to stop saying that?
The fact that we are supposed to appease “peace-loving, kind, trustworthy and so forth” people by forsaking our own basic human rights points to a much deeper problem. As a result of actions by violent Muslims, we have set the bar ridiculously low for what is acceptable as civilized behavior, as far as Muslims are concerned. In what other context would we call someone who demands that you shut up so that their tender feelings are not hurt a “moderate“, even if the statement being made is indisputably true? We have completely lost our way, and agreed to give up our rights even without a fight.
As an example of the kind of people we are supposed to appease, Jacques tells us about a post by a Muslim titled “A perversion of my faith”. And Jacques adds:
It remains true that Rajab’s god doesn’t exist (at least, if by “exist” we mean really exist as a consciousness of some sort). One day, I’d hope that this would be self-evident to everyone. But in the meanwhile, even if it is true that Islam tends to cause more violence than other religions, and even if it’s true that this violence is in the service of a fiction, surely we can nevertheless be happy, and supportive, when someone from inside that tradition denounces the harms done in its name?
No, we shouldn’t. Not when the person is trying to whitewash the crimes of religion, and paper over the fact that religion itself has a problem. And the post he linked to is nothing but a compilation of old lines of apologetics. The author essentially is unhappy about Islam being judged by the actions of terrorists. Nowhere is there a mention of the fact that Islam has a problem, and is in need of reforms. After all, why reform something that is so perfect? (As it happens, Muslims who call for an Islamic reformation do exist, but we don’t call them moderates, we call them “Islamophobes”. That is because political correctness has gotten the better of us.)
But most puzzling of all, we learn this:
We know that religion is more and more something quite different from what it was in centuries (even decades) gone by. Yes, there are literalists out there, who insist on some reading of a religious text, and do harm to promote and defend that reading. But outside of certain (increasingly easy to identify) regions, for example Saudi Arabia, to say that both person X and person Y are Muslims, or Christians, is to say very little.
There is exactly zero evidence offered to back up this rather extraordinary claim. Extraordinary, in the sense that it reduces religions to merely a title, and nothing else. So we cannot make a conclusion with a high likelihood of accuracy about a persons beliefs, and their course of action under certain circumstances, based on the religion they identify with? I am sure there are plenty of Muslims and Christians who will be shocked to learn that.
But don’t take my word for it. Look at the polls. Overwhelming majorities of Muslims in nearly all Muslim-majority countries say that believing in God is necessary for morality; that drinking alcohol is immoral; that you should not fornicate before you get married; and don’t even mention those icky homosexuals. I simply couldn’t believe Jacques if I wanted to.
I’m of course aware of the arguments of Harris and others who speak of the moderates giving shelter, or credence, to the views of the extremists. Making a view “mainstream” does allow for a range of expressions of those views, and this mainstreaming is part of the motivation for a counter-movement like Blasphemy Day. But if the moderates speak out against the extremists – just like non-theists often do – Harris’s argument becomes more difficult to sustain.
With all do respect, this sounds like a straw man argument. That is not what Harris says-at all. I have written about views expressed by Harris (and others, including David Niose, and SIN co-founder John Loftus.) Here is what it boils down to:
You can’t play up the religious language, name the bible as the source of your morality, and expect to defeat the religious zealots that way. They will not only beat you handily in this game, but accuse you of hypocrisy on top of it.
The reason Harris, Loftus et al say that moderate religion is part of the problem is not the issues on which moderates and fundamentalists disagree-the reason is precisely what they agree on. By calling faith a virtue, playing up the religious language, and naming scripture as the source of morality, they give the extremists precisely the ammunition they need. And nothing in Jacques’ post undercuts this claim.
I can only speak for myself, but concerning Jacques’ question, for me, the “cost-benefit analysis” isn’t so hard. The cost is pissing off those don’t couldn’t care less when they piss us off. The benefit is keeping the values of Enlightenment alive. Don’t need to think too hard to resolve this dilemma.