publication of the Danish cartoons, and now more
vociferously in the wake of Pope Benedict's comments
on Islam, some sections of western opinion have
argued that we must all show more respect for
the religious beliefs of others. On the face of
it, this sounds reasonable enough, but in a world
of competing religions, it is an absurdity.
I expected, for example, to show respect for Pope
Benedict's belief that, as a member of the Church
of Ireland, I do not belong to a "proper"
church but one suffering from "defects"?
Similarly, are the adherents of religions other
than Christianity to be respectful of his conviction
that their faiths are "seriously deficient"?
is not possible for any religious leader to articulate
fully their sincerely held beliefs without being
open to the charge of not respecting other faiths.
It is impossible, therefore, for the rest of us
to give equal respect to all religious views while
at the same time recognising that, by definition,
they do not entirely respect one another.
we must do, of course, is defend a person's right
to hold whatever religious convictions they like,
but that is as far as it goes. There is not, nor
can there ever be, any obligation to give value
to the actual beliefs themselves, no matter how
discussion around this issue has developed, it
has become increasingly clear that what is actually
being suggested is a limitation on freedom of
expression where matters of faith are concerned.
we entertain, for a moment, the fiction that this
is meant to include all religions, then why should
religious belief be elevated above, for example,
political belief? Why should one type of sincere
conviction be immune from public scrutiny and
criticism, but not another?
religious or not, once aired, all points of view
must be open to public challenge, discussion,
debate and even ridicule. How can we allow it
to be otherwise?
this part of the world, with first the Anglican
and then the Roman Catholic churches, one does
not have to look too far back to be reminded of
the inevitable consequences of allowing any religion
or its elites to be above question, scrutiny and
of course, it is not Christianity or most other
religions that purveyors of the "more respect"
line have in mind. What they are saying is that
we should give special dispensation to just one
religion, and refrain only from subjecting Islam
to any public criticism. The supposed reason for
this, is that we in the secular West cannot possibly
understand how dearly held is the Muslim faith.
Therefore, we are unable to comprehend the deep
hurt and offence caused to its adherents by our
questioning of their religion and what is being
done in its name.
is more nonsense designed to conceal an altogether
are being asked to refrain from criticising Islam
only because extremist Muslims have a tendency
to wreak murderous retribution on those who dare
question their religion. In essence, we are being
asked not to challenge or criticise those who
might do us harm - irrespective of what harm they
have already done us.
line of reasoning is as anti-Enlightenment as
it is possible to get. If the great thinkers and
leaders of the Enlightenment had adopted the same
attitude, and avoided challenging those that were
prepared to resort to violence, then we might
still be struggling under the yoke of all-powerful
and merciless religious institutions and their
is precisely those who are wreaking murderous
havoc in the name of a religion that should be
challenged. Particularly when barely a word of
unqualified condemnation is emanating from Islamic
leaders themselves, despite the vile and repulsive
the acts that are being committed by their co-religionists.
should not allow ourselves to be sidetracked,
either, by the bloody history of Christianity
being presented as some sort of "proof"
that we employ double standards where Muslims
very fact that it is only by dredging the distant
past that such examples can be found serves to
highlight how far Christianity has come in comparison
freedom of expression that we are now being asked
to set aside played a central role in dragging
Christianity to this point.
of expression is not absolute - it is ring-fenced
by rafts of defamation and anti-hate legislation
to ensure it is not abused - nor am I aware of
anyone arguing that it should be.
responsible person deliberately denigrates anyone's
beliefs just for the sake of it.
neither the sensitivities of others nor the threat
of violence should be allowed to push us into
forgoing our freedom to criticise and protest.
we submit to intimidation now, then the crazed
fanatics that stalk the margins of all other religions
will soon start employing the same methods to
cow us into silence.