If you’re the type of person who actually gets off his couch and finds out what’s happening in the rest of the world (i.e., the places beyond the reach of your couch), you know that Free Speech and Religious Freedom have been in the news lately thanks to a bunch of murderous thugs who can’t even read their own holy books correctly. (But who can? They’re full of contradictions.) After killers who violated their own religion’s teachings falsely justified their actions by blaming the victims, the public discussion turned to whether or not people have a right to make fun of someone else’s religion. Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Why not? Do the things religions tell you to do make any sense in today’s world? I’m not talking about the general things, like to treat other people the way you would like them to treat you. You don’t need a religion to tell you that. You don’t even need a god to tell you to do it. It’s my own personal “Golden Rule.” No, I’m talking about how God is all-powerful, and he loves us all very, very much, but he lets Evil take over because he gave us all Free Will. It doesn’t quite cut it for me. You’re talking about one psychotic god there. The story as a whole just doesn’t make any damn sense. Admit it. If you’re supposed to live as they did at the time those holy books were written (more on that later), then why are we even close to where we are today technologically? Why don’t we stone people to death today? Why didn’t we back in 1787 when our Constitution was written? Why weren’t all the laws mentioned in Leviticus incorporated into our initial set of laws when the First Congress met? Could it be that we had a thriving fishing industry in New England, and the Framers thought the idea of making shell fish illegal was stupid? And speaking of religious laws, why are there three major religions all worshiping the same God, but doing it in vastly different ways? How can they all be the “One True Religion”? Why were they all started by men who wandered in a desert, where it’s hot and there isn’t enough water? Do you know what that can do to a human’s brain? Why would anybody back then think that what they said made sense? Why would anybody think it does today? But even more importantly, why shouldn’t anyone be allowed to point out how silly this, or any other, entire belief system is?
Religion is an idea. And like all ideas, it should not be accepted blindly without critical thought. If someone walks up to you and says, “You can live forever, but only if you follow these rules,” why would you just accept that without examining it carefully? Why would you believe it’s possible to live forever? I can see the appeal for some of wanting to live forever (I have depression, so no such thoughts go through my mind), but why wouldn’t you want some kind of evidence that proves what the person is saying? Why accept it on nothing but faith? Why accept the stories about the origins of the universe on faith? Wouldn’t you want people who have studied the Cosmos with scientific instruments, documented their findings, compared them with those of other scientists, and came to an intelligent understanding of what really happened to tell you how we got here, instead of just being told, “An invisible, omnipotent being willed everything into existence”? Why is that more satisfying? I simply don’t understand that. Why don’t you live in fear of that same god deciding to just do it all over again? The Covenant, you say? Sorry, God only promised never to destroy the Earth “by flood” again. He didn’t rule out other methods. And I bet this never occurred to you, either: He’s an omnipotent being. He doesn’t have to keep his promises if he doesn’t feel like it. What are you going to do, take him to court? Can I be there when you serve God with a subpoena to appear in court? Oh, and make it the Ninth Circuit Court. That should make things really fun. The point is, all ideas are subject to scrutiny and counter-argument. And reducing the other person’s argument to an absurdity (i.e., a contradiction) is a perfectly valid way of proving that the other person’s opinion is wrong. So it can no longer be used in support of the viewpoint expressed by that person, by anyone. Ever. And remember, if one of the premises of your argument is something with which I fundamentally disagree, you won’t convince me. That’s how argument works. You begin with a mutually agreed upon set of facts or premises. Then you propose what you think is a logical conclusion of those facts and premises. And this is the most important thing that some people don’t get about Free Speech: In the United States of America, the government is not allowed to abridge your freedom of Speech, meaning you can’t be jailed for what you say. That doesn’t mean the rest of us have to accept it as a valid argument in support of social policy, such as, say, making our laws conform to someone’s religious text which, in case those folks haven’t noticed, directly violates the first part of that amendment they hold so dear. And something fascinating on that dear amendment later.
So when Pope Francis said, “You cannot provoke, you cannot insult other people’s faith, you cannot mock it,” it’s important to understand that he was not speaking for American values. He wasn’t speaking about his own, apparently, either. If you’re going to try to tell me that God will strike me down with a bolt of lightning just for saying he doesn’t exist, then I have the right to point out that I’m still alive after typing that sentence. See? The idea that Religion should be off bounds for satire, mockery, ridicule, what have you, is a suppression of the very idea of Free Speech. Besides, what happens when you try to convert people from one religion to another (assuming you’re not doing it stupidly, like by the barrel of a gun)? You try to convince them they’re making a mistake to believe what they currently believe. (While I would also try to convince them not to believe what you believe, either.) Some people find my arguments against Religion in general to be offensive, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be allowed to make them. I find the concept of Religion offensive. It’s never made clear to its followers that they should never take what they hear as literally being true, and that leads to dangerous people going around killing because they think that’s what will please their gods.
One more thing about your dear First Amendment rights. You’ve often heard the claim made (by both sides, I’m sure, but that doesn’t matter) that our Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Speech were so important to the Framers (or Founding Fathers) that they were enshrined in our very First Amendment to our new Constitution, a document so revered and so loved, that it was amended almost immediately after it was ratified. (I’m joking about it, but it was a condition agreed to in order to win ratification.) Except those rights were not so important to them as you might think. The 27th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified on May 7, 1992. It’s supposed to be a way to ban annual pay raises, so that newly elected Members of Congress couldn’t immediately vote to raise their own pay as soon as they took office. If they did, that law would not take effect until they faced re-election and voters had a chance to punish them for doing so. They got around it some how. But it was first proposed on Sept 25, 1789. It was the second of twelve amendments proposed that day. The First had to do with the number of Representatives guaranteed in the House in order to make sure one person wasn’t representing way more people than reasonable (like, say, 700,000.) It was never ratified, which is a good thing because if we followed the formula in it, our House of Representatives could have as many as 6,186 people in it. What about proposed Amendments Three through Twelve? What happened to them? Well, that precious right to freely practice the religion of your choice and to criticize the government and other stupid people, was actually in the third proposed amendment. It’s only the First Amendment today because neither of the two before it passed by the time it did. And one of those eventually passed to become our most recent amendment. So it’s not really as precious to the Founders as you might think. They were more concerned with making sure you mattered to your US Representative, and that he couldn’t vote himself a pay raise his first day in office. But they somehow still get annual pay raises, which seems to directly violate the precious 27th Amendment.
This is our daily open thread. Feel free to discuss anything you want. It’s your right. Don’t worry. I’ll tell you if it’s stupid.