Dissent or Blasphemy: Is It Ever Acceptable?editor
The attack on Sir Salman Rushdie last Friday was perhaps the culmination of a decades-long struggle between the author and prohibition on freedom of speech, a fight the Indian-born novelist never, in fact, picked. It started with Sir Salman’s book – The Satanic Verses – for which Iran’s then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued the author with a death sentence, or fatwa, in 1989.
While no firm motive has been established for the attack, motivations have been assumed by many. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, for Christians the incident is a reminder of what Catholics and others must never succumb to: the prohibition on criticism or mockery of their faith, and the use of violence to enforce punishment.
The Church, of course, has had its moment of violence against blasphemers and apostates. But that era has thankfully gone, thanks to an almost-total acceptance in the Christian-majority world of the sanctity of freedom of speech. Indeed, the very conservatives who would most likely be offended by attacks on Christianity are also at the forefront of the movement against ‘cancel culture’ and ‘de-platforming’.
When the Channel 4 comedy became a worldwide hit in the 1990s, lampooning three Catholic priests living on a remote Irish island, it was often overlooked that the comedy was especially popular among the clergy. Catholics, it seems, could take a joke; the Irish, in particular.
Self-assurance in one’s beliefs means being able to do just that, and yes, even accept criticism of the faith itself. Of course, this must stop short of violence, and Catholics and other Christians rightly defend their right to display symbols of their faith and have their voices heard.
But this is the key point: Catholics and other Christians, often on the receiving end of censorship, should understand more than most the inviolability of freedom of speech, and that all of us lose when it goes. Want evidence of a society without freedom of speech: just look at China.
In that communist regime, only one view is allowed, criticism is banned, and – as a consequence – debate is cancelled, ideas cannot flow, and solutions to problems are unable to develop. Any investor who thinks China is the planet’s future should ponder all of the above.
No society grows by strangling free speech. That is true today in the West’s ‘woke’ era, where ‘hurt feelings’ are enough to see a career destroyed or a work of art ‘memory-holed’. This is the road to Beijing’s autocracy and must be resisted by all.
To come back to Sir Salman, the Catholic world joins others in praying for his recovery. No religious community deserves to be persecuted, but nor do critics of a faith – however big or small those criticisms may be, intentional or otherwise – deserve to die. To say otherwise flies in the face of the Christian message.
Catholics should never lose a sense of humour about themselves – it is a sign of strength in their beliefs that they can withstand periodic mockery and, even, criticism of their faith, as well as the Church and its practices. In fact, withstanding such things can ensure arguments are sharpened up and backbones strengthened. Lessons may even be learned.
Catholics should never stop laughing at Father Ted, nor should the show or others like it ever be cancelled. Indeed, the only threat of cancellation Father Ted ever had was after one of its co-creators was attacked for his views on trans rights.
The Catholic faith’s decline in much of the world is not thanks to the likes of Father Ted, but to the Church’s own actions and inactions, on top of a permissive secular culture which has spread across the West. Of all people today, Christians should understand the importance of speaking freely. Source – Catholic Herald
It’s easy to get the point of the Catholic Herald article. I’ve never watched any episode of Father Ted – nobody needs to read the reviews to work out that the content won’t be exactly edifying. However, while I wouldn’t watch it, I’d hardly lie in wait for the cast to see them off into the next world. No, violence is not the way to go if media presentations of the Faith are objectionable.
But refusing violence is a long way away from “accepting dissent”, although it seems to me that the article isn’t really about “dissent” it’s about the way religion is portrayed in the media, which is a bit different; “Dissent”, in the sense of denying the teaching of the Church, or rejecting the authority of the Church, is never acceptable and requires correction. Otherwise, people are left prey to false doctrine which might lead them right out of Christ’s Church. So, I’d hazard a guess that the Herald is avoiding using the correct term here, which is blasphemy. They must know that blasphemy is never acceptable. Not remotely.
In fact, regarding the media portrayal of the Faith, the only way to judge whether something is truly offensive, is NOT if it offends you or me – individual Christians – but if it offends God Himself, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. That’s a whole different
ball theology game. Blaspheming – that is, offending God – is NOT acceptable. Again, though, the only weapons we may employ in opposition are a public expression of concern – which is essential to challenge public error; this may shape up as just anger, but with the aim of correcting false teaching, not of physically assaulting those responsible. And of course, our spiritual weapons; prayer – especially Masses, rosaries, and fasting – to help us, to quote the words of the St Michael’s prayer, “in the day of battle.”