Pathetic Absurdities

23:58 Sun 16 Sep 2007. Updated: 01:19 17 Sep 2007
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So a Swedish newspaper has gotten involved in a controversy over depictions of Muhammad, culminating in heated diplomatic exchanges, threats of boycotts, and bounties on the heads of the cartoonist and the editor. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Danish Jyllands-Posten uproar from late 2005, which led to death threats and fatal riots.

This kind of thing is, of course, ridiculous. Even if it’s true that the newspapers involved were being deliberately inflammatory, so what? Deliberate inflammation of this kind doesn’t deserve death threats (much less actual death). Granted, it’s questionable as to whether the papers involved would print similar cartoons featuring Christ (apparently the Jyllands-Posten turned down such a series a year or two before the Muhammad ones), but if they did, I think the condemnation wouldn’t include death threats.

I don’t believe in blasphemy. That is, I don’t believe there’s anything “holy” that is so other than by human symbol-making. So the “insult”, if anything, is to the human symbol-makers and those who believe in the symbols. They can certainly perceive themselves as insulted, but freedom to exchange ideas requires the such insults be borne.

Of course, many people don’t care at all about a free exchange of ideas. This is true of many religions, not just Islam. Christians in the US tend to freak out when their own beliefs are forcefully questioned, and an alarming number would deny citizenship rights to atheists.

It’s quite pathetic. Such intolerance and self-righteousness stemming from a desperation to believe in fantasies—fantasies that are surrounded by powerful belief systems that reward manifestations of credulity—is often praised as “faith”, but it’s clearly mindlessness or extreme wishful thinking, a child’s “my religion must be the right one because it’s mine“.

Voltaire spoke truly: “Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.” Religious fervor, jingoistic patriotism, racial superiority, the divine right of kings, manifest destiny—all idiocies, insupportable nonsense that have been used with extraordinary effectiveness to cause immense suffering.

The reaction to the reaction to the cartoons shouldn’t be simple condemnation, it should include clear explanation of why the idea of “blasphemy” is absurd, and why religious symbols should be accorded no special treatment in any modern society.

3 Responses to “Pathetic Absurdities”

  1. Lev Says:

    Hear hear! I am in total agreement with you. Free speech guarantees the right to blaspheme. Moreover, there is no such thing as hate speech. If accept the notion that some forms of speech are deliberately calculated to harm and incite violence, then surely these cartoons fit the description, at least according to Muslims who are insulted and enraged by them. If we defend the right of cartoonists and newspapers to create and publish such drawings, we must be also defend the right of David Irving to deny the Holocaust, or of David Duke to insult African Americans. Each group has an equally credible claim to offense.

  2. Mike Says:

    Irving and Duke do indeed have the right to publically vomit their opinions upon us. And others also have the right to deny them intellectual quarter. The actual harm to society occurs when proponents of ritualistic exclusionism become so embarrassed by facts, they simply resort to fabricating their own, often so damnably well that objective inquiry becomes difficult or impossible. Since I despise this phenomenon as well as the creators and purveyors of such, you may consider this paragraph to be my own personal “hate speech”.

  3. Tadhg Says:

    Lev: yes, and indeed I think that Irving and Duke should be free to say whatever they want.

    Mike: obfuscating the facts is indeed despicable. It creates many problems for societies that traditional free speech rights don’t address—e.g. Fox News should be free to say whatever it wants, but it was clearly extremely detrimental for this society that a majority of its viewers falsely believed that Saddam Hussein was behind the 9/11 attacks.

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