Saturday 29 August 2009

Should there be a law forbidding criticism of religions?

Criticizing religion is not the same as criticizing religious people. If you feel like an idiot when someone looks critically at your religion, that is maybe because there is a problem with your religion. Religious people define themselves by their religion. Combine that with the fact that every religion has tedious unreadable holy texts and hard to believe stories, you have people who are perilously attached to something they don't really understand anyway. So they're going to be super defensive no matter what you say to them.

For example, many Christians, Jews and Muslims really believe that Adam and Eve were the first homo sapiens on Earth when in fact there is scientific proof that isn’t so.

It's becoming more popular to argue that there is something fundamentally inappropriate and/or intolerant about criticizing religion and religious beliefs. It sometimes seems as if no serious and pointed criticisms are permitted against what people believe if those beliefs are part of religion — regardless of how bigoted or nasty those beliefs are. To many, such criticism is blasphemy.

Under Ireland’s legislation to take effect October, 2009 a person commits blasphemy if he or she takes the Lord's name in vain or publishes or utters anything that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion could set you back a cool 25,000 euros (about $39,000). The law; which has been approved by the Irish parliament, needs only the signature of Justice Minister Dermot Ahern. As I see it, the passing of such a law amounts to turning Ireland into a Fundamentalist State.

"It's a backward and silly step," said Michael Nugent, chair of Atheist Ireland, a group that describes itself as an advocate for an ethical and secular Ireland. "The fact that there is a provision making it illegal under any circumstances to express opinions about religious beliefs is dangerous. We don't know how the courts will interpret it." unquote Hopefully, they will say that such a law is a denial of the right to speak one’s mind.

Blasphemy is punishable under Ireland's 1937 constitution. But there was no actual statute dealing with uttering or publishing religious insults so the Supreme Court said the constitution either had to be amended (forcing a national referendum) or a law could be created and passed in parliament.

While Ireland isn't the only country to invoke blasphemy laws, many western nations view their own blasphemy provisions as archaic and in contravention of freedom of speech rights. England abolished its blasphemy laws in 2008. Canada's blasphemy laws can still be found in the Criminal Code, but are superseded by freedom of expression guarantees in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so the offence is superfluous.

Criticisms against a political or social ideology are readily accepted as part of public debate. If anything even remotely similar is said about religion and religious beliefs, the critic will quickly be accused of being intolerant, bigoted, anti-religion, anti-Christian, and anything else which apologists for religious privilege can come up with.

Let me quote S.T. Joshi who said; “In some sense it appears that religious belief is now regarded as somehow equivalent to racial identity, so that it becomes a kind of ‘religious racism’ for anyone outside of a given religion to criticize it. The history of actual race prejudice is certainly such that one would do almost anything to avoid repeating its errors and injustices. But even the most cursory examination of this analogy of religion to race shows it to be fatally flawed.” unquote

Religion is nothing like race, at least not in contexts like this, so while it may be wrong to attack someone's race, that's no basis for arguing that there is anything wrong with attacking a religion. Race is inherited through no fault of human beings; religion is not. It is acquired by one’s own free will.

Many religious zealots insist that irreligious critics, who criticize religion and/or religious beliefs, are being intolerant. What are these irreligious critics doing — are they calling for religion to be banned? Hardly. Are they calling for religious believers to be put in jail? No, nothing of the sort. All of this alleged intolerance occurs because irreligious critics disagree that certain or all religious practices or beliefs say they are wrong, argue that they are harmful, and want people to change. If it isn’t wrong to argue that a certain law is harmful and that it should be changed and such criticism isn’t against the law, then why should it be wrong to say the same thing about religion?

For most religious believers, their religion and their belief in God or gods are very important to them — even constituting the very center and focus of their lives. Given just how important religion and belief in God are to many people, it's not surprising that these people will react to criticism negatively and become defensive. That, however, doesn't justify labeling disagreement and criticism as being intolerant. Disrespectful, perhaps but certainly not intolerant.

It would be fair to say that a significant number of people around the world regard religion and belief in the existence of God or gods as wrong, irrational, unfounded, and at times silly. (through varying degrees). There is as many as 12.3% of the world’s population who are not religious at all.

Mocking, ridiculing, and making fun of beliefs isn't intolerance. Some beliefs, claims, ideas, and opinions really are quite silly and deserve being mocked.

Religious humor and religious cartoons are an entire genre of criticism that is founded upon just these principles and which, to my knowledge, no one has argued that they should be eliminated providing that they are in good taste.

As an example of a joke that is in good taste is one of my favorite religious jokes about a bank customer who is in the office of his banker and their conversation goes like this;

CUSTOMER: “I heard recently that when the pope visited our city, you made a request that he make you a cardinal. I want you to know that I personally support your request.”
BANKER: “Why is that?”
CUSTOMER: “If he makes you a cardinal, then the only thing I ever have to kiss after that is your ring.”

Both my bank manager and a catholic priest I know enjoyed that joke immensely.

However, when people engage in personal attacks, advocate violence, demonize opponents, or behave in other very extreme ways, then they are going too far. For example, I think that the current pope is making bad decisions but if I were to suggest that he is an evil man, then I would be going too far.

With that having been said, I have no qualms in saying that I believe some of the decisions by the Vatican are outright stupid. For example, it has an edict that the use of condoms for the primary purpose of preventing pregnancy is condemned, along with all other forms of artificial birth control. However, the use of condoms to combat sexually transmitted infections is not specifically addressed by Catholic doctrine. In Africa, hundreds of thousands of African women are dying from AIDS because their husbands who had and have AIDS weren’t or aren’t using condoms. The Catholic Church believes that anyone who uses a condom is a sinner. That in my opinion is utter garbage made by celibates who have no right to direct how sex should be conducted between men and women.

Am I being intolerant when I make such statements? If I made such a statement in Ireland after the law forbidding religious criticism was passed, would a $39,000 fine be appropriate?” If so, then it would be as foolish as punishing someone for saying that a bandage should be placed over a cut so that an infection won’t be formed in the wound.

Ronald Hubbard (March 13, 1911 – January 24, 1986) was an American science fiction author who developed a self-help system called Dianetics, which was first published in 1950. In the late 1940s, Ron Hubbard declared:

"Writing for a penny a word is ridiculous. If a man really wants to make a million dollars, the best way would be to start his own religion" unquote He did just that and he became extremely wealthy. Over the next three decades, Hubbard developed his self-help ideas into a wide-ranging set of doctrines and rituals as part of his new religion he called Scientology. However, I think his religion, if it is a religion, is one that is hard to accept by many people. Scientology has been surrounded by controversies since its inception. It has often been described as a cult that financially defrauds and abuses its members, charging exorbitant fees for its spiritual services. If I was living in Ireland under the auspices of that new law they are proposing, would I be punished for declaring Scientology as a fraud? Possibly.

Why do so many Christians and Muslims get offended when an unbeliever makes a statement that is against or refutes their religious beliefs? Could it be because any form of criticism is against the commands of God?

Their God says to just ask or pray in his, her or its name, but nothing ever gets done by simply praying for mercy. For example, didn’t God promise not to create a flood again? Have you any idea how many religious people have died in floods since that promise was made? How many billions of people on this planet prayed to God to save them and despite their prayers, they died anyway.

For example, years ago when there was an earthquake in Italy, hundreds of townspeople in one of the Italian towns scrambled into their local church to pray to God and ask for his mercy. As fate would have it, the roof caved in and hundreds died. The same thing happened in 1902 when the volcano Pelee on the island of Martinique exploded and the hundreds of people in the church in St. Pierre were incinerated while they prayed to God for mercy.

So now, by undue influence the faithful believers have made a public commitment and a public profession with their mouths, they cannot and will not openly admit that they have been totally tricked into believing that by praying to God, they will be saved.

Naturally this would make anyone furious who is a serious devoted believer in their religion and their god when someone comes along and points out what an arrogant insidious arrogant fool they have been for believing in something that their ill-informed granny or their uncle or mommy or daddy have guaranteed to them upon a pledge of surety that they are following a true correct belief, that was invented by insane people over 2000 years ago. That would, in my opinion, be going too far because criticism should be done respectfully.

Christians are told that they are sinners and deserve to be sent to hell, unless of course they receive the gift of salvation, but ironically this does not keep them from committing further sins or crimes. It just promises to save them from the sins that they have already committed and from the sins they have yet to commit. This form of teaching is in my respectful opinion, wrong. Have I gone too far in making that statement? I don’t think so. As I see it, I am just being critical of people who are hypocrites when I make that statement.

Some religious people go too far. I am speaking of the ‘Religious Right.’ These people come from an extreme wing of the Christian Faith. Because of their growing number, many of them ---- as well as many non-Christians ---- believe they represent all of Christianity. Not true. These people represent a far-right position in a much larger spectrum of Christian believers. They are Fundamentalists. And by that definition, which they use, they have set themselves up as defenders of the ‘fundamentals’ of the faith, as the guardians of righteousness, as soldiers of the truth.

Fundamentalists can be abrasive, angry, judgmental and downright mean, but they are not true representatives of any of the faiths for which they claim to speak. I say that because every major religion has had its share of them.

For example, fundamentalist Muslims have made many non-Muslims fear that religion, and yet the Muslim faith, at its core, remains a peace-loving faith. Fundamentalist Jews have made many non-Jews fear that religion, and yet the Jewish faith, at its core, remains a peace-loving faith. And Fundamentalist Christians have made many non-Christians fear that religion, and yet the Christian faith, at its core, remains a peace-loving faith. It's only when Fundamentalists are allowed to gain political power that their existence is a threat to mankind. These are the kind of people who won’t tolerate any form of criticism.

The Islamic Revolution that took over Iran in 1979, killing thousands of nonbelievers, was lead by Muslim Fundamentalists. The bullets that killed Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandi were shot by Sikh Fundamentalists. The bullet that killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot by a Jewish Fundamentalist. The Crusades against the Moors, killing hundreds of thousands of "heretics" in the process, was mounted by Catholic Fundamentalists. Terrorism against American targets around the world is launched by Islamic Fundamentalists. Terrorism against the minority Irish Catholics in Northern Ireland is launched by British Protestant Fundamentalists. And now, in the United States, there is a growing fear of legislative and physical abuse against our human rights, led, of course, by American Protestant Fundamentalists.

Freedom of speech is the freedom to speak freely without censorship or limitation. The synonymous term freedom of expression is sometimes used to indicate not only freedom of verbal speech but any act of seeking, receiving and imparting information or ideas, regardless of the medium used.

As I see it, if anyone concludes in their own mind that various aspects of a religion is foolish and perhaps, even dangerous, they have every right to criticize it and criticize anyone that promotes what they believe is foolishness and dangerousness. To deny anyone that right, is tantamount to permitting a dictatorship to exist over the minds of human beings.

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