I’m not surprised the writer of the letter: “I am dismayed by Pope’s views” chose anonymity; who would want to be identified as the author of such facile arguments?
Of course, freedom of speech (within established legal limits) is important. But what your correspondent fails to consider is a simple question: “Why choose to be rude?”
Is it jealousy of those who hold serious, considered and often treasured beliefs (the point the Pope was – somewhat clumsily – seeking to make), as they themselves don’t have a “credo” worth sharing? Is it that they don’t care a fig about others’ feelings, or even derive pleasure from causing hurt? Jokes are fine – the Bible is full of them, and Jesus was a great subverter of pomposity – so long as they are not mean-spirited and designed to diminish.
“Charlie Hebdo”, with its record of publishing vicious, crude cartoons, falls into this latter category. Under the guise of protecting freedom of speech these “journalists”, too lazy to engage in intelligent debate, just vomit their hatred of anything, religious and political, they dislike. Intending hurt with pictures or weapons is a difference of degree rather than kind and, as history has shown, many have been prepared to die for deeply-held and precious religious or political beliefs. So “je ne suis pas Charlie”!
The murdered editor of CH (it should go without saying it was a heinous crime) said he would “rather die standing, than live on my knees” and, in a (relatively) free society, who can disagree? Yet, if you have made a thoughtful decision to challenge religious faith or a political ideology, you ought to set out your reasons in a rational and civilised manner, rather than just pouring out bile. I understand atheism, and while willing to argue the case for theism in general, and Christian theism in particular, the last thing I would do is insult those who see things differently.
I wonder what your anonymous correspondent makes of the fact there have been further “Charlie”-related deaths: in Niger 10 killed, 45 churches destroyed. These latest tragedies would not have occurred had the special edition of CH not been published, despite its conciliatory message – mindless fanatics don’t need any excuse for their evil, but it’s convenient to be able to claim one, however invalid. Indeed, what would your anonymous correspondent feel if a family member had been among these recent deaths? Would s/he say: “It was all worth it, so we can continue to poke fun at those with whom we disagree”? If the publication of a cartoon results in killings, then isn’t it obvious more cartoons will result in yet more killings? “Sticks and stones...”, but obviously, only so long as it’s someone else’s bones! What has happened to any sense of restraint or responsibility?
Of course, the killers are inhuman thugs who have been allowed to cloak their failure of humanity with religious zealotry. Of course, people shouldn’t get so het up about what may seem relatively trivial matters (in early Islam the prohibition of images related only to God; and I continue to enjoy “Life of Brian”, totally misunderstood and misrepresented by narrow-minded Christians). Yet, surely, in any civilised society, ought we not be sympathetic to such sensibilities – even if we think them peculiar? It’s called good manners. Simon Schama claims “irreverence is the lifeblood of freedom”: what rot! It is a failure to understand what others take ultimately seriously, and why they do so.
And equally there is no justification for “Jihadist” savagery; these are evil people who kill even those who share their religion (witness the appalling attack on schoolchildren in Pakistan). They hate anyone who doesn’t believe what they believe and in the way they believe it. Sadly, such fundamentalist bigots are to be found in all faiths as well as among the militant anti-religious. Those who say: “the only way of being a Christian/Muslim/Hindu (etc.) is my way”, demonstrate their ignorance of their own faith. For those without a faith it shows a more general ignorance, and they, like their religious equivalents, should be ashamed at their insensitive, dehumanising and self-serving rhetoric.
Rev. Canon Dr Peter Shepherd