Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Quote for the Day

"What influence have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of Civil authority, in many instances they have seen the upholding of the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberty of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, needs them not." -James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments

The religious were much more openly hostile to democratic movements in Madison's time than now. The rise of Marxism accounts for this. If democracy was hostile to religion in consequence then Marxism was hostile to it in practice, and the Catholic church tentatively cast its lot with the less pernicious enemy. The ease with which they can abandon any alliance with democracy or affable relations with open societies, and take up a cosy stance with totalitarians, is easily seen in with the Lateran Treaties with Mussolini, the Concordat with Hitler, (which included adulations given on his birthday) and its endorsement of Franco's invasion of Spain.

In a sane world this all might have shamed them and reduced them to ignominy but people who believe they have a tin can on a string to the creator of the universe are rarely so self-conscious. I was reminded of this gem from Madison upon reading an article in Reason about the Danish cartoon controversy and was given to pondering Joseph Ratzinger's reaction to the deluge of rioting and violence enjoined upon the foreign embassies and citizens of Denmark:

In response to several requests on the Holy See's position vis-à-vis recent offensive representations of the religious sentiments of individuals and entire communities, the Vatican press office can state:

1. The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers. This principle applies obviously for any religion.

2. In addition, coexistence calls for a climate of mutual respect to favor peace among men and nations. Moreover, these forms of exasperated criticism or derision of others manifest a lack of human sensitivity and may constitute in some cases an inadmissible provocation. A reading of history shows that wounds that exist in the life of peoples are not cured this way.

3. However, it must be said immediately that the offenses caused by an individual or an organ of the press cannot be imputed to the public institutions of the corresponding country, whose authorities might and should intervene eventually according to the principles of national legislation. Therefore, violent actions of protest are equally deplorable. Reaction in the face of offense cannot fail the true spirit of all religion. Real or verbal intolerance, no matter where it comes from, as action or reaction, is always a serious threat to peace.

So the problem is not rioting, arson, and murder. The problem is blasphemy. And so bereft is he of any appreciation for the importance of free speech that he thinks not only should blasphemy be shunned, it should be banned. I know of no other way to read the statement, "The right to freedom of thought and expression, sanctioned by the Declaration of the Rights of Man, cannot imply the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers" as anything other than approval for the destruction of free speech. For there is no such thing as limited free speech. The problem is not that Muslims cannot conduct themselves within the bounds of civil society when offended. The problem is not that every expression of Muslim outrage is underwritten with either a threat or an act of violence. And the problem is not that a peaceful country had its security threatened. The problem is that in a free society people have the audacity to treat religion as they treat any other set of ideas, and mock it. The problem is that blasphemy is not a crime. I don't see how they can be confused as allies when they seek to subject our freedoms to the selective reactions of the faithful.

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