In a way, it’s a relief that Pope Francis has come out with an outrageously anti-progressive statement about restricting free speech. I’d been lulled into an idea of him being quite a nice guy — possibly the least evil Pope in the history of the Papacy — but I’m now reminded that he is the dictatorial head of an organisation responsible for ignorance, misery and poverty throughout the world.
If you missed it, Francis said that free speech was OK, except when it comes to mocking religion. In fact, he made the bizarre comparison between mocking religion and cursing his mother, and even indicated that violence was a normal response.
I wonder what he thinks of the case of Raif Badawi, who was sentenced to 1000 lashes in public flogging for “insulting Islam” in Saudi Arabia. (Since 1000 lashes would kill a person, they’re compassionately giving him 50 a week.) Pope Francis presumably thinks he deserves it.
When I was growing up, it was popularly held that “you should not mock someone’s sincerely-held beliefs”, and at first I didn’t think to challenge that. But I began to think “but what if the sincerely-held beliefs are completely stupid?”. If someone really thinks that Queen Elizabeth is a monstrous lizard, might we not be a little scornful?
If someone believes that there’s a big man in the sky who watches their every move, it’s worth a laugh, surely. If some people sincerely believe that they have the right to regulate who falls in love with whom, they’re setting themselves up for mockery, don’t you think?
If you mock my sincerely-held beliefs (assuming I can think of any) I might shrug. I might even quietly ask myself if the mockery is justified. But I wouldn’t be outraged, because I’ve been educated to have a scientific point of view in which all beliefs are provisional, pending disproof.
The reason that religious people get so angry at mockery is that they invest their whole sense of self in whatever package of ideas they have come to believe. I don’t think mockery can change most of them, but if it exposes the ridiculous side of their “sincerely-held beliefs”, it might nudge others away from falling into the trap.