|"If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."|
Dear Pope Francis
I saw your recent statement in Manilla in response the the Charlie Hebdo atrocities in Paris, that people who insult religion can expect to be punched. I am surprised that you seem to be excusing Islamic violence, presumably because you feel solidarity with other religions in the face of growing secularism in Europe, and find it confusing in view of official Christian teaching.
I acknowledge your right to determine Catholic Church policy and dogma in this issue, and I am aware that you have been trying to present the Catholic Church in a more liberal, more tolerant and less bigoted light and that you may even have been trying to instigate some actual reforms yet to manifest themselves, but this statement raises a number of questions which I would like you to answer please:
- In view of what the Bible says Jesus said should be the right response to insults - to forgive and turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39, Luke 6:27-29) - how does this new, violent response to insulting religion fit in with Jesus' teaching? Do you think Jesus was wrong or just that he made a mistake in not explicitly stating this exceptions to this rule? Or does this apparent abandonment of the 'turn the other cheek' principle mark a change in God's thinking on this matter and a repudiation of Jesus' teaching?
- Does this violent response to insults to religion apply in principle to other insults to individuals or organizations? If so, which, please?
- Some people might interpret a resort to violence as a tacit admission that there are no reasonable arguments which can be used and an awareness of that deficiency, and that it betrays an insecurity which translates as a perceived threat, hence the 'retaliation'. This in turn might imply a personal commitment to an idea which is known to be defective or even a lifestyle which is known to be fraudulent and disingenuous with religion being used merely as an excuse. What would you say to these people?
- If this permitted violent response applies only to religions, does this apply to all religions or just to major ones such as Islam, Christianity and Judaism? If all religions, how are you defining the term 'religion' in this context? Does it require a belief in one or more invisible deities or would you include Buddhism and neo-Paganism or religion as understood by people such as Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein, which would include very many openly Atheist/Agnostic scientists? For example, as someone who is in total awe at the Universe and the natural forces that have shaped it and which have given rise to life on Earth with it's amazingly rich diversity, would I be justified in punching anyone who disagrees with Big Bang Cosmology or Evolution by Natural Selection rather than bothering to explain the science?
- Can I define my own religion and then punch anyone who insults it or does it need to be an organized religion complete with priesthood, buildings, creed, etc?
- How should we define an 'insult' in this context, please? Is it an insult to question religious dogma or to disagree with it and put forward an opposing point of view? For example, if I question the historical existence of Jesus or the validity of the claim that the Qur'an was dictated by Allah to Muhammad, or even the historical accuracy of the Bible, would this justify someone punching me? How about if I question your authority or the dogma that on ecumentical matters and matters of morality you are infallible? What if I advocate contraception, same-sex marriages or strict secularism in government, health-care and education?
- As an Atheist, I believe that all religions are delusional in nature and have many of the characteristics of a memetic virus living parasitically on human cultures. Do I deserve to be punched by religious people who might be insulted by these views or by religious people who find the idea that they are evolved apes who share a common ancestor with the other apes offensive and insulting?
- The other day in Oxford, UK a man was telling passers by that we were all sinners and his god would hurt us if we didn't agree and do what he said. As a secular Humanist and Atheist I found this insulting. Would I have been justified in punching him for that insult and would he have been justified in punching me for telling him he was probably suffering from paranoid theophobia and needed psychiatric help and counselling?
- Is it permitted for any Muslim to punch Christians who deny the divinely inspired nature of the Qur'an or the claim that Muhammad was Allah's prophet, or for a Christian to punch a Muslim who claims Jesus was not an Earthly manifestation of God and that the only way to salvation is through strict adherence to Islam not Jesus? If not, why not? If so, to where do you see this leading humanity?
- Is the violent response restricted to a single punch or is a slap, a push, a knee in the groin or a headbut permitted? Can it involve more than one of these and can it result in actual bodily harm? What if the punched person retaliates? Can the response include a weapon or is it always to be unarmed violence?
- May a man punch a woman who insults his religion, or an able-bodied person punch a disabled person, or a large person a smaller one? At what age are children eligible to be punched by adults and can children punch one another?
- What advice would you give to people living in countries where punching someone is a crime and who finds themselves in court charged with assault, affray or causing actual or grievous bodily harm? Would you support a plea of innocence or mitigation on the grounds of religious conscience or that you said it was permitted?
I would be grateful for a reasoned and prompt response to these questions, please as I feel the future of European civilisation in particular and human society in general may be enormously affected by a careless and confused attempt to implement what looks like a new, less tolerant and more violent Catholic dogma which can only be expected to result in retaliation and an escalation in communal and inter-faith violence.