Douthat versus the Pope...and Douthat is still right

So, Pope Francis was asked today about the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris.  I found his response to be very disappointing; in essence, he said "well, violence and extremism are bad, but when you insult people's religions, what do you expect?"  It is particularly disappointing insofar as it is basically a nicer version of the position taken by the vile Bill Donohue of the Catholic League, who will no doubt be emboldened by the Pope's comments.

It's disappointing, and it is wrong.  It's wrong because it fails to recognize something that Western democracies have learned, but that religious institutions by and large have not.  The truth is you can only have two of the following three principles in your society: (a) people are able to live without constantly killing each other; and (b) people are able to express themselves, and (c) people protected from being offended by the things others say.  One of those has to go, and the one that liberal Western democracies have chosen is letter c.  Said another way, if you think people should not have to deal with people saying or writing things that offend them, even if it an offense to their religious sensibilities, then you must either tacitly accept that there will be violent retribution (which is what the Pope seems to be saying), or tacitly accept censorship of things that are, or might be, offensive to others (with all of the problems that creates).  You cannot square (or I guess triangulate) that circle.

Nope, Ross Douthat is entirely right.  You don't have to like the content of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons, or think they are particularly useful or "constructive."  But we must defend them, particularly when they are challenged either by violence or censorship.  The right to be protected from violence and the right to express yourself freely are more important than your right not to be offended, and we should not shrink from saying so.  If you are a Muslim and you find the cartoons offensive, that's tough.  If you are a Christian and you find the "Piss Christ" offensive, that's tough.  You don't get to dictate what other people say, and you don't get to stop them from speaking through violence.

Very disappointing from Pope Francis.


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