Pope Francis: About Your Mother

January 15, 2015

Pope Francis has given his opinion on the controversy surrounding Charlie Hebdo's continued sharp criticism and sarcasm regarding religious beliefs. The pope has stated that there should be limits to free expression. In particular, one should not "insult the faith of others." He analogized criticism of religious beliefs to someone cursing his mother, saying that such a person "can expect a punch."

Pope Francis is wrong.

There's a world of difference between criticism of a religious belief and insulting someone's loved one. Given that he is a tireless and effective evangelist for his own faith, the pope is well aware that religious beliefs are (usually) expressly and vigorously promoted. Members of the public are told repeatedly that these are important beliefs that they should accept. Accordingly, those who find flaws in these beliefs may, quite appropriately, point out these flaws. Religious claims should be treated like political claims or any other claims advanced in the public square. They should not be immune from criticism.

But what about ridicule? Isn't that going too far? Ridicule should be used sparingly, for practical reasons if no other. It can become tiresome. But ridicule used judiciously can often be effective in puncturing inflated claims, again, whether these claims are political, religious, or otherwise.  Kim Jong-un didn’t especially care for the ridicule he received in The Interview, and he delivered a digital punch as a result, but presumably this is not an example the pope would endorse. Those loyal to Kim regard him as sacred as the prophets revered by various religions. We can’t say ridicule is permissible in one instance, but not the other.

Perhaps the pope needs to be reminded that most faiths, including Christianity, have themselves resorted to ridicule to disparage rival beliefs. St. Augustine devoted much of his monumental City of God to merciless and relentless ridicule of pagan religious beliefs. If Augustine can mock Zeus, why should the Trinity be off limits?

Of course, ridicule can be excessive or mean-spirited. The remedy for truly outrageous ridicule, however, is supplied by the marketplace. We are free to shun those who we think have gone too far, or decline to buy their magazines or listen to their programs. The remedy is not, as the pope suggests, violence, whether it is violence carried out by the state or private individuals who are offended by the ridicule.

If Pope Francis does not want religious beliefs criticized, then he should advise all believers to keep their views private—as private as his relationship with his mother. Undoubtedly, though, he will not do that, and when he does continue to make claims in public about the truths of Christianity, these claims are properly subject to criticism, whether that criticism takes the form of a scholarly rebuttal or a satirical cartoon.



#1 Will Allman (Guest) on Thursday January 15, 2015 at 11:03pm

I couldn’t agree more—what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, as the old saying goes.  The writer makes valid and reasonable points.  Organized religion should not be exempt from criticism or having critical thinking applied to its’ precepts simply because they are long-standing institutions.

#2 prochoice (Guest) on Saturday January 17, 2015 at 8:18am

No surprise here. The “nice new” pope does regret the fact that he cannot burn us on the stake anymore, just like his predecessor did when The Satanic Verses appeared in print.
Fighting my way out of his religion I decided long ago that my stance in life would be just the same as the murdered cartoonist Charb´ s:
“I prefer to die standing up than to live on my knees”.
Being thirdgender (born female) to take this stance was actually helpful, because religiously justified violence is quite arbitrary, and therefore the surviving victims have a high risk of PTSS.

#3 Old Rockin' Dave (Guest) on Saturday January 17, 2015 at 5:46pm

Actually, I find the Pope’s comments on birth control to be disparaging of my mother.
Does anyone know the proper protocol for punching a Pope?
Do I just walk right in, or do I have to make an appointment?

#4 David Smith (Guest) on Saturday January 17, 2015 at 9:30pm

Absolutely. Don’t want your beliefs ridiculed in public? Don’t make them public.

#5 Flavio Zanchi (Guest) on Monday January 19, 2015 at 8:49am

His [Insert orifice of choice]holiness would be wrong to punch anyone who curses his mother.
Say someone curses my mother. They obviously do not know her and have no valid opinion on whatever she is or does. Even if they describe her as a whore (the commonest insult to mothers everywhere) to imply I am a bastard, I know for a fact they would be speaking a falsity in order to vent their anger at something I might have done.
It would serve the purpose of the curser were I to strike back with a punch. A curse means that they want me to have a go first, so they, for example, could claim to have killed me in self-defence. It also might be that their skill at profanity ends there and they are about to learn how to do it properly when I curse them back.
Violence in exchange for words is always wrong. It is a primitive, uncivilised reaction. Ironically appropriate for the leader of a sect that used to burn alive those contrary to their teachings.
There is, as well, quite a long list of previous popes who were truly bastards, who produced, many times by force and coercion, many more bastards.
So, Mr Francis, or whatever your name is, just shut up.

#6 Viktor (Guest) on Monday January 19, 2015 at 8:51am

I absolutely agree up until the point of what the author of the article names the remedy. The marketplace? It is a sort of “Colbertish” argument. Sure, you can choose not to buy it, but mentioning the market as the provider of the remedy didn’t sit very well with me. I am quite sure there is a lot of rubbish being sold that would require some sort of remedy; so the market is not a good quality assurance or the ultimate (if any) factor in deciding what is the truth or the right thing to buy or do.
You can choose to also sue the person that has allegedly offended you.
And in the end, isn’t this product called “religious belief” being sold very well on that very market that should provide a remedy? Other than that, good article.

#7 Joe (Guest) on Monday January 19, 2015 at 12:58pm

This talk about respecting someones religion and their religious faith, is insanity gone out of control.

A perfect on par analogy to this “respecting of religion and faith”, would be: Say a group of children from a kinder-garden school, ranging in age 4 to 6 decided that if adults did not believe in, and respected their Humpty Dumpyt, Alice in wonderland, Peter Pan, and the Incy Wincy spider stories as true and real, as well as their imaginary friends that are invited regularly for tea parties, they will through temper fit with lots of screaming.

What we are seeing with religion is an adult version to the above scenario, the only major difference is, we can expect such behavior from 4 to 6 year old children.

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