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Friday, March 02, 2007

Editorial Issue 1307

I'm a Christian, and I'll fight for your right to offend me

I believe in God. And the Bible. And Jesus. How ridiculous is that? You probably think so, and you'd probably tell me so. In fact, you'd probably think you had the right to denounce my beliefs as stupid anywhere, any time.

You'd be right: you do. As long as you don't abuse me, incite others to kill me and the rest of my kind or set fire to my house, you can criticise my religion until the cows come home, pigs fly or the Tories win another election.

Is this wrong? Should Christians be immune from criticism? Do we have a God-given right to be shielded from offence? Nope. That doesn't mean I think you're right, and I certainly won't sympathise with anyone who insults me rather than engages with me respectfully, but that doesn't mean they should be gagged. Why should I expect others to hold the same values that I do?

Freedom of speech doesn't come with a price tag. It doesn't come with small print. And it most definitely should not come with restrictions imposed by a minority of offended people.

But that is what is happening. The story of the Cambridge student journalist forced into hiding for republishing one of the Danish cartoons that led to violence, arson and killing is a huge wake-up call. (From cartoons to killing... think about that for a second.) The Vice-President of the Cambridge University Islamic Society commented, "freedom of expression does not constitute a freedom to offend."

Of course freedom of expression constitutes a freedom to offend. When did my freedom of speech grow an exemption clause? When did one group earn the right to move the goalposts on what's offensive? It is the law that draws the boundaries on what is not legitimate criticism but incitement to hatred and violence. Incidentally, I happen to find it quite offensive when those marching through London to protest at some ill-commissioned drawings hold placards calling for an encore of 7/7.

I find derogatory images of Jesus abhorrent, but I won't chop off the artist's hand, nor will I demand an apology. My beliefs, however precious, cannot and should not be used to smother others' rights. Difference of opinion may lead to clashes that cause offence, but it should surely be celebrated as part of progression?

Moreover, the freedom of speech that can so offend religious people is the same freedom that gives us the right to express our religion itself. We would do well to remember this. Society must fight to uphold its right to offend. But we must fight with words: not fire, or bombs, or attacks on the cornerstone of the society that gives us the privilege to believe what we want in the first place.

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7 Comments:

  • Does your threat to screen comments from anonymous readres (Friday, February 23, 2007) not contradict the quite from voltare you use?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:52 pm  

  • How can you defend the right of somebody to hold an opinion if they aren't even prepared to publically acknowledge that they hold it?

    By Blogger Paul (probably - maybe Liz), at 6:27 pm  

  • Hang in there, Bec! I Peter 4:14
    Lots of love.

    By Blogger Tranquility Toblerone, at 11:15 pm  

  • Poison pen letter
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


    "A poison pen letter is a letter or note containing unpleasant, abusive or malicious statements or accusations about the recipient or a third party. It is usually sent anonymously. Poison pen letters are usually composed and sent to upset the addressee and, in some cases, maybe to make them change a course of action.

    With the advent of e-mail and the general decline in letter writing, poison pen letters have become something of a rarity."


    So reads Wikipedia. Perhaps they have become a rarity because the kind of people who used to write poison pen letters can now do it anonymously on blogs?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:13 pm  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger Paul, at 10:06 pm  

  • Well-said Bec! But can anyone explain to me what 'anonymous' is on about? None of his/her comments make any sense to me!

    By Blogger Paul, at 10:07 pm  

  • Dear Paul

    I believe the first comment is concerned with the use of the extremely famous quote from Voltaire on this blog. It's use seems inconsistent with the blog author's threat of censorship.

    The second comment I believe is from some other annonymous and is relevant to a series of comments to the post dated Friday, February 23, 2007 (personally, I think she/he is being a tad melodramatic).

    Hope this helps.

    N

    By Anonymous Nehemiah, at 4:15 pm  

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