Pope’s comments on speech omit breadth of “insult” and ban on images

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Featured Photo: Engraving of tenets of Roman Catholic faith, circa 1871. Some of the images would be unacceptable to those Muslims who believe no image of a prophet should be created. (US Library of Congress; Haasis & Lubrecht)

Opinion by Kay B. Day

Pope Francis’ pronouncements often inspire debate, and his latest comments are no exception. The global leader of the Catholic Church says free speech has limits and anyone insulting another’s faith should expect “a punch in the nose.”

The pope likened insulting a faith to cursing someone’s mother.

I’m not Catholic, but the pope’s remarks after the Paris massacre at the offices of Charlie Hebdo felt like “a punch in the nose.” It’s not just what he said. It’s what he omitted. 

Progressives are wrapped up in a debate about justification for cartoons like those the magazine published. What we should all be wrapped in is outrage over assassinations inflicted because of insults. Assassinating people because they satirized your faith, implying lack of respect, is the sort of primitive gang mentality we see in crime-plagued areas.

The pope said:

“You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Fact is, you can do all of the above in the United States. As a Christian, I see myriad insults to my faith. As a matter of fact, right now, there is a global assault on Christians, particularly in countries where they are in the minority. I hear little from faith leaders or politicians about persecution of Copts and others abroad. I hear little at home when a Christian is vilified for living his or her life according to his denomination’s tenets.

Christianity is quite possibly the  most diverse faith on the face of the Earth. There are those who believe the scriptures are perfect and not to be questioned and others who believe a faith adapts as humanity adapts. There are denominations who believe you must be submerged to be baptized and others, like my Lutheran faith, who believe a sprinkle is fine and the quicker you do it after the child’s birth, the better.

What everyone seems to be missing is that despite persecution in countries like Iran and an abundance of hate speech directed against Christians in countries like the U.S., there is no radical Christian political movement beheading people or assassinating them with military weapons.

Islam, by the way, is also somewhat divided on the matter of speech. The BBC provides a comparison of practices within Islam regarding images of the faith’s deity and prophets. There’s something very important the pope did not point out.

Many Americans don’t realize it’s not just the Charlie Hebdo cartoons that would be unacceptable in some Islamic circles—it’s any image and that includes images of figures in the Bible—“all the major prophets of the Christian and Jewish tradition.”

While I understand the pope’s reminder to his flock about respect for faith, I personally do not see the world war we are fighting at present as having anything to do with faith except for the radicals who have hijacked a religion purely for political purposes. What we are dealing with is raw imperialism and the goal is to impose standards set by the imperialists on our own and others’ culture. This includes other Muslims’ cultures, and many have died as a result.

What might the pope say about the prohibition of images of any saint or holy figure? That would imply we’d technically have to destroy centuries of religious art to comply and avoid “insult”.

What is sorely needed at present is a leader in the United States who can consistently message to the world what our First Amendment limits and why it was added to the Constitution. And that leader should remind the world that Christians, Jews, and others are routinely referred to as “infidels” who, in some countries, pay higher taxes simply because of their faith.

The pope has an admirable concern for the well-being of humanity, but it would have been far more powerful a message if he had thought to inject a Biblical passage my progressive friends often cite when I gripe about taxes. I’m not a religious scholar by a long shot, but I think the passage is applicable to the debate about free speech as well:

“And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar’s. 17And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him.”

To pay lip service to violence because of an insult contradicts all the Christian principles I was taught.

Perhaps the pope’s answer was more nuanced than quotes media have carried. I wasn’t able to locate a copy at The Vatican website. I hope it was more nuanced than the quotes most major media are publishing, because he didn’t mention that it’s not just the Charlie Hebdo images that some took as insults—it’s any image:

“Islamic tradition or Hadith, the stories of the words and actions of Muhammad and his Companions, explicitly prohibits images of Allah, Muhammad and all the major prophets of the Christian and Jewish traditions.”

All that aside, another piece of advice missing is from the homily is familiar to all. Turn the other cheek.

Featured Photo: Engraving of tenets of Roman Catholic faith, circa 1871. Some of the images would be unacceptable to those Muslims who believe no image of a prophet or deity should be created. (US Library of Congress; Haasis & Lubrecht)


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About Kay Day

Kay B. Day is a freelance writer who has published in national and international magazines and websites. The author of 3 books, her work is anthologized in textbooks and collections. She has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. Day is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the Authors Guild.
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One Response to Pope’s comments on speech omit breadth of “insult” and ban on images

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