Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Sam Harris - On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God
In his latest article, "On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God," Sam Harris, with no apologies to anyone, defends freedom of speech. In these United States, we can disparage God, Allah, Buddha or any other imaginary deity. We can spout nasty things about Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism or any other religion. We can decry religious leaders whether they are popes, imams, priests, or other kinds of shamans.
Not only so, but it is the responsibility of our government to defend the right to free speech in our country and around the world. That is not to say we should tell other countries how to live or what to believe, but to tell them in no uncertain terms that we live with and believe in freedom of speech and no ideology or religion is so sacrosanct as to be exempt from criticism or ridicule.
Harris begins his article referencing the "Muslim hysteria and violence" in the Middle East which resulted from "an unwatchable Internet video titled 'Innocence of Muslims.'"
While not a follower of Mr. Romney, Harris mentions that Romney's critique of the Obama administration, while mainly a political maneuver gone wrong, had some value in principal and that our government "struck the same note of apology, disavowing the offending speech while claiming to protect free speech in principle."
To make matters worse, the government tried to shut up Pastor Terry Jones, the nutcase who burns Qur'ans for fun in Gainesville, Florida. The government went further asking that Google rid its servers of the video.
Such actions, says Harris, reflects "one of two psychological and diplomatic realities. Either our government is unwilling to address the problem at hand, or the problem is so vast and terrifying that we have decided to placate the barbarians at the gate."
Harris goes on to spell out what he calls "The contagion of moral cowardice ... wherein liberal journalists and pundits began to reconsider our most basic freedoms in light of the sadomasochistic fury known as 'religious sensitivity' among Muslims."
Some people think it's not religion that's the problem. The problem is a "history of western aggression in the region. It is our policies, rather than our freedoms, that they hate." That is "self-deception," says Harris. "Religion only works as a pretext for political violence because many millions of people actually believe what they say they believe: that imaginary crimes like blasphemy and apostasy are killing offenses."
Nor, says Harris, are all religions the same. He references Mormonism which is not "just like every other religion." It is especially wacky and screwed up. "Mormonism is the product of the plagiarisms and confabulations of an obvious con man, Joseph Smith ...  Given how much we know about Smith, it is harder to be a Mormon than it is to be a Christian. A firmer embrace of the preposterous is required---and the fact that Romney can manage it says something about him, just as if he were a Scientologist proposing to park his E-meter in the Oval Office."
The point, Harris, reminds us, is that we can say whatever we want about Mormonism and Joseph Smith. We will not be murdered or put in jail because of what we say. I would add that Romney's Mormonism is fair game and it's surprising that so many Christians are supporting him. Well, maybe it's not surprising at all for the fact is that for many Christians today their religion is merely a vehicle to gain political power.
Sadly, Harris is right when he says "The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed has already been lost. And the only forces on earth that can recover it are strong, secular governments that will face down charges of blasphemy with scorn. No apologies necessary. Muslims must learn that if they make belligerent and fanatical claims upon the tolerance of free societies, they will meet the limits of that tolerance."
Unfortunately, the United States government, being largely co-opted by Christianist religionists is moving in the opposite direction. No one who disparages the Christian religion in any of its myriad incarnations could be elected to any political office in this country. Christian fanatics would protest en masse at his or her election headquarters. Millions of Americans believe that the founders of the United States were "evangelical" Christians who were about establishing a Christian nation "under God," even though that is light years away from the truth. They are easily offended by those who do not believe in their imaginary deity.
It has become evident in recent years that a substantial number of our citizens neither understand nor concern themselves about the right of free speech. In fact, when people on the street have been polled regarding the Bill of Rights, a majority express a dislike for the freedoms therein.
Finally, it has been said that freedom of speech is not absolute. One is not free to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater. I accept that. But yelling "Fire!" in a crowded theater is not equivalent to disparaging imaginary deities or religious figures.
So, just to be clear: I think Scientology is utterly stupid and L. Ron Hubbard was a deceitful, greedy, moron! I would say the same about Mormonism and Joseph Smith! Roman Catholicism and its hierarchy is likewise a perverse exercise in imaginary gods and magical rituals.
Please read Mr. Harris' entire article here.