Terrorism Is Wrong; So Is Ridiculing People’s Faiths

Terrorism Is Wrong; So Is Ridiculing People’s Faiths January 17, 2015

I agree with Pope Francis. Terrorism is bad, wrong, evil, condemnable. But viciously ridiculing people’s sincerely held religious beliefs and convictions and life forms is also bad and, while violence is not a justified response to it, some kind of reaction is predictable.

Satire is one thing; ridicule is something else. But the line between them is thin. But here’s one line between that people might consider respecting: It’s okay to satirize beliefs and practices that are abhorrent to common humanity (such as terrorism, abuse, “holy war,” etc.) and not okay to ridicule innocent people who do not engage in such–even if their beliefs are odd in comparison to “mainstream” beliefs. It’s also not okay to hold up for ridicule people’s holy relics, shrines, symbols, etc.

Years ago I read this maxim: “Do not blaspheme the sacrament you do not understand.” Amen.

Having said that, I will add that I think it demonstrates a certain amount of insecurity about one’s own religion to get very worked up about unbelievers’ ridiculing of it. If the ridicule could lead to persecution and oppression, that’s one thing. That needs to be pointed out and strongly opposed. However, if the ridicule (which I never endorse or defend) is aimed at a powerful, strong religion that tends to enforce its particular beliefs and practices on others, well, the adherents of that religion ought to consider whether they brought the ridicule on themselves.

I grew up in a religious form of life that was widely ridiculed by others–so much so that anyone who would publicly identify with it could count on being considered a “holy roller,” religious fanatic, probably ignorant, stupid and maybe crazy. I suffered much religious ridicule and even persecution for reading my Bible during “study hall” and for  handing out “The Four Spiritual Laws” (a tract) to classmates. It made me very sensitive to ridicule and persecution of others. Today, when Jehovah’s Witnesses come to my door I always speak kindly to them, congratulate them for taking time to share their faith with others and say to them “We ought to be doing more of that.” And I apologize for any of my neighbors who might slam the door in their faces.

None of that means I don’t criticize Jehovah’s Witnesses’ beliefs; I do. But it means no matter how much I may disagree, I must treat them respectfully as persons.

Ridicule has no place in religious discourse except in the rare instances where a religion is simply invented for profit and/or engages in abuse (sexual, physical or spiritual). But in those cases it is the leaders, not the poor, benighted followers, who ought to be ridiculed. But, in my opinion, it is never appropriate to ridicule an entire religious tradition and when it happens a strong reaction is predictable even if violence is never justified.

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