Vanity thought #1251. Blasphemy

I just checked devotees’ response to Charlie Hebdo killings and was left slightly disappointed. The Pope did it better – he said that if one insults his mother he should expect a punch.

Those who considered his response inappropriate relied on the basic premise that Pope should not punch people and violence should never be an answer. That was disappointing, too, because the Pope wasn’t talking in general, his exact words were referring to a man standing right by his side: “If my good friend Dr Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” How friends interact with each other should not be taken as a rule for treating strangers.

Most, though, got the gist and understood the premise – you cannot insult feelings of others and expect nothing in return. Whether people agreed or disagreed with this statement it is a different matter.

I wanted to say a few more words on the freedom of speech. First, let me repeat myself and say that freedom of speech is never under any threat, it’s provided by demigods just as air and water. Unless they block one’s ability to speak freedom of speech will be there. What the advocates really mean is two things – freedom to publicize their speech and freedom from negative reactions.

Freedom to publicize usually means freedom to use other people’s means, ie media. This freedom does not exist because the owners of publicizing platform will always, always have a say in the content of their medium. They might agree or disagree, promote or block, but they will always have some degree of control. What freedom of speech advocates really want is that this inherent censorship should not be exercised towards them but applied towards others.

There probably are some die hard libertarians who would insist on no boundaries whatsoever but these people are extremely rare, usually have no decision making powers, and they are being contrarian just for the sake of it. We are not going to see their ideas implemented in general societies in our lifetimes so we can discount them altogether.

So, for freedom of speech advocates it’s a judgment call – what should be allowed to say in public and what shouldn’t. They consider their judgment to be correct and they do not think much about judgment of others. They are right and everybody else is wrong and at no time the possibility of being mistaken enters their minds.

Second aspect of freedom of speech is freedom from negative reactions. Reactions will always be there, every word has consequences, even if spoken in private, even if it’s simply a thought in one’s head. We say that in Kali Yuga, unlike previous ages, thoughts are not considered sins but that is not the whole picture. Yes, a thought might not be punished by the law of karma but it doesn’t mean it has no effect whatsoever. One thought always leads to another or is deposited into one’s memory and then recalled – it always influences our future thinking. Thoughts also always lead to actions, especially when take in aggregation and over a long enough period of time. Thoughts give us our next bodies, after all.

So, absolute freedom from reactions is impossible, but that’s only half the issue because what the FOS promoters want is freedom from *negative* reactions.

Every time they publish something they expect some results. Sense of satisfaction, pride in their work, recognition by the public, monetary compensation etc. Those are perfectly acceptable and very welcome, they want to legalize against negatives only. If you ask them what they thought should be done about negative outcomes they would probably say that the offended party should just cease and desist, crawl in a hole and never bother them back.

Some would say that they do not mind the blowback in the form of similar mockery, they don’t mind cartoons of themselves, they don’t mind equal insults. Sounds right but the key here is “they don’t mind”. Any response is deemed acceptable as long as it doesn’t really bother them. Why do they mind being killed, for example? Would they mind being tortured? Would they mind being jailed? Would they mind being fired? Would they mind being ostracized by people they were expecting praise from? Would they mind a huge financial penalty? Would they mind a small fine?

There always is a line that they would not allow to cross and any kind of response beyond it would be unacceptable.

I think it should be obvious by now that this “free speech” idea is a childish nonsense, it has no absolute rules and depends on promoters’ personal interests. Foolishly, they want to protect themselves from the law of karma, like that is ever going to work.

One phrase that was in my local paper illustrates it well. When a teacher in one French school tried to organize the minute of silence in memory of Charlie Hebdo victims some kids said “they had it coming.” It’s obvious even to the children but the FOS advocates are so intoxicated by their delusion that they don’t see it. Well, karma tends to work itself around such infantilism, French laws are not going to stop her.

Back to Pope – some objected to his reaction by saying it was a very unChristian thing to do, that Christians should turn the other cheek. This is totally missing the point. It’s an instruction on how to react when *your* cheek has been slapped, not somebody else’s. If you see someone hit a child you do not turn the kid over and beg the abuser to continue.

The Pope wasn’t saying he’d punch anyone who insults him, he said he’d protect his mother. Protecting those who can’t protect themselves is as Christian as it going to get. I think this point should be very obvious but it isn’t. People who understand it regarding Pope’s mother do not show the same understanding regarding Muslims’ prophet.

I’ve yet to see public recognition that Muslims reacted with such anger not due to personal offenses but due to offenses against others. If Muhammad was around they would have probably followed his cue but he isn’t. Not only he cannot personally protect himself from blasphemy, he can’t also forgive, which is an important point for Muslims because without forgiveness there’s no way of avoiding prescribed death penalty. This sounds medieval but only because the word “death” is involved, the principle itself is widely understood in Christianity and in our tradition as well.

If you offend a vaiṣṇava and have no opportunity to beg for his forgiveness you are finished. Truly. You’d have to wait until the material nature brings you together again, possibly in the next lifetime. It’s a bit easier because in Kṛṣṇa consciousness we are not so much dependent on external bodily forms but Islam has no such leeway, if Muhammad is dead it’s over, there could be no forgiveness and punishment is the only answer.

I’m not sure if you could pray to Muhammad but I’m positive that Charlie Hebdo cartoonists never considered such an option and the possibility was not entertained by their killers either.

Devotees’ response to blasphemy should be more nuanced, not because we are “better” but because we know our tradition better than we know Christianity or Islam, but I’ll probably speak about it tomorrow.


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