This is not an argument over the right to be “provocative” or “offensive”; rather, it is something much more significant — an argument over who gets to determine what counts as provocative or offensive in the first place. The Western world dragged itself out of the church-dominated Dark Ages and into the Enlightenment in part over this precise issue: the freedom to engage in speech and actions which formerly had been classified as the crime known as “blasphemy.” It seems such a trivial and quaint issue in retrospect, and hardly worthy of note from our hyper-secularized 21st-century perspective, but tell that to the millions of people who for centuries lived under the yoke of governments which used accusations of blasphemy and other religious misbehaviors as a primary tool of tyranny and oppression. The modern world dawned with the American and French Revolutions and the emergence of the explicitly secular state — the Americans rejecting the Church of England as Britain’s legally enforced national religion, and the French shrugging off centuries of acquiescence to domination by the Catholic Church in civil affairs. In both cases, new governmental paradigms were established in which there was an inviolable separation of church and state, which in practice meant no civil laws enforcing religious doctrines and (most importantly for our discussion) no laws against blasphemy.
Friday, May 21, 2010
and why it's important.