Bill Donohue, President of the Catholic League, a fierce defender of the Church and an expert at sniffing out anti-Catholicism got himself into a bit of a rabbit hole over comments he made about the recent terrorist attacks at the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
The magazine is an equal opportunity offender, printing vile and the worst kinds of stereotypes of Jews and Catholics as well as Muslims. The editors I'm sure knew that Jews and Catholics would react to their publications by writing letters to the editor, organizing protests and boycotts or filing defamation lawsuits. But they also knew that printing the same kinds of satires on Islam and Muslims could bring extreme reactions. Much to their credit they understood this and accepted it because they felt standing up for the principle of freedom of speech was worth it. In that way they chose not to be victims. That does not in anyway justify what happened or imply that they deserved what they got, which is what Bill Donohue was accused of implying.
I share Bill's outrage at the vulgar way in which religious figures of all stripes have been depicted by the French magazine. Still it is important to note that satire is a necessary and important tool for a healthy and free society. Unfortunately a publication like Charlie Hebdo used poorly those tools often passing off adolescent bathroom humor or borderline pornography as serious satire. Satire can often effectively speak truth to power and is especially important in a society where political speech is policed. At the same time poorly done satire can be harmful by dehumanizing and demonizing others and help create cynicism in a society where people do hateful and harmful things based on untrue stereotypes. While there are dangers in satire there are worse dangers in regulating it.
This latest terrorist assault on the West brings into clear focus the clash of values that is at the heart of the problem. Our cherished value of free speech is under assault from those who wish to have a society where no one ever offends their worldview. This comes from both the terrorists and as well as those in our society who, though they have no affinity with the terrorists still want to stamp out any speech that does not uphold their world view (try speaking out against same-sex marriage). This is why so many in the mainstream media refused to print the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or were overly quick to lecture the rest of us on why this latest terrorist attack had nothing to do with Islam. These are the same people who quickly blamed Pope emeritus Benedict XVI for the AIDS epidemic in Africa, since he would not change the Church's position on condom use, yet they insist that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam.
Well actually it has everything to do with Islam and suppressing debate about that only prolongs the problem and undermines our values. Many in this crowd are quick to point out that Christianity has its own checkered past when it comes to embracing ideas such as freedom of religion and freedom of speech. While that is true, Christianity especially Catholic theology has shown that it has within it the mechanism of self-correction and the ability to rethink its positions (non-doctrinal ones) and formulate new ones.
Islam has yet to be able to do that. Maybe it's because Islam and Islamic societies have not had the light of modernity shine on them to allow this debate to take place. Or maybe there is something intrinsic to it that prevents self-correction and a reformulation of its understanding and application of its practices. Either way it is neither for us nor our political leaders to be apologists for Islam. That is a task for its leadership and its communities.
The form of liberalism (not the good old fashioned kind) that is entrenched in so much of the West is really a form of self-hatred. Why else would, in light of the carnage in Paris, would its President first remind his nation that "this was not Islam" or why the White House had to tell us that its is redoubling its efforts to "be clear about what the tenets of Islam actually are"? Why not a vigorous defense of our society and its values of free speech and freedom of religion? Why not remind Muslims in France and elsewhere that if you seek to join our society respect for these values is a must?
Je suis Charlie. Etes-vous?
Love, Fr. John B.
P.S. Next Sunday we welcome the Chaldean Catholics from Iraq and remember Mass begins at 4:30pm (not 5pm) Sunday Jan. 25.