|Pope Francis. (Reuters photo)|
"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."Interesting that a similar thing happened to Jesus. The Pharisees accused Him of being illegitimate and by implication His mother and father of being fornicators. (John 8:41)
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"There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others," he said. "They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasbarri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit."
Jesus didn't punch them or call down fire from Heaven. He didn't even refute what they said.
He did, however, react strongly. He fought them the same way they fought Him: with words. He called them children of the devil, who was a murderer and liar.
They responded that Jesus was demon possessed. There was more back and forth, but the end result was the Pharisees picked up rocks to stone Jesus. He not only didn't threaten attack, He avoided their attack by hiding and then leaving the area.
You would think Pope Francis might know this story.
In another account, the Pope seemed to have in mind Catholic armed attacks on Muslims in the past.
Referring to past religious wars, such as the Crusades sanctioned by the Catholic Church against Islam, the Pope said:
"Let's consider our own history. How many wars of religion have we had? Even we were sinners but you can't kill in the name of God. That is an aberration."So, maybe he was not wanting to throw a stone because the Catholic church and its leaders have not been without sin.
Still, one would hope that he might have learned from the centuries of Catholic inquisition and persecution against people like the Anabaptists, Quakers and Baptists, that freedom of religion and freedom of speech require a thick skin. You let people say what they believe, and they need to let you say what you believe. Because each man has a right and a duty to relate (or not relate) to God as he sees fit. The judgment for the relationship between a man and God lies with God. Which, by the way, is what Jesus said in the passage from John's gospel noted above:
Jesus answered, “I do not have a demon; but I honor My Father, and you dishonor Me. But I do not seek My glory; there is One who seeks and judges."The limitations on free speech should be few: what causes physical harm to others (falsely shouting "fire" in a crowded theater), social or economic harm (slander and libel), or physically disrupts others lives with more than minor inconvenience (the need for permits for public speeches or demonstrations).
To make causing offense the measure of where free speech stops is to allow those in authority to pick and choose whose offense is out of bounds and whose is not. There is not someone somewhere who cannot be offended by every strong opinion--whether it be on serious religious and political matters or inconsequential matters like who is the best quarterback in the NFL. Giving offense as a limitation on free speech is a slippery slope that leads to social horrors and tyranny.
Only in the last three centuries or so has the Western world acknowledged that freedom of speech and religion is much more important to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness than a society based on forced cohesion of belief and expression. It was a lesson that many suffered imprisonment, beatings, torture and horrible deaths to make clear.
From Balthasar Hübmaier who was arrested twice and tortured on the rack during the second imprisonment:
"Faith is a work of God, and not of the heretic's tower, in which one sees neither sun nor moon, and lives on nothing but water and bread. But God be praised who delivered me from this den of lions, where dead and living men lay side by side and perished."
What is true of faith is also true of political and social integrity.