With freedom of speech comes grave responsibilities. You can hurt a person with a stray or thoughtless word and have no malice in your heart. You can wound an individual for life by exploiting that persons weakness or vulnerability, tossing well targeted words in his or her face. Words, actions and deeds have consequences. There is no such thing as too much freedom of speech, but there is the misuse of the privilege. In America today, slander and liable are nearly extinct (to our collective detriment I might add) but getting people to conduct themselves with honor is akin to herding cats.
As one reader put it in a reply to an earlier post, he’d been expected to endure the existence of “urine soaked crucifixes” and thus couldn’t comprehend why people in the Middle East would have such a violent reaction to an offensive 14 minute video defaming the prophet, Mohammed. What he fails to grasp, is we as Americans live in a society where freedom of speech is taken for granted. We can say nearly anything we like short of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. And to that point, we have all just witnessed the results of hollering “fire” in a crowded world theater. Still, some of our neighbors fail to drink-in how detrimental words can be interpreted by cultures who don’t enjoy the same freedoms we take with a wink and a nod.
In the developing nations of the Middle East as well as other predominantly Islamic countries across the globe, all they have ever known, handed down for generations is totalitarian regimes. When words were released in Libya, Egypt, Yemen or a variety of nations, the people who heard those words automatically understood them to be the official “word” of the state. In America, we, as private citizens can say whatever we wish, set it loose on the internet and other Americans who hear or read those words attribute them to the author/speaker, not the government – unless officially stated as such. In the developing nations who are currently torn apart with death, fire and riots, it’s assumed that any word leaked from an American source is sanctioned by the United States government. WE realize that not to be the case, but for people who have never lived with the luxury of freedom of speech, the first reaction is to assume any and all voices that come from America are government controlled. Suppression is all they’ve ever known their entire lives. We need to realize that while we live in a modern world, there are primitive cultures sharing our world: Cultures who in their adherence to religious dogma assume all speech is adjunct to governmental proclamations. As Americans, we escaped that particular tyranny better than two centuries ago, in spite of a certain political party’s efforts to return us to the dark ages.
I believe all organized religion to be cult-like in nature – not that people can’t or shouldn’t keep religion in their hearts if they choose, but rather they should and need to keep their religious beliefs to themselves. Remember, all religions began with oral tradition…. Long before there were cameras and cellphones, someone related something they’d witnessed, or heard as having been witnessed, which then got embellished with each teller as the legends wormed their way through the ages. Over time cultural groups fell into lockstep with one particular religious ideology or another, much of which frequently defies common sense, and in spite of the lack of logic inheriting generations still drink at the trough of those faiths, believing every word to be “gospel.” Fill in the faith, one organized religion is as destructive as the next once people begin to proselytize their own preferred mythology.
I don’t have to be a Christian to find the Dung Madonna “art installation” to be offensive, all I needed was a sense of smell, a rudimentary understanding of hygiene and my own artistic opinion. I have no particular faith, but I have the common sense to understand how other people DO. I don’t have to put stock in any particular prophet or messiah to realize that inflammatory words can ignite small minds like that which passes for a brain sandwiched between the ears of Florida pastor, Terry Jones. He is an evil fool and an ignoramus – as are the individuals responsible for the video that’s being used as an excuse to incite riots in Islamic nations. It’s the video the masses are able to comprehend as a touchstone for violence, but most likely it’s the drone strikes that killed Al Qaeda leaders that’s at the heart of the ensuing bedlam. The masses wouldn’t be motivated to riot over the death of yet another totalitarian wanna-be – but an insult to their sacred beliefs and deities is the vital ingredient necessary to get those masses to carry out a manipulative shadow leader’s destructive plans. Bearing that in mind, the fuel for the fire was provided by foolish religious ideologues of a polar opposite, incompatible faith (or faiths) who foolishly delivered the match that lit those fires….
I’m not telling anyone to stop believing in their god, simply because I’m not among their ranks. I don’t advocate that everyone adopt my belief system or lack thereof. Believe what you choose. I’d like nothing more than for people to keep their religious beliefs – but to keep them to themselves. Humankind will never know world peace until organized religion becomes something people have the common decency and restraint to quietly keep in their own hearts without the need to recruit others to swell their ranks so more followers can incite deadly clashes over their imaginary differences. Only when people stop forcing their faiths down other people’s throats will the world be as one and live in peace. I’m not so optimistic as to expect anything like that to come about in my lifetime, and perhaps it never will. But keep your religion to yourself. Keep it if you wish, but keep it quietly and respectfully to yourself.