With freedom of speech comes grave responsibility….

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.

- Disassociated Press, 9/16/2012

11 thoughts on “With freedom of speech comes grave responsibility….

  1. Your commentary is exactly on the mark. I have long believed – & said openly – that I keep my religious/spiritual beliefs/opinions to myself & use them as they are intended, that is, as my inertial guidance system to keep me on the path to a happy, healthy, productive life. And I wish everyone else would do likewise – but I have no power or control over anyone but myself, so when the proselytizers & evangelicals knock at my door I shoo them away politely but quickly.

  2. We’re of one mind about religious proselytizers. Remind me to tell you my Jehovah’s Witness story sometime if I haven’t already. I’m pretty sure I published it here on this blog a year or so back.

  3. Well said, Bill. I’m an atheist but have a sister who is a Muslim. Her husband is Muslim, from Egypt. We have very different beliefs, obviously, but we have one thing in common. She doesn’t try to tell me about her religion and I don’t try to tell her about my lack of one. My mom became an atheist later in life, and my four grown daughters are atheist, agnostic, “spiritual”, and wiccan. We all have the same core values, and that’s what I try to focus on whenever it comes to various religions or lack of. It’s what we all believe in our core that matters, and all else is a private matter. If we care about other people, the earth we live on, nature, animals…if we believe in treating others with respect and dignity, then it doesn’t matter what our personal religious beliefs are. However, throughout my life I’ve had Christians trying to convert me and telling me I’ll burn in hell if I don’t believe. They can’t accept that they have no business trying to convince me of what they believe. Keep it to yourself and pray for me all you want, but just leave me alone and accept me for the good and decent person I am. I don’t think that’s much to ask of anyone. Additionally, I really get upset when I see people posting horrible things about Muslims. They refuse to understand the culture there that is generations behind ours. Most Muslims are peaceful, and just like some of the crazy Christians we have here in this country, we can’t condemn a whole country or all its people for the actions of a few who look for any excuse to cause harm. We are clashing cultures because neither understands the other. If they ever get to the point where we are in this country, we won’t see this kind of violence again, not for these reasons. If we’re to make any progress, we have to respect what they hold so sacred in their religion while still talking about what’s wrong with it. They live in a whole different world than we do, and we have to consider that. And, in my opinion, making that movie is like yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Free speech is often abused, and I strongly feel not all free speech should be allowed. Whatever happened to prosecuting people for inciting violence?

    • I completely agree with you, Trish, especially about our failure in the developed world to comprehend how other nations while different from ours nevertheless believe deeply in their own faiths. I respect that while not choosing to become indoctrinated.

      There’s a wonderful play titled “Death and the King’s Horseman” by Wole Soyinka which outlines exactly the problems we face and much of what you’ve expressed. It’s about the British occupation of a city in Nigeria where British rule interferes with the religious traditions of the aboriginal culture and the heartbreaking conflict that ensues by forcing “modern” values on a culture not yet prepared to embrace them. I saw a spectacular local production of the play at the Lantern Theater here in Philadelphia. It’s incredibly moving, universal and I highly recommend it – reading the play or seeing it if anyone performs it in revival.

      In the same breath, a part of me wishes I was a believer. Live would be so much easier. But I simply do not believe in hand-me-down religious mythology. Yes, there are beautiful and wise passages in the texts of all religions, but those seem to be the concepts true believers choose to ignore or misinterpret to justify their own ends.

  4. “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.”

    …Excuse me? Primitive? That strikes me as a bit of veiled antagonism. I wouldn’t call the Middle East “primitive.”

    I’m not sure what your actual point is: are we to censor our speech to be less offensive? Or should it be that the religious should be less vocal about their beliefs? Neither strike me as appropriate measures to take. I’m also not sure you have the ability to interpret the “Islamic World’s” interpretation of the video on your own. An equally plausible answer is that – while understanding that it was not “The American Government” who made the video – they treat our society, much like we do theirs, collectively and blame the masses for the minorities actions.

    • Yes, you may read a caustic note in my tone, and I deliberated long and hard before using those words. Nothing of note has been invented or developed by the Middle Eastern countries much past the 11th century. Quite literally we are looking at a series of cultures where the “grandfather” generation of family units quite literally rode camels and lived in tents. Along comes the discovery of oil and western innovation is used to extract it, be that good or bad, and suddenly the tent is a palace with a fleet of limousines while the masses live like animals. The developing countries can learn to fly a plane without bothering to learn how to land it. That’s their entry into modernism – but they won’t truly be a world partner in progress until they can INVENT the new airplane, invent the communications device, invent the new medical procedure and on and on….

      I strongly believe that ALL organized religion is destructive nonsense. You don’t see atheists starting religious wars. And yes, you are “excused.”

  5. I cannot speak for the validity or lack thereof of Islam. I don’t study it. I cannot support the stupidity and ignorance that launched the video that is being used as an excuse for the violence. The actions on EITHER side, currently, is dead wrong. I don’t care WHAT the excuse, what is said about your faith, it is not an excuse to kill for it. Ever.
    Then there is the second layer of error in this debacle. The Media. There is as large, and as vocal a group APOLOGIZING for the violence. But they don’t make the splashy, catchy headlines. So more Americans are given the impression that ALL Muslims are the violent fringe element. That there is a fringe element that is that willing to kill for a slight, or insult, is bad enough (EVEN if that insult really were state sanctioned) There is just no excuse for this that is valid. The Muslim world needs to make the murderers as accountable for the violence as the moron and bigot who made the video.
    There are many MANY Christians willing to use this as proof that their faith is superior. Yet they spend all their time telling everyone else how other faiths, or lifestyles are going to “Hell” (Which I don’t even believe in). I an’t pretend that this is as bad as killing people who insult their profit, but it is also a lot more widespread among the “faithful”.
    We, both the East and the West combined, cannot pass as civilized or advanced until we stop trying to force our faiths on others. We cannot have true freedom, real liberty until each faith is equally accepted, even if that faith is NO faith. I have lost count of the times Christians have called my faith false, or fake, told me I am going to Hell because I don’t accept Jesus. My Catholic mother and Baptist mother-in-law both insist on how they are praying for me. I don’t need their prayers. I don’t need Jesus, I just need to be left the hell alone. And if you cannot accept that I don’t consider Allah or Mohammed to be “special” well, that is YOUR problem, not mine. PLEASE don’t tell me how great it is to follow Buddha, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster or any other great mythical sky being. I have my path, and I am happy with it, and so long as you leave me in peace, I am happy to let you follow whatever path you are on.
    Unfortunately, the way Freedom of Speech is being handled in this country lately, shouting fire like this stupid video is protected. Common sense restraint and tolerance of others is no longer considered a virtue. No religion can call themselves a faith of peace until the violence in their name ends, even if it’s a minority of their faith doing it. Islam cannot be called a religion of peace when they answer a slight to their prophet with murder, Christianity cannot be called a faith of peace as long as a Pastor like that twit in Florida will burn the religious book of another faith, to spur the violence that followed. BOTH sides share blame in this. BOTH sides, AND the media that preaches to them need to be held responsible. The violence is the result of fear and lies, intolerance and hatred. And there are those making money on fanning the flames. We all have a part we’ve played in making it worse, even if just by our silence.

    • Mark, as I was reading your reply, I was wondering if the producers of that film are in any way liable for the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and his staff? I’m wondering if that “freedom of speech” is in fact yelling fire in a crowded theater, thus inciting violence? I wonder if they will be found and charged? I know the “actors” in this film are frightened, as well they should be. They were dubbed with an over-voice even in the version in English with inflammatory rhetoric, the gist of which is allegations that Mohammad was a philanderer (only in more graphic terms.) But for all my wondering, more than likely, anyone involved in that “production” is likely facing assassination by foreign operatives. I’m surprised that “pastor” Jones is still among the living.

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