Saturday, February 2, 2008

Censorship of Offense? No Thanks.

The Archbishop of Canterbury recently issued a foggy and lengthy bit of writing whose takeaway seems to be that giving offense to religion will tend to rile believers and aggravate any pre-existing sense of exclusion or alienation they might feel, causing them to riot, issue death threats, remove people's heads, make a ruckus at funerals, etc. Therefore, he concludes, giving offense to religion should be subject to legal constraint. Ophelia Benson notes how strikingly low a threshold for censorship this actually amounts to:

[P]eople (and groups) can "come to feel" they have been unjustly excluded - or ripped off, or pushed around, or insulted, or disrespected, or outnumbered, or overwhelmed - any time, about anything. White people can do that, gentiles can do that, men can do that, heterosexuals can do that. Anyone can do that. Anyone can work up a grievance about anyone. It does not follow that it is a good idea to make laws requiring prior restraint of publication or speech just in case there might be some public disorder emanating from one or more of these pissed-off groups. If it did follow, the result would be a complete freezing and choking off of all human mental life.
This strikes me as so obviously right that it's distressing to have to commit it to pixelated ASCII.

There are, I agree, people so radically committed to their religious beliefs that they will never be content until everyone with a contrary thought is either dead or nodding meekly along. They are and should remain free to convince the rest of us that they're right so long as they do so peacefully. Meanwhile, the most generous answer civilized people should be prepared to give them is no thanks, followed by mind your own business; if that won't do, another proper answer is fuck off.

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