Provisionality, Offense, and Conviction

I was just reading a short post by Tristan D. Vick about the difference between beliefs and assumptions, and it got me thinking about conviction and offense.

Last week, Ginny and I were talking about offense.  I’m not easily offended, and we were talking about why that is.  Part of the reason, I concluded, is that I don’t have many things I find to be sacred; I don’t have ideas which are beyond criticism, unavailable for investigation, or held with great conviction.  I am bereft of sacred cows to tip over, or something.

My beliefs, accepted facts, and interpretations—in short my worldview—is tentative and provisional, just as Tristan says about his beliefs.  Thus, it’s hard to find ways to offend me because it would imply that some harm is being done to me to challenge or question something I believe.  Since I have already questioned my beliefs (ideally, anyway) on my own, someone else challenging them is redundant and not harmful.  Thus and form of poking fun, mocking, or calling my ideas stupid or silly in itself cannot offend me.  I can be annoyed by poor attempts at criticism, but I cannot be offended by things which are not held with conviction.

So when I see people in the streets of Benghazi, Egypt, or elsewhere protesting the insult to their religion, I have trouble sympathizing with the offense they take.  I can’t sympathize with having a sacred belief which cannot be mocked, questioned, or even illustrated.  I find the idea that offense is taken by such mild acts as making a shitty video, drawing a picture of some guy who is believed to be a prophet, or simply saying that a set of beliefs is silly or unjustified as, well, offensive.

That is, if there is anything sacred to me, it is the freedom of expression, thought, and therefore of criticism.  My ideal that ideas are subject to analysis and discussion is an idea which I don’t think I could be convinced out of.  I am convicted to the idea of freedom of expression, and so the only way to offend me would be to protest such freedoms based on an idea or set of ideas.

And for someone to point of an inconsistency here; to say that I should hold the ideal of freedom of expression provisionally, seems to commit the same error as those who try to criticize what is sometimes called scientism, but which I think is better thought of as consistency in application of skepticism.  That is, there must be some ground upon which we found other ideas and conclusions.  For example, if we don’t accept that our senses are capable of giving us reliable (although not infallible) information, we cannot claim certainty about anything.  If we don’t have some methodological basis for testing ideas (such as skepticism/empiricism), then we cannot test the veracity of hypotheses with any reliability.  If we do not allow free expression free reign to all subjects, then we have no real (legal) freedom to believe what we want, because it becomes to easy to allow bias to inform which ideas are given privilege.

But most importantly, the only means to question the idea of free expression is with free expression.  It is a self-founding idea, or a meta-value.

One of my favorite shirts

Finding offense in criticism, whether of ideas you hold or which are held by others, is a sign of placing value on the wrong thing.  There is no good reason to accommodate sets of ideas over the ability to question those ideas.  The meta-value of our world, our species, and of all sentient beings should be the freedom of expression of all ideas.  Privileging a set of ideas, even if those ideas are right, is absurd.  True ideas will survive the light of criticism, and do not need sanctions to survive.  The truth, as Kosh once said, points to itself.

I have no fear of my ideas being questioned, mocked, etc.  If they are good ideas, they will survive.  If they are bad ideas, they will be replaced by argumentation whether in the form of polite discussion or mockery.  The question I have for people who are easily offended, for their own sake or the sake of others, is where your values are?  You can be sympathetic with the hurt feelings people have about having their ideas mocked, but at the end of the day if their ideas cannot survive that mockery, or even polite questioning, then perhaps that sympathy needs to be understood to be about their feelings, not their ideas.

There is a point when we have to take responsibility for our ideas, rather than coddle them.  Ideas are not people, and they cannot be injured.  Ideas are either good (justified) or not (unjustified).  And if you are hurt because your ideas are mocked, then you are either protecting an unjustified idea or one that does not need protection.

Just like gods (if they are to exist), ideas cannot be harmed by our criticism,  mockery, or polite disagreement.  There is no reason to protect such ideas or beings, except to protect the fact that they are bad ideas and free expression might expose such a weakness.

Oh!  That explains it now, doesn’t it?


Tomorrow is Blasphemy Rights Day!

That’s right, folks, not only do we have the right to be blasphemous, but there is a day set aside to have our fellow heathens (and those freedom loving believers who feel like blaspheming others’ ideas) express their inner blasphemer.

For those of you who don’t remember, or who were not paying attention way back in the early days of the atheist movement, it was September 30th 2005 when those now-famous cartoons were published in Denmark.  You know, the ones that made all the Muslim leaders laugh and go on with their lives…or to protest their publication which led to violence and ultimately to more than a hundred dead.  Same difference.

The fact is that many of the cartoons were not offensive at all.  Most were not funny.  But because some Muslims believed that the very attempt to try and depict Muhammad (the prophet guy, not just any Muhammad of which there are many tens of thousands).

The event brought lots of attention, world-wide, to this issue.  The atheist community responded by many people stepping up and advocating for people to express their right to blaspheme whatever they want.  There was PZ’s issue with a cracker, many campus organizations responded with chalk drawings of Muhammad or blasphemous messages of all kinds, and many individuals have, of course, stepped up in their own ways.

That's me!

And I, of course, will take part.  I have one of my favorite shirts ready to wear tomorrow, and I inevitably will have people ask me if I’m Muslim…because people are stupid and ignorant.  And while it may be too late for you to get your own shirt, I urge you to find a way to express yourself in some blasphemous way tomorrow.  For example, one Halloween several years ago I dressed up as the crucified Christ, with wrist wounds and all, carrying a cross I had made around with me even to a Halloween party.  I wish I had pictures of that.  Perhaps I will have to re-create that wonderfulness in a Halloween to come.

That’s like in a month, right? Where do I have some wood….

Remember, blasphemy is a victimless crime.  So if you feel bad about hurting someone’s feelings, just remember think “What would Shaun do” and then do it anyway…because people have no right to expect non-believers to follow any rules set by religious traditions.  And if you are still caught up in this respect thing, remember that if you don’t actually believe a thing is true, right, wrong (or whatever) you don’t actually respect it.  You may respect someone’s right to something, but that is not the same thing.  So, celebrate the fact that you actually can blaspheme (assuming you are not in one of the many countries where you cannot) and express yourself.

Oh, I almost forgot about this song which persistently gets stuck in my head.  Your welcome.

Draw Muhammad Day

So, to day is draw Muhammad day.  It’s a silly sort of thing, actually.  It really does not even deserve the merit of being commented on.  The fact that some people’s lives are at risk because many Muslims don’t agree makes it worthy of comment.

So, here’s a picture of me wearing a shirt that I like.

He really looked exactly like that.

See, I don’t have any respect for Islam.  Nor do I have respect for Christianity of Judaism, but at least I can draw silly pictures of their gods and/or prophets.

And, for the record, it isn’t religion per se that I have the issue with, but the concept of faith, the inability to criticize beliefs, and so forth that I am so annoyed by.  Religion just tends to be the carrier of such things.  So, Muslims, get over yourselves.  We don’t have to play by your rules, and we will not be scared into submission (what Islam means) nor silence.

Happy day, everyone!

(And if I end up dead, you’ll know why)

Blasphemy laws threaten our freedom

Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!
Oh noes! Now the Moslems will be after me!

I don’t know if any of you have been following the recent legislation in Ireland.  I have been reading about the proposed Blapshemy Laws for a few days now, and am concerned.  For those of you who would like to catch up, here’s a resource for you.

Basically, it may become illegal to criticize people’s religious beliefs.

The proposed law states the following:

  1. A person who publishes or utters blasphemous matter shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable upon conviction on indictment to a fine not exceeding €100,000.
  2. For the purposes of this section, a person publishes or utters blasphemous matter if (a) he or she publishes or utters matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of that religion, and (b) he or she intends, by the publication or utterance of the matter concerned, to cause such outrage.
  3. It shall be a defence to proceedings for an offence under this section for the defendant to prove that a reasonable person would find genuine literary, artistic, political, scientific, or academic value in the matter to which the offence relates.

Now, the second part of this mentions that the problem is outrage being caused by people who become upset by comments, short films, or cartoons.  Why the hell would anyone riot over such things? And why are the Irish trying to protect people who would? The problem here is religious people, here primarily Moslems, reacting violently because of criticism, not the criticism itself.  It makes perfect sense to riot because someone has implied that your religion is violent, right?

There have been a number of movements in Europe that have moved towards legislating protections for religion in the last few years.  The acceptance of sharia in the UK is one such concession.  Issues concerning whether women can wear burqas in their identification pictures is another (although the French have not sided with accomodation, at least). What is going on here?

Part of what is happening is that Moslems are moving into Europe and the United States in significant numbers.  When I lived in West Philadelphia for a few years, I lived a few blocks away from two mosques and saw women in their burqas quite frequently.  When people move into a place, they bring their culture with them.  That will inevitably involve their concepts of law, morality, and religion.

Now, there are many points of sharia law that differ from the laws of the various nations that Moslems are moving into.  And the openness and liberalism of these nations–places like Belgium, the Netherlands, etc–mean that they will try to accommodate the people that live there.  This, to a certain extent, is admirable.  The willingness to open yourself up to different cultures can lead to a better understanding of one-another and it is at the heart of what a free society is all about.

However, there is a point where in doing so you give up on what that liberalism and tolerance are meant to protect.  Pat Condell says it best, perhaps:

(Also see this one (Ban the burka) and this one (Sharia in the UK))

I agree with Pat Condell here.  Criticism is essential.  We cannot make it a law that you cannot criticize religion.  What will come of speech such as Pat Condell’s if Blasphemy laws are passed? What will happen to legitimate criticism of religion (or any other beliefs) if we are not allowed to say anything that may hurt someone’s feelings?

Religion cannot continue to get a free pass on criticism, as it has enjoyed for so long.  You can criticize someone’s movie tastes, belief in UFOs, but don’t criticize Islam or Christianity!  You might hurt someone’s feelings if you do that.  There is no reason to give religious beliefs a free pass here.

It can only be the height of insecurity that would require religious views to be protected behind walls of legislation.  We must challenge ourselves.  And those that will not, we must allow others to challenge them.  We must force those who make claims about the universe to support their ideas and allow skeptics and other dissenters to criticize their views as they merit.

I simply cannot understand what the Dail in Ireland is thinking.  I hope that it will not pass the Seanad.  And if it does, I hope that some will come out and test this law with blasphemy as loud as one can say it.  I hope that the continuing undue respect, especialy to Islam in many parts of Europe, does not continue.  I hope that people of reason will not be silenced by the fear that is projected by the faithful who feel the need to protect themselves from harsh words or criticism.