Maybe the arguments taking place in the media here are irrelevant. Free speech is important, yes, and to exercise free speech in the face of violent bullying is even more important. But, yes, you’re right, Mr Radio Guy, it’s also important to show sensitivity towards others while exercising your right to free speech. We shouldn’t set out to purposely offend merely because we technically have the right. Just as we shouldn’t drive around L.A. in Humvees simply because we technically have the right. Or set fire to food or money just because we can. Just because we have freedom doesn’t mean we have to use it. Restraint and self-control are indivisible from the enjoyment of freedom. How ironic. So, yes, perhaps the exercise of free speech doesn’t justify the publication of offensive material.
However. Maybe there’s an even simpler argument for the worldwide open publication of those cartoons. Maybe there’s a much bigger issue at stake here. And focusing on free-speech versus self-restraint is merely distracting us from the bigger picture and the bigger point that history and, more importantly, philosophy are screaming into our ears… We need to move on from organized religion.
How I wish I could say that the time of fanatics had passed. These blind cripples who catalyse the beautiful living substance of the world and spew death and negation back into it, who finger rifles in the pre-dawn light of their woman-tidied homes, who recite verses from sacred texts imagined once by other madmen, who seek solace in wrong ideas repeated so often they sound right, almost as if they predate man, almost as if man did not make them, and then toss themselves against the sea currents and push with all their might, wishing against all evidence for an afterlife of pearls and gold and fluffy feathered wings, despising this life, hating it, fighting it, swimming insanely against the sea currents until they tire and drown, clutching so many others’ feet as they are dragged down, and down, and down, down, down into the sea depths. Where they hang like spectres white as pearl as the black stuff of the deep sea oozes on by, completely unaware of their futility. Our one life, our one chance, our one time through, our one and only being in this form, this consciousness, this world, like this, as us, as men and women, as human beings, who we are, our single solitary brief encounter with existence. They villainise and hate it, hate us, hate themselves, these Christians, Jews and Muslims, these fanatic fools, all over the world. They hate life and want to destroy it, want to make it painful for all because it is painful for them. If I could say their time had passed, how joyful I would be.
But it seems to me we flirted with a broad embrace of rational secular ways, in a lot of countries, for a good number of decades, but perhaps that time has passed, and the time of lunatic religions was momentarily held off, pushed back, but now it is returning, like a white wave surging over us, implacable and unstoppable. I can’t say for sure. You never know what the future holds. Maybe the current antics of religious fundamentalists all over the world are a last gasp and nothing more. But something inside me tells me they’re here to stay. And it makes me sick.
I have no problem with spirituality, no problem with belief in God. But I despise religion. The thing that gives the warlords of the world quick and numbing justification for slaughter. The thing that allows weak-willed evil to control weaker-willed neutrality. Bush is right, we are engaged in a major struggle, only Good and Evil is a weak way to characterise this struggle. And he’s got the names and affiliations of the players all wrong. If we adopt his naming conventions for a moment: good versus evil. Then his beliefs are the evil of the world. His religion is the root of wickedness. His God is the most evil creation of mankind. We are afflicted, but the affliction is organised religion. I think we once had an opportunity to overcome our disease, but we didn’t take it.
Politicians started out with ideas and ended up with power. Some time ago, all over the world, wonderful new political systems promised great strides for mankind. America, France, Russia are the major players. The result? Native American genocide, the Terror, the Napoleonic Wars, Shiloh, Stalin, Afghanistan, the Cold War, Vietnam, repression of the Eastern Bloc, third world debt, conspicuous consumption, serial killers, anti-anxiety medication, pollution, extinction, improvised roadside explosives. Politicians and leaders have fucked up. They lost track of where we were supposed to be going a long time ago. Or maybe the proposed aims of the United States, France and Russia were never meant seriously. Perhaps they were just a deceit. It’s hard to tell the difference, and the difference hardly matters, because we’ve come to the same point anyway. Most of these new political systems offered people ideals, but you can’t live by ideals, not on a day to day basis.
Scientists must be scolded, too. There was a time when they were pushing the boundaries of human understanding and challenging the old knee-jerk perceptions of reality. There was a time when they were helping us to step out of the world of wrathful Gods and idiot believers. But somewhere along the way the majority of scientists and intelligentsia at large stepped out of the mainstream debate, this struggle that the diseased religionist needs to believe is between his Good and everyone else’s Evil.
Well, I say to every scientist and intellectual out there who claims a certain type of neutrality — it’s not good enough. It’s not enough to hide behind science or academia and say you don’t have a role to play in the moral and ethical matters of the world. If you withdraw claiming science or intellectualism is outside human moral and political concerns, then you give the Osama bin Bushes of the world the greatest gift: uncontested power. You’re no better then than the average unstructured, apathetic, non-voting, neglectful citizen. Science and academic intellectualism could have actively lead humanity out of the control of religion. But they failed as fully, if not more so, than the new politics of democracy and socialism.
The reason science/intellectualism and new political systems have failed to capture the minds of humanity and obliterate religion and lead us to a better, brighter future of rational secular citizen-oriented existence is that these things have failed (or their practitioners have failed) to grant the mass of human minds the thing they need most: philosophy.
Philosophy. We cannot live by science. We cannot live by critical theory. We cannot live by ideals. We can only live by philosophy. Organised religion offers people philosophy, systems to live by, albeit perverse ones. What else is on offer to people? Where is science when a man’s child dies and he asks, “How do I handle this? How do I answer the feelings I’m having now?” What does the ideal of “freedom” do for a woman who can’t stand another minute of her leering employer but who must have that pay check? What does post-modernism offer the young gang member holding a shotgun on his lap outside the convenience store in the raw rotting horror of urban decay? Where are these things we so admire –science, democracy, education– when the world turns us upside down and we need to re-centre ourselves. Unless our education has included philosophy, and we have established our philosophical position, we have no hope of righting the wrong, upturning the spilled, saving the lost.
Organised religion has always known that people live by philosophical systems that serve them when they have need and that need occurs almost every day. Organised religion’s method has been to offer perverse, simplistic, limited philosophical systems which serve its particular agenda. If the side of reason and sense doesn’t start offering people an alternative to the limited philosophies of organised religion then, simply put, these people aren’t going anywhere. We’ll be seeing a lot more abortion doctors murdered, a lot more tube bombs, a lot more George Bushes, a lot more violence over cartoons and a lot more complacency regarding these things than there should be. “Well,” you will hear people saying, “abortions / cartoons / atheists / commies are pretty offensive. You can understand why (pick a religionist group) they get worked up. You can hardly blame them for attacking.” No it’s not, no I can’t and yes you can. The kind of violent reactivity we are seeing today is unthinking and totally unacceptable. But people will continue to be scared, they will remain stupid, and they will remain enslaved by these beliefs unless somehow we are able to offer them a fully-developed useable secular philosophy.
The cartoon debate says one thing loud and clear, and their publication is imperative, so that as many people can hear it as possible: It’s time to move on!