Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Censorship

"Persecution for the expression of opinions seems to me perfectly logical. If you have no doubt of your premises or your power and want a certain result with all your heart you naturally express your wishes in law and sweep away all opposition...But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas...that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our Constitution."
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr

I'd like to start by laying my cards on the table. I think that religion in all it's shapes and forms is a blight on humanity. I would love to convince the whole world that it is a load of imaginary rubbish. Therefore I do not think religion should ever get a free pass for anything. No respect, no reverence and no special cases. This is how I would like the world to be.

The world is not as I would like it to be, I learnt that when I was 5. Other people have different ideas to me, so I have to moderate my views with a dose of reality. The sensible position is to allow everyone to have the freedom to believe or not to believe as they choose. In a democratic nation then all citizens are free to discuss any ideas and to argue their viewpoint in an attempt to persuade others.

I also feel that citizens should be free to exercise their faith provided it does not impinge on the freedoms of others. So I would never enter a church, mosque or temple to speak abusively nor any way disrupt the services. However when a colleague in my workplace started to talk about what a wonderful teacher Jesus had been I readily disagreed. Others of a similar mind to myself claimed I had been rude to make such remarks. My reply was simple, any comment made in public is open to dispute. I am still friendly with this person and their response was, "perhaps I shouldn't have raised the issue." I disagreed and offered to discuss any topic they chose, but I got the feeling they didn't think it should be discussed only agreed to.

So What I am saying at is that nothing is beyond the reach of criticism or discussion. Certainly there is nothing about religion that sets it apart. In fact for too long deference toward religion has kept many historical facts hidden. If someone chooses to write a book about Mohamed it is no ones business but theirs. Certainly if that is a work of historical fiction as Sherry Jones has done then what objection could there reasonably be.

Books ridiculing Jesus and Buddha have been written and while followers object to them they do not seek to harm the author or publishers. Islam seems as a religion to very easily fall into the pattern of using violence to prevent criticism. Democracy is about freedom of expression, we must never allow those freedoms to be undermined by some twisted notion of religion. Many people have given up much including their lives to defend democracy against tyranny, how can we give it away because someone asks us to?

All too often I have heard the argument that a failure to recognise a persons religion is a form of racism. Nothing could be further from the truth. Quite correctly most democracies have introduced laws to protect people from discrimination. I should not be able to judge someone because of factors outside of their control, such things as race, gender, age are beyond any individuals control. However whilst I agree we need to protect the rights of all to worship as they see fit, we certainly can and should question the truth of their statements. Religious beliefs are chosen, and as a choice are open to change.

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