Below is an email I got this morning in reference to the different posts done here in regards to mainstream commercial religion and how fear is used to suppress us as individuals worldwide. As it is always mentioned, what I write is my opinion, I’m not in the business of changing minds or changing the opinions of others, there are allot of common denominators at work here. Yes, the word censorship gets thrown around about as much as freedom of speech, yet both work hand in hand everywhere we look. Look at this blog, I get asked to “tone” it down every day which requires me to only ramp it up that much more.
—- Begin Email & Response —-
Scorpion Sting– Was the aim of your different posts not to ridicule and play off people’s fears and prejudices about mainstream commercial religion? What was the point? It is not that it is morally unacceptable to cause offence to other cultures as you once said, but the how and why are just as important as the right to cause that offence. I agree with you that the fear of consequences has become a limitation, but that is perhaps because free speech has been abused by people just like you, don’t you think? R.S.
R.S. — I regard free speech as a fundamental good, the fullest extension of which is necessary for our very democratic life and for the development of other liberties. Others view speech as a luxury rather than as a necessity, or at least as merely one right among others, and not a particularly important one. Speech from this perspective needs to be restrained not as an exception but as the norm.
The answer to whether religious and cultural sensibilities should ever limit free expression depends upon which of these ways we think of free speech. For those, like me, who look upon free speech as a fundamental good, no degree of cultural or religious discomfort can be reason for censorship. There is no free speech without the ability to offend religious and cultural sensibilities.
For those for whom free speech is more a luxury than a necessity, censorship is a vital tool in maintaining social peace and order. Perhaps the key argument made in defence of the idea of censorship to protect cultural or religious sensibilities is that speech must necessarily be less free in a plural society. In such a society, so the argument runs, we need to police public discourse about different cultures and beliefs both to minimise friction and to protect the dignity of individuals, particularly from minority communities. If people are to occupy the same space without conflict, they mutually have to limit the extent to which they subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism.
But, I take the opposite view. It is precisely because we do live in a plural society that we need the fullest extension possible of free speech. In such societies it is both inevitable and important that people offend the sensibilities of others. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. And they should be openly resolved, rather than suppressed in the name of “respect” or “tolerance”.
But more than this: the giving of offence is not just inevitable, but also important. Any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply-held sensibilities. Or to put it another way: “You can’t say that!” is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged. The notion that it is wrong to offend cultural or religious sensibilities suggests that certain beliefs are so important that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority. The right to “subject each others’ fundamental beliefs to criticism” is the bedrock of an open, diverse society, and the basis of promoting justice and liberties in such societies. Once we give up such a right we constrain our ability to challenge those in power, and therefore to challenge injustice.
The question we should ask ourselves, therefore, is not “should religious and cultural sensibilities ever limit free expression?” It is, rather, “should we ever allow religious and cultural sensibilities to limit our ability to challenge power and authority?” S.S.
——– End Email & Response ———
I tend to have a healthy respect for flirting with disaster. Life it self is a double edged sword for those of us with differing opinions, it is what it is. What I dislike about our society is the repeated trend that their must be silent voices on one side so we do not offend others offending us. It is a one way street for the easily offended. I made the choice not to travel on this street no longer, people will be offended because people are taught that someone else’s opinion isn’t relevant. I don’t want to, personally, silence the opinions of others, I just want to be free to have and express my own opinions. I would like to thank R.S. for the email, I hope that our debate has allowed us both to walk away better people.