Thursday, February 09, 2006

When freedom and piety collide

Helena Cobban's column in Christian Science Monitor is a quiet appeal to calmness.

So isn't this really an issue of "freedom of speech" clashing with the desire to protect the sacred? And as the world's cultures interact ever more closely, how can such conflicts be resolved? One ground rule must be to forswear all use of violence, and to try to resolve these questions through respectful dialogue. Beyond that, we should reexamine our definition of violence and inject into our dialogue a discussion of "sacredness" itself.

Regarding violence, I think it's helpful to consider "symbolic violence" - that is, attacks against certain very dearly loved symbols of things - to be a very serious matter. The publication of sacrilegious images, like the trashing of religious images or the burning of national flags, might all be seen as acts of such "symbolic violence," and should surely be forsworn in the interests of nonviolence and mutual respect among peoples.

She says it very well. That is why I consider the entire spectacle to be sub-Christian.

The appropriate response to fear is not the inspiration of a greater fear. The remedy is to somehow reassure those who are afraid that there is nothing to fear. Do you want an example? How about terrorism, the worst illustration of fear we have known? Does an increase in terrorism make us more reasonable or compliant with those who would make us their victims? I think not. Is there any reason to imagine that there is a different dynamic if we simply respond to terrorism with a greater terror?

As for profaning the sacred nothing need be said. No amount of sin on the part of others has ever justified anyone's wrongdoing.

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