Intelligent Design

The right to ridicule: what do readers think?

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By now, I expect that readers will have formed their own opinions about the tragic massacre of twelve people at the Paris headquarters of Charlie Hebdo. And I expect, too, that people will have read and digested the remarks subsequently made by His Holiness Pope Francis on the inappropriateness of ridiculing other people’s faith. In an interview aboard the papal plane, while flying from Sri Lanka to the Philippines, the Pope gestured towards Alberto Gasparri, a Vatican official who was standing next to him on board the plane, and said: “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch in the nose. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Most of my readers will have had the experience of having their own religious beliefs held up to ridicule. And on this blog, it is not unusual for some commenters to ridicule the beliefs – whether religious, philosophical or scientific – of other contributors. The design argument has itself been held up to ridicule – not only by materialists, but even by theistic philosophers such as Christopher Martin, who once wrote: “The Being whose existence is revealed to us by the argument from design is not God but the Great Architect of the Deists and Freemasons, an impostor disguised as God, a stern, kindly, and immensely clever old English gentleman, equipped with apron, trowel, square and compasses.”

Ridicule, even when it is biting, should always be civil; there is a difference, after all, between ridicule and abuse. The question I propose to examine here is whether ridicule itself is wrong, when it is directed at other people’s most sacred beliefs.

Although I’ll be making a few historical observations, I won’t be putting forward any arguments in this post, as I’d like to throw the discussion open to readers. Let me begin with a few clarifications. As media commentator Rachel Lu has pointed out, the Pope was making an off-the-cuff remark, and it was not clear what he meant when he suggested that speech should not be unfettered. There is no reason to suppose that he was advocating legal barriers to freedom of speech; instead, he may well have been referring to ethical limits, or he may have simply been asking people (and especially Christians) to discipline their tongues for the sake of peace, and out of respect for the feelings of others.

It would be extremely rude for someone to hold up to ridicule the religious beliefs of their next-door neighbor, their friends, their co-workers or their business associates. Courtesy should be the rule in our day-to-day dealings with others. However, the question I’d like to discuss is whether ridicule of religious beliefs is ever appropriate in a public forum – for example, in an online blog article, in an essay in a magazine, or in a speech at a public rally.

I should add, too, that while some have faulted Pope Francis for his “punch in the nose” comment, I can think of at least one hypothetical situation where such a response might be appropriate. Imagine that you are going to your local house of worship, as you regularly do, and that when you get there, you are surprised to find the entrance blocked by a horde of demonstrators shouting ugly slogans against people of your faith, and trying to physically prevent worshipers from getting into the building where they regularly meet. Although you abhor violence, you are determined to exercise your constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of worship, and in order to exercise that right, you might well need to throw a punch at one of the demonstrators blocking your way, in order to get through. (Yes, of course you would call the police first; but what if they were too busy to come, due to other, even more pressing matters, such as civil unrest? Or what if they were physically overwhelmed by the large crowd of demonstrators? It would be absurd to say that the worshipers should all meekly go home and never meet again at their house of worship, for a right which cannot be defended, by force if necessary, is no right at all.) Now suppose that you have finally made your way into your local house of worship, and that the people in your congregation have started their regular worship ceremony. Imagine that everyone now starts praying, and communing with the God Whom they all worship. Suddenly, at the very climax of the ceremony, the demonstrators burst into the assembly, interrupt the proceedings, start yelling nasty slogans, and shatter the communion that the worshipers were enjoying with their God, thereby making communal prayer impossible. Who would deny that the people in that congregation would be perfectly within their rights, morally speaking, in forcibly evicting the rowdy demonstrators from the building, and perhaps administering a punch in the nose to some of the more unruly ones who refused to leave?

Even in this hypothetical scenario, a punch in the nose would not be very politically savvy. A more intelligent strategy would be for the congregation of worshipers to lock arms in concentric circles around their pastor, with elderly women standing in the outermost circle, facing the protesters, and then proceed to hold an impromptu service. This would create a “no-win” situation for the protesters: in order to disrupt the service, they’d have to hit and shove elderly women, which would not look good on a Youtube video.

St. Ignatius and the donkey

Having said that, I am somewhat troubled by the Pope’s comparison between insulting someone’s faith and insulting their mother. The Pope himself is a Jesuit, so to illustrate my point, I’d like to cite a little episode from the life of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits. As a young man, St. Ignatius led a rather worldly life, before undergoing a dramatic spiritual conversion at the age of 30. A Jesuit blog tells the story of what happened next:

Shortly after his conversion, the ex-soldier and courtier Ignatius was riding down a dusty road in Spain in the company of a Muslim Moor. They were discussing religion, and, not surprisingly, they disagreed on a few points. The Moor angrily ended the discussion and rode off. As a parting shot, he made some insulting remarks about the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ignatius was outraged. He thought it might be his knightly duty to defend the honor of Mary by killing the Moor, but he wasn’t sure that would be consistent with his new faith. He left the decision up to the donkey he was riding. They were approaching a crossroads. If the donkey took the road that the Moor took, Ignatius would follow and kill him. If the beast took the other road, he would let him go. The donkey took the other road.

Now, St. Ignatius could have said to himself, “Our Lady is my spiritual mother, and this man just insulted her. He deserves a punch in the nose.” But he didn’t. The rest is history.

Why insulting someone’s faith is not like insulting their mother

There are two reasons why insulting someone’s faith is not like insulting their mother. First, most of us cannot help loving our mothers; for to love your mother is the most natural thing in the world. It is not something we choose to do. Religion, by contrast, is a matter of choice: even if we are raised in a particular religion, there is nothing compelling us to remain in it. Second, mothers have certain rights, because they are human beings. Religions, on the other hand, are ideas; and ideas have no rights. Thus it is simply absurd to speak of a religion as having the right not to be ridiculed. Nor does it make sense to say that I have the right not to have my beliefs ridiculed. Once again, beliefs have no rights, and they do not acquire any rights simply by virtue of being mine. Finally, the pompous assertion (which is made in all seriousness by some people) that I have the “blanket right” not to be ridiculed for anything I think, say or do, simply will not withstand scrutiny. It is certainly wrong to ridicule someone for something beyond their control – e.g. their physical appearance, or a disability or disease from which they are suffering. But beliefs, like actions, are choices, and as such, they are within my control. And if I make a particularly stupid choice – e.g. embracing a faddish new religion that is known to have been founded by a charlatan – then surely I deserve to be ridiculed for it. Such ridicule may be impolite, but it is not unmerited.

Another thing I’d like to point out is that there is a long tradition, within the Judeo-Christian tradition, of ridiculing other people’s religious beliefs. The Bible records some of the prophets ridiculing paganism, and some of the early Christian Fathers did the same. Rival religions, such as Manicheism and Islam, were ridiculed by other Fathers of the Church, from the fourth century onwards.

Ridicule of pagan religions in the Bible

Here, for instance, is Elijah mocking the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:22-29, NIV):

22Then Elijah said to [the people], “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

And here is Isaiah, taunting idol worshippers (Isaiah 44: 9-13, 16-17, NIV):

9 All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.

10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?

11 People who do that will be put to shame;
such craftsmen are only human beings.
Let them all come together and take their stand;
they will be brought down to terror and shame.
12 The blacksmith takes a tool
and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
he drinks no water and grows faint.
13 The carpenter measures with a line
and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
human form in all its glory,
that it may dwell in a shrine…
16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”

How the early Christian Fathers ridiculed paganism

Likewise, the early Christians did not hesitate to ridicule the beliefs of the pagans living in their midst. St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.) mocked idol worshippers in his First Apology:

Chapter 9. Folly of idol worship

And neither do we honour with many sacrifices and garlands of flowers such deities as men have formed and set in shrines and called gods; since we see that these are soulless and dead, and have not the form of God (for we do not consider that God has such a form as some say that they imitate to His honour), but have the names and forms of those wicked demons which have appeared. For why need we tell you who already know, into what forms the craftsmen (Isaiah 44:9-20; Jeremiah 10:3), carving and cutting, casting and hammering, fashion the materials? And often out of vessels of dishonour, by merely changing the form, and making an image of the requisite shape, they make what they call a god; which we consider not only senseless, but to be even insulting to God, who, having ineffable glory and form, thus gets His name attached to things that are corruptible, and require constant service. And that the artificers of these are both intemperate, and, not to enter into particulars, are practised in every vice, you very well know; even their own girls who work along with them they corrupt. What infatuation! That dissolute men should be said to fashion and make gods for your worship, and that you should appoint such men the guardians of the temples where they are enshrined; not recognising that it is unlawful even to think or say that men are the guardians of gods.

And here is St. Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-215) disparaging the Roman god Zeus, in his Exhortation to the Heathen:

Thou makest Zeus venerable, O Homer; and the nod which thou dost ascribe to him is most reverend. But show him only a woman’s girdle, and Zeus is exposed, and his locks are dishonoured. To what a pitch of licentiousness did that Zeus of yours proceed, who spent so many nights in voluptuousness with Alcmene?…

This is Jupiter the good, the prophetic, the patron of hospitality, the protector of suppliants, the benign, the author of omens, the avenger of wrongs; rather the unjust, the violater of right and of law, the impious, the inhuman, the violent, the seducer, the adulterer, the amatory…

For Zeus is dead, be not distressed, as Leda is dead, and the swan, and the eagle, and the libertine, and the serpent. And now even the superstitious seem, although reluctantly, yet truly, to have come to understand their error respecting the Gods…

Is it not clear that they are those we have mentioned, and those of more renown, the great demons, Apollo, Artemis, Leto, Demeter, Core, Pluto, Hercules, and Zeus himself?

I can imagine that many pagans, upon hearing their chief god described as “inhuman,” an “adulterer,” “dead” and even as a “great demon,” might well have felt deeply offended by such remarks. If someone wishes to say that it is wrong to ridicule other people’s religious faith, then it seems that they have no choice but to condemn St. Clement of Alexandria for saying what he did.

Writing at around the same time, the African Church Father Tertullian (c. 160-225 A.D.) maintained that Christians, being in possession of the truth, have not only the right but also the duty to engage in gentle ridicule of false religious opinions:

What I have now done is only a little sport before the real combat. I have rather indicated the wounds that might be given you, than inflicted any. If the reader has met with passages which have excited his risibility, he must ascribe this to the subjects themselves. There are many things which deserve to be held up in this way to ridicule and mockery, lest, by a serious refutation, we should attach a weight to them which they do not deserve. Nothing is more due to vanity than laughter; and it is the Truth properly that has a right to laugh, because she is cheerful, and to make sport of her enemies, because she is sure of the victory. Care must be taken, indeed, that the raillery is not too low, and unworthy of the truth; but, keeping this in view, when ridicule may be employed with effect, it is a duty to avail ourselves of it… To treat them seriously would be to sanction them.
(Adversus Valentinianos 6,2. CCL, p. 757; V 183, lines 7f. Quoted by Blaise Pascal in his Provincial Letters, chapter 11.)

True to his word, Tertullian did not hesitate to ridicule pagan religious practices in his Apology to the Emperor (Chapter XIV):

I shall now take a review of the rites of your religion, but will not insist upon the quality of your sacrifices, which you know to be the oldest and scabidest beasts you can find; if they happen to be fat and good, you chop off the hoofs and some outside bit, and such pieces only you vouchsafe your gods, which you bestow upon your dogs and slaves. Instead of offering Hercules the tenth of your goods, you hardly lay one third of it upon his altar; not that I blame you for this, for believe me, I take it for a great instance of your wisdom, to save some of that which otherwise would be all lost.

But I shall turn to your writings; and, bless me! what strange stuff about your gods do I find, even in your institutions of prudence, and such books as are designed to polish a gentleman, and form him to all the offices of a civil life! Here I find your gods engaged by pairs like gladiators, one against another, helter skelter, some for Greeks, and some for Trojans. Venus wounded with a human shaft in rescuing her son Aeneas from Diomedes, just upon the point of killing him. The god of war in chains for thirteen months, and in a very lamentable pickle; and Jove by the help of a monster narrowly escaping the like treatment from the rest of the celestial gang. One while he is represented crying for his Sarpedon, another while in the arms of his grunting sister, recounting his amours, and protesting that of all his mistresses she is the darling. Besides, which of your poets takes not the liberty to disgrace a god for a compliment to his prince ? One makes Apollo King Admetus’s shepherd; another makes Neptune bricklayer to Laomedon; and the man of lyrics, Pindar, I mean, sings of Aesculapius’s being thunderstruck for abusing his skill in physic out of covetousness. But I must needs say that Jove did ill, if Jove was the thunderer, in being so unnatural to his nephew, and so envious to so fine an artist. However, these things, if true, ought not to be divulged; nor invented, if false, by any who pretend so much zeal for the gods and their religion. But neither tragedians nor comedians are one bit more tender of the reputation of your deities; for you shall not meet a prologue that is not stuffed with the disasters and excesses of the family of some god or other.

The early Christians ridiculed rival religions, too

The early Christians’ ridicule of other religions was not confined to paganism; it extended to new rival religions, as well. Long after Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430 A.D.) held up to ridicule the beliefs to the dualistic Manichees – a sect to which he once belonged – in his work, On the Morals of the Manichaeans:

Chapter 19

67. We see then, now, the nature of your three symbols. These are your customs. This is the end of your notable precepts, in which there is nothing sure, nothing steadfast, nothing consistent, nothing irreproachable, but all doubtful, or rather undoubtedly and entirely false, all contradictory, abominable, absurd. In a word, evil practices are detected in your customs so many and so serious, that one wishing to denounce them all, if he were at all able to enlarge, would require at least a separate treatise for each. Were you to observe these, and to act up to your profession, no childishness, or folly, or absurdity would go beyond yours; and when you praise and teach these things without doing them, you display craft and deceit and malevolence equal to anything that can be described or imagined.

The early Christian Fathers even ridiculed other Christians whose beliefs they considered heretical. Thus St. Jerome (347-420), a contemporary of St. Augustine who translated the Bible into Latin, disparaged the heretic Helvidius in his treatise, On the Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, as “an ignorant boor who has scarce known the first glimmer of learning,” and cuttingly added: “To defend his position he piles up text upon text, waves his sword like a blind-folded gladiator, rattles his noisy tongue, and ends with wounding no one but himself.”

Nor did the ridicule stop there. In the seventh century, St. John Damascene (675/676-749) mocked Islam in his classic, The Fount of Knowledge, as the following excerpts reveal:

There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist.… From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy. Then, having insinuated himself into the good graces of the people by a show of seeming piety, he gave out that a certain book had been sent down to him from heaven. He had set down some ridiculous compositions in this book of his and he gave it to them as an object of veneration.

But when we ask: ‘And who is there to testify that God gave him the book? And which of the prophets foretold that such a prophet would rise up?’—they are at a loss. And we remark that Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai, with God appearing in the sight of all the people in cloud, and fire, and darkness, and storm. And we say that all the Prophets from Moses on down foretold the coming of Christ and how Christ God (and incarnate Son of God) was to come and to be crucified and die and rise again, and how He was to be the judge of the living and dead. Then, when we say: ‘How is it that this prophet of yours did not come in the same way, with others bearing witness to him? And how is it that God did not in your presence present this man with the book to which you refer, even as He gave the Law to Moses, with the people looking on and the mountain smoking, so that you, too, might have certainty?’—they answer that God does as He pleases…

As has been related, this Mohammed wrote many ridiculous books, to each one of which he set a title. For example, there is the book On Woman, in which he plainly makes legal provision for taking four wives and, if it be possible, a thousand concubines – as many as one can maintain, besides the four wives. He also made it legal to put away whichever wife one might wish, and, should one so wish, to take to oneself another in the same way. Mohammed had a friend named Zeid. This man had a beautiful wife with whom Mohammed fell in love. Once, when they were sitting together, Mohammed said: ‘Oh, by the way, God has commanded me to take your wife.’ The other answered: ‘You are an apostle. Do as God has told you and take my wife.’

St. John Damascene evidently did not believe that it was wrong to ridicule other people’s religious beliefs. And surely ridicule is appropriate when its target is a religion whose founder consummated his marriage to his favorite wife when she was only nine or ten years old, who wrote in his holy book (which was allegedly dictated by an angel) that men are entitled to hit disobedient wives, and who personally approved the cruel slaughter of over 800 men and boys (and at least one woman) from a Jewish tribe which had surrendered to him, despite the fact that they had never offered the slightest resistance to him in the first place. One of the surviving women became his personal sex slave; the others were parceled out among his men, or sold to procure more weapons. Moreover, these acts by the founder have never been disowned by this religion’s followers; nor have these followers ever formally renounced the use of violence in the name of religion. People who want to learn more about the history of this religion can find out more here.

By contrast, Judaism and Christianity unequivocally condemn religious violence and affirm that “Every person has the right to express his religious beliefs in worship, teaching and practice, and to proclaim the implications of his beliefs for relationships in a social or political community,” as the World Council of Churches aptly put it in its Declaration on Religious Liberty that was adopted in Amsterdam in August 1948. And while the interpretation of Biblical texts which appear to countenance religious violence remains controverted, both Jews and Christians teach that such violence has no place in today’s world.

Christian ridicule of atheism dates back to the fourth century

Atheism has been ridiculed by Christians from the fourth century onwards, beginning with the Christian thinker Lactantius (c. 240-320), who mocked the crude atomism espoused by the Greek philosopher Epicurus in Book III of his work, The Divine Institutes:

There is no need, he [Epicurus] says, of supposing a providence; for there are seeds floating through the empty void, and from these, collected together without order, all things are produced and take their form. Why, then, do we not perceive or distinguish them? Because, he says, they have neither any colour, nor warmth, nor smell; they are also without flavour and moisture; and they are so minute, that they cannot be cut and divided.

Thus, because he had taken up a false principle at the commencement, the necessity of the subjects which followed led him to absurdities. For where or from whence are these atoms? Why did no one dream of them besides Leucippus only? From whom Democritus, having received instructions, left to Epicurus the inheritance of his folly. And if these are minute bodies, and indeed solid, as they say, they certainly are able to fall under the notice of the eyes. If the nature of all things is the same, how is it that they compose various objects? They meet together, he says, in varied order and position as the letters which, though few in number, by variety of arrangement make up innumerable words. But it is urged the letters have a variety of forms. And so, he says, have these first principles; for they are rough, they are furnished with hooks, they are smooth. Therefore they can be cut and divided, if there is in them any part which projects. But if they are smooth and without hooks, they cannot cohere. They ought therefore to he hooked, that they may be linked together one with another. But since they are said to be so minute that they cannot be cut asunder by the edge of any weapon, how is it that they have hooks or angles? For it must be possible for these to be torn asunder, since they project. In the next place, by what mutual compact, by what discernment, do they meet together, so that anything may be constructed out of them? If they are without intelligence, they cannot come together in such order and arrangement; for nothing but reason can bring to accomplishment anything in accordance with reason. With how many arguments can this trifling be refuted! But I must proceed with my subject. This is he

Who surpassed in intellect the race of man, and quenched the light of all, as the ethereal sun arisen quenches the stars.

Which verses I am never able to read without laughter. For this was not said respecting Socrates or Plato, who are esteemed as kings of philosophers, but concerning a man who, though of sound mind and vigorous health, raved more senselessly than any one diseased.

The Christian tradition of mocking atheism continued into the seventeenth century, when Francis Bacon (1561-1626) penned his famous essay Of Atheism:

I had rather believe all the fables in the Legend, and the Talmud, and the Alcoran, than that this universal frame is without a mind. And therefore, God never wrought miracle, to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity. Nay, even that school which is most accused of atheism doth most demonstrate religion; that is, the school of Leucippus and Democritus and Epicurus. For it is a thousand times more credible, that four mutable elements, and one immutable fifth essence, duly and eternally placed, need no God, than that an army of infinite small portions, or seeds unplaced, should have produced this order and beauty, without a divine marshal.

Christian ridicule of materialistic atheism in more recent times

In our own time, the Catholic thinker Gilbert Keith Chesterton made materialistic atheists the brunt of his ridicule in his 1908 classic, Orthodoxy. In chapter II, which is appropriately titled, “The Maniac,” Chesterton pokes fun at the lunacy to which determinism leads:

Now it is the charge against the main deductions of the materialist that, right or wrong, they gradually destroy his humanity; I do not mean only kindness, I mean hope, courage, poetry, initiative, all that is human. For instance, when materialism leads men to complete fatalism (as it generally does), it is quite idle to pretend that it is in any sense a liberating force. It is absurd to say that you are especially advancing freedom when you only use free thought to destroy free will. The determinists come to bind, not to loose. They may well call their law the “chain” of causation. It is the worst chain that ever fettered a human being. You may use the language of liberty, if you like, about materialistic teaching, but it is obvious that this is just as inapplicable to it as a whole as the same language when applied to a man locked up in a mad-house. You may say, if you like, that the man is free to think himself a poached egg. But it is surely a more massive and important fact that if he is a poached egg he is not free to eat, drink, sleep, walk, or smoke a cigarette. Similarly you may say, if you like, that the bold determinist speculator is free to disbelieve in the reality of the will. But it is a much more massive and important fact that he is not free to raise, to curse, to thank, to justify, to urge, to punish, to resist temptations, to incite mobs, to make New Year resolutions, to pardon sinners, to rebuke tyrants, or even to say “thank you” for the mustard.

The Christian apologist (and former atheist) C. S. Lewis did not spare atheists his ridicule, mocking the shallowness of their writings in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. In a chapter titled, “The Shape of my Early Life,” Lewis wrote:

All the books were beginning to turn against me. Indeed, I must have been blind as a bat not to have seen it long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader. George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity that he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it. Chesterton has more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spenser and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too. Even among ancient authors the same paradox was to be found. The most religious (Plato, Aeschylus, Virgil) were clearly those on whom I could really feed. On the other hand, those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete — Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire — all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny”. It wasn’t that I didn’t like them. They were all (especially Gibbon) entertaining; but hardly more. There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.

Now, it might be argued that since atheism is not a religious belief, it is a fair target for mockery. But there is a price to be paid for the right to mock anything, even unbelief: those who engage in mockery must expect to find themselves the target of it. Religious people who mock atheism must expect unbelievers to retaliate in kind – as indeed they have.

Of course, it is one thing to ask whether mockery of people’s most sacred beliefs is sometimes justifiable; but it is quite another to ask whether it is productive. One prominent atheist who does not think so is Jeffrey Jay Lowder, the co-founder and past President of Internet Infidels, who argues that it’s self-defeating to ridicule people’s religious beliefs; atheist blogger John Loftus has responded here and has defended the use of ridicule from a secular perspective at further length here. In my opinion, Lowder has a point when he argues that ridicule usually doesn’t change people’s minds; it just makes people more defensive. However, Loftus makes a valid point too, when he writes that ridicule can serve a valuable purpose by showing that the Emperor has no clothes. What both writers overlook, of course, is that modern atheism, with its concoction of an infinite number of multiverses in order to explain the apparent fine-tuning of our own universe, has rendered itself far more ridiculous than any Biblical story claiming that “all human woes stem from an incident in which a talking snake accosted a naked woman in a primeval garden and talked her into eating a piece of fruit,” as atheist Professor Keith Parsons derisively puts it in a post titled, How do you Solve a Problem like Fundamentalism? . For the Biblical story, pared down to its essentials, affirms something profound: that human suffering is the result of bad choices made by human beings (in this case, the first human beings, Adam and Eve, who made a fateful decision on behalf of the entire human race). What materialism tells us is something absurd: that libertarian free choice is an illusion, and that all of our voluntary actions are ultimately determined by circumstances beyond our control; and yet at the same time, we are supposed to believe that there are certain social norms that we ought to follow. Sorry, but the moral concept of “ought” doesn’t apply to robots: it does not compute.

Pascal on the virtue of ridicule

I’d like to close this post with a quote from the great Christian thinker Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who vigorously defended the use of ridicule against his theological opponents, the Jesuits, in his classic work, the Provincial Letters:

Do not then expect, fathers, to make people believe that it is unworthy of a Christian to treat error with derision. Nothing is easier than to convince all who were not aware of it before, that this practice is perfectly just—that it is common with the fathers of the Church, and that it is sanctioned by Scripture, by the example of the best of saints, and even by that of God himself.

Do we not find that God at once hates and despises sinners; so that even at the hour of death, when their condition is most sad and deplorable, Divine Wisdom adds mockery to the vengeance which consigns them to eternal punishment? “In interitu vestro ridebo et subsannabo — I will laugh at your calamity.”

The saints, too, influenced by the same feeling, will join in the derision; for, according to David, when they witness the punishment of the wicked, “they shall fear, and yet laugh at it — videbunt justi et timebunt, et super eum ridebunt.

And Job says: “Innocens zubsannabit eos—The innocent shall laugh at them.”

…I am sure, fathers, these sacred examples are sufficient to convince you, that to deride the errors and extravagances of man is not inconsistent with the practice of the saints; otherwise we must blame that of the greatest doctors of the Church, who have been guilty of it — such as St Jerome, in his letters and writings against Jovinian, Vigilantius, and the Pelagians; Tertullian, in his Apology against the follies of idolaters; St Augustine against the monks of Africa, whom he styles “the hairy men;” St Irenaeus against the Gnostics; St Bernard and the other fathers of the Church, who, having been the imitators of the apostles, ought to be imitated by the faithful in all time coming; for, say what we will, they are the true models for Christians, even of the present day.
(From Pascal’s Provincial Letters, Letter XI, May 28, 1656.)

I will conclude my historical survey with a brief observation. Whatever one thinks of Pope Francis’ view that we should not mock the religious beliefs of others, one thing is certain: many leading Christian thinkers down the ages thought otherwise. Who is right is a subject which I shall leave for my readers to adjudicate.

38 Replies to “The right to ridicule: what do readers think?

  1. 1
    kairosfocus says:

    VJT,

    interesting thoughts.

    My own comment is:

    1 –> ridicule must never be substituted for reason, where

    2 –> a now sadly familiar tactic is the red herring dragged away to a strawman caricature soaked in ad hominems and set alight through snide or blatantly hateful words, to cloud, confuse, poison and polarise the atmosphere; frustrating seeking and serving the truth. (And all too often there is a tendency to turn about a matter and project compounding accusations through the rhetoric of he hit back first.)

    3 –> Similarly, right to ridicule too often becomes a perceived right to hate, mock, dehumanise and target. (Including, target uninvolved family etc as rhetorical hostage-taking. And, a term above, fundamentalism, has been pounced on, taken hostage, twisted, taken from one context and tainted with blood in another then generally abused as a term of dismissive contempt so much that it no longer has any reasonable content; apart from, in very narrow contexts in which it denotes a position on a debate over a cluster of creedally linked Christian positions. The pretence that it is academically significant, in that light, speaks volumes on thinly veiled contempt. This is a case of “go get your own word.”)

    4 –> Likewise, too often on matters at stake at or around UD, resort to the rhetoric of distraction (including that of mockery) is substituted for substantial argumentation to make the case for evolutionary materialism or else to actually address its challenges. It seems that dressing it up in a lab coat is held to be enough. [Cf. here and here on two relevant cases of the fundamental case to be answered, and here for a 101 on the core warranting case for the faith most often targetted today, the Christian position.]

    5 –> In other cases, that one has a right in the abstract does not answer to, has one acted in accord with duties of fairness, civility, respect for the rights of others (that infamous church invasion in NYC is a classic in point) and seriousness in addressing issues. Not to mention, the matter of tort.

    6 –> I must add, too, that for those who are fundamentally running on rage, ridicule and associated fallacies may be confused for good argument. That is the point of Ari’s warning in The Rhetoric Bk I Ch 2, that our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are very different from what happens when we are pained and hostile.

    7 –> Balancing that, I am insulted is no excuse for murder. Which, is what has been headlined.

    KF

  2. 2
    Jerad says:

    You know the worst thing about being an atheist and not believing in life-after-death?

    Not being able to say: see, I told you so.

    I welcome any and all to make fun of my beliefs, they’re not sacred. 🙂

  3. 3
    Andre says:

    I have no issue with ridicule but will only say this…… Tolerance has bred intolerance.

  4. 4
    kairosfocus says:

    Jerad, there is a big assumption there, one that I think should be re-assessed. KF

  5. 5
    kairosfocus says:

    Andre, you have a point. KF

  6. 6
    bornagain77 says:

    an atheist on:

    Why Islam Is More Violent Than Christianity: An Atheist’s Guide – January 27, 2015
    http://thefederalist.com/2015/.....sts-guide/

    (perhaps a Muslim can do an article on why atheism is more violent than Islam?)

  7. 7
    News says:

    Thanks much, Vincent Torley, for a careful and thoughtful reflection.

    I am a free speech journalist who watched all this unfold in Canada, where we have actually beaten it back a bit. But the battle continues, and we could lose ground, as most of Europe has.

    Just three things:

    1. Many do not confront the realities. Progressivism/leftism (many of whose adherents are new atheists) is not a tradition compatible with civil liberties or free speech as such. It is a naturalist tradition according to which the mind is merely a product of the brain, and people can be coerced for their own good.

    2. The “religion” we are usually talking about is Islam, which does not have a tradition of free speech either, for possibly different underlying reasons. But I will let a more knowledgeable person speak to that.

    Because neither progressives nor Islamists believe people should have free speech, they often take the same side of various conflicts, as we learned in Canada. The two groups hate serious Christians, observant Jews, and people who ask questions for different reasons. But no question, they DO hate us.

    I suspect the progressives know the Islamists will win, principally because Islamists tend to have more children than abortions. So possibly the progressives expect to be eaten last.

    3. This conflict can bode no good for science in the present day (I am not questioning the past glories of science in Islam, as set forth by Jim Al-Khalili on the BBC. But Muslims were allowed to think for themselves back then, which doubtless made the difference. Or so a Canadian Muslim political commentator has explained to me.)

    The big problem for science in the present day was not created by Muslims, but by progressives. It is this: The multiverse replaced space exploration. The multiverse got rid of the concept of fine tuning (which might imply theism) by presenting us with a cosmos where speculation ranks with findings. Where the history of life is largely a search for a cosmos where vast amounts of information just get generated randomly – even though that can’t happen. Where theories about human nature generally have no merit except that they conform to naturalism (nature is all there is).

    Oh yes, and endless bitching about the fact that people don’t believe in or fund “science.”

    Well, there’s a start. Let’s NOT believe in or fund “science.” Let’s get back to the achievements that made real science matter.

  8. 8
    Axel says:

    Wow, Andre! I was going to say that the nature of freedom is hellishly misunderstood by atheists as open-ended – consonant with their subjective morality.

    But as KF indicated, you’ve taken it all to a different level, identifying the intolerance, perversely, in the very name of freedom that it has led to!!!!

  9. 9
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Likewise, the early Christians did not hesitate to ridicule the beliefs of the pagans living in their midst. St. Justin Martyr (c. 100-165 A.D.) mocked idol worshippers in his First Apology

    Notice Justin’s ‘last name’.

    Yes, ridicule is necessary. You could cite Jesus and St. John the Baptist also. Sometimes it’s the only teaching method that will work. At the same time, it comes with certain expectations.

    In the Christian context it doesn’t call for retaliation or vengence – even when there is a violent backlash against the ridicule.

  10. 10
    Silver Asiatic says:

    News

    I suspect the progressives know the Islamists will win, principally because Islamists tend to have more children than abortions. So possibly the progressives expect to be eaten last.

    That seems right. Terrorists won’t go after the cool people until there’s nobody else left.

    There’s also a hateful kind of ridicule – meant to destroy the other person – versus a ridicule that is meant to correct or teach. Ok, it’s hard to tell the difference.

    There’s a lot of hatred for Islam and it comes across in crude ridicule. The ‘better alternative’ is supposedly Western nihilism, but that’s just despair.

    Agreed – the progressive left knows Islam will win. Interestingly, the principles of unbridled freedom and irrational tolerance actually make that inevitable.

    There seemed to be a lot of joy when the terrorists were gunned down – and the French police are adding more weapons and surveillance to their disposal.

    I haven’t heard much about how the terrorists should have been captured alive and given a fair trial.

  11. 11
    bornagain77 says:

    After reading some of the ridicule of Theists towards atheists/pagans, it seems to me that the ridicule coming from Theists towards atheists/pagans is, generally, of a much more refined nature than the brutish, even crude, ridicule coming from atheists towards Theists.

    Indeed there seems to be an fine art to ridicule with the best artists of ridicule being able to make their opponent laugh with them:

    Reagan and the age issue – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?x-yt-cl=84838260&v=fJhCjMfRndk&x-yt-ts=1422327029

  12. 12
    Starbuck says:

    Elijah didnt just ridicule a different religion: 40 Then Elijah said, “Capture the prophets of Baal! Don’t let any of them run away!” The people captured all the prophets. Then Elijah led them down to the Kishon Valley, where he killed them.

  13. 13
    velikovskys says:

    Sa:

    That seems right. Terrorists won’t go after the cool people until there’s nobody else left.

    No cool people in the Towers? Pakistan? Utoya Island?

  14. 14
    Axel says:

    When theists, notably Christians, ridicule atheists, it is aimed at the vacuity at the very core of their beliefs.

    When atheists ridicule Christians, their aim is, in reality, usually the ‘traditions of men’, cultural abominations that have disfigured our witness to the Gospel Jesus preached.

    Not that their critique is usually intellectually-conceived, anyway, the constraints on expression of the libido of Christians, outside of marriage, being perhaps their prime objection, at least while they are still relatively young.

  15. 15
    Petrushka says:

    I would argue that there is a difference between a political right and politeness.

    It is always impolite to offend other people, but that does not translate into a legal imperative.

  16. 16
    Mapou says:

    As a christian, I am offended whenever atheists say there is no God and I am offended when muslims say that Jesus was not the son of God and was not resurrected. To me, that is blasphemy. But will I go into a fit of rage and kill the offenders? No.

  17. 17
    Axel says:

    Politeness, polish, is not a moral imperative either. I’ve never read of anyone speaking as habitually brusquely as Jesus did.

    Yep, Mapou. We offer them the word of Life. It is their prerogative to accept it or to reject it – just as it was Lucifer’s.

    Interesting that liberal-atheist, self-styled ‘progressives’ would cast Lucifer as a freedom-fighter.

  18. 18
    Petrushka says:

    Mapou:

    I suspect you are offended by more than just atheists. You would probably be offended by a teacher or politician presenting to your kids any of a number of false doctrines.

    I don’t know what your church or creed is, but if you are a mainstream Christian — even evangelical — you might be offended by someone trying to convert your kids to Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witness, Christian Science, Adventism, maybe even Quakerism.

    Almost certainly Satanism, Scientology Islam, Paganism. The list of isms to be offended by could go on and on.

    And each believer in an ism can — under some circumstances — be offended by all the other isms. After all, they all think the others are wrong. And history is full of murders and wars intended to spread (or prevent the spread) of isms.

    I’m going to repeat myself. It is impolite to offend other people — particularly if the offense is gratuitous and not in the context of a mutually agreed upon debate. I don’t know about your friends and family, but in my circle of acquaintances, there are eggshell topics that are avoided.

    But Western civilization seems to have grown tired of endless wars and violence and decided that offence is not acceptable grounds for violence. And laws are just a way of handing over the use of force to police.

  19. 19
    Mapou says:

    Starbuck:

    Elijah didnt just ridicule a different religion: 40 Then Elijah said, “Capture the prophets of Baal! Don’t let any of them run away!” The people captured all the prophets. Then Elijah led them down to the Kishon Valley, where he killed them.

    Elijah is my kind of prophet. He’s nobody’s female dog, that’s for sure. And he is prophesied to come again and restore all things to prepare the way for the coming of Yahweh. Watch out, now.

  20. 20
    Petrushka says:

    Interesting that liberal-atheist, self-styled ‘progressives’ would cast Lucifer as a freedom-fighter.

    That thought is as least as old as Milton.

  21. 21
    StephenB says:

    In a sense, the question answers itself. Ridiculous ideas deserve to be ridiculed. That is what the word “ridiculous” means–deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd.

    However, that begs the question to a certain extent. Not everyone is wise enough to know which ideas or people truly deserve to be ridiculed or whether the ridicule should be mild or severe. Jesus did not deserve to be mocked; Herod, “the fox,” did.

    Everyone knows that ridicule, like humor, can make a point more effectively than just about any other form of communication. When we laugh; we get it–and we remember. Like a firearm, ridicule is no better or worse than the person who pulls the trigger.

    So we need to change the question to this: When is ridicule appropriate and what form should it take? Does the ridiculer have the wisdom and skill to direct it at the right target and the self control to divert it from the wrong target.

  22. 22
    Silver Asiatic says:

    velikovskys

    No cool people in the Towers? Pakistan? Utoya Island?

    That’s a good reason why they shouldn’t think they’ll be the last to survive.

  23. 23
    Robert Byers says:

    One can ridicule a false faith if its for a important reason to lead to the true faith. As long as no hate is involved towards the people in that false faith. I guess also a general laughing as long as no disrespect or hate to someone.
    The bible documents ridicule as right in the old testament.
    punching or killing is never justified even when provoked.
    its pride and hate about minor things.
    Islam should not be insulted because its not really about their faith but the accusation that their faith affects events and causes.
    As long as their is prohibition about some faiths/peoples then its all the more obvious Islam of Christian should not be insulted.
    if they did to Judaism what they do to Islam in insults there would be charges of vile anti-semitism and it wouldn’t last long.
    As long as a double standard exists then islam has a right to be angry.
    Yet murder is too be stopped and punished.
    How can there be a question of how people should treat each other in these days.
    The civilizations are not being run properly.

  24. 24
    rvb8 says:

    vjtorley,
    in your first example you seem to advocate mild violence when your church is being staunchly protested against, (don’t worry the chance of that happening where you live is zero, and therefore I have to question the honesty of this example). However, that is exactly the feeling of violation Islamists feel when they look at a bloody cartoon. You say you are merely defending your faith and church with mild violence; Mr Torley that is their argument, just ramped up a bit!

    Your second example of St Ignatius is just as unedifying. In this case he leaves the decision of retribution, and thus life and death, up to his donkey. Did he leave many important decisions up to his donkey, or did he hold communion with St Francis so that St Francis could interpret the animals real thoughts and language?

    Please remove religion and leave these decisions in the hands of people far, far more capable than they; humanists. Your own Constitution covers Free Speech very well. No where does it say you have a Right not to be mocked or laughed at, or your ideas, or your RELIGION, held up to justifiable ridicule. (‘Joshua got God to make the sun stand still’; no he didn’t you loon!)

    To quote J.S. Mill; “If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion,and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person,than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” Ridicule, mockery, parody, satire, irony, slap-stick, all the tools of humour should be used to mock the powerful, in this case Islam, or in another, the rediculous Popish utterances.

  25. 25
    Seversky says:

    Thoughts?

    “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say” apocryphally attributed to Voltaire

    J S Mill’s view as quoted by rvb8 above.

    Question: of all the world’s great charters, acts, bills and declarations of fundamental human rights, how many include a specific right not to be offended?

    If being offended is a sufficient justification for violence, however minor, does that mean that I am entitled to punch the Pope or some contributors to this blog? Fortunately for us all, I don’t believe that is the case. I say fortunately because there are people here and elsewhere whose views I find as deeply offensive as I know they find mine. Or does my sense of offense count for nothing compared with that of true believers?

    A few years back in that bastion of parliamentary democracy and human rights, the United Kingdom, individuals were being arrested for wearing and prosecuted for selling T-shirts. The reason? They bore the slogan “Bollocks to Blair”. Certain onlookers had been offended by this and expressed their disquiet to the police. Thus alerted to this major threat to public order, they acted swiftly. Collars were felt, warnings, cautions and summonses to appear before the courts were issued. The full weight of the law was brought down on the heads of those who had dared to express a political opinion that some found offensive. How does that make the British look in light of what happened at Charlie Hebdo and “Je suis Charlie!”? Officially suppressing the same right to freely express an opinion for which the French cartoonists were killed for exercising.

    The thing about rights is that once they’re taken away it’s very hard to get them back short of serious violence.

  26. 26
    rvb8 says:

    I personally believe the Holocaust Denial laws in several European countries to be an embarrassed reaction to the anti-semetic history of these countries.

    I have never agreed with Seversky. However his support of Free Speech is admirable, and at odds with Mr Torley, as any thinking person must be.

    What we are protecting ourselves against, is the denial of any person to say the most offensive twaddle, the kind of offensive twaddle best exemplified by a person who contributes regularly here. He can be seen explaining quite clearly the mind of the zealot, at post number 23; Robert Byers.

    “One can ridicule a false faith if its for a important reason to lead to the true faith.” (sic)

    I could not have asked an Islamic militant of ISIS to more clearly state why vjtorley, the Pope, mr Byers, and all other people who know ‘the TRUE faith’, should be roundly ridiculed. However, Mr Byers never ending women bashing, anti-semitism, and hatred for gays should not be banned, merely ridiculed, as they so richly deserve to be.

    Thank you Mr Byers for so ineloquently making my case.

  27. 27
    velikovskys says:

    SA,

    No cool people in the Towers? Pakistan? Utoya Island?

    That’s a good reason why they shouldn’t think they’ll be the last to survive.

    They don’t ,you did.

  28. 28
    Andre says:

    Axel

    Thank you for the acknowledgement, here is my full quote posted the other day.

    “Thanks to tolerance, we now have to deal with intolerance. If I have one wish it would be that the world could get rid of relativism. Post-modernists brought us this world view and the fruits of their labour is an increase in misery and despair. The world is groaning from the strain this has put on societies. Intellectual cowardice is the order of the day, instead of engaging in disagreement in a reasonable and intellectual manner on something it’s become easier to just shout out, You Bigot!

    Tolerance has bred intolerance.”

  29. 29
    Andre says:

    Daniel Dennett frames it best.

    “Philosopher Daniel Dennett declared, “Postmodernism, the school of ‘thought’ that proclaimed ‘There are no truths, only interpretations’ has largely played itself out in absurdity, but it has left behind a generation of academics in the humanities disabled by their distrust of the very idea of truth and their disrespect for evidence, settling for ‘conversations’ in which nobody is wrong and nothing can be confirmed, only asserted with whatever style you can muster.”

    See why tolerance has bred intolerance?

  30. 30
    DillyGill says:

    rvb8 @ 24 says
    “Please remove religion and leave these decisions in the hands of people far, far more capable than they; humanists. Your own Constitution covers Free Speech very well. No where does it say you have a Right not to be mocked or laughed at, or your ideas, or your RELIGION, held up to justifiable ridicule. (‘Joshua got God to make the sun stand still’; no he didn’t you loon!)”
    (that may well have been an idiom, although God as described in the Bible is capable of that level of interaction)
    I suppose that is the humanists steeped in scientific materialism. All of whom should be held up to ridicule for their beliefs (‘life spontaneously arose…’ no it didn’t you loon). They deny the blatantly obvious (the appearance of design does not mean it was designed) which is so counter intuitive that it leads to the conditioning of the human mind to perversity. But no we should all hand them (the humanists) the keys to the kingdom. Oh we are going to be much safer with the humanists in charge! No chance that they could be wrong about everything!

  31. 31
    faded_Glory says:

    Andre:

    See why tolerance has bred intolerance?

    No, I don’t see it.

    I don’t see it because intolerance has always, throughout all of history, been a major factor in the human condition and affairs. The idea that there was a golden past in which people only discussed their disagreements in a reasonable and intellectual manner is absurd.

    For fun and as an example, you should check out how Martin Luther argued against the Jews, 500 years ago:

    I shall give you my sincere advice:

    First, to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn, so that no man will ever again see a stone or cinder of them. This is to be done in honor of our Lord and of Christendom, so that God might see that we are Christians, and do not condone or knowingly tolerate such public lying, cursing, and blaspheming of his Son and of his Christians. …

    Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed. For they pursue in them the same aims as in their synagogues. Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies. This will bring home to them the fact that they are not masters in our country, as they boast, but that they are living in exile and in captivity, as they incessantly wail and lament about us before God.

    Third, I advise that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught, be taken from them.
    Fourth, I advise that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb. For they have justly forfeited the right to such an office by holding the poor …..They wantonly employ the poor people’s obedience contrary to the law of the Lord and infuse them with this poison, cursing, and blasphemy.

    Fifth, I advise that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews…Let them stay at home…

    fG

  32. 32
    Andre says:

    faded_glory

    Question did Martin Luther’s really target just the Jews for death? His writings also target the Turks and the Papacy equally…. Context is everything hope this helps!

    Martin Luther and Judaism

    Luther initially preached tolerance towards the Jewish people, convinced that the reason they had never converted to Christianity was that they were discriminated against, or had never heard the Gospel of Christ. However, after his overtures to Jews failed to convince Jewish people to adopt Christianity, he began preaching that the Jews were set in evil, anti-Christian ways, and needed to be expelled from German politics. In his On the Jews and Their Lies, he repeatedly quotes the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called them “a brood of vipers and children of the devil”

    Luther was zealous toward the Gospel, and he wanted to protect the people of his homeland from the Jews who he believed would be harmful influences since they did not recognize Jesus as their Saviour. In Luther’s time, parents had a right and a duty to direct their children’s marriage choices in respect to matters of faith. Likewise, Luther felt a duty to direct his German people to cling to the Jesus the Jews did not accept. It should be noted that church law was superior to civil law in Luther’s day and that law said the penalty of blasphemy was death. When Luther called for the deaths of certain Jews, he was merely asking that the laws that were applied to all other Germans also be applied to the Jews. The Jews were exempt from the church laws that Christians were bound by, most notably the law against charging interest.

    So what do we have? Tolerance bred intolerance, thank you for such a good example!

  33. 33
  34. 34
    faded_Glory says:

    Just for a little crossover with some other threads:

    It should be noted that church law was superior to civil law in Luther’s day and that law said the penalty of blasphemy was death

    Objectively, was that a morally good law or not?

    fG

  35. 35
    Andre says:

    My own personal answer is this,

    No, because it means everyone would just about be dead not just for blasphemy but pretty much the violation of all the laws because everybody except Christ are guilty of breaking them. You see one of the remarkable feature of Biblical laws, that you find nowhere else is; it demands justice but it also has mercy. There is no other laws system at the time that had that.

    Christ put the record straight when he said “Let the one without sin cast the first stone. Christ however with that also raised the bar over the old way the law were applied When he said;

    Matthew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

    So judgement one day will not be conducted by man for men can not read your secret heart. There is no question that judgment in the old format was subjective, in the new one it is not 🙂

  36. 36
    Robert Byers says:

    rvB8
    I support your right to to speak against me as a regular contributor.
    Even with false accusations and profiling. I would never do it to you as a zealous Christian that I am.
    YES I insist one can ridicule a false religion IF its aimed to bring conversion to the true faith. No malice etc. Maybe a few jokes in private.
    The bible says this. Ezekial, I think, mocked the cannanite religion during a famous test of each God power.
    Yet this has nothing to do with real relationships in the world today.
    Islam is attacked uniquely today because its seen as a source for the conflicts in certain areas. Thats why the liberal establishment allows it.
    Then some evil fanatical Muslims get them back.
    People should be kind and play by the ruless of common society.
    DON’T ridicule Islam top make them agree with westerm political and social conclusions.
    Everyone knows what is right and wrong about these things.

  37. 37
    Diogenes says:

    Dr. Torley,

    Why do you cite Lactantius’ (and Francis Bacon’s) ridicule of atomic theory, but you don’t cite Lactantius’ more famous mockery of the pagan theory that the Earth was round? Also from Divine Institutes, Book III, which you cited.

    “How is it with those who imagine that there are antipodes opposite to our footsteps? …is there any one so senseless as to believe that there are men whose footsteps are higher than their heads? …That the crops and trees grow downwards? That the rains, and snow, and hail fall upwards to the earth? …they [Pagan philosophers] are always deceived in the same manner. …they fall into many ridiculous things… What course of argument, therefore, led them to the idea of the antipodes? …they thought that the world is round like a ball, and they fancied that the heaven revolves in accordance with the motion of the heavenly bodies; and thus that the stars and sun, when they have set… are borne back to the east. Therefore they both constructed brazen orbs, as though after the figure of the world, and engraved upon them certain monstrous images, which they said were constellations.” [Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book III]

    Lactantius, it should be noted is often cited by YECs as typical of the Church Fathers because he believed that the Earth was young. When it is pointed out that Lactantius believed the Earth was young AND FLAT, the creationists clutch their pearls and announce he is atypical of the Church Fathers, a mere obscurity, and “no true Christian”™.

  38. 38
    tjguy says:

    Diogenes, you bring up a good point here. Lactantius did have strange views on a number of topics including the flat earth thing. I don’t know what you know about him, but here is some background information about him that you should probably keep in mind.

    The African Lactantius (AD 245-325) is usually cited as the earliest “Church Father” responsible for the notion that the earth is flat. He was a professional rhetorician at Sicca and converted to Christianity in midlife. He wrote books to defend his new faith but was still influenced by his old teacher, Arnobius, and his pagan ideas. For example, he advocated the doctrine of annihilation, believed that Jesus and Satan were metaphorical twins, and had difficulty visualizing the antipodes where everything would be “upside down.” He rejected all the Greek philosophers and, in doing so, also rejected a spherical earth. His views were considered heresy by the Church Fathers, and his work was totally ignored until the Renaissance, when some humanists revived him as a model of good Latin.

    www.creationmoments.com/content/inventing-flat-earth

    Another “flat earther was one of the later “Church Fathers”, an Eastern Greek Christian, Cosmas Indicopleustes, who wrote in the sixth century. His work also was soundly rejected even in his own day by the actual Church Fathers, so it really isn’t even proper to refer to him as a Church Father.

    The flat earth thing was in no way a common view of the early Church Fathers. For a more accurate understanding of what the early Church really taught and believed about the earth, check out the article below and the partial quote from it I posted.

    If Christians are citing Lactantius as a positive example of the beliefs of the early Church, this would be a mistake. The most one could point out is that, even though he had some wacko ideas, his belief in a young earth shows that it was not a rare thing, but indeed was the common view back then. It could be used as evidence to support that, but he certainly is no “poster boy” for the YEC view.

    For more information, see this article: creation.com/flat-earth-myth

    Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell (1934–) thoroughly demolished the flat earth myth over 20 years ago in his definitive study Inventing the Flat Earth.5

    The famous evolutionist Stephen Jay Gould (1941–2002) favourably reviewed this masterpiece:

    “There never was a period of ‘flat earth darkness’ among scholars (regardless of how the public at large may have conceptualized our planet both then and now). Greek knowledge of sphericity never faded, and all major medieval scholars accepted the earth’s roundness as an established fact of cosmology.”6

    Russell showed that flat-earth belief was extremely rare in the Church. The flat earth’s two main proponents were obscure figures named Lactantius (c. 240 – c. 320) and Cosmas Indicopleustes (6th century; the last name means “voyager to India”). However, they were hugely outweighed by tens of thousands of Christian theologians, poets, artists, scientists, and rulers who unambiguously affirmed that the earth was round. Russell documents accounts supporting earth’s sphericity from numerous medieval church scholars such as friar Roger Bacon (1220–1292), inventor of spectacles; leading medieval scientists such as John Buridan (1301–1358) and Nicholas Oresme (1320–1382); the monk John of Sacrobosco (c. 1195–c. 1256) who wrote Treatise on the Sphere, and many more.

    One of the best-known proponents of a globe-shaped earth was the early English monk, theologian and historian, the Venerable Bede (673–735), who popularized the common BC/ AD dating system. Less well known was that he was also a leading astronomer of his day.7

    In his book On the Reckoning of Time (De temporum ratione), among other things he calculated the creation of the world to be in 3952 BC, showed how to calculate the date of Easter, and explicitly taught that the earth was round. From this, he showed why the length of days and nights changed with the seasons, and how tides were dragged by the moon. Bede was the first with this insight, while Galileo explained the tides wrongly centuries later.8

    Here is what Bede said about the shape of the earth—round “like a ball” not “like a shield”:

    “We call the earth a globe, not as if the shape of a sphere were expressed in the diversity of plains and mountains, but because, if all things are included in the outline, the earth’s circumference will represent the figure of a perfect globe. … For truly it is an orb placed in the centre of the universe; in its width it is like a circle, and not circular like a shield but rather like a ball, and it extends from its centre with perfect roundness on all sides.”

    And the leading church theologian of the middle ages, Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), wrote in his greatest work Summa Theologica/Theologiae:

    “The physicist proves the earth to be round by one means, the astronomer by another: for the latter proves this by means of mathematics, e.g. by the shapes of eclipses, or something of the sort; while the former proves it by means of physics, e.g. by the movement of heavy bodies towards the centre, and so forth.”9

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