Religion and free speech

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Modern democracies often tread on a delicate line when it comes to the relation between freedom of speech and religious beliefs. In theory, democracies ensure both the freedom of speech and religious freedom of their citizens. But where does one person's right end to freely criticize a religious belief ? And where does another person's right begin for their beliefs to be respected?

Religion should not be our society’s sacred cow

02/18/2018 - 13:18
The Slovak Republic is officially a Catholic country, yet it does not cease to suffer from major issues and religion only exasperates them. Blind faith is not a virtue of our society, rather its most dangerous vice. As the Anglo-American writer Christopher Hitchens had put it “Religion Poisons Everything!”

On January 23rd 2018, a popular Slovak Christian conservative magazine Týždeň (Week), headed by a strong pro-American and a pro-Western journalist Stefan Hríb, published an appeal headlined “Mr. Prime Minister, stop insulting people because of their religion”. It proudly carries signatures from evangelical theologians, an imam and a Muslim political scientist Jozef Lenč. This appeal lobs a strong critique on our incumbent Prime Minister Mr. Fico for his anti-Muslim statements. These are the following: Muslims cannot integrate, Muslims should not serve in the army or the police force, there must never be a Muslim Ummah(community). The final nail in the coffin, that they have added, is the Prime Minister’s remark in a show named Sobotné Dialógy (Saturday’s Dialogues), where he said that “Tourists want to come to us, where there are no explosions, where they will not be harassed by Muslims on the street.“ The main point of this appeal was to discourage the leader of our country from criticizing religion. The explicit message is “stop insulting people because of their religious beliefs”.

A few fair points

While I do take issue with the title and the main message it entails many points are not incorrect. For example, it is outrageous to suggest that people with different religious beliefs should not serve in the military or the police forces. It is equally ludicrous to claim that tourists want to “come here” because of the absence of “devious Muslim harassers“. Nobody ever thinks of cancelling their private flight to Paris or not hopping on a train heading for Hamburg because they fear some anonymous hoodlums. One visits their favourite country because it is close to their heart or there is some interesting historical site to explore. If the Prime Minister’s claims were true, Slovakia would have been flooded with foreigners by now, however no such phenomenon has occurred yet. Also I can’t bring myself to nod when someone says that Muslims are unable to integrate. What nonsense. Bosnia is a majority Muslim country, and the capital Sarajevo has the largest number of mixed marriages, between Muslims and Christians in the whole country. Al Qaeda was lost for words, when it tried to recruit members for its death cult, in Bosnia, after the organization had found out about the level of secularism in the former Yugoslavian state. I see nothing wrong with criticizing the religion of Islam but persecution is not the answer for solving any problems and cannot be justified. However as I have said previously my agreement only goes so far.

There is no “right not to be offended”

I find the wording of the title very poor, as well as the plea for trying not to offend. People can be offended almost by anything. Does that mean we have to walk on eggshells and coddle everyone? No. As one of the American founding fathers Thomas Paine has said: “He, who does not dare to offend, cannot be honest“. We have two choices, either we will have open, rigorous discussions or we will be quiet and have order mixed with discipline. Offense is always taken, never given. We ought not to be nice to terrible ideas. Especially, when it comes to religion, which is ingrained in our society and gets all of the privileges it needs and far more (such as taxpayer dollars for churches). Religious people should be on the same level as anyone else. They don’t have the right to acquire more rights than ordinary citizens. There is nothing more moral in believing in the supernatural than not. Many wars were fought claiming God was with them. Therefore, I will never agree or echo the sentiment in this appeal, while I can still appreciate parts of it. There is no excuse for acting like fundamentalist Islam is not a threat. But Muslims have rights as citizens and I stand in solidarity with them when they face genuine persecution but hurting one’s sensitive feelings cannot be taken seriously.

The people are not the problem, ideology is

People can be good or bad regardless of their religion but it is their ordinary morality that makes them good, not their religion. So one should not avoid offending religion. But there’s ample room to criticize it! Theocratic barbarism had given us several backward regimes. Claims that people need religion or that it is beneficial to a state somehow are proven false not just by the examples listed but also by my home country. Slovak Republic is officially a Catholic country, yet it does not cease to suffer from major issues and religion only exasperates them. The legalization of gay marriage would be a one example, the only obstacle to it is so called Christian morality. Blind faith is not a virtue of our society, rather its most dangerous vice. So in summary the Tyždeň´s appeal had some good points and critiques but the overall message was false. Religion should never be our society’s sacred cow.

 

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

Religion is never aggressive, but people sometimes are

02/04/2019 - 11:20
Religion might not be beneficial to the State, but it surely is important for culture of society. Religion was and still is a reason for many serious problems but nobody can deny that it brought something beautiful and positive to this world.

The Slovak Republic is located in Central Europe. We belong to a so-called developed society with the rest of the Western world. While Western civilization is developed, it is full of prejudices as well. Religion is and has always been a controversial topic and one has to have an open mind when discussing it. I have thought that economic, scientific and medical development would be connected with an advancement in our understanding and compassion as well. While we are sympathetic towards some religions and cultures, we are still full of prejudices towards others. Religion which is criticised and judged the most nowadays is Islam. The negative connotations which cross our mind when we think of Islam are so strong that they may for example interfere with our choice of a holiday destination.

The rise and fall of the travel destinations

The United Nations World Tourism Organization published quite unexpected (or expected?) results concerning the fastest growing and falling travel destinations. Among the fastest growing travel destinations were small countries such as Iceland (+39%), Moldova (+28.6%), and Georgia (+19%) and Slovakia found its place as well, with an increase of +16.9%. So our former Prime Minister was quite right, when he said that the reason why tourists visit Slovakia is a feeling of safety. It seems like the countries which did not have any terrorist attacks are welcoming more tourists each year. On the other hand, places where tourism has tumbled are Egypt (-42.1%), Turkey (-28.5%) and Belgium (-13.2%). All of these places have experienced some kind of terrorist attack in recent years. From the percentages, it is visible that we do choose our travel destination not for our favourite historical site or because it is close to our heart. The majority of us prefer the feelings of safety.

What we think we know vs. what is really there

Some religions are connected with more aggression than others. While it is right, that people can be good or bad regardless of their religion, the truth is that sometimes religion affects someone so much that it can completely change their character. When you believe deeply in something, all of your rational thinking might go away and you can completely commit to the beliefs of that particular religion. This commitment might be even stronger when you see that your parents and friends take the practices and beliefs of the given religion seriously as well.

So when it comes to criticizing, we should not criticize something that we do not know a lot about. We might think that we have some knowledge about Islam for example, but what is represented in a media is just a tiny fragment of its complexity. What is presented as Islam might not be a core of it at all. Even in other religions such as Christianity or Buddhism there are fanatic believers, whose message represents their religion very aggressively.

In general, all of the world´s religions are peaceful and their main principles are based on love, wisdom, sacrifice and moderation but of course there are some extreme wings. For example those that are hiding behind the term “Islamic” but in fact, their opinions and actions have nothing in common with the real essence of Islamic beliefs. This is supported by the fact that world respected Imams (leaders of worship in a mosque) or other important religious leaders were and still are criticising the aggression which is done in a name of Islam. They agree on the fact that this kind of offensive attacks are far away from the real sermons of their religion.

In conclusion, it is a nonsense to claim that a religion is bad or evil when in fact, people who want to do bad things will always find a way, and more importantly, a reason to do ill. Religious extremists pretend too often that they are doing the will of God, when in fact all they do is incite hate.

 

This article deliberately presents only one of the many existing points of views of this contorversial subject. Its content is not necessarily representative of its author's personal opinion. Please have a look at Duel Amical's philosophy.

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