A truly free society doesn’t just tolerate religious beliefs it also mocks them

Charb, the murdered editor of
Charlie Hebdo

It has been three years since the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered by Muslim terrorists for drawing cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad. Christianity is mocked and criticised freely in Western society but we do not have a problem with Christian terrorists killing people for doing things like putting a crucifix into a bottle of urine, taking a photo of it, framing it and displaying it as an artwork with the description Piss Christ.


[…] Where religious organisations warrant respect – say, for feeding the homeless – it’s right they should be accorded it, but not as a default position for all their beliefs and actions. When they propose ideas that are offensive or silly, they should be roundly condemned or mocked.

This applies to all religions, including Islam. Many Muslim attitudes to women alone require condemnation and mocking.


That prospect makes some people nervous, not least because Muslims in other parts of the world have been so quick to see criticism of their religion as an unforgivable insult (and to avenge it). But New Zealand is a secular state and criticism, or even ridicule, is part of living in a free, democratic society and their faith should be no more immune to it than any other belief system – or politicians, for that matter.

In fact, all we are required to do in a just and democratic society with a commitment to freedom of speech is to tolerate others’ beliefs (as long as they do not harm anyone) and defend their right to have them. We are not obliged to respect them.

It is common these days to hear that we should “respect all religions”, which is ludicrous. It’s as silly as insisting that everyone should respect all politicians – implying we should defer to their opinions and not criticise them. For a start, that would mean politicians themselves would have to stop criticising each other and their policies.

Look at Turkey.

Turkey’s religious affairs state agency […] said girls as young as nine could marry under Islamic law.

The Diyanet religious affairs directorate said on Tuesday the minimum age for girls to marry was nine, while for boys it was 12, according to Turkish media […]

How can we possibly respect an Islamic religious law that states that paedophilia is acceptable?

The call to respect all religions is an insidious one that has infected even universities. The Auckland University of Technology (AUT) has announced it is a “pluralistic community of people, who hold various religious, spiritual, faith-based and non-faith based beliefs”.

It proudly states that it is “the first university in Aotearoa New Zealand to pioneer a multi-faith chaplaincy and spirituality model to serve its tertiary institution.[…]

What is a university doing “championing its respect for religious diversity, including non-faith and spiritually related beliefs”? Surely these are private matters and have no place in a university, which should be dedicated to rational inquiry, not faith (which is always a euphemism for superstition).

There is also a rank hypocrisy in what religions we can criticise and those we can’t. It seems perfectly acceptable to mock a church leader such as Brian Tamaki for his outrageous statements, including that gays, sinners and murderers cause earthquakes […]

Most people happily mock Scientology too, often as a UFO religion. […]

[…] The idea of religious groups themselves calling for “mutual respect” between them is also laughable for anyone with a passing acquaintance with theology. Most religions aren’t compatible with their competitors – and for most of their existences never pretended to be. In fact, they used to spend much of their time squabbling over minor points of doctrine and happily ridiculed each others’ beliefs – and that’s when they weren’t actively engaged in wars or other hostile actions to suppress rivals, including torture.

[…] Trying to silence criticism and ridicule in nations with a strong belief in freedom of speech hasn’t been a great success. French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo reliably lampoons both Islam and Christianity, even after the murders of its cartoonists and editorial staff in Paris. In January 2015, our then Prime Minister, John Key, stood in solidarity with the magazine and condemned the slaughter by aggrieved Islamists – describing the murders as an attack on “democratic principles of freedom of speech and expression”.

But in a country where various government ministers made it their job in 2016 to get Wicked Campers and their risqué slogans off the roads, it’s very doubtful any politician would defend someone insulting a major religion in New Zealand on the grounds of freedom of speech.

And by “major religion” you know the writer means Islam.

And it’s worth remembering we still have a blasphemy law in the Crimes Act, punishable by up to a year’s imprisonment. When Parliament had the opportunity last May to change that, after Labour MP Chris Hipkins introduced an amendment to remove it, both the National Party and the Maori Party voted against its repeal.

Bill English wanted public submissions to be made to a select committee before the law was changed. So we have to debate in Parliament whether we should have the right to mock religion? Really?


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