Dad29 and Sean from the American Mind take issue with my criticism of the Vatican's claim that there is no good reason to offend religious sensibilities.
I agree that there is not reason to give gratuitous offense, but I can't see how someone else's religious sensibilities can be the limit of my right of free speech. For example, everyone rushes to agree that these cartoons are "offensive." Why is that? They seem to offend by 1)depicting Mohammed at all and 2)suggesting a connection between Islam and violence. I agree that the second is offensive, but it is hardly the cartoonists who have claimed that connection, a significant portion of the Muslim world has not only claimed it, but celebrated it.
The first is a requirement peculiar to Islam and I guess I wouldn't go out of my way to transgress it. But if speech must respect the peculiar religious sensibilities of any and all religious groups, there is no limit. As far as I know, Theo Van Gogh did not depict Mohammed in making a film criticizing the treatment of women in Islam. But he did offend the "religious sensibilities of believers" and paid with his life. Did he ask for it?
Dad says offense will never do any good. I agree that there is a level of provocation that is best avoided, but criticism of a religious tradition can do a lot of good. When we discussed this issue last night in Law & Theology, my theologian partner, the Rev. Dr. Joe Pagano, made a rather powerful argument that even offensive critiques of religion that were ultimately off the mark may have theological value. In particular, he argued that the Marxist and Freudian critiques of religion as an opiate and projection, respectively, while wrong, forced theologians to wrestle with how faith can be misused in this way. They were offensive. They were wrong. But they lead to useful reexamination.