Last month the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted resolution 7/19, titled Combating Defamation of Religions. You can read the entire resolution by clicking on the link, if you're interested enough...and you should be, because it applies mainly to "defamation" of a single religion - Islam.
Most of you who are regular readers of this blog share similar general values, sometimes referred to as "Western Values," which include a general respect for individual rights, freedom of expression, and a generalized respect for the rule of law. Here in the US, one of our most cherished rights is Freedom of Speech, the defense of which is second only to the vigorous defense of our right to own the deadliest of weapons without restriction. However, we seem to be more willing to give in to restrictions on our freedom of speech than to restrictions on weapons. Some restrictions are obvious: incitement to violence and shouting "Fire!" in a crowded theater should clearly be restricted; other restrictions are less obvious, but potentially more dangerous.
The resolution on combating defamation of religions was championed by the representatives of the Islamic world, which is famously spring-loaded to react negatively (and frequently violently) to the least perceived insult to their beliefs. The resolution, of course, doesn't apply in their minds to their ability to heap vitriol on other religions, which they tend to do with depressing regularity and volume. Hence, the danger.
The ability to challenge ideas and change our minds as a result of evidence is a hallmark of civilization. Freedom of speech allows us to do this. I have always believed strongly that people should be free to say pretty much whatever they want, however stupid, because it allows everyone else to listen, evaluate, and make their own decisions about the degree of stupidity that is revealed. The problem, of course, arises when people don't listen or think critically...when they believe what they believe so deeply and completely that each opening into their minds it shut, locked, welded, plastered over, hermetically sealed, and guarded 24/7/365 against any conflicting information. You see this in many racists, religious zealots, and ... yes ... the most radical of pro-gun advocates.
In an article recently posted to the Project Syndicate.org website, Peter Singer wrote eloquently about the hidden dangers of the UN resolution. I recommend you read his article, which makes the points better than I probably could.
We are, as I have often said, guaranteed freedom of speech, not freedom of smart. Nor are we guaranteed freedom from insult. If the proponents of a particular religion object to negative characterization of their beliefs, is it not better for them to prove by persuasive word and demonstrable deed that those characterizations are wrong, than to insist on laws and resolutions that dim the light of legitimate criticism cast upon them?
I guess it depends on whose ox is being gored.
Read the UN resolution and the Singer article, and think hard about the implications. You can listen to the deeply-held and gently persuasive religious beliefs of someone like John, or you can have pressed upon you the harshly intolerant beliefs of those who would kill you for denying them. The choice is pretty clear to me.
Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.