Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tolerance does not require silence.

No doubt you have heard of the controversial film, Fitna. It isn’t very long but it has Islamists upset. And that means Left-wing politicians are running in terror. (You may watch if below if you wish.) UPDATE: Liveleak which hosted the film said they have pulled it because extremists in Islam have threatened to kill them. This fact alone better illustrates the dangers of irrational religion than the film could ever do. FURTHER UPDATE: I have added the film here from Google video. Watch it now of you may never see. The Islamists may threaten Google and they may cave in as well.

The European Union president came out with a particularly stupid remark but I should note their position is not very different than the nonsense that comes out of the Vatican. The position of the EU presidency was they respect “freedom of speech”. Of course this followed by a “but”. To say the least European concepts of freedom of speech is often voiced with some very big buts (and you can spell that either way).

“However, [freedom of speech] should be exercised in a spirit of respect for religious and other beliefs and convictions.” So it is okay to say what you want provided what you say doesn’t offend a religious whackjob.

What is never explained is why religious beliefs deserve any more respect than beliefs about UFOs, the Abominable Snowman, the nature of money, or anything else for that matter. What makes religion the exception?

If we study the difference between religious beliefs and other beliefs we see that religion claims exemptions from the normal scrutiny applied to beliefs. It asserts the right to claim as “true” anything it wishes without evidence simply because it “religion”. And it demands that others not question it or its results. It is inherently authoritarian in that it demands obedience and acquiescence.

The modern Left surrenders to religious demands when those demands are made by non-Westerners. When made by Western religions they have no problem standing up to it. But they cave in when some “Third World” type demands respect for some absurd, false idea.

The modern Conservative is basically the opposite. He demands the right to question Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc but has fits when his Jesus myths are questioned. Of course some rabid conservatives like Dinesh D’Souza doesn’t want even Islamic beliefs questioned.

Both the modern Left and the modern Conservative claim roots in classical liberalism. And each has adopted some true liberal values though neither does so consistently and both are fundamentally illiberal. The classical liberal or the libertarian is not entirely at home with either camp. Which is worse for freedom depends on the circumstances of the day. Certainly from the Russian Revolution to the collapse of Communism the Left was a bigger threat. Since then conservatives have stampeded toward authoritarianism and the bigger enemies of liberty.

True liberalism does defend the rights of religious folk to assert any belief they want no matter or absurd or unfounded. J. Salwyn Schapiro, in his little book, Liberalism: It’s Meaning and History, noted that liberalism placed stress “on intellectual freedom” and held that the top freedom was “liberty of though and expression.” Liberalism was “fundamentally rationalist” and “view religion from a secular perspective advocating freedom of religion but the separation of church and state.”

Throughout its history classical liberalism has questioned the authority of the church. It demanded the right to disagree with, to challenge, or to deny the faith -- any faith! But it has also defended the equal rights of the religious to uphold their faith and preach their gospel. The weak-kneed modern Left seems to think that “respect” for religion requires not just liberty, but silence. But silence in the face of irrationality is surrender.

This is not furthering the principle of toleration at all. It allows any religious thug to preach his authoritarianism and disarms the forces for individual rights. It gives the irrational a leg-up on reason. Even under the best of times reason has a hard enough battle. But what the EU president wants to do is disarm reason and give the forces of intolerance an advantage.

It is absurd to think that the peaceful presentation of a controversial film is intolerant especially in the face of the hysterical cries of jihad from butchers and killers.

The EU president is not supporting liberalism or tolerance but betraying both.

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