Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Catholic Free-Speech-niks

I really don't understand how politically "conservative" American Catholics will defend the Vatican when it preaches the general Catholic principle that freedom apart from virtue is no freedom at all, but then openly criticize the Vatican when it criticizes American or Western pets like "freedom of speech."
Cardinal Achille Silvestrini, a retired diplomat of the Holy See, said: "Freedom is a great virtue but it must be shared and it must not be unilateral. Freedom of satire that offends the feelings of others becomes an abuse, and here we are talking about nothing less than the feelings of entire peoples who have seen their supreme symbols affected." Source
But Prof. Bainbridge is "disappointed" by the Vatican's rebuke to the Western press for printing the Danish cartoon as evidencing a "deplorable moral relativism." And surprisingly, so have several conservative Catholic commentators noted that Catholics should stand for freedom of expression above the principle of respect for sacred things of other people. They're obviously in the moral universe of Rudy Giuliani where the example of Islamic extremism serves as nice wash bowl in which we Western Christians never have to take moral responsibility for our own conduct towards non-Westerners.

But the Holy See was on the mark. Maybe American neocons will one day realize that the Holy See actually has some moral and diplomatic wisdom when it comes to dealing with non-Americans. What it said simply was that the incitement to violence was wrong but so was printing the offensive cartoons. No moral equivalence was made and it's not relativistic to condemn two different things in the same sentence.

American Catholics would do well to remember that if any mofo desecrated the Eucharist in public, there should be hell to pay in this life and the next. I mentioned this last night to a Protestant former div school friend of mine who leans left and he retorted that such a response would violate what the Eucharist stands for, invoking the good ol' turn the other cheek principle as a justification for pansy-ass roll-over doormat-ism. But this is classic Protestant denial of the human, try as they may to reduce the Beatitudes to a "Make Love Not War" bumper sticker.

Reverence for sacred things is a basic human instinct. I guess modernity has obliterated that sense in us Westerners so thoroughly that when Muslims react so strongly for their holy things, we're not so much offended by their contempt for our "values" as we are subconsciously shamed by the implicit fact that we as a society have no regard for the sacred anymore.

As Catholics, we should be far more sympathetic to the desecration of anyone's sacred objects, especially if they're cherished by tens of millions of people as sacred. Over the millennia, Catholics have been through waves of persecution by iconoclasts who have mocked us for idolatry, spit on our holy relics, violently torn down our altars and statues, and disfigured our icons. If this is starting to sound like a pro-Osama statement, then you're not getting it. Sacred things are to be respected, even if they're of the "enemy." Terrorists who seek to spill innocent blood, on the other hand, are not. But if you callously or maliciously desecrate sacred objects, well, you're not so innocent anymore. I don't think death is a proportionate punishment, but still, you're not innocent anymore. You're a certifiable asshole deserving zero support from Catholics. Instead, the Danish cartoonist, his editors and publishers are now considered martyrs for the cause of free speech.

Dinesh D'Souza has an intriguing take that I find to be far more reasonable than what I'm hearing from Western Christians.

Fr. Jim Tucker too.

Fr. Robert Araujo on the Mirror of Justice blog provides a helpful perspective on geopolitical role of the Holy See in these matters.