In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France at the hands of faithful Muslims (otherwise known as terrorists), people the world over have been taking up the “JE SUIS CHARLIE” placard as if doing so represents a service to “Peace on Earth;” drawing a line in the sand that says:
It’s either freedom of expression or terrorism, and this world ain’t big enough for both.
Though others are perhaps too afraid, too ignorant, or degenerate to say the same thing aloud, my take is a little different:
While the murder of the Charlie Hebdo staff members is a condemnable act in itself and a direct fruit of Islam, the single most violent religion any false prophet ever conjured up in his wicked little brain (albeit with Satan’s help), there can be no question whatsoever that this world is far better off without the garbage these now deceased individuals produced.
Sayonara, Charlie. Your ‘talents’ won’t be missed; at least not by anyone with a modicum of decency.
I just regret that those who survived the attack are as yet still intent on cranking up the presses; an act not of heroism as some would have it, but rather a sure sign of depraved intransigence. I would have much preferred to see them scurry off into the sunset never to have their craft put on display anywhere ever again.
For me, this view of the Charlie Hebdo attack is just no-brainer Catholic common sense.
By contrast, however, the entire affair is creating a serious conundrum for so-called “conservative” Catholics, especially here in God-Bless-America.
As staunch advocates for “freedom of speech,” their libertine ideology compels many of them to look at Charlie Hebdo while holding their collective noses and chanting in unison, “I may not condone what they are saying, but I defend their right to say it!”
Joshua Bowman of CatholicVote.org, for instance, cited the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as an ideal, proclaiming, “Even though Charlie Hebdo published little more than puerile smut, they have the right to be wrong so that others can have the freedom to be right.”
William Donohue of the Catholic League also cited the Constitution as an ideal, but offered a more nuanced view of the situation, saying:
The cartoonists, and all those associated with Charlie Hebdo, are no champions of freedom. Quite the opposite: their obscene portrayal of religious figures—so shocking that not a single TV station or mainstream newspaper would show them—represents an abuse of freedom.
Freedom of speech is not an end—it is a means to an end. For Americans, the end is nicely spelled out in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution: the goal is to “form a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
No fair-minded reading of the Preamble suggests that it was written to facilitate the right to intentionally and persistently insult people of faith with scatological commentary. Moreover, the purpose of free speech is political discourse: it exists to protect the right of men and women to agree and disagree about the makings of the good society.
Let’s forget about legalities. As I have said countless times, everyone has a legal right to insult my religion (or the religion of others), but no one has a moral right to do so. Can we please have this conversation, along with what to do about Muslim barbarians who kill because they are offended?
While Donohue did well to distinguish between “legal rights” (man-made civil rights) and “moral rights” (those that have their founding in God), his attempt to articulate certain limits to free speech relative to the Charlie Hebdo case leads to a number of incredibly important questions:
To whom and from whom comes the authority to determine what is “so shocking” that it is unworthy of publication, and how is that determination made?
According to Joshua Bowman’s way of thinking, it would seem that the individual writer, cartoonist or publisher alone has that right, while Bill Donohue’s approach appears to suggest that “we the people” get to make that call by applying a largely undefined subjective standard via some unidentified mechanism.
While the Preamble to the Constitution does indeed cite “justice, tranquility, and the blessings of liberty” as the ends toward which it is ordered, who has the authority to define these concepts in such way as to guide the actions of individual citizens and States in service to their attainment?
For Bowman’s part, it would seem that the very suggestion of regulating free speech is anathema, and so it is left for each man to define “justice, tranquility and liberty” for himself as he exercises freedom of speech in its pursuit.
Donahue, on the other hand, appears to believe in a form of self-regulation wherein it is enough for reasonable men to simply undertake a “fair-minded reading” of the Constitution in order to gain a clear understanding of the duties incumbent upon the those who would exercise their right of free speech in search of “justice, tranquility and liberty.”
In the end, the views of both Joshua Bowman and William Donohue, in spite of the names of their respective organizations, lack a fully Catholic view of the situation, and the reason is simple:
As good “conservatives,” each one is unduly infected with the conciliar disease that causes one to behave as if the separation of Church and State is a dogma of the Catholic faith as opposed to the “most pernicious error” it truly is. (cf Vehemeter Nos, Pope St. Pius X)
In other words, while the Second Vatican Council largely adopted the U.S. Constitutional model of freedom of religion (and by extension, its closely related cousin, freedom of speech), that’s not the Faith of the Church.
Even so, every pope who has reigned ever since (and every Catholic worthy of the “conservative” label) has essentially taken as his own the Americanist view that the State is guided not so much by the Law of God as entrusted to, and made known by, the Catholic Church alone, but rather “from the bottom up, by the layman acting under the guidance of his Christian conscience” (John Courtney Murray – Memorandum to Msgr. Giovanni Battista Montini, 1950).
As such, it is no surprise that missing from the commentary of both Bowman and Donohue (to say nothing of the pluralistic reflections offered by Pope Francis) is any hint of the Catholic Church’s unique, God-given, role in defining the rights and duties of both individuals and States.
From a truly Catholic point of view, the Charlie Hebdo “satirists” had no right, properly speaking, to publicly disseminate much of the filth that came to define their rancid publication.
The limiting factor to so-called “free speech” in this case, however, has little to do with such subjective determinations as relative offensiveness to “people of [generic] faith;” rather, it has to do with the objective truth that no one has the right from God to denigrate Him, nor to mock Jesus Christ who is the fullness of Divine Revelation, nor to publish and distribute that which draws others away from the one true faith established by Him, etc.
No such “right of expression” ever exists regardless of what the civil law in a given land might state. This would be the case even if there wasn’t one solitary Catholic alive to take offense.
As for the rights of the State:
- God, from whom all authority comes, most certainly does grant to the State the right, and at times even the duty, to suppress the works of vile blasphemers like Charlie Hebdo.
By contrast, the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, a self-identified Catholic, recently put conservative disorientation on display as he lectured the media:
Australian media organizations don’t normally hold back when, for argument’s sake, they are criticizing Christianity. Catholicism comes in for a particular dose of scorn … it’s important that we don’t engage in self-censorship as a result of this kind of attack.
He seems to be saying, in other words, go ahead, criticize all religions with equal vigor because, after all, we mustn’t treat one as if it is any different than the other!
Lost in such men is an authentic Catholic worldview; one that necessarily accounts for the simple fact that one religion really is different than all of the rest in that it alone is true.
- God also grants to the State the right to tolerate such activities as those that might denigrate the one true faith, if, as a matter of prudential judgment, the legitimate civil authority determines that doing so would prevent a greater evil than suppression would invite; therefore rendering a greater service to the common good.
There is a world of difference between the State that tolerates offenses against the truth according to the judgment described above, and those that would make of such things a “civil right.”
Likewise, is there a chasm between the mind of the Church properly understood and those Catholics who seem to imagine that the State does well to treat all forms of “free speech” as sacrosanct, or perhaps subject to limit according only to some man-made standard of offensiveness based on feelings.
- God does not grant to the State the authority to make a “civil right” of that which opposes the one true faith, any more than He grants it the authority to make a civil right of that which contradicts the Divine Law.
Most Catholics readily accept that heads of State who enact laws promoting such “civil rights” as access to abortion, euthanasia, and same-sex “marriage,” are guilty of abusing their authority, and yet many a “conservative” simply gives a pass to those who would make a “civil right” of the freedom to mock Our Lord. Some would even encourage as much!
So, with all of this said, how are we to view those unflattering Charlie Hebdo depictions of Muhammad or other figures revered by the many false religions of the world?
While there can indeed be sinful intent in their publication, they are different in kind than those images mocking Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Catholic Church, etc.
The latter is always an offense against the God who is Truth and objectively so; the former, by contrast, is largely an offense against men and public order, and this often in a subjective sense.
In the exercise of its God given authority, the State does indeed have the right to suppress such subjectively offensive activities as those things published by Charlie Hebdo against the false religions.
Importantly, however, this right stems from the State’s duty to promote the common good; in this case, by regulating that which threatens to invite civil unrest.
That said, the State does not have the right to place the false religions on an equal footing with the one true religion, and it never has the right to suppress the activities of the latter, the Catholic Church, which is always and everywhere eminently free.
One will notice that an authentic Catholic view of the State places a substantial burden upon those who exercise civil authority. While much is left to their discretion and prudential judgment in the ordering of temporal affairs, however, the Church does not simply abandon the State and its rulers to find their own way.
Rather, it is recognized that rulers of State (both Catholic and non-Catholic alike) desperately need the guidance of Holy Mother Church, which is nothing less than the wisdom of God, in order to govern well in service to the common good.
As it is today, those who exercise civil authority in the world have largely been left orphaned as our churchmen have been all-too-content, for more than half a century, to engage in an earthbound brand of religious diplomacy that scarcely resembles the mission that Christ gave to His Church.
If the Charlie Hebdo massacre contains a lesson, it is not to be found in the overly-simplistic false dichotomy that would have one choose between Islamic terrorism and free speech; rather, it is simply in recognizing this:
When the Holy Catholic Church established by Christ the King to guide the affairs of individuals, families and States (Catholic or not) in His name ceases to do so according to the immutable truths entrusted to her; behaving instead as a mere mediator among men and but one religion among many, we can well expect those who govern to flounder and fail in the face of every crisis, just as they are in the present moment.