Pope Francis and Free Speech - "There Are Limits"

Is it a violation of the Golden Rule or Christian teaching, to insult Islam and Muslims?
Is it a violation of the Golden Rule or Christian teaching, to insult Islam and Muslims?

I came across an article a gentleman had written on a conservative blog site that I write on, in which he proffered an unusual argument why Christians should not satirize, ridicule and savage Islam. It was here on RedState. I’ll not name the fellow and I have no animosity towards him, but the premise behind his position, from my perspective, was lacking.

While considering whether or not to issue a rebuttal – not to the writer, but to his meme, along  behind came  Pope Francis.

Right out of the gate, I want to put a few things on the table. I’m not a Catholic nor grew up as a Catholic, but in a way I sort of did. In school, I had a lot of Catholic friends and acquaintances that, for whatever reason were not enrolled in parochial school. I got to hear about and ponder “catechism class”, “confirmation”, “Mass” and various other practices that I didn’t quite understand even when they were explained to me in the manner that an insider would explain to someone they figured should know about them.

As the years have gone on, it has been kismet for me to somehow, for some inexplicable reason, have mostly Catholics for my closest friends. My best friend, going back to high school is Catholic and was raised Catholic. I’m comfortable with it, though I’ve never felt an impulse to move in that direction. Nor have my friends ever felt an impulse to convert me.

For them it probably has to do with maintaining community standards. Be that as it may, I hold the Pope in high regard. As a leader of the world’s Christians, I think of him in the same light and with the same appreciation I have for Billy Graham.

My Catholic brethren patiently attempt to explain the doctrine of ‘Papal Infallibility’. Among non-Catholics there are a lot of misconceptions concerning it. Some of this has to do with the fact that it, like certain other key structural holdings of Catholicism, is a bit complex and more than a bit nuanced.

It is outside the purpose of this column to get too far into the weeds on Papal Infallibility, but one among many helpful points of understanding was found on the site Catholic Answers:

Other people wonder how infallibility could exist if some popes disagreed with others. This, too, shows an inaccurate understanding of infallibility, which applies only to solemn, official teachings on faith and morals, not to disciplinary decisions or even to unofficial comments on faith and morals. A pope’s private theological opinions are not infallible, only what he solemnly defines is considered to be infallible teaching. 

It looks as though, if I am understanding this correctly, that on issues of firmly established Church doctrine, when the Pope is teaching it and relating it to other established doctrines, he is under the umbrella of infallibility and Catholics are obligated to uphold those teachings.

It also however, sounds like that when the Pope is waxing philosophical on current affairs and not in official teaching mode, that what he says should be taken into consideration, but it is not incumbent to agree with him. I’ll leave it at that and welcome any further clarification from the reader.

Why was I pondering Papal Infallibility within the context of some recent statements from Pope Francis? It was because I was curious to know if rank and file Catholics, such as my friends, were obligated to agree with the Pope on each of his comments on such matters as the environment, the world economy,  immigration and just yesterday – the limits of free speech.

Here’s what Pope Francis said as reported by the Associated Press:

Francis spoke about the Paris terror attacks while en route to the Philippines, defending free speech as not only a fundamental human right but a duty to speak one’s mind for the sake of the common good. But he said there were limits. By way of example, he referred to Alberto Gasparri, who organizes papal trips and was standing by his side aboard the papal plane. “If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch,” Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

“There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others,” he said. “They are provocateurs. And what happens to them is what would happen to Dr. Gasparri if he says a curse word against my mother. There is a limit.”

It is unclear – to me at least, whether Pope Francis is saying that people who “speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them” are acting in an un-Christian manner or if he more accurately means that doing so is hazardous – like taunting or threatening an undomesticated carnivorous animal. One thing is certain. What happens to those who insult Islam and the Prophet, is quite different than what happens hypothetically to Dr. Gasparri.

Are you behaving badly if you use satire and ridicule as a weapon against intolerant people or is it just unwise, as he sees it, to provoke a culture that by its nature and history, not only have no sense of humor, but are known to act violently against enemies and even those who are indifferent?

The fellow who wrote on RedState, was specific in his recommendation against mocking other religions. It is, according to him, against Christ’s teachings. In particular, he cites Jesus statement of what is popularly known as the ‘Golden Rule’.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

Does this amount to a prohibition on mocking Islam? If you take this verse and this teaching in isolation, it would appear to be yes – but the overall answer is no. Let’s look at the Jesus of the Gospels, the ‘wholistic’ Jesus, not just the Jesus of a particular individual pronouncement within a particular setting and context.

Did Jesus always have a “kind word” to everyone. Evidently not. What category of individual did he have the most vehement opinions on? Let’s take a look. Here, Jesus pulls no punches on the Jewish religious establishment of his day (John 8:39-44):

“Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.  As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things.  You are doing the works of your own father.”  “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”

Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me.  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 

You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.

“You belong to your father the Devil.” It doesn’t sound like he’s sugar coating anything there. How different is this than the Reverend Franklin Graham saying that “Islam is not a religion of peace” and that Muslims do not worship the same God that Christians do? The “doing unto others” that Jesus was doing here, was telling the truth – something that we all wish more people would do.

Here’s another episode:

“And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers’ money, and overthrew the tables” – John 2:15

“Jesus entered the temple courts and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves.” – Matthew 21:12

“And said unto them that sold doves, ‘Take these things hence; make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise.”– John 2:16

Jesus’ actions here, are a repudiation of the entire structure of the religious practices of his day. If such behavior was taking place in plain sight of the elite religious authorities, then the fish, as they say, was “rotting from the head down”. Proof of his attitude is found in another encounter.


“Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?

This was part of Christ’s teaching to the multitudes, known as the “Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees” sermon, (Matthew 23), which also included this statement in verse 25:

“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.”

If this was converted to the street vernacular of today, I would, out of respect for those among my readers of more genteel sensibilities, not be able to print it. What Jesus just told the scribes and Pharisees is materially the same as calling them the “Motherblanker” word – possibly even worse. I’ll let you apply the modern translation to “and of all uncleanness”.

Hint –  it’s the same stuff you see if you forget to flush the toilet.

There’s much more of this kind of thing, not just in the Gospels, but in the book of Acts, as the Apostle Paul was not given to mince words either. Jesus and Paul had a soft spot in their hearts (they still do) towards lost sinners, but very little patience with hypocrites in the clergy or political leaders that abuse humanity – although reforming politics was not His mission.

There is little doubt, if you look at this objectively, that Christ would, in our present day, be brought in on charges of ‘hate speech’, because He wouldn’t lie to you or pretend that Islam is anything other than it is – a contrived, fictional, Satanically inspired political movement posing as a religion.

He would make it clear that Muslims (and anyone else that behaves as wickedly and spitefully as they do) are children of their father – the Devil.

Should we demur from using a very powerful weapon against the nihilistic enemies of freedom and personal choice – the weapon of free speech? Not from what I can see. Islam is a filthy religion and its’ ‘Prophet’ is an abomination and the Muslim tribe generally is a disgrace to humanity. These preachers of hate must not be cowered from, but confronted and their counterfeit religion attacked and exposed for the perfidy it is. The ‘Golden Rule’ in this instance, is the indelicate telling of truth.

Secular critics of Islam are to be forgiven if they don’t observe the etiquette of playing nice with these hate mongers.

I am Charlie Hebdo.