Hitchens on Salman Rushdie, and the pipe bomb that didn’t go off

As protests continue against “Innocence of Muslims” (which I wrote about in an earlier post, “On Blasphemy”), it’s worthwhile to remember an earlier Muslim attempt to stifle free speech through the threat of violence. Open Culture recently wrote about (and linked to) a 2010 BBC radio interview with Christopher Hitchens in which he talks about the 1989 Iranian fatwa against his friend Salman Rushdie, who offended the delicate sensibilities of Muslims with his novel The Satanic Verses. Hitchens said: Continue reading

Pay the church tax… or else!

Boulogne, "Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple"

Valentin De Boulogne, “Christ Driving the Money Changers out of the Temple” (circa 1618), Web Gallery of Art [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Today the Associated Press provides a fascinating look at how churches are financed in Europe:

BERLIN (AP) – The road to heaven is paved with more than good intentions for Germany’s 24 million Catholics. If they don’t pay their religious taxes, they will be denied sacraments, including weddings, baptisms and funerals.

A decree issued last week by the country’s bishops cast a spotlight on the longstanding practice in Germany and a handful of other European countries in which governments tax registered believers and then hand over the money to the religious institutions. Continue reading

Why do believers make such a big deal of faith?

Mark Twain on faithLet me state a few obvious things, and then I’ll explain why I bothered spelling them out: Continue reading

Catnip: the cure for cat video ennui… or is it?

Earlier this month, Henri 2: Paw de Deux won the Golden Kitty at the Internet Cat Film Festival in Minneapolis. It’s a parody of a French film, complete with subtitles and existential ennui.

So what would cheer a sad cat up? Catnip!

But wait! Not so fast! Watch this video… Continue reading

Mitt Romney, test pilots, and the politics of “It couldn’t happen to me”

By now there’s probably nothing new to say about Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” comment, so I won’t bother. Instead I want to look at the attitude behind it, which is one of the big dividing lines in American culture. And so naturally this leads me to The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe’s 1979 bestselling book about military test pilots and the Mercury space program.

No, really. There’s a connection here. Or an illustration at least. Continue reading

Glenn Greenwald on free speech hypocrisy

As a follow up to Saturday’s post on blasphemy, I had hoped to say something about people who are calling for censorship of the recent anti-Islam video–and it’s not just Muslims. Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian wrote an excellent post yesterday, “Conservatives, Democrats, and the convenience of denouncing free speech.” He writes, in part:

It is exceedingly easy to invoke free speech values in defense of political views you like. It is exceedingly difficult to invoke them in defense of views you loathe. But the true test for determining the authenticity of one’s belief in free speech is whether one does the latter, not the former.

He criticizes both US political parties, starting with the Democrats: Continue reading

On blasphemy

It’s the twenty-first century and our planet still hasn’t outgrown the ancient concept of blasphemy, as demonstrated by the recent Mideast violence. The more I think about it, the bigger the topic seems, so I’ll restrict myself to a few observations:seven to be precise, a holy number. Therefore, if you disagree with any of them you are hereby damned to hell.

A blood-soaked Muhammad from “Innocence of Muslims.” For all the attention the video has gotten, it’s unwatchably bad.

1)      Blasphemy is personal. I’m thinking specifically about strong blasphemy in the sense of insult and contempt. When you disrespect a devout person’s religion, you’re disrespecting their very identity, and they’ll react accordingly. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to blaspheme, but if you’re openly mocking or condemning someone’s religion to make a point, don’t expect to have a rational conversation with them afterwards. Strong blasphemy makes sense if your goal is to expose an ideology to ridicule by everyone who isn’t already a committed follower. But it isn’t a good conversation starter with the faithful. Continue reading