Sam Harris on the Freedom to Criticize Religious Beliefs September 19, 2012

Sam Harris on the Freedom to Criticize Religious Beliefs

Sam Harris‘ latest piece, “On the Freedom to Offend an Imaginary God,” has only been up for a few hours, but it’s spreading fast (and crashing his servers, apparently).

In it, he denounces those who stress “religious sensitivity” to Muslims in response to the “Innocence of Muslims” video instead of full-blown support for free speech:

What exactly was in the film? Who made it? What were their motives? Was Muhammad really depicted? Was that a Qur’an burning, or some other book? Questions of this kind are obscene. Here is where the line must be drawn and defended without apology: We are free to burn the Qur’an or any other book, and to criticize Muhammad or any other human being. Let no one forget it.

It would be great if moderate Muslims could find a way to actively and effectively promote the notion that religious freedom matters, or openly support everyone’s right to say “Islam is wrong,” or accept that the proper response to criticism is not violence or anger but evidence showing they’re right, something the radicals never care to offer.

In countries where dissent is stifled or met with a bloody ending, you’re not going to hear those voices. I’m not surprised we rarely hear opposition from people in the Middle East. I don’t blame them.

But what about America? Few Muslim organizations comes to the defense of free speech in the event of their faith being criticized (I don’t know of any, actually, but surely there are a few out there). They’ll denounce the violence, sure, but they rarely affirm the right of others to criticize their faith. And how often do you hear Muslim leaders admit that their holy book promotes violence against “infidels”?

Then, after a blistering attack on Mitt Romney‘s Mormonism, Harris contemplates how Islam isn’t a strong enough faith to withstand such criticism:

… The point, however, is that I can say all these things about Mormonism, and disparage Joseph Smith to my heart’s content, without fearing that I will be murdered for it. Secular liberals ignore this distinction at every opportunity and to everyone’s peril. Take a moment to reflect upon the existence of the musical The Book of Mormon. Now imagine the security precautions that would be required to stage a similar production about Islam. The project is unimaginable — not only in Beirut, Baghdad, or Jerusalem, but in New York City.

(Forget musical. You can’t even set the Koran to music.)

On a side note, I like how Harris uses sports as a metaphor for religion — just as all sports are not the same, all religions are not the same. Some of them are more violent, more verifiably untrue, and more dehumanizing. It’s time we started to recognize that.

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