I, Andy Chyba, am now going to use the principle of freedom of speech to embark on some heartfelt observations that will be far from universally accepted, and that some will choose to find offensive. Tough! But first, let me make clear that I too was shocked by the nature of this crime and the direct attack, on principles we hold dear, that it represented. Despite never having heard of any of the victims before, they and their magazine clearly represent an attitude to religion that I relate to. As such I do mourn their loss and hope they would endorse what I am about to say. Just about everything I have read so far about this atrocity has gone on about it being an attack on ‘freedom of speech’. This is fine as far as it goes (although there is a debate to be had about the extent to which we actually have freedom of speech), but I tend to find such comments a bit condescending and patronising much of the time (even when I make them myself). It is almost as if people are saying “You are talking a load of rubbish, but feel free to carry on saying it, you idiot”. Some of the comments about Charlie Hebdo have been close to this, but I also think that there is another dimension to this that people are loathe to articulate, and that is to defend and endorse what Charlie Hebdo has actually been saying, not just about Islam, but religion in general, i.e. religion is ridiculous and it should be ridiculed. One of my main reasons for saying this may seem untenable at first, given the events in Paris. Ridiculing all religion in general is possibly the best way we have of ridding the world of the scourge of religious fundamentalist extremists. Extremities of any sort are the far-flung elements at the periphery of the more substantial main body. That is the same for fingers and toes, as it is for leaves and twigs. You can remove extremities and the main body will survive easily enough, and their is always the potential for regrowth of the extremities. Take the main body away from the extremities and they simply cannot survive – they just shrivel away to nothing. It is the main body that generates and sustains the extremities. Rationality alone is not enough to rid people of deeply ingrained and indoctrinated religious beliefs. Scientists with religious beliefs are not common, but far from unknown. Highly intellectual clergy apply their intelligence to trying to solve the inevitable riddles of their irrational beliefs. But constant challenging, and yes, repeated ridiculing, does get through to people eventually. When everyone around you points out your stupidity, you may get defensive at first, but all but the most stupid will start evaluating their position. I therefore contend that rather than politely respecting religious beliefs, especially those of the mild-mannered middle ground, we owe it to humanity as a whole to do our best to consign these ancient and primitive creeds, focussed on supernatural nonsense, to the dustbin of history. ‘Doing our best’ will never involve guns, bombs or violence of any sort. Violence is never a rational response to any problem. ‘Doing our best’ will never involve unduly picking on one set of religious beliefs in particular. We do not discriminate – they are all ridiculous. ‘Doing our best’ does not involve banning anything, or denying people anything. ‘Doing our best’ does involve using the power of the spoken and written word to keep on pointing out the idiocy of it all. Let them be offended. Let them be indignant. These are the responses of people losing the rational arguments and having nothing else to defend themselves with. But beware – these people are the ones that then give up on words and turn to violence – never to avenge their (non-existent) gods, but as the last resort to shut up the people they can’t stand seeing and hearing highlight their stupidity. They are losers, and when they are all gone we may finally achieve some semblance of a sane world.
PS. While standing by my comments above, I have been made aware of some debatably racist stuff published by Charlie Hebdo. This is, of course, a wholly different matter. Racism is even more indefensible than religion, and has more to say about the people who espouse it than those it is directed at. It therefore should not be banned – the free speech argument again – but needs opposing and ridiculing in itself. So as much as “Je suis Charlie” re religion, they perhaps cannot be granted unconditional solidarity even at this difficult time.