17. Freedom and blasphemy: one of the most complex equations of contemporary

The last few decades have been rich in situations that have brought religious groups into conflict with each other, or in altercations with groups of militant atheists. As a general rule, and in the case of the most “showy”, with more exuberant reactions and with more violent reprisals, the confrontation took place through an affront reading carried out by some Islamic media. But the Catholic and Christian horizons were not immune either, with the figure of Christ, the crucifix and the Pope being frequent targets of cartoons and other forms of artistic expression that led to reading levels far removed from the official, consensual, comfortable and embedded in religious narratives.

The listing of these events would be long. Martin Scorsese and his Last Temptation of Christ from 1988, as well as Salman Rushdie and his Satanic Verses from 1989, would be the first lines in that chronological list more mediated and closer to us, where many other texts, sculptures, performances would follow. , films, paintings or songs, among others, which saw harsh religious criticism or even condemnation fall on them, not only in a moral way, but also in acts and violence like the one we witnessed with the terrorist attack in Paris on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.

To look at this phenomenon, it is important that we adopt two fields of vision, with two different but complementary perspectives. “Western” or Westernized artists versus religious communities and leaders. Some use the rights that the idea of ​​Freedom allows them, others advocate that the offense perpetrated hurt symbols, places or individuals, thus justifying the acts of justice and revenge carried out, be it simple public censure and repudiation, or, even the incitement to violence and the request for death for those who carried it out.

The artist places himself in a place of individual interpretation of one of the pillars of our secularized culture, in which Freedom makes artistic creation possible, even when it clashes with existing institutions, whether religious or civil. Basically, through forms that clash with the established, art creates narratives that subvert the normal use of symbols, intending to awaken consciences, criticize, expose certain unusual aspects, or even deconstruct religious reality.

The limit is, from a religious point of view, blasphemy, framed in the practice of the conception of Freedom, in which every individual has the right to offend, then bearing the consequences that the State legally defines based on the interpretation of the text of the Charter. of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789), in which it is said that the freedom of each one ends when it conflicts with the rights of the others[1].

On the religious side, the view is diametrically opposite. The believer has a duty to defend his faith, his god and his religion. And it has this duty, not only because the Sacred Texts often indicate it (generally, indirectly and not consensually), but also because, for it, there is no distinction between sacred and profane, between those who really are in their religion, and those who are not. Everything is sacred.

And this is the basis of intolerance among most monotheistic religions: the universe is their goal. Reaching everyone is his vocation, not only because of a sense of mission that implies growth – to bring the message and salvation to more and more people – but because, for monotheisms, everything and everyone comes from a single and unrepeatable divine creation. , they are subject to it and they owe submission to it, whether they are believers or not.

Since his god is the only one in the spectrum of the divine – therefore God, and not god -, and since He is the Creator of all creatures, the punishment for the offense is global and not just partial, surgical. With the offense of a single God, it is not just a creature that is offended, but the entire organization of the universe and an entire cosmic balance.

And at this point lies the reason for all the highly excited reaction, the scale and the justification for the violence, but also the inability to look at the so-called “west” and realize that States are no longer theocratic, so the its role and its ability to forbid these blasphemous expressions is totally non-existent. The idea of ​​Liberty underlying the State itself does not even allow for the possibility of this control to take place.

Today, the West and, in particular, the USA, have two highly explosive dimensions within this framework. On the one hand, Western states, even those that include a religious affiliation in the constitutional text, can do nothing to prevent their citizens from using their ability to blaspheme. On the other hand, they materialized the aforementioned change as a cosmic one, by systematically intervening in the management of local and regional interests. From the point of view of a religiosity that we in the West already had and that was transversal to us until a few centuries ago, Western action materializes and proves this demonic dimension.

We are at different levels of relationship with the notion of State and with the idea of Freedom. These differences are accentuated with each act that occurs, that are exacerbated in each unsuccessful military intervention. This escalation must be stopped, at the risk of losing what we have in common and only staying what distances us.


Paulo Mendes Pinto

Coordinator of the Science of Religions at Universidade Lusófona (Lisbon, Portugal)