The Muslim world continues to erupt in protest over a low-budget American film that nobody would ever watch without the media attention resulting from the protests themselves. Obviously the protests are either extraordinary counter-productive or serving some ulterior motive. Regardless of the protesters’ motives, the media flurry around the incidents have begun to employ a dangerous new rhetoric.
The film is being condemned by some as “damaging the beliefs of others.” While the film may be offensive and even insulting to Muslims, it should not be called damaging. How can one “damage” someone’s beliefs? Are we going to curb freedom of speech so that you can say anything you want as long as you don’t say someone else is wrong? What harm can befall someone who hears a voice of disagreement? There is no “damage” so we should not use that word.
Lest someone say, “well, you are not a Muslim….” Let’s look at two images offensive to Christians.
To the left is Andres Serrano’s 1987 Piss Christ in which the photographer submerged a crucifix in a glass of his own urine. To the right is Edwina Sandys’ 1975 Christa in which the Christ on the crucifix is presented as a naked woman. Both images are offensive. Both are insulting. Neither damages my beliefs.
Go to any bookstore and you can find scores of books and DVDs put out by the new atheists who mock and deride both Christ and Christianity. Have they “damaged” the Christian faith? Can they “damage” the Christian faith?
The only real way to “damage” a belief is to restrict its expression and thus hinder its spread. Labeling a contrary belief as “damaging” serves not to protect but to destroy. Something that is “damaging” can be repressed. When we begin to label free speech as “damaging,” we have begun a course that actually could damage the beliefs of others.