After the terrorist attack in Paris some religious leaders and politicians have demanded an impossible solution for the situation from the free world. They want to set protection of religions before freedom of speech. They would punish criticism against the founders and representatives of religions and religious systems. Senior Pastor of Faith Church Hungary comments on the issue in Hetek.
Politicians and church leaders who also hold the victims of the terrorist attack in Paris responsible are using the incident as a cover to provide legal protection for religious worship. The idea of the law of respect is an unfortunate one, as it would take the side of Muslims in the conflict between Muslim tradition and European rights of freedom. In statements made over the past few days in connection with the Paris massacre, Muslim theologians, imams, have made it clear that they want their religious system and its founder, Mohammad, to be accepted by European nations as sacred and untouchable. However, it is one of the pillars of the culture of our continent that one can doubt or criticize any system or statement, even those of a religious kind, and their traditions can be revised or even mocked.
It is common knowledge that it has not always been thus in Europe. For long centuries, a great price had to be paid for criticizing or rejecting religious traditions, dogmas and even systems by those whose love for the truth was stronger than their loyalty to the official, incumbent religious system and its leadership. On the other hand, it is Christians who are to be the most wary of the symbiosis of political authority and spiritual, moral authority, which Jesus Christ himself and later the apostles fell victim to. There was hardly a day during the ministry of Jesus Christ when he would not criticize the official, government-supported religious trends of his age. He was not an anti-Judaist, and he never separated himself from the national settings of Israel, but he regularly and sharply attacked the traditions of Judaism which were born after the Babylonian exile and its leading religious elite (quite like the prophets of the Old Testament did).
He considered it a basic problem that the ruling religious elite used the worship services and rituals as tools to feed their hunger for power and maintain their prosperity and public esteem. On the other hand, Jesus did not preach the kingdom of priests, rabbis and pastors but the coming kingdom of God, whose worship is based on a free will decision to acknowledge His person, His true greatness, His attributes and authority. Jesus of Nazareth accepted it when he was rejected, and he reasoned against his opponents, who blasphemed him or his ministry, in a confident but never violent manner. And he forgave, on the cross of Calvary, those who demanded his crucifixion from Pilate.
Why is special protection of certain religious symbols unacceptable for a believer? First of all, the original purpose of religion (at least according to Judeo-Christian thought) is to love and honour God and His creations, that is, people. The two great commandments are the same in both the Old and the New Testament. The authority of and respect for religious systems are rightful and real, if it is in proportion with their actual spiritual and moral values, social significance and credits.
In other words, leaders and representatives of religious systems cannot make it compulsory for their followers or outsiders to acknowledge their organization just because it is a historical one or of a religious kind, but at the same time being unable to show values and performance or over-exaggerating what it does have. It is even more so in a case when these organizations clearly violate the classic humanist principles that have been the most basic norms for human co-existence for thousands of years.
Limitations on freedom of speech are still recorded in laws in effect. It would cause only damage to religions, especially to Christianity, if protection of certain religious symbols were granted by state laws or their social esteem maintained this way. The status of state-church has not benefitted any mainstream Christian denomination in the past 1500 or more years. In fact it has made it impossible for Christianity to be thoroughly renewed in all its aspects. Christian politicians must not forget that their eponym was sentenced to death and crucified for the very fact that his rightful criticism of religion was presented as blasphemy by representatives of the political and religious elite of his age.
Jesus' disciples and apostles did not claim any kind of special protection from the Roman Empire. They only wanted the authorities to give them a fair trial and that they not meet the demands of their adversaries.
Before Constantin's conversion the Christian church was able earn people's respect because there were things to acknowledge, things to look up to in their lives even in the midst of blasphemies and persecutions. In general, this can much less be claimed about the Christianity which has been given a state-church status. It is also not by accident that currently Christianity is in its greatest crisis in Europe. The way out of this situation is not by creating “Give more respect to Christianity” types of laws. Christianity is able to work effectively in free, democratic countries, where religions and their representatives can be freely criticized and there are no laws forbidding conversion to another religion and a changing of one's mind, repentance or even a lifestyle that follows God's word. Those Christian denominations which expect the state and governments to fill their church buildings and institutions with people and force the respect of their religious system on civilians by laws have always been and will always be the gravediggers of the spiritual renewal of religious life.
One of the major problems with respecting religious systems lies in the fact that God has not given empirical proof of His existence to mankind for thousands of years. It is difficult for a layman to correctly discern the amount of reality in contradictory religious statements. It is servile behaviour to respect somebody or something, the existence or reality of which one is not convinced of, or is convinced of quite the opposite. It is tyranny and totalitarian systems that have forced people into such humiliating situations completely ignoring their human dignity. We did have some experience with this in the socialist era. It would be senseless to christen the convulsions we have suffered in the late ceremonies of April 4th and the Great October Socialist Revolution and give them a hint of Christianity, pass them on and force them on people with different world views. This would mean death for Christianity.
As long as God's existence in not proven to mankind scientifically we, as believers, had better fight for freedom of speech for our non-religious opponents so that they can express their objections and criticism freely and without fear - even against us, and even if it is unfair, painful and dishonouring. I have had the chance to suffer such attacks, however I did not become an enemy of freedom of speech but rather a user of it. The major trigger factor for religious criticism and blasphemy is not really the lack of proof regarding God's existence but the large amount of silly and senseless customs, superstitions and hypocrisy that outsiders experience about our religious circles. Criticism - especially when it is put forward with the intention of correction - can play a positive role in the process of being cleansed of the very things mentioned above. Every religion has the right to preach and present their own convictions as absolute truth; to claim the truths and heroes of their faith to be of more value than those of other religious systems. The God of the Bible spoke of Himself with exclusive, absolute authority, and by doing so eliminated the existence of all other gods. In his commandments given to Israel in the course of their exodus He defined himself in face of other national and religious systems revealing that He is the only true God, who delivered Israel and forbade them to worship other gods and idols. The books of the Holy Scriptures also contain criticism regarding distortions of Judaism and Christianity as well as negative judgment about different national and religious systems. The first laws of the Ten Commandments already make a distinction between the true image of God and other religious notions of God. The ten plagues of the Exodus were a judgment against the gods of Egypt, too; it was forbidden for the Jews to take part in the rituals and traditions associated with them.
The Bible emphasizes the notion that it is men that should be honoured and not religions. Religions should serve to honour God and people. In the paranoid protection of different religions fear is one of the major motivating factors, and this fear springs from an inner uncertainty concerning God's existence. The purpose of protecting the God of the Bible has been to provide people with an image of God which was based on revealed truth and not on definitions wantonly created by men. Therefore, religions have never been static; they keep on changing, they are in motion, they are being transformed. This also applies to the interpretations of the truths of faith based on Judeo-Christian revelation, the authenticity and orthodox understanding of which will be justified by the return of the Messiah. And by this, according to Judeo-Christian hope, God's existence will be proved on Earth empirically as well.
Religions are competing with one another, too, in order to win more and more people. However, this does not necessarily result in religious wars, bloody showdowns and retaliations; especially not if followers of different religions learn to respect one another's human dignity regardless of one's religious affiliations. Christian politicians must be aware that freedom of speech and religion are prerequisites for preaching the gospel. Where it is not provided, there is religious oppression, since people cannot renew or change their concept of God, though there is not one religious denomination which could claim to own and authentically represent the full truth and nature of God on Earth – as history also testifies. Consequently, citizens must be granted freedom to find their way to happiness and salvation based on their free choices, and freedom to seek God. Binding them to reigning denominations would be a tragic mistake to repeat.
In my opinion the most shocking challenge of the Paris tragedy is whether we are to give up our criticism and refusal of religious systems which do not meet either our concept of God or our demand for human freedom. One of the reasons for the success of the early, apostolic church was that they dared to even call their audience to turn away from Roman gods which were protected by state authority. For example, the Apostle Paul preached repentance from the cult of Jupiter in Listra, and he referred to sacrifices made unto him as futility. It is true, that citizens of the town stoned him afterwards, but he got on his feet and continued to bravely preach the person he had come to a full conviction about through a charismatic experience. In Athens, the sanctuary of Greek culture, he called the Greeks to turn from their religious systems which were based on ignorance and told them not to confuse the dignity of man and statues of idols. Many in the audience did not accept Paul's message but - following humanistic principles – they tolerated him and did not stone him. We can also mention Jesus who, talking to a Samaritan woman in Sychar, made it clear that she was the follower of an agnostic religion which had no knowledge of God. Jesus considered such a system inefficient and meaningless. The world has not really changed in this respect. There are several religious systems which are obstacles in one's way to seek and get to know God. It can even happen that followers are not willing to let factual information reach the general public concerning the founding and founder of their religion.
After the terrorist attack in Paris some religious leaders and politicians have demanded an impossible solution for the situation from the free world. They want to set protection of religions before freedom of speech. They would punish criticism against the founders and representatives of religions and religious systems. In Paris and other European cities kings, emperors and even the Pope of Rome were deprived of such special protection long ago. Our civilization reached freedom through great sacrifices. If we do not use it we will lose it, if we do not protect it, it will be taken away from us.