Says Paul Kurtz:
It is one thing to examine the claims of religion in a responsible way by calling attention to Biblical, Koranic or scientific criticisms, it is quite another to violate the key humanistic principle of tolerance. One may disagree with contending religious beliefs, but to denigrate them by rude caricatures borders on hate speech. What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society. I apologize to my fellow citizens who have suffered these barbs of indignity.
I've kinda covered this a couple of posts back, but there's a bit more to say ... and today is a good day to say it, since I've given a talk that discussed ideas of blasphemy, defamation of religion, and freedom of speech. I have to say that I find this passage that I've quoted above very surprising. I really don't know why Kurtz brings up the dangerous idea of "hate speech" (which may be of some value in other contexts, e.g racial ones, but causes a great deal of confusion when applied to "hate" of ideas).
This is the kind of problem that I raised towards the end of my talk, the risk that the idea of "hate" will be watered down, in which case even existing UN conventions can be very dangerous if enacted into law. The relevant UN convention (see Article 20 of the ICCPR) requires the legal suppression of religious hate speech that causes mere "hostility". But many things cause some hostility, and a degree of hostility (provided it is not violent) is not actually unwelcome in pluralistic societies. For example, there's a fair bit of hostility between political parties, supporters of rival football teams, opposed economic theorists, etc. The word "hostility" is potentially very broad.
Alas, much of Kurtz's rhetoric is unfortunate. It's especially unfortunate that he talks about violation of "the key humanistic principle of tolerance". I know of no humanistic principle that says we must tolerate, in the sense of being nice about or respectful of, every absurd idea that confronts us. Voltaire was certainly not tolerant in any such sense. If such a principle exists, it should be repudiated.
We should, indeed, exercise liberal tolerance in the sense of not trying to suppress religious ideas by fire and sword. We ought to abjure the use of the coercive power of the state to impose our own view of the world. But tolerance is not the same as respect (unless "respect" is itself defined narrowly). It is certainly not the same as "deference" or "esteem". I am, perhaps, less ready to resort to mockery and outright hostility than some of my allies, but hostility is often appropriate, and mockery certainly has its place where what is opposed is absurd. Often it takes a degree of mockery to cut through all the crap and expose the absurdity of an absurd position.
When we do this, we are not abandoning liberal tolerance, and nor, as far as I can see, are we abandoning some key principle of humanism.
This cuts both ways. Kurtz says in the passage above:
What would humanists and skeptics say if religious believers insulted them in the same way? We would protest the lack of respect for alternative views in a democratic society.
No we would not. We might disagree with the views, we might find them irritating, we might not welcome such religious believers in our houses, but we would not protest in any such way. They are entitled to insult us. What they are not entitled to do is get laws enacted to try to suppress humanism or scepticism.
As I've said before, I have some sympathy for the idea of preserving the dignified brand image that the CFI has cultivated in the past. To be clear, I'm not sure that Kurtz would be entirely right even about that. But even if he is, that does not mean that the rest of us have to be similarly dignified in our approaches, or that those who are less so should be condemned as failing to be properly tolerant. It really is over the top Kurtz to be apologising to people who have not been oppressed in any way but merely suffered some "barbs of indignity".
No one has a right to go through life never suffering such "barbs". Give me a break.