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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Catholics militants destroy artwork

A bunch of militant Roman Catholics destroyed the Serrano photograph "Piss Christ" at a gallery exhibition in Avignon. The gallery is now displaying the destroyed artwork "so people can see what barbarians can do."

This is news worth spreading. It puts in perspective just how "moderate" the Catholic Church is. And don't give me the line that this was merely a bunch of outliers - the Catholic hierarchs have previously attempted to prevent the exhibition of "Piss Christ", calling on the power of the state to do their dirty work. It happened in Melbourne during the time when I lived there, for example. They are very happy to employ force to stop speech and expression that they disapprove of, and, despite all the historical revisionism that we see, they always have been.

Roman Catholicism has a long history of suppressing ideas and images that it considers threatening. In past centuries, it has had considerable success with this, acting through state power. The Catholic hierarchy is fundamentally opposed to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and this has been shown numerous times.

There is nothing "moderate" about the Catholic Church or the Catholic faith, despite the way it is often held out as one of the nicer religions. It's just as bad as any other - and in some ways, it's worse than most. Once again, I call on decent people who belong to the Catholic Church to leave it and join some other Christian denomination. If these sorts of barbaric actions don't represent you ... well, maybe you need to look further into the positions that the hierarchy takes on your behalf.


Timothy said...

I confess to being uneducated on this. Could you give a few more examples of things the Church has censored?

Russell Blackford said...

A good place to start would be Wikipedia's article on the Index Prohibitorum. This will put it more in historical perspective. The Galileo Affair, which led to Galileo being threatened with torture and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, was fundamentally about the Church trying to censor Galileo's views on heliocentrism for example.

From there, maybe you can work up to the present day - the church abandoned the project of the Index a few decades ago on the ground that it was impractical trying to monitor the whole output of popular culture. But it is involved in one way or another - sometimes more formally, sometimes less so - in just about any contemporary controversy over censorship that you can think of. Catholics invariably line up on the pro-censorship side of all the public debates.

I don't know where you live, but a good approach to getting across this would be to follow debates about censorship schemes and the like in your own region.

A really good, eye-opening case, however, is the Giniewski case in France, pursued by a Catholic organisation. Wikidpedia describes it as follows:

"In 1994, the newspaper Le quotidien de Paris published the article L'obscurité de l'erreur by journalist, sociologist, and historian Paul Giniewski. The article was a reaction to the publication of the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor. In the article, Giniewski criticizes the Pope, and states that Catholic doctrine abetted the conception and the realization of Auschwitz. A Catholic organization initiated criminal proceedings on the ground that the article was an insult to a group because of its religion. The court of first instance convicted the newspaper, but the first court of appeal annulled the conviction. The Catholic organization launched a civil action. The court of first instance decided that the article constituted a defamation of Catholics. The first court of appeal disagreed. The Supreme Court of Appeal held that the first court of appeal had made an error, and referred the matter back to that court. The first court of appeal then held Giniewski liable for defaming Catholics. Giniewski appealed, but the Supreme Court of Appeal rejected his contention that his aim was not to insult Catholics but to present an opinion in good faith. Giniewski appealed to the European Court of Human Rights. The European Court held that the courts of France were wrong."

That's a very clear-cut case of the Catholic body in France which takes on these cases seeking outright of censorship of ideas - and succeeding all the way through the French legal system until they finally failed in the European Court of Human Rights.

There are numerous such examples, but maybe the above is enough to get you started and to give you some of what was in my mind. Of course, among all this, they will say "We support freedom of speech, but ..."

Russell Blackford said...

oh, and lol @ "Wikidpedia" as a spelling. Oops. Sorry about that.

Glendon Mellow said...

I usually struggle to address atheism in my paintings on the subject without being overtly nasty to any particular religious practice.

But it goes to show, doesn't it? Maybe I won't worry about that anymore.

Timothy said...

Wow, that's very interesting! Thank you for such a detailed reply!

Ebonmuse said...

There's also this story about a Catholic lawyer suing the director of a film that satirizes the Pope. Note also the archbishop expressing "fatwa envy" (to use PZ's vivid term).