Written in response to:
It seems to me that piece ‘Hebdo and Satire’ makes a number of unwarranted assumptions. First, that if some of the humor in a book is satirical, then all of it is. Second, that if some of the humor in a book is good, so must all of it be. I see no reason why the episode of Panurge and the married woman need be considered as satire, anymore than a great deal of the physical and verbal humor in the book need be. And while I have not read through the book in many years, I expect that Rabelais missed on plenty of his jokes, just as other humorists do. I will also say that a lot of comedians would be out of business if the public felt that jokes must be ethically justifiable: enough make their living making audiences laugh at what makes them uncomfortable.
As for the Pope, are ‘treated respectfully’ and ‘exempt from criticism’ really the same thing? I think poorly of quite a few beliefs, some religious, many not, held by quite a few people I know and had rather get along with. Though I once might have imagined myself enlightening them and the world with an incisive jape, I eventually found that this produced more enemies than converts. If cornered and forced to controversy, I will argue my case. But I try to avoid treating the other party as a fool. Does the Pope regard even Catholicism as exempt from criticism? The little I follow his pronouncements in the media suggests not.
You write, ‘But the notion that adherents of one set of religious beliefs should be able to set limits on the behaviour or expression of people who do not share those beliefs is unaccountable and illogical, not to mention utterly unrealistic.’ I think that requires some qualification. I don’t know what you mean by unaccountable; its illogic surely depends on the premises; and its realism depends very much on the circumstances. Today it is unrealistic in Sydney, I gather, and for the most part it is in Washington, DC. Obviously it is not unrealistic in some large portions of the world, much though we both deplore that. I hope that it is not necessary to say that I regard the killings in Paris and Copenhagen as simple unjustifiable murder.