No doubt you’ve heard the phrase: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Although many assume it was Voltaire who said it, actually it was the Voltaire biographer Evelyn Beatrice Hall who wrote it. Her phrase comes to mind as we look back over the last few weeks in which comedy and satire have come under attack.
First we had the incident over the movie, The Interview. Sony originally pulled the release of the movie and then decided to screen it in limited release and make it available through video-on-demand. The entertainment community and the public set out to defend showing the movie in an attempt to defend the right of freedom of expression.
While that was an important action, I don’t think I was the only person who wished we were defending a better movie than The Interview. Nobody will put it up against Casablanca or Gone With the Wind. I didn’t see the movie and don’t plan to see it. But I can read the comments from critics that confirm my suspicions that this was a terrible movie. One critic said it was a “spectacularly weird film to end up at the center of a free speech brouhaha.”
Then we have had the massacre in France. No artist, writer, or cartoonist should ever fear for his or her life. Freedom of expression should go hand-in-hand with freedom from retaliation. Whatever was written or drawn at Charlie Hebdo can never be justification for killing.
That being said, as Christians we find it hard to support people who satirize God, Jesus Christ, the Catholic Church, Christian leaders, Muhammad, etc. The snarky, juvenile humor of the magazine isn’t so easy for Christians to defend. We may defend their right to say what they want. But we don’t have to defend what they say.
We aren’t talking about Hamlet or Don Quixote or War and Peace. The content of this caustic satire isn’t something we can defend, though we certainly will defend their right to say it.