I would like to comment on the massacre of satirical cartoonists and journalists at the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. My feelings are complicated.
We are all extremely appalled and horrified that anyone could believe that their interpretation of religion would justify the cold-blooded murder of 12 people. This was the apparent justification used by the murderers for the outrage we have just witnessed. While words (and cartoons) can truly hurt our feelings, they certainly can’t physically harm us. In the case of Charlie Hebdo, the magazine takes on all religions in the long-standing tradition of French anti-clerical feeling, and they have offended many believers in France over the years. But until this week, no one had retaliated in such a murderous manner.
Freedom of speech (not to mention religion) is the bulwark of a free, liberal democracy. Without it we must descend into tyranny and oppression. Without these freedoms we, as Pagans, would not be allowed to practice our religions in most of the world. Examples of the religious repression of minorities can be seen in the Middle East, Russia, China, and much of Africa. For us, these freedoms are essential to our very existence. Religious extremism is at the root of much terrorism and oppression. Its causes are many, and include actions by nations, individuals, corporations, and social prejudices. When a people feel powerless they will respond in whatever way they can.
Perhaps the answer here is one of mutual respect? Our freedom of speech in the western world is practically absolute and we must ensure that it remains so. There are religions that attempt to justify the subjugation and defilement of women, gays, minorities, and those who are not of that religion. We must be vigilant to oppose these discriminatory ideas held by our own religious extremists here at home as well as those abroad.
As Pagans, and in the spirit of reciprocity, can we show respect for the beliefs of others? Certainly, we Pagans have been at the receiving end of some pretty noxious comments and actions over the years. Does it really help us to respond in hateful or violent ways? Would it not be better to model who we are and what we believe in?
Respect is a two-way street. As we grow in our spiritual practices we should honor and respect those of others, and in return they may learn to honor and respect us. I offer my condolences to all those who have been affected by these terrible events, and I pray that we all may all grow together in understanding and mutual respect.