What does it mean to denigrate someone’s religion? This is not a rhetorical question. In the last few days Barack Obama has admonished us not to do so, while the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has demanded “criminalizing assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.” Meanwhile a foundation in Iran has again raised the bounty on Salman Rushdie’s head, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring” is preparing to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its opening, which brought howls of (non-murderous) protests for its pagan theme.
While every religion wants its beliefs and practices respected, it seems that only the fundamentalist wings of the three Abrahamic religions demand their beliefs be held sacrosanct in the public arena. Never mind that half the things those people say offend my religion, which is a combination of spiritualism, rationalism, humanism and optimism – a singular religion, to be sure, but one I have a first-amendment right to espouse.
I think of the world as a commons that we all share and for which each of us is responsible. Right now two things most endanger the commons. One is hate, which drove the production of “Innocence of Muslims.” The other is fear, which is driving the reaction to those who violently protest a film most haven’t even seen.
Hate poisons the commons. Fear closes the commons – as surely as fear of being mugged keeps us out of a park. The best way to protect the commons is to stand up to those who would claim it for themselves, even if they put a bounty on your head.