The inexcusable and inhuman attacks on the staff of the French publication Charlie Hebdo have prompted some good discussion about free speech. But is free speech really the issue? George Weigel writes what may be the most interesting article on this topic and maintains that the Charlie doesn’t actually fall under the category of satire. Rather its tone is closer to nihilism. The issue is not about rights, but about deeper philosophical considerations that shape our very understanding of the human person. Arguably, the nihilist consideration of the human person makes the question of rights irrelevant.
In the world of Charlie Hebdo, sadly, all religious convictions (indeed all serious convictions about moral truth) are, by definition, fanaticism—and thus susceptible to the mockery of the “enlightened.” But that crude caricature of religious belief and moral conviction is false; it’s adolescent, if not downright childish; it inevitably lends itself to the kind of vulgarity that intends to wound, not amuse; and over the long haul, it’s as corrosive of the foundations of a decent society as the demented rage of the jihadists who murdered members of Charlie Hebdo’s staff.
The sophomoric nastiness regularly displayed in Charlie Hebdo most certainly does not constitute any sort of warrant for homicide; the incapacity of some Muslims to live in pluralistic societies and the rage to which those incapacities lead is a grave threat to the West. The question is: What do those two truths have to do with each other?
Here’s my suggestion: You can’t beat something with nothing—perhaps better, you can’t beat something with nothingness.
The entire piece is worth a thoughtful read and a good discussion. Are we in a post-Christian era? Has it created a void that spawns extremism? I will defend the right to free speech, but it’s hard for me to imagine the content of Charlie Hebdo as the product of a living Christian culture, indeed as the product of any culture that is ordered towards life.