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He Hit Me With A Surprise Left

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, you might have heard Pope Francis’ most recent comments: “If my good friend Dr. [Alberto] Gasparri says a curse word against my mother,” the pontiff said, “he can expect a punch. It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Over at HotAir, this prompted Allah to ask: “What’s the difference between what the Pope said and what Bill Donohue said?”:

“What’s [Donohue] guilty of that Francis isn’t? He began by condemning the murders ‘unequivocally.’ He acknowledged in his next post that Americans have the legal right to insult his (or any other) faith — which, actually, is further than Francis went in defense of free speech in his own brief remarks. The part that got him in trouble was when he said, in a post titled, ‘Muslims Are Right to Be Angry,’ that Charlie Hebdo editor Stephane Charbonnier ‘didn’t understand the role he played in his tragic death.’ He blamed the victim by defending the killers’ rage, if not endorsing their means.”

As I wrote the other day, Donohue’s timing had as much to do with the controversy as his actual comments. Donohue, noted Hugh Hewitt, “blamed the victim before their bodies were cold.”

Still, as I also suggested, “buried among the garbage,” Donohue did have a point. At least, he does to the degree that Pope Francis has an argument. So here’s my less take on what I think Pope Francis actually meant:

If someone I loved wanted to attend a Philadelphia Eagles game wearing his Cowboys jersey, I would strongly advise against it. I would suggest that doing so might not be in his best interest. I would suggest that his odds of getting his ass kicked increases exponentially the moment he dons a Cowboys jersey at an Eagles game.  (Ditto hitting on some drunk guy’s girlfriend or telling some guy at a biker bar he could lose a few pounds.)

Sports fandom is, presumably, less incendiary than religious fundamentalism. Still, what I am suggesting is that some forms of expression are likely to provoke the kind of person who (let’s face it) might not need that much provocation. And for what? Does wearing the Cowboys jersey prove some larger point? Does not wearing it in Philadelphia imply cowardice?

These are all questions you can ponder while you’re recovering in the hospital.

Now, at the macro level, we must, on principle, unapologetically fight for free speech. But, the micro level, we all pick our battles. You might pretend this is not so, but everyone single person self-edits his or her comments every single day. This is more than knowing what is socially appropriate, it’s also a survival skill.

This may all be a generous interpretation of Francis’ statements. But I think this is essentially what he was saying. It was not an endorsement of the horrific response which is likely to ensue, but, instead, an explanation of how the world works in practice.

And here again, there is daylight between Pope Francis and “Pope” Donohue. Let’s say my friend wears the jersey and gets jumped. Would my first instinct be to say, “See that’s what you get for wearing that jersey. You were asking for it”?

Of course not. Nobody deserves to be beaten, much less murdered, because of something they wore (or drew, or said, or wrote).

I wouldn’t get around to the “What can we learn from this experience?” phase of the conversation for at least a week.