Philip Copeman

Author and Activist

Blasphemy and Profanity are rights of freedom

As an atheist and citizen of Cape Town, I was most disappointed to see the acquiescing of Pic and Pay to the rampant attacks handed out by Gods self appointed agent – Pastor Errol Naidoo. This week Pic and Pay pulled the UCT Rag magazine from it shelves as a result of an email campaign orchestrated by Naidoo on behalf of “Cape Towns Christian Community”. It was particularly distressing to see the Rector of a world class University, Thandabantu Nhlapo apologising to Naidoo for granting his students the right to free speech

Now I do understand, that Pic an Pay is foremost a business and must satisfy its customers first, but Errol Naidoo and his flock are not the only customers and they are not the guardians of our rights to speech. Their opinion of content is simply another of the many diverse views held by South Africans. Their God, or the means of describing him or debating his merits, holds no sway in the minds of the rational.

I have not read the contents of the offending SAX magazine, having now had the rights to purchase it removed from me, however the content is not relevant to freedom of speech. Unless it is publishing child pornography, inciting violence or producing hate speech, Errol Naidoo's opinion is of little lawful relevance and his actions are merely an encroachment on the rights of other Pic and Pay customers. Clearly any editorial in the magazine is not the opinion of Pic and Pay or its directors, any more than the selling of easter eggs is a commitment by Pic n Pay to the teachings of Jesus.

We live in a country of diverse cultural views. Alternative views are never comfortable, but granting another citizen the right to free speech, even accompanied by profanity, is a cornerstone of our freedom. No matter how important Naidoo's God is to him, it is simply an offensive fairy tale to me. It may come as a shock to Naidoo that selling easter Eggs or Hot Cross Buns in Pic and Pay is as offensive to me as blasphemy is to him. However I grant his flock the right to express their cultural religion, and sometimes even buy a bun myself.

I don't go running off to Jonathan Ackerman telling him to move the Matzos back off the shelf.

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Nick Tatalias answers

In principal Philip you are right, but his protest is his right of free speech also, do smokers have the right to blow smoke in my face as an expression of free speech? Is it a long step from an anti Semitic joke to genocide? If I find blasphemy offensive, I must object. If others find Easter Eggs offensive then protest, many Christan's may agree, given the pagan origins of Estrus. If Pick and Pay limit your choice, go to the rag office and buy it there. Pick and Pay already exercise judgement on which magazines to sell and which not to, based on likely sales and shelf space. Do they sell Scientific American at Pick and Pay magazine racks? No they sell magazines like Heat. Is that an onslaught against the intelligent?

More importantly however I must contend with this statement of yours

"Their God, or the means of describing him or debating his merits, holds no sway in the minds of the rational."

The rationality of the atheist position is as precarious as that of the Christian You (as an atheist) have drawn a conclusion based on assumptions of inferences from a world where postulations are based on extrapolation of data from best fit curves (huh :-)). Take economics for example. Most of the maths in economics is simplification of the data that becomes a law unto itself. It is virtually impossible to create equations for 6 billion independent variables let alone there interaction. Economist generalise, they have to, but events inferred outside the tested data and outside the assumptions are at best hypothesis.

Rationality in belief and Faith are not separate. In Isaiah God talking through the profit says "Come and reason with me". You have to make a step of faith in science to believe that Heisenberg's uncertainty principal is true or that the speed of light in a vacuum is fixed. In a world of relativity, Einstein fixes one point the speed of light, or his mathematical construct becomes and impossible task. His mathematical tools are good and useful in calculations as they serve best to approximate the observable, Yet his fudge factor the universal constant, which he first proposed the derided and then re accepted is what? A chink in the calculation construct? Yet his tool remains useful. is space 12 or 13 dimension? It isn't as string theory losses favour for membrane theory? Can science really infer time before the big bang? Time and space is created at the bang, Even the rules of physics are postulated in time nano seconds after the bang. We infer these things. Heisenberg is right some things are unknowable.

I am perfectly willing to accept that the step in Faith I took in believing in God, and in Jesus is based on a personal experience. Was my experience mere coincidence a delusion, all of the above? After two hours of conversation attempting to persuade Samantha not to kill herself and failing I said one line, "God help me save Sam" since she was getting out of my car to go and blow her head off. The moment I said those words, she turned and got back in the car asking for help. Was that coincidence? Was it her reaction to my defeat and collapse, did she see through her depression for a moment that some one cared? Or was it God stepping in to a world to reveal Himself? The events made me rethink the evidence. Yet having taken that step am I less rational than you who won't take that step? Lets not use the words rational and irrational in this discussion in each others Faith.

As a former atheist and hedonist, I ask you to re-evaluate the evidence but take away your preconception that God doesn't exist.
Rationality in belief and Faith are not separate.

You write so well that I am proud to call you my friend. It is however amazing that you can come out at such a different position to mine.

Let me just focus here on the difference between belief and faith. This has been covered extensively in the literature by people far better than I, so I should just keep it personal. The difference between belief and faith is that I am willing to change my beliefs. Give me evidence on a matter (God being one of them) and I will change.

My beliefs are not even weighed in Physical laws, they are based on stochastic hypothesis. That is, they have a probability. Outside of the realm of pure mathematics and inductive logic, most natural phenomena can never be proved absolutely. Godel, if I could understand his proof, would say that even inside of mathematics they could not be proved. That means that we believe in likelihood functions. Which is where we atheists get to "God probably does not exist" - we have been through this before "God does not exist" is undefendable".

Nevertheless for all its weakness the scientific hypothesis of "belief", stands shoulders above the dogmatic - "faith" , which is completely closed to the process of reason. And so it should, because likewise "God does exists" is a very difficult hypothesis to prove.

When all this is said and done and the clock heads towards 4-30 - in courtrooms all over the world, Judges must weigh the evidence, draw inferences and make a decision. My decision is clearly that God does not exist. So I thank you for colorful arguments and your kind words, but I am going to have to go with reasonable doubt here.

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