Pardon me while I blow the horn for FREE INQUIRY’s sister zine. The January/February SKEPTICAL INQUIRER contains an article that just may strike the definitive blow against those who, by appeal to righteous indignation or sanctity, would shield heinous cultural practices or religious dogmas against any comment or criticism. (SI doesn’t post articles from an issue until the next issue comes out, so “bad news,” you’ll just have to lay your hands on a physical copy!)
We’ve all beheld the dialogue-stopping power of appeals to righteous indignation or sanctity. By their use, defenders of dogma and repression have sought to insulate their ideologies — even their whole communities — from comment, criticism, or public scrutiny. Don’t publish cartoons that mock Muhammad, because Muslims will be overcome by righteous indignation. In their rage they will wreak terrible destruction … and it will all be your fault. Don’t be critical of female genital mutiliation in countries where it is encouraged or demanded by the ascendant religion; it is sacred to that faith’s adherents and we have no right to traduce their creed. Arguments of this sort are central to the pushback against initiatives like the Center for Inquiry’s Campaign for Free Expression (https://centerforinquiry.org/cfe/); they set the air abuzz when proposals to prohibit criticism of religion are considered in venues like the United Nations. When it’s a confrontation between Western privilege and Third World piety — between guilt-prone liberals and Frantz Fanon’s “wretched of the earth” — it can be tempting to give these arguments far more credit than they deserve.
“Indignation Is Not Righteous,” by writer Gary Longsine and philosopher Peter Boghossian, sets the record straight. This brief but hugely thought-provoking article examines the appeals to righteous indignation and sanctity from historical, philosophical, and moral perspectives, and shows exactly why they are blatant fallacies capable of wreaking great harm.
Every campaigner for the right to discuss or criticize on any subject, even a “sacred” one — anyone who has ever face the well-meant but absurd argument that for us to judge authentic peoples of other cultures by own blundering standards is arrogant and unfair — needs to read Longsine and Boghossian’s article. For the next month and a half (give or take), you’ll need to lay your hands on a hardcopy issue of SKEPTICAL INQUIRER in order to see it.