Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rights and Reason: 'Abuse of Popular Belief'

Here’s another story that caught my eye by Phil Stewart at Reuters:

Forget the U.S. debate over intelligent design versus evolution.

An Italian court is tackling Jesus -- and whether the Roman Catholic Church may be breaking the law by teaching that he existed 2,000 years ago.

The case pits against each other two men in their 70s, who are from the same central Italian town and even went to the same seminary school in their teenage years.

The defendant, Enrico Righi, went on to become a priest writing for the parish newspaper. The plaintiff, Luigi Cascioli, became a vocal atheist who, after years of legal wrangling, is set to get his day in court later this month.

"I started this lawsuit because I wanted to deal the final blow against the Church, the bearer of obscurantism and regression," Cascioli told Reuters.

Cascioli says Righi, and by extension the whole Church, broke two Italian laws. The first is "Abuso di Credulita Popolare" (Abuse of Popular Belief) meant to protect people against being swindled or conned. The second crime, he says, is "Sostituzione di Persona", or impersonation.

"The Church constructed Christ upon the personality of John of Gamala," Cascioli claimed, referring to the 1st century Jew who fought against the Roman army.
A court in Viterbo will hear from Righi, who has yet to be indicted, at a January 27 preliminary hearing meant to determine whether the case has enough merit to go forward.
What’s wrong with this case? Cascioli is attacking the right to hold a private view. If it's permissible for a government to rule on religion on the basis of “Abuse of Popular Belief,” then it’s permissible for a government to rule on politics, ethics, or any other realm it desires. Did marketing sway you to buy that car on the promise that it would increase your feeling of prestige or personal satisfaction? Abuse of Popular Belief. Did Atlas Shrugged sway you away from religion and toward Objectivism? Abuse of Popular Belief.

There is a reason government must stay out of the realm of ideas, and that is that no man may presume to think for another. Men like Cascioli are only acting against the dawn of a future age of reason, by undercutting the very intellectual freedom that would make such an age possible.

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