There has been much discussion among humanists and other secularists, including in the pages of this journal ("Toward a Kinder and Gentler Humanism" by Paul Kurtz, FI, June/July 2010), about the limits on criticism of religion-and in particular whether secularists have an obligation to avoid commenting on religion in a way that might offend believers. Some take this position; others vigorously disagree, arguing that it is permissible to be offensive. Closely connected with this dispute is a debate over forms of expression: should secularists limit themselves to presenting scholarly critiques of religion, or may we instead express ourselves with more pithy, sharp criticism through the use of cartoons, slogans, sarcasm, and the like?
I often find these debates unilluminating because the arguments are not properly grounded. Sometimes, the disputing parties seem to be saying nothing more substantive than "Offending remarks hurt people and will not win us any friends, so don't do it" or, on the other hand, "Religion is pernicious, so feel free to blast away at it."