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Vol. 80 - No. 11
Nov 2009

WORD FROM THE PASTOR:             

"Some Religions Are More Equal Than Others"

I usually try to keep the "Word from the Pastor" fairly positive. But this month I feel compelled to share some critical comments prompted by a recent news story.

Yale University Press is publishing a book about the Danish cartoon controversy of 2005-2006. As you probably recall, a series of cartoons was published in Denmark that poked fun at Muhammad, the prophet of Islam. The cartoons caused rioting and about 130 deaths. Unscrupulous religious leaders who were trying to stir up trouble added a couple of phony cartoons to the original Danish series. (One of the fake cartoons purported to show the Prophet with a pig nose; it was actually a photo from a hog-calling contest in France that had nothing to do Islam. The other was too obscene to describe here—even non-Muslims would find it grossly offensive. But it was a fabrication, and not part of the original Danish series of twelve cartoons.)

The interesting thing about the new book from Yale University Press is that it is being published without illustrations. The book is about a controversy related to cartoons, but none of the cartoons is printed in the book (despite objections by the author). The publisher deliberately decided to omit the cartoons from the book, out of fear they would be inflammatory.

Actually, the Danish cartoons are hard to find. Only extreme right-wing websites display them. One can understand this–certainly no one wants a repeat of the horrific violence of 2006. But the fear of publishing the cartoons leads to a certain double standard. Take the Los Angeles Times website, for instance. Certainly they don’t display the Danish cartoons. But you will find on the LA Times website fifty different satirical versions of the Last Supper (the Danes offered a mere twelve images of Muhammad). You’ll find, for instance, a painting where Christ and His disciples are replaced by breakfast food mascots—Mrs. Butterworth as Jesus, surrounded by Tony the Tiger, the Trix rabbit, the Lucky Charms leprechaun, and numerous others as apostles. Cap’n Crunch plays the role of Judas. Other Last Supper scenes on the website feature the Simpsons, the Sopranos, comic book super heroes, the Sesame Street gang, Star Wars characters, and McDonald’s mascots (Ronald McDonald fills the Christ role in this one). Most offensive of all is a poster promoting a San Francisco street fair showing leather-clad sadomasochists in place of Christ and His apostles.

To be honest, the only one of these pictures that outraged me was the San Francisco poster. A couple of the others I found rather amusing. It’s been said that the ability to laugh at your religion is a sign that you are secure in your faith–which I agree with up to a point. (We should, however, remember that the Lord’s Supper is something supremely sacred in our faith–it is the very body and blood of Christ given for the forgiveness of our sins. So even if we chuckle at Mrs. Butterworth and the Trix rabbit, we should also be aware that we are being deeply insulted!) Much more offensive than the images themselves is the double standard: it’s okay to run images that offend Christianity, but the Danish cartoons must never see the light of day.

I noticed the same double standard in a well-known animated TV show a few years ago. The show produced an episode that featured Muhammad delivering a pizza. When the episode aired, the network blacked out the Muhammad-with-pizza scene. And yet–this same cartoon show constantly depicts Jesus doing very strange things (including killing a famous Roman Catholic leader with a martial arts throwing star). And the Jesus scenes are never blacked out. Again, a double standard at work.

It should be noted that, in Islam, Muhammad is not divine, but a prophet—a sacred person, certainly, but simply a human being. In Christianity, however, Jesus Christ is not just a human being—He is also God. He is God who took human flesh upon Himself, became our human brother, to rescue us from the power of sin. When irreverence is shown toward Muhammad, the offense is to a holy man. But when irreverence is shown toward Jesus, the offense is (at least in Christian eyes) toward God Himself. So if our Muslim friends get mad at irreverence toward Muhammad, we Christians theoretically should get really, really mad at irreverence toward Jesus.

That we don’t get angry probably means that we have truly internalized Christ’s advice to "resist not evil", to "turn the other cheek" (Matthew 5:39,40). And our society takes advantage of our gentle nature, to make merciless fun of our faith while treating other faiths with kid gloves.

Ideally, all people’s faiths should be respected. I would never make fun of Islam (although, obviously, as a Christian, I have to reject many of its teachings, especially its belief that Christ was only a man and that He did not die on the cross). But I also realize that the kind of free expression we enjoy in America is often a rough-and tumble thing. Having my faith made fun of, sometimes savagely, comes with the territory of living in a free society. But what bothers me is the double standard— some religions are exempted from attack and criticism, while open season is declared on others. I don’t have any surefire remedy for this—but perhaps whenever you notice the double standard at work, it might be a good idea to drop a note to the newspaper or TV station engaging in it. We can’t ask for preferential treatment for our faith; but we can expect something like a level playing field.

God loves you and so do I!

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