Saturday, February 04, 2006

Religion in Public Life

I have struggled over the past few days to understand the furor over the publication of cartoons depicting Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. It seems to be getting more press over here in Germany, but a fair amount in the USA as well. Now it appears that the Danish embassy in Syria has been set on fire, and lots of Muslims have been vehemently protesting in the streets of many cities. The whole issue is tricky for many of us on the Progressive Left, especially Christians, because while we strongly support the freedom of expression, it is also painful to see deeply-held religious views so blatantly disrespected. Frankly, I have to admit that my first response was probably like that of most American citizens: What is wrong with free expression? Why do Muslims in the Middle East have to try to censor newspapers in Europe? And the images themselves don't seem so bad to my eyes, even imagining an equivalent satire of the Christian religion. We can't try to enforce one religious group's views of what constitutes blasphemy in a secular and pluralistic society, now can we?

But the more I thought about it, I realized that I really don't understand at all the worldview of many (most?) Muslims that causes them to take such offense. I just live in such a radically different world that I could not comprehend why depicting a religious figure could be so bad. As a Christian, I am so accustomed to seeing depictions of Jesus (and even God in some cartoons) that I think nothing of it. Maybe I need to imagine something completely different that would make me feel just as offended. Like, for example, when hate-mongers picket liberal churches or pastors with signs reading "God hates fags" (sic). To me, even typing those words seems almost like blasphemy. If a newspaper, Christian or secular, had printed a news story announcing those words as fact, I would have felt extremely offended, because to me one of the non-negotiable central tenets of my Christian faith is that God loves EVERYBODY. I would probably go protest in the streets and boycott any newspaper that proclaimed as a supposed matter of fact that God hates gay people, or anybody for that matter.

Perhaps the most helpful brief commentary on this issue is a brief diary posted by scorponic at dailykos. As someone who has watched the whole thing unfold in Denmark, scorponic points out the larger context of the developing controversy. Those of us on the Progressive Left may just wish this whole mess to go away--and, indeed, it is just adding fuel to the fire for right-wing extremists in both Western and Middle Eastern countries. But I think we can't ignore it entirely. It is hard to fully support (or oppose) either side in this controversy, but I hope that perhaps some voices of tolerance and mutual understanding can begin to edge us away from the horrid "clash of civilizations" rhetoric that events like this seem to enable.

On a completely different subject, if you haven't seen Bono's remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast, they are powerful and well worth reading.

4 comments:

christian_left said...

Just today (5 Feb. 2005), Juan Cole (www.juancole.com) also posted a thoughtful statement about this issue. You may have to scroll down quite a ways to see it, but look for this title:

Muslim Protests Against Anti-Muhammad Caricatures

christian_left said...

And here's another differing perspective that appeared on dailykos:

http://dailykos.com/storyonly/2006/2/5/13149/60748

This is certainly a complex issue...

Tess said...

I was just reading about the increased violence on cnn.com, so I came here to see if you had posted your perspective. Like you, I'm not entirely sure which side to take--two values I prize (free speech and religious sensitivity) seem to be in opposition to each other.

christian_left said...

Yet another thoughtful entry into the debate, if anyone is still reading this post...

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20060227/younge