Blasphemy, Culture, and Reasonable Arguments

Avatar

Jaybird

Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

Related Post Roulette

85 Responses

  1. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    “To be sure,” it was said, “we do not condone the fatwa… but a fatwa was a perfectly predictable response to a publication of this nature. Prior restraint could have avoided this situation.”

    Who said this, Ray Bolger?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Third Way magazine argued at the time against the proposition that England needs to enforce its blasphemy laws to prevent the fatwa.

      Very recently, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave a speech in which he said the following:

      And that is where I want to place the emphasis of this reflection. The grounds for legal restraint in respect of language and behaviour offensive to religious believers are pretty clear: the intention to limit or damage a believer’s freedom to be visible and audible in the public life of a society is plainly an invasion of what a liberal society ought to be guaranteeing; and the obvious corollary is that the creation of an offence of incitement to religious hatred is a way of avoiding the civil disorder that threatens when a group comes to feel that it has been unjustly excluded. Since the old offence of blasphemy – as we have seen – no longer works effectively to do this, there is no real case for its retention. How adequately the new laws will meet the case remains to be seen; I should only want to suggest that the relative power and political access of a group or person laying charges under this legislation might well be a factor in determining what is rightly actionable.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        Third Way magazine argued at the time against the proposition that England needs to enforce its blasphemy laws to prevent the fatwa.

        That’s not how I read that at all. They use the fatwa as a worst-case of what blasphemy laws lead to, in order to argue that such laws should be abolished.

        And the archbishop’s piece is quite recent.

        So I’ll ask again: who was calling the fatwa “perfectly predictable” in 1988?Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          I recall the arguments being given… I don’t know how googleable that is.

          If you’d like, I’ll concede the point that I can’t find online documentation of what I remember.

          I can find documentation of people making that argument recently regarding Terry Jones, however. I swear to goodness that I heard echoes of Rushdie in those arguments about Jones… but, if I cannot find documentation, I have to concede the point.Report

          • Avatar JGabriel says:

            Jaybird, I recall those same arguments being made about the The Satanic Verses at the time of the controversy as well. The Village Voice might have some references to it if you can find back issues from the 1988-91 era, if I recall correctly.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I didn’t think to check the VV! Yeah, now that you mention it, I seem to remember that that was the time that I first noticed Nat Hentoff as well.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The Village Voice online archives apparently only go back to the late 90’s.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                But I did find this.

                Towards the bottom:

                “Rushdie has also replied to those who argue that novels such as his deserve condemnation because they do not respect the religious sensibilities of some believers: Religious extremists, these days, demand “respect” for their attitudes with growing stridency. Few people would object to the idea that people’s rights to religious belief must be respected–after all, the First Amendment defends those rights as unequivocally as it defends free speech–but now we are asked to agree that to dissent from those beliefs, to hold that they are suspect or antiquated or wrong, that in fact they are arguable, is incompatible with the idea of respect. When criticism is placed off-limits as “disrepectful,” and therefore offensive, something strange is happening to the concept of respect. Yet in recent times both the American N.E.A. and the very British BBC have announced that they will employ this new perversion of “respect” as a touchstone for their funding and programming decisions.
                Other minority groups–racial, sexual, social–have also demanded that they be accorded this new form of respect. To “respect” Louis Farrakhan, we must understand, is simply to agree with him. To “dis” him is, equally simply, to disagree. But if dissent is also to be thought a form of “dissing,” then we have indeed succumbed to the thought police.

                I want to suggest that citizens of free societies do not preserve their freedom by pussyfooting around their fellow citizens’ opinions, even their most cherished beliefs.

                So there’s that.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Here’s this:

          http://www.richardwebster.net/therushdieaffairreconsidered.html

          Written in 1992.

          Here’s an excerpt: Looking back with the hindsight afforded by the three years and more which have elapsed since The Satanic Verses was published, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that both Salman Rushdie himself and Penguin Books were guilty of an understandable, but nevertheless catastrophic error of judgment when a decision was taken to publish the novel in spite of a warning from Penguin’s Indian literary adviser that publication would be ‘lethal’.

          Good enough? Or do you need me to find evidence that folks thought that there would be a fatwa rather than just evidence that folks thought that there would be violence?Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

            That’s a guy in India saying “maybe we shouldn’t do this, it could be dangerous”, not an opinion about what our culture needs to show tolerance towards. Actually, one of the main arguments I recall is whether by doing the right thing and going ahead with the publication, Penguin wasn’t endangering people who’d never signed up for defending the First Amendment with their lives.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Sorry, we had to go to the Library, then the Comic Book Store, then we had to eat, then we had to go to Safeway, then we had to go to Costco, then we had all kinds of stuff we had to do when we got back.

              Whew.

              Anyway, my argument is not that people were saying “if you publish this, there will be a problem!” it’s that they were saying, with perfect hindsight, “Rushdie should have known that there would be a problem and not publishing would have avoided it”.

              Not that they predicted it, but that it was predictable. If you know what I mean.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Were people saying that? I don’t recall it, and this was the first “All of Islam getting riled up over an insult to the Prophet/Faith” incident, so that wasn’t particularly true, excerpt in hindsight. In predictability, Jones burning a Koran is much more like Satanic Verses 12: The Prophet joins Beth Israel and gets Bar Miyzvahed.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Was the 1992 essay insufficient to show that people were thinking this sort of thing at the time? I can dig around some more…Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                It shows they were thinking it in ’92, after the fact. I’m saying that it wasn’t predicted in ’88. Except by that Indian guy, who was clearly smarter than anyone above him.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m not saying that they predicted it before the fact.

                I’m saying that they said that it was predictable (after the fact).Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Which I think is 100% hindsight. (As opposed to the case with Jones, where it was not only predictable but widely predicted.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Of course it is.

                That doesn’t change the fact that they said that it was predictable.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                We both agree then: only predictable once it’s happened and even Donald Trump could predict it. Where do we go from there?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I’m not focusing on whether it actually *WAS* predictable (though, as the Indian literary advisor demonstrated, it was), I’m focusing on the dynamic created by the arguments given in the wake of the publishing of the book… one that has echoes in arguments that burning a Koran will kill people.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                Keep in mind that it’s predictable now. I don’t think we have enough influence to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy.Report

  2. Avatar alkali says:

    If you are arguing that particular people made inconsistent arguments over a 25-year-span of time, you ought to identify them and say what they said, because this is confusing.

    I personally think that (1) the effort to censor Scorsese, Serrano, and Ofili was wrong, (2) the suggestion that Rushdie should not have published his novel was wrong, and (3) people who deliberately seek to cause offense with no artistic or other purpose, like Terry Jones, ought to refrain from doing that even though it should be entirely legal to do so, short of actually inciting a riot.

    (I don’t know enough about the Danish cartoons to comment, although I don’t think anything should be censored, and if they were something other than a mere stick-in-the-eye to Muslims I wouldn’t say it was wrong to have published them.)Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I am not arguing that people are being inconsistent. Not at all. Inconsistency is the last thing that I am preoccupied with here.

      I’m preoccupied with the idea of “the heckler’s veto”.Report

  3. Avatar Dan Miller says:

    I’m not sure that the responses to Last Temptation and the Mohammad cartoons were as different as you think. There were some people arguing that free speech is good etc; others stressed the value of not being needlessly offensive, essentially saying “don’t be a jackass”. It’s just that in the two cases, the identities of those making each argument swapped. It’s also worth noting that no mainstream figure in the West (afaik) has called for Salman Rushdie to be banned from publishing, or even for legal sanction for Terry Jones. Although I’ll admit I haven’t followed this story ultraclosely, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.Report

  4. Avatar BSK says:

    I think it is also important to see what the acts of criticism or offense are coming from. If the critic/artist is a current or former member of the lampooned community, I think that changes matters a bit. That it not to say that censorship or violence is ever justified, but I think it can legitimately color responses. For instance, as someone who was raised Catholic, I feel far more comfortable criticizing Catholicism than I do other faiths. Not only am I more knowledgeable about it than other faces, decreasing the likelihood that my criticisms are based in ignorance, but because I have a personal relationship and history with the faith, I feel more entitled to talk about. Sort of the “I can make fun of my momma but don’t you dare say a word about her” mentality.

    FWIW, I don’t know the faiths of the artists mentioned here, so it is hard to say whether any of this applies to them. I’m speaking more generally.

    I also think it depends on the message being sent. A piece of work that is critical of Islam’s teachings on the rights of women is different than a stance predicated on “Muslims are all jerks!” We should never shy away from legitimate criticism if our principals move us to speak out. We should shy away from being douches, but since we can not prohibit most forms of douchiness, we should avoid contributing to the total douchiness levels by responding to douchiness with greater douchiness.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      We should shy away from being douches, but since we can not prohibit most forms of douchiness, we should avoid contributing to the total douchiness levels by responding to douchiness with greater douchiness.

      This is a good, if vinegary, point.

      I’d like to say that _The Satanic Verses_ was a pretty good book that offered as non-douchey a criticism of Islam as, oh, Life of Brian did of the Gospels (remember: it was originally intended to be a *COMIC* novel). It talked about, among other things, Mohammed’s return to Medina in triumph, his relationship with his wives, and Al-lat, Uzza, and Manat.

      And the response exceeded the response to Terry Jones burning a Koran.

      All that to say, I don’t think that less douchiness would resolve this particular issue. Would that it could.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        Well, from what I know of “The Satanic Verses”, I wouldn’t consider it douchey.

        I’m not sure what the “particular issue” you are referring to is? If Rushdie’s book was a legitimate commentary on Islam, then those who disagreed with it (either the arguments it put forth or its mere existence) should have responded in turn, with legitimate counters. To issue Fatwas is to act in a douchey manner, if you ask me.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          The particular issue is the fatwa and the number of people killed because of the book.

          While digging around, I found this page that responds to the book… *I* don’t find the arguments particularly persuasive, but I’ve got to say that it’s very much an excellent start.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    As an additional point, I was originally going to start off going in a completely different direction discussing how Nikos Kazantzakis was excommunicated for writing Last Temptation but I came across evidence that he wasn’t:

    http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/777

    I don’t know if this is accurate… but I no longer felt comfortable saying that K. was excommunicated for writing the book.Report

    • Avatar Alex Knapp says:

      He wasn’t. The book was highly regarded among the Orthodox Church, actually. I adore “The Last Temptation of Christ.”Report

      • Avatar RTod says:

        Thanks you for that. I loved the book, and it brought me closer to becoming Christian than anything else I have ever come across. I have never been able to understand why it has a reputation for being hated by Christians. It’s good to know that it isn’t.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Also, the book was proscribed by the RCC. This is something that I don’t begin to understand, not being a Christian. The notion that Christ was tempted, not with melodramatic stuff like being the king of the world, but with having a wife and children and knowing human love, seems sweet and touching. What makes it blasphemous?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        It changes a lot of things from the way that they were presented in the Gospels… for example, the temptation in the wilderness is significantly different (I also think that the temptations in K.’s book are much more tempting than the ones in the Gospels but I am a base person).

        They also changed the discussion with Pilate (one of my drafts included this video and then got into a digression about David Bowie that ended up talking about Labyrinth).

        Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Well, something that changed the story of Elijah or Moses to make a point wouldn’t be particularly offensive to Jews (unless the point was something offensive.) But perhaps that’s quite different, I dunno. I lack the particular sensitivity Christians have about That Guy.Report

  6. Avatar BSK says:

    From Wikipedia:
    “Attack on Saint Michel theater, Paris

    On October 22, 1988, a French Christian fundamentalist group launched molotov cocktails inside the Parisian Saint Michel movie theater while it was showing the film. This attack injured thirteen people, four of whom were severely burned.[6][7] The Saint Michel theater was heavily damaged,[7] and reopened 3 years later after restoration. Following the attack, a representative of the film’s distributor, Universal International Pictures, said “The opponents of the film have largely won. They have massacred the film’s success, and they have scared the public.” Jack Lang, France’s Minister of Culture, went to the St.-Michel theater after the fire, and said, “Freedom of speech is threatened, and we must not be intimidated by such acts.”[7] The Archbishop of Paris, Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, said “One doesn’t have the right to shock the sensibilities of millions of people for whom Jesus is more important than their father or mother.”[7] However, after the fire he condemned the attack, saying “You don’t behave as Christians but as enemies of Christ. From the Christian point of view, one doesn’t defend Christ with arms. Christ himself forbade it.”[7] The leader of Christian Solidarity, a Roman Catholic group that had promised to stop the film from being shown, said, “We will not hesitate to go to prison if it is necessary.”[7]

    The attack was subsequently blamed on a Catholic fundamentalist group linked to Bernard Antony, a representative of the far-right National Front to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, and the excommunicated followers of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.[6] Similar attacks against theatres included graffiti, setting off tear-gas canisters and stink bombs, and assaulting filmgoers.[6] At least nine people believed to be members of the Catholic fundamentalist group were arrested.[6] Rene Remond, a historian, said of the Catholic far-right “It is the toughest component of the National Front and it is motivated more by religion than by politics. It has a coherent political philosophy that has not changed for 200 years: it is the rejection of the revolution, of the republic and of modernism.”[6]”

    While it may not have happened stateside, there certainly was violence associated with the protests.Report

  7. Avatar Matt says:

    If Piss Christ is art, then perhaps smashing it with a hammer is art as well. Who are we to distinguish between the two? By what standard can such a distinction be made?Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      Matt-

      If you make your own picture of Piss Christ and want to smash it, have at it. But smashing the property of another is criminal.Report

      • Avatar Matt says:

        Oh, I’d agree. So, it’d be more like graffiti art. You might call it a bold step forward in that genre, actually.Report

        • Avatar BSK says:

          Sure. But then you’re back to say, “I think what you did is wrong and will demonstrate the unacceptability of your actions by engaging in those exact actions myself.” Not really the best response.Report

    • Avatar Alex Knapp says:

      Creation is art. Destruction isn’t.Report

    • Avatar Lyle says:

      The question might well be do you display it in a museum funded by the public? The artist might have every right to create it, but does a public museum need to display it. If the artist can sell it fine, otherwise he will find that the market does not like his solution and go hungry. So if the artist could sell prints on the web thats fine but having the public fund it is different. Its just the reason that almost all art offends someone that I am tempted to say that art should not get public funding.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        Maybe art should not be publicly funded, but if we’re going to hinge that argument on the notion that a few pieces of art offended some religious folk, I don’t know how much traction that has. Especially given the long history of publicly funded works of art intended to glorify religion.Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Very recently, Terry Jones said that he was going to Dearborn to burn a Koran and, again, people pointed out that if Terry Jones does this then the consequences will be on his head.

    This argument makes a great deal of sense.

    It makes no sense whatsoever.

    If you wear a blue shirt, I will set fire to your house. And it will be your fault.

    If I ever catch you drinking coffee, I’m going to kill this kitten. You will be responsible.

    If you ever get a haircut again, I’m sending letterbombs to 100 randomly selected victims. Your fault!

    In each case, I am expecting you to take my arbitrary terms — do this or else — as mere facts of nature, effectively free from moral inquiry. The idea that I might be acting atrociously never enters into it.

    But I would be, and so would those who kill people over their excessive Koran-olatry.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      FWIW, I don’t know that Jones ever intended to burn a Koran in Dearborn. I wouldn’t have put it past him, but I don’t know that it was ever part of his plan for that protest.

      Otherwise, I agree with JK’s deconstruction of this “logic”.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      If you tell me that if I do A, you’ll kill someone, and in the past when people have done A, you’ve killed someone, and I have no particular reason to do A except to piss you off (or maybe to discredit Cato too) bur I do A anyway, in public, holding press conferences, saying “Take that. you filthy blogger, what are you going to do about it?” and in fact you kill someone…

      Then, yes, it’s on my head. Yours too, of course, but still mine.Report

      • Avatar BSK says:

        If the consequence is not inherent to the action, it is hard to assign such accountability. We may consider one prudent or noble for opting not to engage in a behavior that has an absurd consequence put in place by others, but we should not criticize them for something so out of their control. We can criticize them for being deliberately provocative for provocation’s sake, but I don’t know if most of the people noted here (Jones excluded) can be described as such.Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          “If the consequence is not inherent to the action, it is hard to assign such accountability. ”

          If you are a political or religious leader and you make the cornerstone of your key to power and influence the verbal degradation of a minority group, and encourage your flock/constituents/people-who-follow-you-on-twitter to erroneously believe that this minority is out to to get/kill/destroy you and your family and your lifestyle, do you have any accountability if they then go out and lynch some? After all, the vast majority of your followers knew you were kind of wink-winking with your rhetoric, so the consequence s obviously not inherent.Report

      • Avatar cfpete says:

        If you do one more abortion procedure, I am going to kill someone.
        It is on your head.Report

        • Avatar BSK says:

          If you eat dinner tonight, I’m going to put some baby pandas in a blender. You don’t hate pandas, do you?!?!Report

          • Avatar tom van dyke says:

            Ah, you can find anything on the internet.

            PANDA STEW RECIPE

            * 3/4 pound panda meat (preferably young panda), cut into 1 inch cubes
            * 2 onions, diced
            * 3 cloves garlic, minced
            * 1 large stalk celery, minced
            * 2 carrots, finely chopped
            * 1/4 pound green beans, cut into 1 inch pieces
            * 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
            * 3 potatoes, peeled and diced
            * 1 (14.5 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
            * 1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
            * 1 bay leaf
            * 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
            * 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
            * 1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
            * 2 (14.5 ounce) cans fat-free panda broth
            * 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

            DIRECTIONS

            1. In a slow cooker, combine panda, onions, garlic, celery, carrots, green beans, mushrooms, and potatoes. Pour in the tomatoes and tomato sauce. Season with bay leaf, pepper, thyme, and marjoram. Stir together panda broth and flour. Pour panda broth mixture into slow cooker, and stir.
            2. Cover, and cook on Low 6 to 10 hours. Remove bay leaf before serving.
            3. Serve warm on top of panda fur tablecloth (to aid in presentation)

            NUTRITIONAL VALUE (PER SERVING)
            CALORES: 580
            PROTEIN: 40g
            FAT: 20g
            CARBOHYDRATES: 60gReport

            • Avatar RTod says:

              We always use white meat chicken to cut the baby panda meat in our house. It’s a lot better on the family budget, and it really helps with those post-holiday waste lines.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              Oh please. You’re going to use canned tomatoes?Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                It’s just that when panda’s in season, tomatoes are out.Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                You don’t have hothouse tomatoes?

                Wait a second, Tom, you live in SoCal. Tomatoes on the vine are available year-round. I call shenanigans.Report

              • Avatar tom van dyke says:

                Panda hunters don’t garden, Pat. Everybody knows that. Does Dick Butkus crochet?

                I remember it like it was yesterday. I came around the rocky corner of a well-worn panda path and just like that, I was eye-to-black-hooded eye with the biggest, fiercest, snarlingest panda that man had ever seen.

                Come to think of it, I’m sure BlaiseP has a story with a bigger, fiercer, snarlier one and you know how I hate it when he one-ups me. So, some other time, mebbe…Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Nope. He who has hunted the ferocious panda and lived to tell the tale, well, gosh…. How do you top that? Bag a chupacabra?Report

              • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

                > Does Dick Butkus crochet?

                I’m pretty sure I saw that in a Miller Lite commercial at some point in the late 80s.Report

      • If you tell me that if I do A, you’ll kill someone, and in the past when people have done A, you’ve killed someone, and I have no particular reason to do A except to piss you off (or maybe to discredit Cato too) bur I do A anyway, in public, holding press conferences, saying “Take that. you filthy blogger, what are you going to do about it?” and in fact you kill someone…

        Then, yes, it’s on my head. Yours too, of course, but still mine.

        I tend to agree, with the caveat that the person who should bear all (or almost all) of the legal responsibility, and most of the moral responsibility, is the one(s) who commits the actual violence.Report

    • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

      This a thousand times this.

      The appropriate response to Terry Jones is refutation of his message. If you really need to do something else don’t kill anyone just have a bible burning across from his church one Sunday morning.Report

      • Avatar ThatPirateGuy says:

        Of course a truly classy move would be to give out pairs of bibles and korans across the street while hold up signs that say we forgive you.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      It makes no sense whatsoever.

      There are a great many people who feel this argument has a great deal of resonance (including the Archbishop of Canterbury!).

      I don’t agree with it. (Here is a fun thread where I argued a position similar to yours.)

      Enough people take the argument seriously for me to see it as part of the dynamic that led us to Avignon.Report

    • Avatar Pat Cahalan says:

      > In each case, I am expecting you to take my arbitrary
      > terms — do this or else — as mere facts of nature,
      > effectively free from moral inquiry. The idea that I
      > might be acting atrociously never enters into it.

      I don’t know that this is the case.

      There’s a difference between actual causality and fault. For example, I’m pretty sure (nearly certain) that somewhere, sometime today, somebody is going to be killed that wasn’t going to be killed today otherwise… except last night the U.S. announced that they’d killed Osama Bin Laden.

      I’m pretty sure that somewhere, sometime really soon now a young woman is going to get overly drunk while dressed in hot pants and some dickhead is going to violate her person… when the violation would not have occurred if she was sober and wearing pants.

      In neither case does the actor necessarily bear moral culpability in the outcome of the second event. It’s not their *fault*, as they may be in the moral right.

      But while they may be blameless, they certainly *are* part of the chain of causality that brought the event in question to a point of execution.Report

  9. Avatar RTod says:

    Can’t think this was your intended point, Jaybird, and can’t think that many will think it is either. But it’s hard for me to read all of the examples given in your post and not feel like the moral of the story is that secular societies are a really, really good thing. We Americans should stop constantly whining that we may live in one.

    On a separate but related note, I never knew much about the Rushdie story save what everyone knew from popular culture until a few years ago when within a few months I read retrospective pieces both by Rushdie and by Christopher Hitchens (with whom Rushdie hid during a more perilous period of time). What I was surprised by was that along with the world’s fundamentalist Muslims, Rushdie was soundly condemned for his blasphemy of Islam by most of the leaders of American Christian churches, and that those folk’s response to the fatwa was that Rushdie himself was primarily to blame.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      But it’s hard for me to read all of the examples given in your post and not feel like the moral of the story is that secular societies are a really, really good thing. We Americans should stop constantly whining that we may live in one.

      The version of this post is, like, draft number 10. When I stopped writing conclusions for it, its quality jumped to a place where I was no longer embarassed to post it.

      My original vision was to call the essay “American Blasphemy” and talk about the tensions between American Taboos and Christian (and Muslim) Taboos. It was really didactic and I was very unhappy with it.Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    I can’t find any cites for this, but it’s what I recall. When Chris Ofili was interviewed about the elephant dung, he explained that he wasn’t trying to be blasphemous: it’s traditionally used in African art, particularly pieces with religious themes, and referred the reporter to the African artists who’s explained this to him. Their comment was “Geez, some people will believe anything.”Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I can understand saying that the dung was not intended to be blasphemous because, hey, it’s dung. (What’s brown and sounds like a bell?)

      But there were also pictures of mommy parts cut out of pornographic magazines and arranged around her.

      I suppose one could argue that mommy parts are perfectly natural and beautiful things in and of themselves and it’s only our societal taboos that see mommy parts as things to have taboos about but, well, he did sort of surround the Lady Madonna with pictures of mommy parts.

      And, yes, dung.Report

  11. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    Frankly, I prefer to be offended by the occasional ‘art’ work, or book, or whatever that mocks some aspect of Christianity then hinder speech and the right thereof. That is to say, I’d prefer Jason was free to express his antipathy toward God, than he be restricted from expressing that hatred. And, I would hope that no one expressing a devotion to the faith would physically harm him, though I should think that they too, would be free to publicly express their criticism of Jason’s actions with the caveat that men, all men, will give an account on judgement day for ‘every’ careless word they have spoken (Matt. 12:36).

    Interestingly, in a society with a religious concensus there’s, presumably a spiritual factor that, to one degree or another, self-limits the public expression of such thoughts, words, deeds (I’ll go to hell if I say ‘screw St. Vasvlaovich’) that Jaybird is referencing. While in a modern, secular society that supposedly advocates free speech there are certain non-spiritual factors (a new insight that requires a new order) such as political correctness, diversity, and multi-culturalism that act to limit the thoughts, words, and deeds of those individuals who have been immersed/indoctrinated, throughout their lives, in the dominate culture.

    Language, and the use thereof, have some part in developing the tension between the self and God. What Voegelin refers to as the “emotional orienting forces of the soul.” While Jason’s curse exemplifies a rather stereotypical expression of a movement away from God, there are those people who understand that we must be “orienting ourselves by the love of God.” And, that act of orienting ourselves, while not contingent on free speech, is more readily accomplished in those societies that recognize that inherent, God given right.Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      I know I don’t have a vote, but if I did: more posts like this. Less using Faulkneresque hick-y verbiage to poke at people.

      Great post.Report

    • Avatar Bob says:

      “…I’d prefer Jason was free to express his antipathy toward God….”

      If Jason harbors antipathy I doubt it is towards any of the hundreds of manifestations of god, conjured by men, over the centuries. Antipathy toward religion is well placed, antipathy toward any god would be silly.Report

  12. Avatar dhex says:

    both the secular and the religious response to the satanic verses fatwah were disappointing, to say the least.Report

  13. Watching people talk about this sort of thing who don’t actually have any person experience with it is always good for a laugh.Report

  14. Avatar Simon says:

    My opinion on this is not clear-cut, but is as follows. There is no good legal reason for stopping anyone from mocking or defiling anything else, and that piss-Christ and all the other artworks that aggravated the Religious Right were protected. However, at the same time, it is rather bad form to go out of your way to mock someone different from you, when the object that is being mocked is part of a different tradition that you are not engaged in.

    The Last Temptation of Christ was made by a director who came from a Christian culture, from a book written by a man who had grown up in one particular culture, and is thus engaged, however blasphemously, in that culture.

    The cartoons of Muhammed have no such engagement — they are the equivalent of pointing and laughing, and the pointing and laughing has to be taken in the context of the last several hundred years of colonialism and other Western bullshit. Sure, they’re protected, but who gives a shit? I have the right to jeer at my handicapped neighbor, but no one would be surprised if certain consequences ensue. Look how angry you are! It just shows you’re such a barbarian you’ve never heard of the 1st amendment. Bad form all around, and it causes trouble if you insist on your right to it.Report

    • Avatar BSK says:

      Simon-

      Well put. Pointing and laughing is what much of the supposed “artwork” amounted to… nothing more. Their right to do it is sacrosanct, but they’re still assholes who deserve the criticism they receive.Report