Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Blasphemy Day

Happy September 30

Here’s a day to highlight on your calendar: September 30.  It does have some distinctions.  For example, Babe Ruth played his last game as a Yankee on that day.  Not into sports?  Okay, it’s also Botswana Independence Day.  The first criminal was executed in the American colonies that day.  The Gutenberg Bible was first published that day in the 1400s; so was Little Women, more than 400 years later.  The Flintstones, those lovable Bedrock residents, debuted that day in 1960; so did Cheers in a later year. 
The newest entry to that distinguished list of September 30 milestones is Blasphemy Day, which, the website promoting it says, is dedicated to opening up “all religious beliefs to the same level of free inquiry, discussion and criticism to which all other areas of academic interest are subjected."

September 30 was chosen because that was the day in 2006 when a Danish newspaper published a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb for a turban.  Many members of the Islamic faith went ballistic over the image, insisting that Christians would be just as upset if Jesus were deprecated in a similar manner.
I agree to a point.  Some Christians would be furious.  Others would yawn. They might protest, but I don’t believe the newspaper office would be perforated with bullets.  Most would just sigh and forget about it.

That’s the typical reaction when God is satirized. For example, Far Side cartoonist Gary Larsen caused no stir, not even after publishing a drawing that was titled “Oops” and depicted humans escaping from a bottle in some kind of heavenly laboratory.  It certainly implied that God made a mistake.  How much more blasphemous does anyone want?  He also showed God creating snakes saying, “Boy, these things are a cinch,” scoring all the points in a Trivia game and producing a half-baked Earth from an oven.

Mostly, people laughed.

Then there was a 1990s storyline by Bloom County cartoonist Berke Breathed, who hysterically eviscerated television evangelists. I didn’t hear about Jimmy Swaggart, Oral Roberts, Jim Bakker or Pat Robertson looking for a weapon to get even though they were ridiculed as the gang of four, and people were encouraged to contribute money to fund a race among the four; the winner would be recalled to heaven first. 

In fact, Islam is the only religion these days that believers insist must be defended with live ammunition.  Remember when Salman Rushdie published a 1988 novel about verses that the Prophet Mohammad supposedly excised from the Islamic sacred book?  Rushdie was condemned to death, one of several people who have been targeted because of their supposedly blasphemous attacks on Islam.

Frankly, I think everyone needs to lighten up.  Every religion has been targeted by writers over the ages.  But, so have kings, government officials, education, health services and almost other topic anyone would care to think about.  The “Hebe” was a traditional Jewish character on Broadway; black-faced comedians and singers parodied African-Americans.  Gays have certainly seen plenty of such abuse.  Archie Bunker even made fun of bigots.  To my knowledge, no bigots have threatened violence in response.

Without a doubt, some of these efforts were in questionable taste, including so-called passion plays that annually defame Jews and foment anti-Semitism.  I remember a Saturday Night Live skit featuring a Claudine Longet shooting gallery after the actress admitted killing (a jury said it was an accident and didn’t convict her) her long-time boyfriend.  That wasn’t nice, but it was very funny. She didn’t buy a gun and threaten SNL.  Besides, if a hit squad was sent every time someone poked fun at some institution, religious or otherwise, the cemeteries would quickly overflow.

In reality, other religions often seem very funny to nonbelievers.  How can anyone believe in the sanctity of life so much that he wears cloth over his mouth to avoid inhaling an insect? How about ancestral worship?   Making offerings to my late grandmother sounds pretty ridiculous and worthy of some satiric comment.
Just because someone believes, doesn’t make the belief true or should shield it from humorous observations.  A whole bunch of comedians would be silenced if it did.

Ridiculing another’s beliefs is not only protected by free speech, it’s human nature.  Go back at look at ancient Greek plays, where religion was often targeted.  Satirical writing aimed at Christians was commonplace during the early years of the Common Era.  Biblical authors took swipes at other people as well.

I can understand why someone might be offended.  I can understand why someone might prefer not to see or hear unruly commentary directed again faith.  Fine.  Ignore Blasphemy Day or anything else that disturbs sensibilities.  Celebrate September 30 for some other reason.  There are plenty.  

Or, as the Bible suggests, turn the other cheek – and chuckle.

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