Sunday, January 11, 2015


Sunday Reflection: Charlie Hebdo and the Problem of Eggshells

Twelve people were killed these week because a (relatively small) group of Muslims were upset that they had printed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed and some Muslim leaders.  At root, they wanted people outside of their faith to respect and follow the tenets of their faith.

Quite simply, that doesn't work.  You simply can't get adherence by others to your beliefs by demanding it.  This is especially true of identity groups, such as religions and ethnic groups.  When Christians insist that non-Christians go around saying "Merry Christmas," it is a much tamer version of the same dysfunction.  If you want me to be like you, tell me your story rather than make demands.

Often when I write on religious subjects I am assailed from two sides.  First, some conservative Christians write to accuse me of "sin" because I expressed my views, or to express their expectation (and sometimes their hope) that I spend an eternity in hell.  Often, they go to lengths to describe what that will be like.  On the other side, atheists deride me as an imbecile for believing in God at all, and for trying to follow ancient moral tenets set out in the Bible.  I just kinda shrug at both.  At this point, if I don't get that reaction, I wonder what went wrong.  Both of those groups want me to believe precisely what they do, and I don't.  I can't say it bothers me much that they get upset, and often it feels like they are canceling one another out.

I say that from a place of great privilege because I (1) am blessed to live in a place with free speech AND freedom of religion, and (2) to their credit, the groups that oppose me are just employing their own right to free speech rather than resorting to violence.  That second point is an important one-- and too little recognized, especially in a week like this one.

On the minor "Merry Christmas" note, I don't know anyone who goes around insisting folks welcome them with "Merry Christmas." I do know folks who occasionally take umbrage when they are so greeted. and I know a few who are not as welcoming of "Seasons Greetings," or "Happy Holidays," as with "Merry Christmas," and vice versa.

Here's a question for you.

Suppose a hebdoite cartoonist were to beat up a muslim, would he be in danger of a hate crime charge? I agree with David Brooks commentary this week, and with the same point others have made. There is a world of difference between the right to say something intentionally offensive, and the wisdom to temper what one says.
One problem that those of us of a certain age and political bent have is seeing this as anything more than "offensive" or "insulting." Seen in that light, one would hope for some sentisitivity and filtering. But, there is a younger, much more secular generation coming up that sees the insistence that religion be treated in a special, "gloves-on" manner as offensive. My children have this view, which I have continued to struggle to see and respect. Cartoonists such as this are expressing that opinion and are thus part of an important dialog that this country -- and the rest of the world -- must have about religion. I don't like to see members of my faith -- Catholicism -- suggest otherwise. What one has faith in does not disappear, or even get tarnished, by debate.
Is it our sensitivities that are as fragile as eggshells or the foundation too many lives rest upon? How difficult to find words proper for the lives lost this week in France and possibly 2,000 in Nigeria that do not cast aspersions on Islam. In word, did Mayor de Blasio actually side with the community or the police force in the aftermath of Eric Garner’s death? Is it concern for citizen or donor that influences congressional debate and vote on public policy? What value the employee when business weighs compensation paid and productivity’s affect on the bottom line? How long the list? . . .

The professor is correct, opinion or complaint couched in free speech often restrains violence and can initiate action and change – though when we talk ‘over’ each other without listening, emotions can often boil ‘over’ accumulating consensus that also initiates action and illuminates insecurities, fears – and violence imagined or real.

Whether one lives life following the ‘Golden Rule, philosophical discipline or scriptural verse, few moral role models are free of some form of spirituality – fewer still, successful or content attempting to be an island unto themselves as self-serving and righteous ideology or behavior seldom endures.

A moment in the sun seldom eclipses bright sunrises and wondrous sunsets shared among the many when we are joined one to the other in purpose, hope and heart. .
I like it and intend to record it in my book: If you want me to be like you,"tell me your story rather than make demands." Yes. Perfect. I think we need to see what they satirize. Or do they?
This is why an "official" government religion is such a nonstarter. If adherence is forced, it really isn't adherence.
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