You may or may not be aware of the recent clashes the Taliban influenced populace of Afghanistan has had with authorities over the inadvertent and unintentional disposal of a few Qu’rans, resulting in daily protests, suicide bombings and other violence. All over some janitor burning a few books that were probably in the way. I often wonder how this actually can seem to be so horrendous to the protestors that they would resort to such extreme measures to voice their discontent. I can’t imagine getting that upset over the loss of a book.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my books, and I wouldn’t hesitate to voice mild irritation and displeasure when I see someone defacing or abusing an otherwise perfectly good book, but if someone threw a book away, I’d get over it. If it really meant a lot to me, if I loved the book with every fiber of my body, I might even drop a few bucks on a replacement. But I would definitely not strap a bomb to my midsection and blow myself up, nor would I even take the time to protest the wayward, mindless person who got rid of it. I’d shrug and get on with life, because I know that books are mass produced, and have no personal investment in their own existence. One is as good as the next one.
Unfortunately, the reaction to this particular indiscretion is compounded by the fact that it is considered a Holy Book by its readers. By now we are inured to the possibility of a slight provocation to one’s religion being met with violence in the Muslim community. Salman Rushdie has been living under a death sentence since publishing a book back in 1988 that was misinterpreted by Muslims; Theo Van Gogh lost his life, in a particularly vicious manner, when he made a movie that insulted a few Muslims; Ayaan Hirsi Ali has to have bodyguards with her in public because she wrote a book about her personal apostasy; riots occurred in major cities, and cartoonists were threatened and attacked when pen and ink drawings of Muhammad were published; and recently an atheist was attacked by a Muslim when he dressed up as a “zombie” Muhammad during a Halloween parade, and the Muslim man was found innocent by a sympathetic judge.
The common theme running through all of these examples is that of “insult”, especially a claimed insult of religion; and in all those cases it was the Islamic religion. It strikes me as odd, just a bit incongruous, when someone claims that their religion has been insulted. How does one actually insult a religion? Religion is simply the name we give for a defined body of beliefs held by one or more persons. Religion doesn’t have a brain, or a personality, or emotions or feelings. Religions are not sensitive to insults, so an insult of religion is no different, in effect, to an insult of a recipe, or the Mona Lisa, or the Washington Monument. Those inanimate objects don’t feel insults, and neither do religions. Religion, in short, is incapable of being insulted.
Yet real people; actual, living, breathing, thinking (well, maybe not thinking) emotional people get insulted, and act like it’s personal. You would think that a religious person who identifies with a belief system would listen to the supposed insult and ask themselves if it changes their beliefs in their religion. If it does, it’s not insulting; it’s true, and should be welcomed. If it doesn’t, then no harm, no foul. It doesn’t affect their beliefs, which are as strong as ever. Instead, they act as if they were told the insult was true, and that their belief was false. And their reaction is to eradicate the source of the insult! Or, simplistically, it’s the functional equivalent of holding their hands over their ears while loudly singing “la la la la la la – I can’t hear you”.
I didn’t say it made sense, did I? Deeply held religious beliefs bring out the illogical and the irrational in people.
Similarly, even Christians are not immune from this kind of irrational response to supposed insults. Recently, The Huffington Post published a clearly satirical piece on Catholicism, entitled “The Jesus Eating Cult of Rick Santorum“. It was actually in the Comedy section of the website. A small taste:
Santorum and his fellow Roman Catholics participate in a barbaric ritual dating back two millennia, a “mass” in which a black-robed cleric casts a spell over some bread and wine, transfiguring it into the actual living flesh and blood of their Christ. Followers then line up to eat the Jesus meat and drink his holy blood in a cannibalistic reverie not often seen outside Cinemax.
As you might expect if you’ve been following my train of thought here, there are conservative Catholics who object to this “insult” to their beliefs, demanding not only an apology, but that the entire piece be removed from the Huffington Post. Why? Because…
…’The Jesus-Eating Cult of Rick Santorum,’ is bigoted and unacceptable, and a perfect example of ‘flame-throwing, name-calling, and simplistic attack dog rhetoric’
Let me translate: These Catholics who believe in the sanctity of their priests and the actual transubstantiation of a cracker and wine into flesh and blood are insulted that someone else doesn’t believe the same thing, to the point of being comfortable mocking such a silly belief. In other words, for them it’s not true unless everyone, and that means everyone, believes it’s true. They can’t have people mocking their beliefs in public, because that is a sure sign than not everyone believes they are true. It’s this kind of mindset that converts a humorous piece of satire into flame-throwing, name-calling, and simplistic attack dog rhetoric.
Isn’t the reaction to the HufffPo piece exactly the same reaction that Muslims have when a cartoon of Muhammad’s bomb-exploding visage is reproduced in the funny papers?
The only difference is one of degree. The people writing letters demanding retractions are just a tad more civilized than those calling for the cartoonist’s beheading. In all other respects, the Catholics are just as irrational as the Muslims.