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Sunday, February 05, 2006

Lighten Up, People

I've been trying to keep from comment-ing on these distrac-tional news stories, but this one is both apparently true and interesting: the hysteria set off in the Muslim world over a Danish cartoon's depictions of the Prophet Mohammed. Embassies are burning! A Jordanian published who reprinted some of the cartoons has had death threats. Also apparently, this is mob action and not government censorship, albeit occurring in places where the government and the mob are seized by the same hysteria.

I haven't seen much on American reactions to all this, but I don't watch the mass media much anymore. I have seen some voices of tolerance from Muslims who don't live in the radical countries, and I would imagine that most of America feels a condescending amusement at the whole thing. After all, we live in a country with a history of free speech. I imagine that most Christians feel the same way, since Christian cartoons have not been uncommon, and have been tolerated if not appreciated by reasonable Christians as part of the price of living in a country with our First Amendment. Personally, despite having some fairly vicious urges to counterattack when the Christian Reich wants to limit my own expression, I really do understand a genuine Christian's or Muslim's offense at expressions, including cartoons, which are designed to be offensive as opposed to merely humuorous. Contrary to what some of you probably think, I don't hate Christians. There are a lot of good people who believe in and espouse Christianity doing good things in the world. Religions has its place in society; it supplies a morality and a social framework for people who are unwilling or incapable of doing the personal work that is required to coming up with their own understanding of right and wrong. In a society where literacy is dimishing, education is censored and subject to political pressure, and self-reliance is discouraged, the masses do in fact need an opiate. More concisely, they need a frame of reference. The morality espoused by the New Testament is fundamentally good. The fact that the Christian Reich ignores its own Commandments just shows that they have betrayed the tenets of their own religion. I would rather live in a place where the populace is controlled by the genuine Christian faith than by, say, the Russian mob, the Politburo, or a Muslim theocracy.

No, the root problem with Christianity is that, like Islam, it relies on a fundamental delusion. Once you buy the biggest lie ever told, you'll swallow anything. But I digress; I'll have to address that one soon.

Of course, I am assuming that most of the Christian world is perceiving the Islamic cartoon scandal with a superior detachment. The scary thing is that some of that probably agree with the rioting Muslims. It's true that in the modern world, there are no zealots like Islamic zealots, or if that's not true in individual cases, it's obvious that no group of zealots has been so successful in banding together to seize political power and eradicate rational opposition. But once again, Christians with attitudes of superiority in the current situation should remember, or maybe learn, history. During the middle ages, it was the Muslim libraries like the great one in Constantinople (Istanbul) which preserved the works of the Greek philosophers while Christian nut jobs,in their most successful incarnation ever in the form of the Crusades, ravaged and destroyed the great books of Europe. There never would have been a Renaissance had not the Muslims preserved the legacy of great Western thought against the cultural descendants of the ancient philosophers. How dark would our own times be without the revived virtues of discussion and reason, as exemplified by Plato's successors, to combat the ignorance of the Dark Ages and the medieval Church? I don't see how the Western democracies could ever have arisen without the Muslim world's preservation of our true heritage for us.

But don't feel too superior yet. The forces of ignorance are at work here, too. In the midst of the deluge of press on the Muslim cartoon controversy, I couldn't help but note a minor thread in the media about NBC's backing down to "Christian" pressures in the same vein on a Will & Grace storyline. That sitcom, which jumped the shark a couple of years ago and is still playing the guest celebrity card to try to get some ratings in its dying season, was to feature a storyline in which Brittney would play a "religious conser-vative TV personality" co-hosting a cooking show with the character Jack. The name of the show was to be "Cruci-fixin's." Meanwhile the American Family Association, a (guess what) Christian nut group based in Tupelo, Mississippi (!) protested and has effectively killed the storyline, having promised a protest, especially since the episode was to have aired right before Good Friday. This is the same enlightened watchdog group which claims partial credit for the demise of The Book of Daniel. I never saw Daniel, mostly because I rarely watch network TV, but it seemed to be a rather enlightened comedy about a pill-popping priest with aberrant children. Nut jobs had apparently gotten the series dropped by a number of local stations like the one here in Nashville. God forbid Christians have something to think about while they're laughing and mindlessly buying approved products.

So see, we're not so different after all. Mob pressure is mob pressure.

Sometimes it all makes me glad to be a Buddhist. True, Buddhism has its reactionary elements. There are people practicising primitive forms of Buddhism that put them in the league of the Muslim mobs and Christian Reich in terms of sheer delusion, if not in militancy. There are sadly, people worshipping the Buddha, in contravention of everything Gautama ever stood for. But for the most part, Buddhism is not a cult of the person like Christianity and Islam. Not many Buddhists would be very upset to learn that their favorite Sutra was not written or spoken by Gautama, if it works for them. It would not destroy Buddhism if we were to learn that the historical Buddha never lived at all. And talk about cartoons! All those little fat Chinese Buddhas? Anyone really worship that? How about the (ex-) Shoney Big Boy?

So really, people. If you're unable to percieve the humor in gentle cartoons or caricatures of the things you hold sacred, at least try to tolerate them. Sometimes I think that humor is the true essence of spirituality, or at least a vital part thereof. So lighten up.

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