A Complicated Case of Religious Stupidity

In the past week, angry Muslims have stormed embassies, smashed windows and called for the death of infidels. Business as usual — except that the object of the rioting acolytes of Islam for once isn’t imperialist America, it’s Denmark.

The Danes, who usually behave themselves civilly, are now the target of Muslim scorn because one of their newspapers published (and republished) a cartoon in which the Prophet Muhammad was depicted. Not depicted wearing a skirt, or copulating with a pig, or anything malicious, just merely depicted. (The cartoon shows Him in a state of concern, with a caption translated as “What fools I have following me.”) According to Muslim law, drawing images of Muhammad is nicht-nicht. Therefore, to the offended Muslim’s way of thinking, the Danes should burn in hell, etc. Diplomatic relations have been strained to point of ambassadors being recalled, the rhetoric has grown incendiary, and cleansing Holy War has been modestly suggested by more than one perturbed mullah.

It’s easy to understand why Muslims are offended. Like Christianity, their religion forbids worship of graven images. We Methodists and Jews, Episcopalians and Baptists, ought to feel the Muslim pain instead of scoff at it. Then again people raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition might more readily empathize with their Muslim brothers if images of Jesus Christ weren’t as plentiful as blackberries in the springtime. Doesn’t an institution that relies on its adherents to believe in something they cannot see, with no tangible evidence that what they’re worshipping actually exists, lose some of its seductive power if that which can never be seen is rendered ordinary and everyday? (OK, it hasn’t hurt the Jesus business, but the Muslim corporation isn’t as well organized as, say, the Catholic Church.) If political cartoonists are unintentionally revealing that the emperor has no clothes, devout believers have the responsibility to make certain they draw no more.

Simple courtesy, as expressed in the Golden Rule, suggests that one not mock the deeply-held beliefs of others, no matter how misguided or blasphemous their convictions. Yet surely we cannot expect Danish cartoonists to blot their ink just because someone might be offended. After all, every religion in the world reminds its customers that those who are shopping elsewhere for eternal salvation are the suckers getting a bad deal. When there’s institutional disrespect, individual meanness follows.

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