Wednesday, September 30, 2009

I've only known about "Blasphemy Day" for three days and I hated the idea the whole time

Looks like I'm not alone.

CC

44 comments:

Joel Monka said...

But wasn't all criticism of Blasphemy Day negated by Paul's use of the term "fundamentalist atheist"? At least that's what Steve keeps telling us. I'd not heard of Blasphemy Day before, but I'm not impressed by it or its sponsors, the CFI.

PG said...

I find Blasphemy Day childish, but I do think this is a good point:

"You can criticize someone's political beliefs, their economic beliefs, their philosophical beliefs. You can criticize their sports team, tell them it's ridiculous to be a fan of the Chicago Cubs," he said. "But if you question their religion, suddenly it's out of bounds; it's taboo. We don't think that's right. We think religious beliefs should be subject to the same level of examination and criticism as other beliefs."

I've long been puzzled by the peculiar place of religion in our culture, particularly as manifested in legal protections.

Strange Attractor said...

That is pretty childish and insensitive, not to mention completely ineffective at persuading anyone. But it's really not much different than things I have heard a lot of Christians say about other religions.

It's a stupid idea, but I have trouble feeling sorry for Bill Donohue for the persecution be believes he suffers.

Chalicechick said...

I don't see that as such a great point.

First off, that we have different standards for people's religions and their sports teams shouldn't be news. As for politics, there's a time and a place. I have certainly seen bumper stickers and t-shirts, particularly from Christians, with at least implied criticisms of people who didn't read their bibles. Hell, the Freedom From Religion people want to proclaim that religion is slavery from signs on buses.

There are plenty of places where politics is just as taboo as religion.

There were a bunch of us working late the night Obama's grandmother died a couple of days before the election and the word went around my office phrased as:

"No matter your politics, it sure is awful that Obama's grandmother just died. Whether you like the man or not, it looks from the polls like he will be elected and it's sad that she won't live to see that happen."

And similar ways, all carefully phrased not to reveal anything explicitly about the politics of the speaker and to respect the listener's opinion either way.

But primarily, my issue with blasphemy day is that it is all about people being rude and not at all about talking and trying to resolve differences. I wouldn't like "Let's make fun of people who are against the public option" day.

CC
who doesn't favor "Let's make fun of the Redskins day," but concedes that it is well deserved.

Joel Monka said...

I agree with CC, PG, it's not a good point. One of the reasons it's not a good point is that the people who make it often use it to excuse saying things about religion they would never say about sports or politics. To use an example from the article referenced, I'd wager that the artist who painted "Christ does his nails" would be offended if I said Obama was a sissy-boy and painted him looking effiminate and painting his nails. If I were to paraphrase the Butterfly McQueen quote in the FFRF ad to say that African Americans escaped plantation slavery only to be locked into dependency slavery by the Democratic party, I'm sure many who were not offended by the FFRF ad suddenly would be offended. If the (yes, I'm going to use the phrase!) fundamentalist atheists subjected religion to the same level of examination and criticism as other beliefs, believers wouldn't mind... but a Dawkins never says anything like "Sexually molesting your children doesn't do them as much harm as raising them to vote Democrat."; such levels of insult are reserved for religion only.

PG said...

a Dawkins never says anything like "Sexually molesting your children doesn't do them as much harm as raising them to vote Democrat."; such levels of insult are reserved for religion only.

Well of course Dawkins doesn't say that, but Rush Limbaugh might well do so. The fact that those focused on fighting the religion wars don't use the same tactics in the political wars says nothing about those who are focused on the political wars.

The fact that it is considered rude to discuss politics or religion in the workplace doesn't advance the argument either. Yes, in places where either type of belief is treated with respect, neither should lose that treatment. But I remember going to a conference on legal philosophy where political ideas were freely battered around, yet when someone said something critical about the architectural style of the Mormon temple outside D.C., she got hissed.

Why is it that in situations where criticizing someone's politics would be considered completely acceptable, criticizing his religion isn't? It's become commonplace to see terms like "Rethuglican" and "Dummocrat" in online message boards, yet similar disparagement of a religion is generally deemed out of bounds (except if it's Islam on conservative boards like Michelle Malkin or Free Republic, and if it's Mormonism or Catholicism on very angry gay rights boards). Why shouldn't religious ideas be subject to the same norms as any other ideas?

DairyStateDad said...

Joel: "but a Dawkins never says anything like 'Sexually molesting your children doesn't do them as much harm as raising them to vote Democrat.'; such levels of insult are reserved for religion only."

I'm sorry, could you give a bit more context on that point?

Comrade Kevin said...

If everyone were capable of handling the matter with a degree of decorum and with their tongue planted firmly in their cheek, it would be one thing, but expecting that would be foolish.

Chalicechick said...

Why is it surprising that political ideas would be freely batted around at a political conference and not religious ones?

Don't you think at theological conferences, religious ideas are betted around and not political ones?

hsofia said...

I agree with PG that that point was good. But I guess they're not called sacred cows for nothing. The fact that parents are allowed to let their kids die because their religion says they shouldn't seek medical treatment is a big clue. If their excuse had been laziness or video games they'd be in prison. If they bring God, Jesus, or faith into it, it gives us (society) pause.

Joel Monka said...

Dairy State Dad- Dawkins once said that about Catholicism.

hsofia- I don't know about other states, but in Indiana parents who allow their children to die because their religion forbids medical care go to prison. It is not a fact that they are allowed to do so here.

PG said...

Why is it surprising that political ideas would be freely batted around at a political conference and not religious ones?

Er, it wouldn't be surprising. The conference I mentioned was about law and philosophy; specifically, about the philosopher John Rawls and his influence on legal thinking. Rawls's writings do treat religion as being in many ways similar to political ideologies; I forget the exact phrase he used, but it could be applied to overarching belief systems like Marxism or radical feminism as well as to religion. This makes sense, because a lot of his writing is about how to reach consensus on what is just, and people's religious commitments play a large role in their opinions on such things.

The issue of charitable tax exemptions was under discussion, and the (now late) Susan Moller Okin got hissed when she said she didn't see why there should be a tax deduction for money given to the Mormon Church for building such an ugly structure, because the architecture constituted a disservice to the polity.

Here is how Prof. Solum described it as he was blogging from the back of the conference hall: "Susan Moller Okin asked a question about what counts as charity, arguing that opera is only a charity if the donation comes from those who hate opera. Okin also argued that the Catholic church builds expensive cathedrals and that donations to the Mormon church support ugly buildings. I found Okin's question puzzling. I'm sure Okin did not intend deliberate offense to Catholics and Mormons, but her remarks struck me as likely to offend and as pushing the bounds of civility."

DairyStateDad said...

Thanks, Joel... I tried Googling elements of the phrase and didn't succeed in finding it (operator error probably)...although it did sound like something that Dawkins might say...

I'll just say I have a problem with either side--theist or atheist--justifying being rude to the other on the grounds that "well, that's what they do to us." That's just brain-dead. That said, I also understand perfectly well how easy it is to fall into that kind of behavior. I do it too much myself.

On the woman at the conference making fun of Mormon architecture -- I wonder if the real problem was that she hadn't taken the cultural temperature of her audience very well, and was being hissed for being rude (ironic, that) generally, not because religion itself was a "protected class" unlike, say, political leanings...but on that I am admittedly just guessing.

PG said...

On the woman at the conference making fun of Mormon architecture -- I wonder if the real problem was that she hadn't taken the cultural temperature of her audience very well, and was being hissed for being rude (ironic, that) generally, not because religion itself was a "protected class" unlike, say, political leanings...but on that I am admittedly just guessing.

I think she was making a serious point -- why should we assume that any religious project is actually for the public good and thus deserving of tax-exempt status? -- that got lost because she used specific examples. But other people were using specific examples (since we were discussing the tax code, after all), and no one had a problem with that even though some of them probably were ones that the participants enjoyed. I don't hiss someone who calls for eliminating the mortgage-interest deduction, even though doing so would be extremely detrimental to my self-interest.

Moreover, I'm quite in favor of specific examples; I think there's too much of the "some say" sorts of dodges. (Obama is really terrible about this.) The failure to use examples often leads to straw-manning, while real-life examples keep us honest.

Conor Friedersdorf made a good point about this: if you write a nonfiction book* about the evils of the Statists who want to bring Tyranny, you can build quite a good case against them, but then when the reader looks for someone who fits your description and can't find any real person of that sort, your book is rather useless.

* Obviously if you're Ayn Rand, you can avoid this problem by writing a novel and simply making up villains who fit.

hsofia said...

Joel, we have laws against it in Oregon, but it still happened anyway. The dad may not serve any time at all, or maybe a few years for some lesser charge. The mom, nothing. Link . Meanwhile, being a dumb vegan will get you convicted of all kinds of serious charges. Link

I'm sure it's because of the constitutional right to practice one's religion that this is even an issue, but it's still pretty sad to me that it gets to be an issue.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC,

All blasphemy means is referring to one or more gods in a manner considered objectionable by a religious authority.

As Unitarian Universalists who historically have rejected the doctrine of the trinity, we are blasphemers in the eyes of traditional trinitarian religious authorities.

So ... I guess every day is "Blasphemy Day" for Unitarian Universalists.

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"First off, that we have different standards for people's religions and their sports teams shouldn't be news."

CC,

Of course, this isn't news.

But I think you're ducking the question.

Why do we have a different standard of etiquette when it comes to religion?

I've been thinking that all I need to do is wrap my opinions about everything (food, music, politics, movies, etc) in a religious wrapper.

Then anyone who criticizes my opinions is a religious bigot.

I guess that means anyone who has disagreed with my views on my blog would now be a religious bigot if I were to adapt this stance.

:^)

Seriously, the idea that religion is above criticism is one of the most cleaver memetic adaptive strategies out there.

Chalicechick said...

Reasons why making fun of somoene's religion is more taboo than making fun of their politics

1. Religion does often correllate strongly with race and culture. If it's even possible to make fun of Jewish practices without coming off like you're making fun of Jews, it would be very difficult.

On the Simpsons, Apu is frequently, if usually fairly gently, made fun of. I would find separating the jokes made about him being Hindu and the jokes about him being Indian very hard to separate.

I found the Muhammad cartoons that the paper in Denmark printed that the blasphemers are celebrating to be quite racist in the first place, though of course I don't approve of the death threats that resulted.

Race is also a taboo subject for joking and even questioning. It makes me wonder if this group's next project will be "racism day."

2. Some people are very vocal about their religion, but to lots of people it's a private matter. One only knows about the politics of the person who talks about politics, but a person who slips off to pray five times a day or has a specific diet has to make it obvious whether they like it or not.

Now, whether you vote for candidate x or candidate y might ultimately effect me, but your religion pretty much never will, so I can see why it is widely regarded as none of my business.

3. People who tend to do it go way over the top almost as a matter of habit. Most rational Democrats wouldn't say that all Republicans believe in fairy tales or are enslaved by their political beliefs.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wants to put those sentiments about religious people on buses. Lots of religions threaten anyone who disagrees with Hell and blame them for the holocaust.

I mean, the page advertising Blasphemy day has a painting making fun of the fact that Jesus was crucified. I would think making fun of anyone being tortured to death would be over the line for most people.

Yet since it's Jesus and they are setting out to be shocking in the first place, they seem to think the basic human cruelty doesn't matter.

CC

Chalicechick said...

Steve,

blas⋅phe⋅my
  /ˈblæsfəmi/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [blas-fuh-mee] Show IPA
Use blasphemy in a Sentence
See web results for blasphemy
See images of blasphemy
–noun, plural -mies.
1. impious utterance or action concerning God or sacred things.
2. Judaism.
a. an act of cursing or reviling God.
b. pronunciation of the Tetragrammaton (YHVH) in the original, now forbidden manner instead of using a substitute pronunciation such as Adonai.
3. Theology. the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God.
4. irreverent behavior toward anything held sacred, priceless, etc.: He uttered blasphemies against life itself.



You do not get to redefine words in a way that help your argument then impose your new definition on the rest of us.

CC

Steve Caldwell said...

CC wrote:
-snip-
"You do not get to redefine words in a way that help your argument then impose your new definition on the rest of us."

CC,

I borrowed the definition of blasphemy from Wikipedia:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy

I didn't write the Wikipedia definition -- I was simply using one from a reference work (which was the first Google result when searching for "blasphemy").

So ... instead of accusing me of something I didn't do, perhaps you should apologize for uttering a falsehood against me.

That's what a polite person would do.

Chalicechick said...

You used so little of wikipedia's definiton that it did appear to be made up. Muslims do not view Muhammad as a God but IMHO no reasonable definition of blasphemy can exclude mocking Muhammad.

I apologize for assuming you had made it up when you had actually cherrypicked it from wikipedia but you still need to quit providing a self-serving peice of a definition and expecting us to abide by it.

PG said...

1. Religion does often correllate strongly with race and culture.

And politics often correlates strongly with the unchosen characteristics of geography and the socioeconomic background of one's parents. Yet Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas" isn't treated as hate speech.

It's a straw-man to wonder if "racism day" will be the next project, because the folks you're criticizing have explicitly said that they don't consider physical characteristic one can't control to be appropriate subjects for criticism:

Okay. But is there anything that offends blasphemers?
Lindsay paused for several seconds. "That's a good question."
"Nothing I can think of," he says. "Nothing about my beliefs. And what we're talking about is beliefs," Lindsay said. Insulting someone for their race or a disability is "out of bounds because you're not making a point. You're just basically insulting a person for some reason."


People can change their religion, and often do; they can't change their race or dis/ability or where they were born or how they were raised.

I thought Kurtz's comparison to anti-Semitic propaganda of the Nazi era was very unclear and probably dubious. From what I have seen, such propaganda was either focused on actual falsehoods about Judaism (e.g. the blood libel); false stereotypes of Jews (greedy!) or on racial characteristics of Jews (e.g. facial features differing from those of the ideal Aryan). I don't recall having seen any propaganda that said something like "Now that we have refrigeration, is it really necessary to abstain from pork?" which would criticize a genuine religious practice of Jews (and Muslims) as being "irrational."

And as with racism, there's also the issue of power differentials. If I saw a Muslim newspaper in India that ran a cartoon about its being nonsensical to treat cows as particularly holy beings, when they're just big smelly animals without the sense to get out of the road, I wouldn't be bothered because Indian Muslims are the minority and are inundated with the majority Hindu religion. They are criticizing from a position of some knowledge and because they are subject to the externalities imposed by the majority's religion (like having the bloody cows wandering in the road).

In contrast, if I saw that in a U.S. newspaper, it would come across as potentially racist because it would almost certainly be done by a non-South Asian cartoonist for a non-South Asian audience, which means the message would be not just of religious criticism but "Ha ha those brown people sure are dumb and backwards, worshiping cows!"

2. Some people are very vocal about their religion, but to lots of people it's a private matter.

And talking to an individual about his religion when he has never raised the subject and has been discreet in his practice of it would be obnoxious. But that's not what these folks are doing; they're creating mass-media messages not targeted at any individual.

PG said...

3. People who tend to do it go way over the top almost as a matter of habit. Most rational Democrats wouldn't say that all Republicans believe in fairy tales or are enslaved by their political beliefs.

Jane's Law holds: The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

You have former governor, serious presidential candidate and quite successful DNC chairman Howard Dean saying that middle and working class Republicans are deluded by their concerns about "God, guns and gays" into voting against their economic interests. You have Thomas Frank making this argument at book-length and still being considered rational enough to be the left winger on the WSJ editorial page.

While I haven't encountered as many raging atheists as you apparently have, I'm willing to concede that the people who talk about being atheists and try to persuade others to that view are on average more obnoxious than the average liberal who talks about being liberal and tries to persuade others to that view.

But this comes back to power differentials again. I tend to find people on the further fringes of politics to be more obnoxious (the kind of radicals and anarchists and so forth who used words like "sheeple"), but that's partly a function of being so far out of power. If you're so completely unable to access power, on the one hand it makes you frustrated, and on the other hand it makes you irresponsible. People who hold similar views in other countries can join parties that actually have a few seats in parliament or something. (The Communist Party in India is way saner than its counterpart in the U.S.) In the U.S., we have basically a two-party system that covers the range of "acceptable" views.

At the moment, atheism is almost as marginalized religiously as communism is politically. There is, I think, a single declared atheist member of Congress. (Pete Stark, D-CA, who's kind of a dick. Also apparently identifies as UU?) So I think this makes the kind of people who identify as atheists (as opposed to someone like me, who is agnostic) more aggressive and irresponsible.

As for the cartoon, I didn't see it as mocking the historical fact of Christ's crucifixion so much as the iconography around that event. I find it highly unlikely that the cartoonist thinks it's funny for a human being to be tortured; I suspect she finds it very funny that images of that torture are the subject of art and film (see Andrew Sullivan's review of "Passion of the Christ" as weirdly fetishizing the sadistic treatment of Christ) for the next 2000+ years, with millions of people wearing it as a piece of jewelry or hanging it on their walls at home.

Chalicechick said...

PG-

I think we have to distinguish between what the blasphemy day folks said and the cultural commentary in that quote.

(((Yet Thomas Frank's "What's the Matter with Kansas" isn't treated as hate speech. ))))

So? The "Left Behind" series isn't treated as hate speech either. Nor is any other book about how people who don't believe what the other does are going to hell. On the other side, Dawkins, who is no better liked by most theists than Frank is by most Kansans, still isn't accused of Hate speech often as far as I know, and as Joel has noted, he's pretty hateful in his rhetoric sometimes.


(((It's a straw-man to wonder if "racism day" will be the next project, because the folks you're criticizing have explicitly said that they don't consider physical characteristic one can't control to be appropriate subjects for criticism)))

Which is funny given how much they liked those Danish cartoons, which pretty much universally emphasized how very Arab-looking Muhammad was.

More to the point, it's not a straw man because they can still have racism day, they would just have to focus on the cultural aspects of race rather than the actual physical aspects. Which should be easy enough. Very few of the ethnic jokes I've ever heard have actually focused around skin color.

I'm not getting how the issue of cows in the road is a religious criticism in India.

(((But that's not what these folks are doing; they're creating mass-media messages not targeted at any individual.)))

The tagline of the website is "because your God is a joke."
Is the viewer not supposed to see that the message is directed at them?


I think there are non-aggressive and responsible atheists. I think they are the vast majority, in fact, and I don't disagree that the fringier atheists (like these folks, IMHO) act the way they do out of desperation.

I'm just saying it is an offensive and ultimately unproductive way to act.

(((with millions of people wearing it as a piece of jewelry or hanging it on their walls at home.))

First off, the upshot is still making fun of the torture itself, especially with the specific reference to the nails through his body. I don't care what message you're sending, that's nasty.

Also, I don't see crucifixes as all that weird. If you believe that Jesus suffered a whole lot for your sins, and if you want to be able to look up at him and remind yourself of that suffering when you're torn about whether to behave yourself or not, having a crucifix to look up at and think about makes sense to me.

CC

PG said...

The "Left Behind" series isn't treated as hate speech either.

Sure it is.

More to the point, it's not a straw man because they can still have racism day, they would just have to focus on the cultural aspects of race rather than the actual physical aspects. Which should be easy enough. Very few of the ethnic jokes I've ever heard have actually focused around skin color.

What do you consider the "cultural aspects of race"? Ethnic jokes may not focus on skin color, but they often focus on other physical characteristics -- noses on Jews, lips or hair on people of African descent, epicanthic folds for East Asians, etc. Or they're based on how Group X is stupid or stingy or lazy or criminal, which are hardly "cultural" characteristics, inasmuch as I doubt the people in Group X consider them to be part of their culture rather than negative qualities of some individuals.

If they were criticizing something like Muslim culture's requiring women to cover their hair, that would not be a racial criticism because Muslims come in all races -- European, African, East Asian South Asian, etc. -- and it would be a criticism of the culture, not of the race. I think the mostly-immigrant-descended U.S. indicates that people can be of any race and yet choose what cultural values they prefer if they live in a country that permits that (at least to a broader extent than most other nations).

I'm not getting how the issue of cows in the road is a religious criticism in India.

Cows wander around freely because they are treated as embodiments of the sacred maternal in Hinduism. If it were left up to Muslims, you'd never see a cow in the road; they'd be penned up and ready to be turned into halal beef kebabs. The difference in how Hindus and Muslims think cows should be treated is one solely of religious belief and tradition.

The tagline of the website is "because your God is a joke."
Is the viewer not supposed to see that the message is directed at them?


Depends on the viewer, and I think you're misinterpreting what I said. When I say, "they're creating mass-media messages not targeted at any individual," I mean no specific, identifiable person is being targeted by the mockery/ argument. It's the difference between a Republican Congressman writing an op-ed saying that HR 3200's proponents are being dishonest about the health care bill's provisions with regard to illegal immigrants, and Rep. Wilson standing up during Obama's address to yell "You lie!"

Also, I don't see crucifixes as all that weird.

I didn't say they were weird, I said that I could see the humor in people's making an image of excruciating torture into something you hang in the living room next to the TV. If you expect the image of Christ's crucifixion to retain its power to shock and awe us with how terrible His suffering was, it doesn't make sense to make it commonplace.

Chalicechick said...

While the article you link to is very critical of the Left Behind series, it doens't explicitly call it hate speech and I don't think the article's tone is anything you wouldn't find in a liberal website's review of an Ann Coulter book.

Also, that the reviewer is surprised that the book ISN'T being treated as hate speech is the general jist of what the reviewer you linked to is saying on the second page of the review.


(((inasmuch as I doubt the people in Group X consider them to be part of their culture rather than negative qualities of some individuals. )))

I will spare you the jokes themselves, but that mexicans pack quite a lot of people into homes and cars and have a tendency to flee Mexico into America, African americans talk loudly in movie theaters, pimp out their cars and accuse kids who want to be successful of trying to "be white" and Asian parents push their kids crazy hard would be examples of cultural characteristics I've heard commentary on.

My impression is that there is some truth to each of those cultural impressions as applied to some individuals, much as there is certainly some truth to the Blasphemy Day folks' criticisms of some religious people. Not every person of each identified race does these things, but relatively few people of the religions that Blasphemy day was making fun of do the things the blasphemy day people claim they are focusing on.

So yes, I think they could cetainly do a "racism day" under many of the same terms they used for "Blasphemy day"

(((( If you expect the image of Christ's crucifixion to retain its power to shock and awe us with how terrible His suffering was, it doesn't make sense to make it commonplace.)))

Now Presbyterians don't do the crucifix, that's really more of a Catholic thing so I'm going on half-remembered explanations here, but my impression is that it isn't supposed to shock you anew every time. You're supposed to internalize the idea enough that even when a crucifix isn't in front of you, Christ's suffering is something that frequently comes into your thoughts.

When a relative dies and we put their ashes in an urn on the mantel, well, I wouldn't do that, but some people do, the idea is not to make people go "My goodness! Uncle Carl is dead!" all the time, but to keep a memory of Uncle Carl where people can see it and think about it and get used to its presence in their lives as a memorial.

Same basic principle, if I'm recally correctly.

CC

PG said...

The reviewer herself clearly regards the Left Behind books as bigoted and hostile toward Jews and possibly toward Catholicism as well, which is why I linked the Salon review as an example of someone's thinking the Left Behind books were hate speech. She also answers her own question about others' inattention to this hatefulness: "Second, while the novels' popularity has received lots of media attention, their actual content is utterly off the radar of the kind of people who write about books. Nobody, it seems -- except, of course, for the series' millions of fans -- is reading Left Behind."

When Ann Coulter's books are reviewed in places like Salon (i.e. websites that compete with major print publications), the reviewer does not take it as given that "open hostility to the [Democratic political platform" is problematic. With politics, being hostile to an idea isn't considered prima facie wrong; indeed, people who are not hostile to Stalinism or Nazism are considered extremely dubious. (Pat Buchanan, already a somewhat fringey figure, is constantly having to explain that of course he thinks the Nazis were morally bad, but they had some interesting ideas and methodologies.)

That's the difference. The Left Behind authors' hostility to Judaism is presumptively assumed to be wrong, while Ann Coulter's hostility to the Democratic Party has to be explained to be wrong, e.g. by pointing out how she is depending on falsehoods, exaggerations, logical fallacies, etc.

So yes, I think they could cetainly do a "racism day" under many of the same terms they used for "Blasphemy day"

As one of the kids who somewhat fits the "Asian parents drive their kids" stereotype, I can tell you that my parents did not justify their ideas based on their race, but instead on what they thought would make us happy, successful people. They didn't say, "We're Asian, so we believe this;" they said, "this is good for you, so do it."

Therefore, to the extent someone criticized my parents for pushing us, the criticism could ignore race entirely. In contrast, someone who is, for example, opposed to sex-neutral marriage laws and justifies this on the basis of her religion is the one bringing her religion into it. If one criticizes her, her justification for her belief is subject to criticism as well.

When a relative dies and we put their ashes in an urn on the mantel

See, I'd consider it totally acceptable to mock such a practice (and my aunt was cremated when she died last year, as is traditional for Hindus, so I'm not saying this out of unfamiliarity with or distaste for cremation). Indeed, I'm pretty sure several movies and TV shows have used "whoopses" with cremated remains left around the house as comedic material.

If you consider it a striking tragedy to this day that Christ was crucified (although I'm not sure why, since otherwise we'd have to tote our sins all by ourselves), then it's legitimate to be troubled by someone's making light of the crucifixion as torture. If, on the other hand, it's something you've so deeply internalized that you have it built into your response to the temptation to sin that "I shouldn't, Christ suffered and died for me," you're no longer thinking of it in terms of a human being who was horribly mistreated. I don't see how you can simultaneously carry around (1) Thank God for giving His Son to suffer and die for my sins; and (2) the crucifixion of Christ was a tragic, terrible event that if you mock it, means you don't take torture seriously.

Steve Caldwell said...

You might find this historical connection between Unitarian Universalist history and the last person to serve prison time for blasphemy in the US of interest to this conversation:

http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/2009/10/unitarian-universalist-history-and.html

I guess the question one can ask here was Abner Kneeland acting like a jerk for the sake of being a jerk?

Or was he acting like a jerk for a larger purpose?

kimc said...

I don't see how you can simultaneously carry around (1) Thank God for giving His Son to suffer and die for my sins; and (2) the crucifixion of Christ was a tragic, terrible event that if you mock it, means you don't take torture seriously.

Does this mean that Christians think the crucifixion was a good thing? So they are for torture?

Chalicechick said...

Again, I think a lot of this comes from people treating religion as similar to race. (Which is even easier to do in the case of the Jews.) One also need not explain why hating Hispanics is wrong.

I think it's interesting that Left Behind went there with Jews. I only got partially through the first book but the Jewish character I remembered was a brilliant scientist who had made a discovery that ended world famine. He got taken in by the anti-Christ, which isn't really a flaw since the Anti-Christ had that "Poof! Abandon your wife and kids and fishing boat and follow me!" power. I'm not doubting the author of the review, I guess I just misread the character because I really thought the Jewish guy was one of the heroes of the book.

And I don't buy the premise that the Left Behind books were in any way off the radar. They weren't. At all. Nope.
Not even a little bit.

A majority of the links talk about the content and the near universal conclusion is that no group except evangelicals is depicted especially well. Though the guy Rolling Stone does mention that Jews are treated badly in the same paragraph that he complains about the treatment of feminists, Asians, Arabs and African-Americans. Given that this is an Ayn-Rand-style "everybody sucks except the good characters, all of whom come to believe what the author believes" book, that's not a big surprise.

But no, those criticisms are not talked about as if the authors think the book is hate speech, and these people do seem quite familiar with the content of the book.

(((I can tell you that my parents did not justify their ideas based on their race, but instead on what they thought would make us happy, successful people. They didn't say, "We're Asian, so we believe this;" they said, "this is good for you, so do it.")))

I didn't intend to suggest that when people conform to a racial stereotype, positive or negative, that they did it specifically for the purposes of doing so. I pretty much never do anything "because I'm white." When I was a Christian, I didn't celebrate Christmas "because I was a Christian" I did it because of specific beliefs I had about the teachings of Christ.

As for Jesus "doing his nails," first of all, I don't see how for someone who DOESN'T believe, it can be anything other than mocking a torture victim. At best, it's mocking a torture victim that you think is imaginary, which still comes off as treating crucifixion itself pretty lightly.

Secondly, do you seriously see a contradiction soldier's mother thanking God that her son's best friend jumped on a grenade and saved her son's life, yet also seeing the friend's death as a tragedy that can shouldn't be mocked?

Seems to me that all the time, religiously and not, we recognize that something had to happen, perhaps for reasons we don't understand, but we're still very sorry it did.

CC

Chalicechick said...

(((I guess the question one can ask here was Abner Kneeland acting like a jerk for the sake of being a jerk?

Or was he acting like a jerk for a larger purpose?)))


In the sense of announcing what HE believed, he was not acting like a jerk.

In the sense of calling the Christian God a "nothing more than a chimera of their own imagination."
and a "fable," he was a jerk.

I don't know that his jerkiness itself served a higher purpose. Seems to me he could have phrased things in a way that was more about why he believed what he did and less about how anyone who disagreed was a fool and done a lot more good. Atheism wasn't beloved, but there were some prominent atheists who were his contemporaries and made themselves famous for things other than insulting Christianity.

Reading about him makes me sad because it seems like such a waste. He believed in a lot of progressive stuff and it sounds like he could have been a great reformer if he hadn't squandered his reputation on being an asshole.

CC
who, obviously, doesn't think he should have been thrown in prison.

Chalicechick said...

(((Does this mean that Christians think the crucifixion was a good thing? So they are for torture?)))

Sigh.

I cannot, for many reasons, speak for all of Christianity, but my strong impression is that the crucifixion is viewed as:

A) A tragedy that had to happen for people to be saved

B) An immense personal sacrifice on Jesus' part that is the logical consequence of someone so perfect in a world that was so full of sin

C) The result of God sending his son down to the world assuming that the son would be a great leader not fully comprehending that the world was too evil.

D) God sending Jesus to die on the cross as an example of the kind of courage God expects of us and that we should all be ready to sacrifice ourselves to save others

Or some combination of the above. And I'm sure there are other reasons. Your mileage may vary.

The people who actually tortured Jesus have NEVER been portrayed in a positive light as far as I know and indeed, that the Jews "killed Christ" was a reason to persecute them for a long time.

Lots of people of lots of different faiths believe in torture in certain circumstances but plenty of Christians don't.

CC

PG said...

CC,

I only got partially through the first book

The Salon review was supposed to be of book #10. And it was from July 29, 2002. Your examples of Left Behind being on the radar all post-date July 29, 2002.

When I was a Christian, I didn't celebrate Christmas "because I was a Christian" I did it because of specific beliefs I had about the teachings of Christ.

Your "specific beliefs about the teachings of Christ" is fairly contiguous with the label "Christian," to the point that people who *don't* have certain beliefs about the teachings of Christ generally don't label themselves and aren't regarded by others as Christians. In contrast, Asians whose sons end up in gangs and jail are still Asians. The label "Asian" has nothing to do with your beliefs or behavior.

Secondly, do you seriously see a contradiction soldier's mother thanking God that her son's best friend jumped on a grenade and saved her son's life, yet also seeing the friend's death as a tragedy that can shouldn't be mocked?

Actually, I don't think one should thank God for the loss of one innocent life in order to save another's. One can be thankful one's own son is alive (the result) without being thankful for how it happened (the process).

The result of God sending his son down to the world assuming that the son would be a great leader not fully comprehending that the world was too evil.

This assumes a non-omniscient God -- which Christians believe that?

And why is the day of Christ's death called Good Friday in most Western denominations (as opposed to "Black Friday," as I think it is in Greek/Russian Orthodox) if people don't believe it was a good thing?

SC Universalist said...

i find it interesting the number of folks defending "Blasphemy Day" and those particular Blasphemers who created it. Is this really how atheists want to be seen by the public?
It certainly makes me more sympathetic toward the conservative Christians - maybe their paranoia about society has some truth to it.
Luckily it doesnt make me that sympathetic, but rudeness and bad behavior does make me feel that way. I note that many of the commenters here think that all Christians think alike - something that hasn't been true, since Paul took over the western church.
I guess it's true that we all end up doing the things we despised our enemies for doing.

PG said...

I note that many of the commenters here think that all Christians think alike - something that hasn't been true, since Paul took over the western church.

Doesn't there have to be some commonality of thinking for the term "Christian" to have any meaning? At minimum, I'd question someone calling himself a Christian if he does not believe that Jesus Christ died and was resurrected. Otherwise, what is there to distinguish that person from a Jew or a variety of other belief systems? If you simply think that Jesus Christ had some good ideas about how to treat other people, without thinking there was anything special about Him beyond that, I can probably find you basically the same message in several other religions, especially Hinduism (huge number of holy texts makes that easy).

kimc said...

B) An immense personal sacrifice on Jesus' part that is the logical consequence of someone so perfect in a world that was so full of sin


Would you indulge me and explain the logic of that? How is that the logical consequence of being perfect? It's the opposite logic of "in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king." Not that I believe that either, but I'm interested in hearing your logical sequence (it is, after all, one of your talents.)

SC Universalist said...

SCU: >> note that many of the >>commenters here think that all >>Christians think alike - >>something that hasn't been true, >>since Paul took over the western >>church.

PG:>Doesn't there have to be some >commonality of thinking for the >term "Christian" to have any >meaning?

new response from SCU; in the context I was speaking of: the Southern Baptists, the American Baptists, Episcopalians, Anglicians -(and not Coptics or Nestorians or Jacobites) - bluntly if they all thought like, then all those denominations wouldnt need to exist. Christians havent all thought alike in 1980 (or whatever) years.

> At minimum, I'd question someone >calling himself a Christian if he >does not believe that Jesus Christ >died and was resurrected.

while this comment has no bearing on my comment. I'll respond; of course you are welcome to call them ""self-described Christians" or even "non Body-resurrected self-described Christians" if you feel that would clarify them to your thinking. But since those who dont believe have self-identified as Christians since the beginning (see the Docetism of the first and second century - some suggest it was a very common view of that time, and of course the original book of Mark says nothing about the resurrection of Jesus' body). We also know that strains of Docetism existed in Europe as late as the 1200s - we deny those people their label of Christians? What would you call them then?

Mark Kille said...

kimc,

The logic is thus: In an unjust world, the people with power have a vested interest in maintaining that injustice. Individuals can react to that injustice in a limited number of ways: denial, complicity, resistance. Resistance leads to notice by the powerful, who use their power to divert or crush that resistance. A perfect person wouldn't deny injustice, would be incapable of accepting complicity, and would not be diverted from resistance. Therefore, a perfect person will be crushed by the powerful. In Roman Palestine, that meant crucifixion. These days it might mean life in prison or an assassin's bullet.

PG and others,

For the broader question of "why is religion different from politics or sports?" there are a variety of answers.

Personally--and I self-identify as Christian--my faith is more like my love for my family than my support for a public option in health insurance. Saying the idea of God is dumb is like saying loving my kid or my mother is dumb. It may be true in some cases--they could be real assholes, my family--but it's still an incredibly rude thing to do and likely to piss me off if you persist in it.

Another difference is that politics and sports are inherently competitive endeavors. For this policy to pass, this other must fail. For this team to win, this other must lose. Religion does not work the same way, at least in this country; in countries with state religions, I think those beliefs are indeed fair game, at least the aspects of them that invite the backing of state power.

Phrased more cynically, Red Sox and Yankees fans will curse at each other, but they'll join together to confront someone saying that baseball is dumb. Attacking the idea of God is a good way to get Jews, Baptists, Methodists, Catholics, Sunnis and Shiites all united in anger. Within the bounds of The Religious, there's actually a fair amount of tolerance for evangelicals calling Catholics idolators or Muslims calling Christians polytheists. In that sense, specific religious beliefs aren't specially protected. The political parallel would be acceptable variations on American representative democracy, and utter intolerance for monarchists or anarchists--there is a boundary of common accepted assumptions.

hafidha said...

SC - I am an atheist and I think blasphemy day is silly and focuses too much on religion (again with the post-Christian atheism), but it's hardly a pressing issue. No one is oppressed by blasphemy day. Offended, perhaps, but being offended is not the same as being oppressed.

hafidha said...

SC - I am an atheist and I think blasphemy day is silly and focuses too much on religion (again with the post-Christian atheism), but it's hardly a pressing issue. No one is oppressed by blasphemy day. Offended, perhaps, but being offended is not the same as being oppressed.

PG said...

SC Universalist,

If there's no commonality of belief required for the label "Christian," your idea is that we should just assume anyone who calls himself a Christian, regardless of the contents of his beliefs, is a Christian?

Also, if you're relying on a concept (Docetism) for your claim that "Christian" can include "person who doesn't believe Christ died and was resurrected," a concept that by your own account died out by the 14th century, I don't think it has much application to whether I'm going to consider someone a Christian or not.

Mark,

Personally--and I self-identify as Christian--my faith is more like my love for my family than my support for a public option in health insurance.

Which is fine, but if someone doesn't think that God exists, then she may consider your faith to be a delusion -- a love not for your actual family, but a love you have for an imaginary friend. It's probably rude to tell someone who is delusional that his beloved friend is imaginary, but it's also something that many reasonable people would consider the right thing to do in hopes of "curing" the delusion.

Moreover, politics often manifests by attacking a politician, often one whom supporters admire and with whom they identify on a personal level. I find the "birther" controversy and the questions about Obama's loyalty to the U.S. offensive because as a child of immigrants, I think that I would likely to subject to similar attacks. I identify with that aspect of Obama's biography. Yet when I respond fiercely to such criticism of the president, people say, "Geez, it's just politics, why are you acting like it's personal?" For someone who identifies strongly with Sarah Palin's biography and greatly admires Palin, the stuff about how she really ought to be staying home with her baby instead of running for VP probably also felt like a personal attack.

So politics is not just a matter of abstract policy preferences; it's also played at a very personal level. Otherwise, what was the point of all the ink and pixels devoted to Bill Ayers, Rev. Wright, et al. last year? (Or still this year, for the Fox News crowd.)

For this team to win, this other must lose. Religion does not work the same way, at least in this country

Sure it does. If the Christians, Muslims or any other religion that requires belief in their god for salvation are right, I'm going to hell. It's one reason that I continue to have an affinity with Hinduism: it doesn't make so many people into losers.

PG said...

Also, this is an awesome combination of religion and politics. So can I mock it without going out of bounds?

SC Universalist said...

PG: Since I'm obviously not communicating my thoughts well to you, I'll just end by saying: Of course, You can call people whatever you like. And some people will disagree with your definition of them. Who does get to define who we are?

PG said...

Of course, You can call people whatever you like. And some people will disagree with your definition of them. Who does get to define who we are?

Well, the government does for certain purposes. Or if someone wants to be counted in my poll of religious beliefs, how I define Christian makes a difference.

This is true for other aspects of identity as well. The government defines people as male or female in order to determine whether a small business is owned by a woman and given a plus when government contracts are handed around. Ditto for whether someone is Native American or of another minority race.

The idea that we go around lalalalalala defining our own identity using certain standard labels, with it being no one else's business, doesn't accord with reality. Certainly if you want to come up with your own labels (if I want to call myself a spiritual aborigine, for example, because I feel Native American) that's cool, but it's not a good idea to take words that have a specific meaning (in some instances, defined in statutes or regulations) and say "Yeah, I'm this even though I don't actually fit within the meaning." For one thing, it comes across as obnoxious to many of those who do fit within that meaning (Native Americans who have dealt with the issues pertaining to that background understandably may not look kindly upon some hippie grabbing the label for herself).

There are lots of sounds and syllables and combinations of prefixes and suffixes that can be used in the English language. Why appropriate words that define something specific and stretch them into meaninglessness? (Cue here C.S. Lewis's complaint -- in service of this point about the meaning of the word "Christian" -- about having the word "gentleman" become synonym for "nice," rendering it useless for clearly describing what it originally did, a person of landed means.)