Unless one literally lives in a cave we all are aware of what has happened in the wake of the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims.” Let me say right here that I too am upset and saddened and angry at the production of something meant to insult, ridicule and mock someone held sacred by others. It is mean-spirited and spawned from hate, bigotry and intolerance.
President Obama called it, “crude and disgusting” and I cannot agree more. The president went on to say, “The strongest weapon against hateful speech is not repression, it is more speech -- the voices of the tolerant that rally against bigotry and blasphemy and lift up the values of understanding and mutual respect.”
But it seems President Obama missed a politically strategic opportunity, especially for one accused of being a "closet" Muslim, when he did not speak out, and has not, on another "crude and disgusting" item regarding Jesus Christ.
Not far from the UN at the Edward Tyler Nahem Gallery on 57th Street, the notorious exhibit of Andres Serrano, which includes the photo "Piss Christ" (pains me to type it) is still on exhibit and no one is saying anything.
The photo was first displayed in 1987 made possible by the National Endowment for the Arts, a government sponsored group (your tax money at work). They declared this desecration “Art.” The irony has not escaped many. Why would there be such an outcry of protest from our politicians right up to the president about a ‘crude and disgusting’ video that is offensive to Muslims, but there has not been a word of condemnation about Serrano’s work which desecrates Christ?
It’s not that the White House has not been asked. Rep. Michael Grimm (R, NY) has asked the White House, without response. It looks like a double-standard is being applied to religions.
Serrano’s work did cause outrage among Christians who protested, wrote and phoned their congressmen. It is true that Serrano received death threats -- none were attempted to my knowledge. Someone did attack the exhibit with a hammer. But there were no rabid mobs of thousands rampaging the streets of Manhattan killing innocent people. Nor did outraged Christians burn down the NEA headquarters or cause mass destruction.
Then did you notice how the media jumped on the “discovery” (it’s appearing more like a fake now) of a 4th Century Coptic papyrus fragment that seems to mention "Jesus’ wife?" It’s not that it was reported, but how. The New York Times headline mockingly stated, "The Gospel of Jesus’ wife" and it was spoofed on David Letterman. Would they have done the same with a fragment claiming Muhammad had "many wives?"
I am not arguing for government suppression of our freedoms, but rather equality in how they treat religions. Such equality should be based on genuine respect, understanding and tolerance. By leaning towards one while ignoring another speaks of favoritism or worst. As Mario Loyola of the National Review Online calls for such equal treatment or:
- “..finally admit the cowardly truth, which is that their degree of respect for any given religion is proportional to it’s proponent’s propensity for violence.”
The Apostle Paul had some wise words when he wrote:
- “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me but all things edify not.” (1 Cor.10:23)
Yes, our freedom of speech is grand and should be protected. Even the freedom to be offensive. But with our freedom comes responsibility, a fact sorely neglected in our society. Freedom without responsibility is anarchy. Our actions have consequences. To deliberately target someone (Christ or Muhammad) or something (Koran or Bible) for desecration and ridicule is to ignore one’s responsibilities towards society and is a misuse of freedom. Sadly it happens and will continue to happen.
However, how we respond is critical. Any violence, especially the injury or murder of innocent people, is unconscionable and criminal. To react that way is worst than the offense itself! In fact, the Muslims who react that way are themselves guilty of blasphemy against their Prophet because the Koran condemns such behavior.
Al-Quran 5:2 states: “Do not let hatred of a people incite you to aggression.” And Muslim, Hadrat Mirza Tahir Ahmed (Ra) 4th Khalifa notes: “Having studied the Holy Quran extensively ... I have failed to find a single verse which declares blasphemy to be a crime punishable by man.” Moderate Muslims and their teachers should speak out to this.
Likewise, the Bible condemns such violence and Jesus teaches us to:
- “But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you...do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6:27ff)
And Paul encourages:
- “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom.12:18)
Pastors and priests need to re-emphasize this teaching and denounce loose canons like Pastor Terry Jones as aberrant and un-Christ-like.
None of this removes the need for legitimate discussions and debate of facts conducted with an Irenic spirit of respect between religions seeking to better understand and persuade.
I am in agreement with what President Obama said at the UN. I only wish he went further and spoke more specifically not only in his denouncing of the video against Muhammad, but in denouncing the picture which desecrates Christ.