Does this cartoon offend you?

Last week, I managed to greatly upset a Catholic acquaintance from grad school by posting this picture (it’s one I’ve seen before, but haven’t been able to track down the source on):

It’s hard to argue that the portrayal of Muhammad is unfair. As I’ve discussed before, Muhammad having sex with a nine year old girl actually plays a fairly significant role in Islamic lore about his life. I’m not quite sure I’d call it a historical fact, as our sources for the historical Muhammad are kinda crappy, and given the messed up values of the time, it’s entirely possible that early Muslims made up this story because they thought it was a good thing. But I don’t think that keeps the story from being a fair target.

As for the current Pope, no, there’s no evidence he’s a child rapist. He’s just head of an organization with a history of enabling child rape. Again, I’ve covered the details before, and I’m not sure they’re widely enough known even today. Among other things the Pope himself, back when he was head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, sent out a letter to all Catholic bishops reminding them to keep secret the Church’s own investigations into sexual abuse by priests.

The cartoon expects the audience to more-or-less know this; it’s not trying to slander the Pope as a rapist (just an enabler of child rape). And the point isn’t just to be offensive–it’s to juxtapose the behavior of religious leaders with their claims to be able to make authoritative pronouncement on child abuse.

Even atheists who have no problem with harsh criticism of religion may be uncomfortable with this cartoon. And they should be uncomfortable, in the way that it’s always uncomfortable to hear about violence against children, and we all have a limit to how much being confronted with the bad stuff in the world we can deal with.

But it’s not wrong to mock religion in this way. In fact, there’s a pretty good test in here for whether your moral compass is well-calibrated. Which offends you more: the pretensions to moral authority of a man who had previously been involved in hushing up child rape? Or seeing said pretensions ridiculed?

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