The oldest image of Jesus Christ is a crude, mocking caricature

Blasphemy is an indispensable human right. Without the right to engage in blasphemy, there can be no freedom of inquiry, expression, conscience or religion.

Hussein Ibish

We can have laws against blasphemy or we can have religious freedom. We can never have both.

We have every right to take offense and to give offense. But we should not seek to take offense. And we should not seek to give offense.

Since blasphemy is a theme today across much of the Web, let me quote again some wise words from David Dark’s fine book The Sacredness of Questioning Everything.

This is from Dark’s chapter on “Questioning Our Offendedness”:

It might be of interest to note that the earliest known pictorial depiction of Jesus on the cross was a cartoon. Often referred to as “The Alexamenos Graffito,” it’s a crude drawing of a human figure raising a reverent hand toward a crucified individual with the head of a mule. Discovered on the plaster wall of an ancient Roman school, this second-century parody of a certain Jewish Messianic movment includes, scrawled beneath the caricature, a taunt perhaps best translated as “Alexamenos worships his god.”

I wish this particular cartoon could find wider distribution because it dismantles the image of the Christian, historically speaking, as a member of a special interest group, a sleeper cell for a political party, or a power constellation of offended people looking for something to boycott. …

It probably would have been out of keeping with the presumed ethos of the Jesus whom Alexamenos dared to admire to angrily condemn the ridicule as unacceptable (with a hint of violent reprisal). If the Sermon on the Mount is any indication, Jesus taught his followers that suffering public denunciation is part of the deal. Proclaiming the kingdom of God does not include shouting down anyone who finds your proclamation unconvincing. …

The feeling of offendedness is invigorating. It might even be an effective way to bend a population toward a tyrant’s will. But we must never settle for it. We must not confuse an accelerated pulse rate for the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. We must interrogate our offendedness, hold it open for question. …

Feeling offended is a reassuring sensation. It’s easier than asking ourselves if the redeeming love of God is evident in the way we communicate with people. It’s easier than considering our relationships with the huddled masses throughout the world who find themselves on the wrong end of our economic policies and other forms of warfare. Perhaps our cutthroat ways bear some relationship to our confused notions of God. Maybe we think God, as an intergalactic economist, is a survival-of-the-fittest type. … We might even think that being offended and angry and on the defensive is to be more firmly aligned with the Almighty. …

To keep it all simple and safe, we often become selective fundamentalists. We know where to go to have our prejudices explained as just and sensible, our convictions strengthened, our group or political party reaffirmed. We process whatever already fits the grid that is hardwired (or re-hardwired) in our heads. It’s difficult for anything else to get through. We’re easily offended. Maybe we’re looking to feel offended, which can make us feel better about ourselves. Feeling offended summons a sense of being in the right, a certain strength, a kind of power, an espresso shot of righteous indignation. And if the image of God hardwired into our nervous system is easily offended and put off by certain people and their offensive behavior, there’s a feeling of being that much closer to the winning side, that much more likely to be numbered among the elect, the saved, the documented.

  • Münchner Kindl

     

    Sure, so do I. If you actually think we disagree on that, then it’s
    pretty clear we aren’t communicating successfully at all. Come to think
    of it, that’s also true if you don’t actually think we disagree but
    chose to say that anyway.

    If you say you assume I agree, and I correct that, and you say that you agree, too, then no wonder communication is difficult and not successful.

    On other boards, it’s considered a serious offence to accuse somebody of bad discussion behaviour without serious proof, so why are you insinuating that I am trolling = saying something different than what I mean?

    In the meantime, I prefer that the law constrain the actions of people with power.

    How does your current “Free speech law” do that? The people with the power over hundreds of thousands of listeners and viewers – Glenn Beck, Rush and co – are not constrained; but people who look or act “other” are constrained by fear that a mob might kill them. Abortion doctors and everybody who works at planned parenthood are constrained by fear and heavy security precautions because some crazy will go and bomb them after a hate speech from some fundie pastor, but the fundie pastors are not constrained.

  • Münchner Kindl

     

    But I also don’t accept that “force” is a wrong word for what legally
    constituted authorities use when they enforce laws… it’s a perfectly
    good word for it.

    If you don’t understand the signifcant, fundamental difference between saying “Something is forbidden because of a law*” and “something is not done because force will be used against you” then I don’t really see how you can argue about laws at all.

    Maybe you haven’t noticed that other groups beside the govt. also use force? Like intimidation? Like getting crazies in their audience all heated up, ready to go and beat people up?

    * Starting from the point that all laws rest on a humanist ethical foundation and apply common sense, so that therefore a rational person can logically derive or understand when explained the reason for the law, and that said reason is not realted to any religious laws?
    If your laws are based on fear or religious morals, then you need to clean this up first, obviously.

    my usual answer is that I don’t endorse either pure libertarianism or  pure egalitarianism, but that I would like to see my country adopt a
    more egalitarian  tance than it currently does.

    Even more? I think your country has given the elites – the 1% – already far too much power and money in the decades after Reagan. You want to go even further? So like South America, then? Everything privatized, laws ignored and gated communites.
    I’m rather against that.

  • Münchner Kindl

     True, I don’t know if it’s correct – because the way it’s phrased, it reads like hyperbole. Maybe some Canadian slacktivists could clear this up.

    But the site itself is most certainly not pro-Chick – they are making fun of him, but see him like Ed Wood type apparently.

  • Carstonio

    “Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464 prohibits the utterance of any ‘obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio
    communication”

    I too have long questioned how both the FCC and the broadcasters handle content, treating violence as more acceptable than sex. Still, what you quoted doesn’t apply to blasphemy, which is defined as irreverence for gods or for other things that religions revere. The law you cite would hypothetically have no problem with the line “Jesus is a loser” but it would with the phrase “Jesus is a fucking loser.”

    Maybe you didn’t notice, but the violent riots about the cartoons
    mostly  occured in the Middle East – where the Danish laws don’t apply
    and the Danish courts have no jurisdiction.

    True. I was stating a matter of principle – ultimately anyone who commits violence should be held responsible for it.

    the average Joe on the street (or Achmed) honestly doesn’t understand
    that the Danish govt. can’t stop the cartoons because in his country,
    the govt. could and would stop them. So a govt. official telling Denmark
    to apologize for the cartoons shows ignorance combined with
    demagogueing to keep people from complaining about the problems of their
    govt. at home.

    No question about the latter. My point is that the average Joe or Achmed on the street should understand that other governments do not control that type of speech. At the least, they should understand it before considering taking to the streets in what you and I agree is manufactured outrage.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    If you don’t understand the signifcant, fundamental difference between
    saying “Something is forbidden because of a law*” and “something is not
    done because force will be used against you” then I don’t really see how
    you can argue about laws at all. 

    Sure, I agree. I would also say that if I don’t understand that the former doesn’t preclude the latter, and in broad terms depends on it, I am similarly ignorant of how law really works.

     

    Maybe you haven’t noticed that other groups beside the govt. also use force? 

    I assume this is just rhetoric, and you aren’t seriously under the impression that I haven’t noticed this.

     

    I would like to see my country adopt a more egalitarian stance than it currently does.

    I think your country has given the elites – the 1% – already far too
    much power and money in the decades after Reagan. You want to go even
    further? So like South America, then? Everything privatized, laws ignored and gated communites. I’m rather against that.

    I have no idea how your response even engages with my comment. Which, admittedly, seems to happen a lot when I talk to you, so should perhaps not surprise me.

    If you’re actually trying to engage, it may help if we start with a common understanding of “egalitarian.” Wikipedia’s definition is pretty close to what I had in mind, and seems to me 180 degrees opposed to the idea of giving elites more and more power.  If you have some other definition in mind and can share it, that’s fine with me too.

    Of course, if that’s not your goal in the first place, then you can profitably go on doing what you’re doing.

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

     

    If you say you assume I agree, and I correct that, and you say that
    you agree, too, then no wonder communication is difficult and not
    successful. 

    Sure, that’s true.

    For example, if I say “2+2=4; I assume you agree,” and you reply “No, I don’t agree, 2+3=5″, and I agree with that, it’s clear that communication is not being successful. And if I say “2+2=5; I assume you agree,” and you reply “No, I don’t agree, 2+2=4″, and I agree with that, communication is also not being successful.

    The two cases are otherwise rather different, though. Reading between the lines a little, I infer that you believe I’m doing something like the second case… is that right?

    For my own part, I think the first case is a more accurate metaphor.

    On other boards, it’s considered a serious offence to accuse somebody of
    bad discussion behaviour without serious proof, so why are you
    insinuating that I am trolling = saying something different than what I
    mean?

    I didn’t use the word “trolling,” whose connotations I’m not sure apply here, and I don’t endorse it.

    But, yes, I agree that I’ve implied (and believe) that your behavior in this exchange has been poor, and I agree that I have not provided “serious proof” of this. I have no evidence that this is a serious offense on slacktivist, but in any case, if you are offended by it I apologize; that wasn’t my intent. That said, I’m not sure how to move forward productively in this exchange without describing the patterns I’m seeing.

    Perhaps it’s best to just drop the exchange?

    In the meantime, I prefer that the law constrain the actions of people with power.

    How does your current “Free speech law” do that?

    By providing the Supreme Court with grounds to remove from the books as unconstitutional laws that prevent low-status beliefs from being expressed publicly.


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