Should We Let the Gods Be Mocked?

A purposely inflammatory film, “Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests across the Muslim world recently. In the chaos an affiliate of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda is believed to have launched the attack in Libya that killed an American diplomat and three other embassy staffers (it should be noted that many Libyans apologized for the attack and rejected the violence done in their name). As for the film, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the actors were duped into performing for it, and that the anti-Islam material was dubbed in after the fact. It has also become a football for politicians who want to make a sweeping statement about the Muslim world, and a point of debate over free expression in the United States. Now, a Catholic advocacy group is using the turmoil and debate over this film to demand the federal government also condemn the 1987 photo “Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano.

“Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano.

“[Bill] Donohue [president of the Catholic League] and many others have condemned the piece as unnecessarily offensive to Christians, and some say it has helped uncover hypocrisy in the White House. Those outraged by the photograph suggest President Barack Obama’s administration has shown bias by condemning “Innocence of Muslims,” the anti-Muslim film that mocks the Islamic prophet Muhammad and sparked Muslim protests worldwide, but not “Piss Christ.”

Michael Grimm, a Republican congressman from New York, bashed the president and his administration in a statement late last week for their “utter lack of respect for the religious beliefs of Americans.” “As a Catholic, I find ‘Piss Christ’ to be vulgar and offensive, just as many in the Islamic world found ‘Innocence of Muslims’ to be highly offensive. Like most Americans, I condemn both yet remain tolerant as the First Amendment demands. Unfortunately, this administration has yet to echo these views in regards to the religiously offensive ‘art’ here at home,” said Grimm.”

It seems bizarre that a photograph from more than twenty years ago, one that was extensively debated in our culture at the time, should now be given equal billing to this current incident. All it took was a retrospective at a private New York gallery that features the piece for it to once again become a symbol of liberal decadence and hypocrisy. Yet the hypocrisy of Christians who claim Muslims get “special treatment” while the artist and those who show “Piss Christ” receive multiple death threats, and the work itself is attacked by Christian vandals seems to never get mentioned by groups like the Catholic League. Indeed, while there are no Catholic mobs attacking embassies, Church officials have used their political and cultural power to ensure the work is kept away from the public. Often these public battles are followed by acts of vandalism, just a quieter sort than what we see on the “Arab street.”

So with everyone talking about “Innocence of Muslims” and “Piss Christ” I guess the question has to be asked: should we allow the gods (and prophets) of our religions to be mocked? When an artist creates an inflammatory work, should religious communities go on the offensive?  I should also point out that this isn’t simply a problem among monotheists, as some artists have received death threats from Hindus over artwork that certain groups found offensive or blasphemous. Even the Pagan-friendly company Sacred Source here in the US received death threats from angry Hindus over erotic statues depicting their gods. So this is a phenomenon that I believe affects any religion that accumulates enough power and influence. They all reach a point where they think mockery or blasphemy should not be tolerated, and work to discourage, or even violently control, images that unbalance their position or perceived status.

I fear the day when modern Pagan religions reach that point, and I hope that it never comes. I don’t think I could stomach knowing that a co-religionist was sending death threats to an artist or trying to vandalize their work, or working to intimidate galleries and museums from ever showing a piece that mocked our faith or gods. If you want to boycott the New Yorker because you didn’t like their Witch cartoon, fine, go ahead. If you want to write an editorial because something offended you, please do. But I feel that boycotts, petitions, and a  healthy public debate should be the end-point not the beginning of tactics when a piece of art offends. Overreacting to ugly or offensive art betrays a vulnerability that is telling, it says that our gods are so weak, and our faith so small, that a painting or picture or movie is enough to harm both. The day when Paganism rises up against art is the day I part company with our movement. However, that’s just my perspective, I can’t claim to be a moral arbiter for modern Pagans, and no doubt there are those who envy the Catholics, Muslims, and Hindus their power and influence in these matters.

So what do you think? When a piece of art offends should we go on the offensive? What are the acceptable limits to voice our displeasure? Is it enough to simply give our opinion a voice, or should we apply social and political pressure to silence voices we don’t like? Should a Pagan “Piss Christ” be hounded for all time by angry adherents, or do we simply acknowledge that we can’t control the world and those who might offend us?

Please keep discussion on this post on the topic of how we should respond to art that offends, derailing comments that merely bash one religion or another will be deleted.

About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • Robert Mathiesen

    Blasphemy was a capital offense in the English-speaking world (and elsewhere in Europe) well into the 18th century, and the last execution for blasphemy in England occurred as late as 1697, in part for questioning how Jesus could work miracles. It is not too much of a stretch to say that the Enlightenment could not have happened until laws against blasphemy were successfully challenged and repealed or overturned. Modern science required the freedom to intrude without limit into areas that were once the exclusive domain of religion, and were protected by laws against blasphemy.

    There are very, very few causes in this world for which I would be willing in principle to take up arms and risk my own death, but the freedom to blaspheme is one of them. It is, in the very long run, even somewhat more important than the freedom of political speech. And I say this as a mystic. Personally, I take religion and spirituality very seriously indeed. Even so, the freedom to blaspheme — even my own Gods — is paramount.

    • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

      Blasphemy, alas, is a law that is on the books again in modern Ireland, as of early 2010.
      I find this particularly galling, considering that the Irish government allowed a major motorway to be built near the Hill of Tara, damaging or destroying more than 200 archaeological sites of significance in the process (most of which couldn’t even have the most basic “rescue archaeology” performed on them before they were destroyed), which is about the biggest blasphemy imaginable to Irish historical heritage and identity, as well as its own sovereignty and to the sensibilities of many Pagans, polytheists, academics from many disciplines, and so forth. I’m sad that no one has challenged the building of the motorway in Ireland under the blasphemy legislation–as a result could either mean that the roadway is not built (a little too late, but it could always expand further), or that the blasphemy legislation itself is struck down as untenable.

      • kittylu

        That is scary. The people in power out there seem content to just mow over their history and replace it with the three headed hydra.

  • http://twitter.com/sick_of_dreams O.o

    Where I live the community is overwhelmingly protestant christian derived from Calvinist ideology. I’m hard-pressed to go a week without seeing/hearing something offensive about other types of belief systems. While I don’t agree with that kind of discrimination I have found that the more it’s fought against the louder and more harsh it becomes. As long as it is private citizens and not government institutions creating/displaying these things I am content to go about my day and focus on more positive things. I strive to be a peaceful example of the non-christian community since so many around me counter the hate with hate of their own.

  • http://dashifen.com/ dashifen

    I’ve struggled with this for a few days myself. The only answer I’ve come up with is that when someone is offended, it is 100% completely within their rights to speak out and share their thoughts and feelings on the matter with others. However, there have to be limits, and it is the determining of those limits that seems the troublesome point.

    Fairly obviously, you could say that the offended party’s response must remain lawful but that seems to cut out civil disobedience in the face of unjust laws. Granted, a keyword within the phrase “civil disobedience” is clearly “civil” and it’s fairly obvious, I think, that the responses to “Innocence of Muslims” has, in many instances, lacked civility.

    This, then, brings me around to the responses to “Piss Christ” that are brought up above. Clearly, I think we can accept that vandalism isn’t civil; nor are death threats. But, Christian advocacy groups acting to try and limit the exposure of the work is okay, in my book. The fact that the vandals feel the need to continue their efforts to deface “Piss Christ,” in my book, goes to show us that the efforts of the advocacy groups are met with limited success.

    We need to protect the right to mock the gods if we see fit to do so. But, if we enjoy that right, then we have to be ready to deal with the (inevitable?) response from those who are offended by our mockery. To paraphrase “the Devil’s Advocate:” Free [speech]; it’s a bitch.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002162704205 Lori Dake

    Sure, go ahead, but be aware if you do that, you just may be very well waving a red flag at a bull. (And I’m not just talking about the worshipers but also vengeful, jealous deities lol.)

  • Vision_From_Afar

    I’ve got two quotes to lead off, and I’ll try to be brief afterward.
    “Yet in 2012, at a time when anyone with a cell phone can spread
    offensive views around the world with the click of a button, the notion
    that we can control the flow of information is obsolete.” – Barack Obama
    “If there be time to expose through discussion the
    falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of
    education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced
    silence.” Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis – Whitney v. California
    opinion in 1927

    I would argue, from these two perspectives above, that we have already shown maturity and civility in addressing these issues. Sure, we have no equivalent to “Piss Christ” or “Innocence…”, but who can honestly claim that their hackles didn’t get up in that news clip from a couple days ago, “They’re just kind of silly people to me. They worship themselves”? Or when we read that the Catholic hierarchy is drumming up more exorcism and possession propaganda against this nebulous “occult dabbling” that we all know full well is modern Paganism? Or when we are denigrated and deliberately dismissed as suburban dilettantes by a blogger with a readership of thousands?
    We responded with more words, most often reasonably and respectfully disagreeing. We stood tall, strong and comfortable in our beliefs. Sure, vitriol appeared, but the majority of the voices were pleasantly mature, and they appeared from all quarters. We can drown out the offense with positive messages (something the monotheists have yet to grasp, I think). I strongly suspect our reaction to any blasphemous art would be, at worst, the same as we have seen to date, and at best, most pagans would probably actually give the artist credit for stretching the mythos in a different (if completely inaccurate and offensive) direction, before moving on.
    We’ve been offended and our gods dismissed for decades now. A piece of artwork, no matter how crafted to offend, won’t derail us now.

    Pagan and proud, n’est pas?

    • L.D.P.

      Good point (and interesting quotes) but if you let me…it either is “n’est-ce pas” or “n’est-il pas” and not “n’est pas” (can’t help it but french is my mother tongue). As a sidenote, in french we have an interesting idiom regarding the activity of going into this kind of useless details. It is called “enculer des mouches” which in a very romanticized french way translates as “fucking flies”.

      • Vision_From_Afar

        Sorry, it’s been over 5 years since I’ve had any opportunity to actually use the French I was once fluent in. Mea culpa.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.rouleau Dave Rouleau

    The Gods can speak for themselves just fine, with greater wisdom and far more eloquence than our righteous indignation ever could. If you believe in the Gods, then let them deal with it as they see fit. If not, what’s your problem?

  • frog’s breath

    I don’t think anything is above reasonable blaspheme. People should be able to question and satirize things that others consider sacred if they take issue with those things on some intellectual or personal level. I’m just as cool with people pissing on christ as I would be with people mocking my own weird beliefs, provided they have a reason and aren’t just trying to seem edgy and cool.

    Also, as an artist, I really don’t think it’s the job of art to make anyone feel secure or validated. Sometimes it’s entire purpose is to make one feel uncomfortable and maybe a little upset. To rally in blind rage against something like that, instead of maybe considering what the piece is attempting to say, or why you are feeling personally insulted by it, is really childish.

  • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

    If the Gods can’t defend Themselves when They are mocked and need you to do it for Them, in the eloquent words of the Hulk: “Puny god.” If They are offended, let Them smite who offended them. Otherwise, if They aren’t offended, why are you?

  • Katharine C.

    “Overreacting to ugly or offensive art betrays a vulnerability that is telling, it says that our gods are so weak, and our faith so small, that a painting or picture or movie is enough to harm both.” YEP. Free expression is free expression, whether you like it or not. Sure, some depictions of witches or deities or other elements dealing with Paganism bother me (Charmed, anyone?), but why care?! The best we can do is if someone is saying something directly to us, is respond in a calm, informative, and open manner. Criticism and mockery are healthy. While sometimes annoying, they force us to really think about what we believe, and hopefully through that reflection, strengthen those beliefs. Let the mockery of all gods, all religions, all prophets, all practices continue, FREELY.

  • don108

    If we don’t laugh with and at the gods, I’m sure they’ll be laughing at us!

    Although it’s true that there were demonstrations “across the Muslim world” (although not everywhere), I think it would have been more accurate to say that “A purposely inflammatory film, ”Innocence of Muslims,” sparked protests BY FUNDAMENTALIST EXTREMISTS across the Muslim world…” Similarly, it was fundamentalist extremists who led the protests against the “Piss Christ” image.

    The problem, in both cases is with wack-job fundamentalist extremists, not with the majority of people. The worrisome aspect of this is that many of these extremists have weapons.

    • Mia

      There was a photo going around on tumblr that showed a peaceful, organized demonstration against the film, which of course was never shown on any news station.

  • P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

    I’ve been thinking about this issue myself…
    Christianity has been engaged in a deliberate campaign of demeaning one of my most important gods (Antinous) since the late second century CE, and continued to do so in their writings until the 1100s in the Byzantine world (despite some Christian poets in Egypt praising Antinous and Hadrian even in the 6th or 7th c. CE!). The only reason they’re not still doing so now is twofold: they don’t think anyone takes Antinous seriously as a god any longer (alas, for them, NOT TRUE!); and they are making an awful lot of money off of exhibiting his images in the Vatican, as their museum owns more of the ancient images of Antinous than any other in the world at present. (No, people don’t go to their museums just to see Antinous, but an increasing number will over the next few years because we actually worship him, and will be going there as a matter of pilgrimage–not for the ostensible religion that the place is made for, though!)
    It is their right, I think, to have whatever theological beliefs and critiques they’d like, just as I likewise have my own critiques of Christianity, Islam, and many other religions along both ethical, social,and theological lines.
    Active mockery, though, is ridiculous.
    Unfortunately, some religions don’t understand that there is a difference between active and deliberate mockery, and actual intellectual or theological critique. Because some institutionalized forms of creedal monotheism (which, no matter what they wish to admit, have spread “by the sword”) are used to unchallenged religious hegemony, though, they don’t have the sophistication to realize that having Lukian of Samosata poking fun at one’s gods or religions shouldn’t be a cause for worry–he’s one voice among many in the agora and the general public forum, as it were. Unfortunately especially, Catholicism and Islam are the worst religions in terms of not realizing that there can (and should!) be critique, and the way that pseudo-liberal modern Americans often give a pass to Islam in certain respects (without knowing enough about it to make such assumptions, and believing some of the propaganda that obfuscates on this matter and only allows for “truth” on the part of insiders to the religion) is also very unfortunate as well.
    The old phrase “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” applies here, I think–or, as Saul of Tarsus said in one of his Corinthian epistles, “All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.”

    • JoFro

      So stop posting messages on Patheos and go burn down or attack a Catholic building. In this world, violence is the way to earn respect, even though you have been raised to believed the B.S. that the more respectful and civlised you act toward your opponents, the more respect and civility you will earn. Heck, look at this page itself – does the writer even link to Innoncence of Muslims? No. Does he post a HUGE picture of Piss Christ? Yes. They are both offensive images. One though is art, the other apparently isn’t

      • Mia

        Actually, it’s a way to earn a jail cell and scorn for oneself and Pagans everywhere, were the OP actually to burn down a Catholic building.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Which is a great example of the loss of individual power.

          In the early 90s, a group of ‘Black Metallers’ in Norway, known as ‘The Inner Circle’ started a spate of church burning, as they sought a return to pre-Christian traditions in their homeland.

          They got portrayed as ‘Satanic’ – an image that ‘Black Metal’ as a genre has found hard to shift since (many bands and artists revel in the imagery associated with the genre, rather than the ‘real’ message it tried to convey).

          Now, if we forget, for a moment, about the crime and focus on the fact that these people genuinely found (and find, in certain cases) the building of Christian/Abrahamic places of worship on ‘their’ Nordic soil offensive, what are they supposed to do? How should they express their state of being offended?

  • Charles Cosimano

    Anyone who is offended becomes fair game themselves. If they object, then let them be targeted as well as their gods and their religions. There is no one above mockery.

  • http://www.patheos.com/ Star Foster

    “Beware therefore! Love all, lest perchance is a King concealed! Say you
    so? Fool! If he be a King, thou canst not hurt him.” – The Book Of The Law

  • Kilmrnock

    i have mixed emotions on this one . On one hand you have the treasured right to free speech . In which i strongly believe . But on the other you have an overly sensitive Muslim population in the Middle East and other parts of the world . With the already volitile situation over there , why throw gasoline on the fire , which in effect is what this film has done . Now as the Third , maybe second, oldest and second largest religion in the world these people need to be more thick skinned as to not go fricken nuts when your religion and or prophets are insulted . And to use a vinacular term the Catholics need to go Shyte in their hat. In the Western World we are supposed to be grown up enough to take a little mud in our faces, gods know we do . One thing we must remember the Middle Eastern World is still basicaly operating with a pre mideavil mindset . And most of those undersexed young men are frikkin crazy.. Unfortunatly we need to handle these crazy people over there with kid gloves so to speak. That part of the world is like a powder keg looking for an open flame or fire .So why supply what is need to set them off. Kilm. .

    • Kilmrnock

      in this i meant the so called ” Big Three Monotheisms “

    • Kilmrnock

      When it comes to issues of Diplomacy and World affairs my views are pragmatic , Altho my feeling and heart may say one thing i tend to lean more toward what will work within reason . tho also what is morally right and not political expeditious .In a situation such as this i just wonder why fan the flames of an already volite mess.

  • kenneth

    So far none of paganism’s detractors have displayed the wit or motivation to create any artwork satirizing or insulting us. They do, however, work more or less constantly to dehumanize and trivialize us, accusing us of routinely stealing Catholic hosts for desecration, a tactic no different than blood libel of the Jews.

    The best way to counter those sorts of attacks is with pointed, but civil engagement. Press them to document their facts. They can’t last 30 seconds on any level playing field against reason. When it comes to artwork intended to provoke, the best tactic is amused indifference. Nothing would have driven a stake through the “Innocence of Muslims” producer like a big yawn of indifference from the Muslim world. Call it out for what it is, a cheesy amateurish propaganda piece underwritten by a sad and ignorant man. Nothing gets at an artist like calling their work derivative and unoriginal. Nothing stokes their ego like death threats. Worldwide controversy makes an A-list celebrity out of people who usually have the intellect and creative abilities of a sewer lid thief.

    The same is true of “Piss Christ.” It had very little depth as a piece of art beyond its obvious ability to provoke. It doesn’t challenge the viewer to really grapple with anything beyond shock value. It’s the sort of thing many artist create as freshmen art students to prove they’re “rebels”. Had it not been for the knee-jerk outrage of Christians, it would have literally gotten 15 minutes of fame in the late 1980s. Now, thanks to good old Bill Donahue and his professional martyr act, it’s selling to a whole new generation. There’s a sick symbiosis that happens between provacateurs and the extremists and rabid anti-defamation lobbies they offend. I hope pagans never become part of that dynamic.

    • Terraluna

      I beg to differ about the artistic value of “Piss Christ”. If you look beyond “This is offensive.” to “Why is this offensive?”, it raises a lot of questions about how we view divinity and how we view our own physical existence. I’ve never been a Christian, so maybe I just don’t understand how terribly disgusting and offensive to God the bodily fluids of humans might be, but I think the provocation in this piece might serve a purpose higher than mere provocation itself.

  • Brian Rush

    It’s a particularly significant question in a religious context. There is nothing more dangerous to liberty than a religion that holds political power. There is also nothing more corrupting of genuine spirituality. The worst thing that happened to Christianity in its long history was when it became the official faith of the Roman Empire, and the best thing that happened to it was when it was separated from the powers of the state. Islam similarly was and remains corrupted when the power of a state upholds it, and the same is true of Hinduism or Judaism or even Buddhism, which was arguably at its worst during the reign of the Emperor Ashoka. It would be equally bad for Neopagan religion. It would allow the state, and those who wield the state’s power, to define our beliefs for us.

    Forcibly suppressing mockery and blasphemy are fruit of the same tree as inquisitions to root out heresy. Let’s not go there.

    • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

      An excellent point. If or when Muslims make blasphemous statements against Christians, were the Christian minorities in Muslim countries to rise up in violence, the Islamic states would suppress them with whatever counter-violence was necessary.

      Similarly, were the Muslim minority in the US to rise up in violence over blasphemy against Muslims, the secular US state would suppress them with whatever counter-violence was necessary.

      The reason in both cases is that violent uprising is against the law. No other reason is required, nor relevant.

      The problem is when the initial violence is either ignored by, or actively promoted by, the state.

  • http://www.miraselena.com/ Miraselena

    What a loaded topic! This touches on one of my areas of study…public mediation of visual imagery. Trying to keep this short…

    Point one: NO we should not seek to sensor another voice. Artists should have the freedom to express their opinion. Even about religion… even about Gods. If we didn’t have this right, we’d be Stalinist Russia.
    Point two: “When an artist creates an inflammatory work” Note that a work is only inflammatory if the reader/viewer mediates as such. An artist doesn’t create an inflammatory work… he expresses (albeit sometimes with a desire to irritate.) But in the end, the inflammatory reaction is solely in the response of the viewer.

    Most importantly, Point Three: I’ve never been one to be easily offended. So, personally speaking, I take the highly philosophical stance that is best summed up… “I’m rubber and you are glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to …” (something other than me)

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    They made Thor blonde.

    Is that offensive? Not in itself, but is shows ignorance. and, to many, ignorance is offensive.

    No one has the right to free from being offended. Simply because that is impossible to implement.

    On a bad day, simply seeing a church will offend me. On a good day, nothing can offend me.

    As such a thing can only be as offensive as you allow it to be.

    • joe

      well, they also made him a spandex wearing alien prince so his hair colour being wrong isn’t really that much of an issue in the big picture anyway.

      but yes, basically I agree with what you’re saying here.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        That’s just the movie, which doesn’t count.

        /fundamentalist comic geekery

  • Pitch313

    When I get right down to it, I believe that humans mocking deities is a notable case of bringing a knife to a gun fight. Deities that we humans mock can do back to us all the many things–suffering, affliction, unending bad luck, death expressing black humor, and all that–deities can do.

    So I don’t do it or support other humans doing it.

    At the same time, propagandists gotta propagandize.

  • http://twitter.com/IndigoCeleste Indigo Celeste

    I’m trying to think of a way in which someone could attempt to mock Dionysus without Him going “yeah, that’s probably true…” Zeus might be a little less easygoing about it, but then He’s got lightning bolts, so I’m fairly certain He can take care of Himself.

    I think it’s OK to be upset and offended if someone mocks one’s deities–after all, these folks are important figures in our lives. But to go on the offensive and verbally or physically attack them, or try to deprive them of freedom or agency is, in my opinion, a sign of insecurity.

    Honestly, it’s probably just a symptom of monotheism–we are talking about Muslims & Christians after all. These are people with a vested interest in promoting the idea that their God is the One True God, who can’t abide not being worshipped.

    • Nick Ritter

      “Honestly, it’s probably just a symptom of monotheism”

      Before Iceland was converted to Christianity, a particular Christian (I don’t remember his name) was outlawed for composing a blasphemous verse mocking Óðinn and Freyja. Sensitivity to blasphemy is not a purely monotheistic, nor a purely modern issue.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Would you say that Loki is/was the patron god of blasphemy and offence? After all, mocking people/gods was what he did.

        • Nick Ritter

          I suppose that Loki could be considered the “patron god” of a number of things, up to and including murder. I personally wouldn’t consider an activity sacred if it was in imitation of such a one as him, though I know there are those who disagree.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I wouldn’t suggest that imitation was all that sacred, but there are those who deem themselves followers of Loki.

            Also, there is the argument of pacification of the gods to turn events under their ‘remit’ from the supplicants. (Praying to Njörðr to protect against being lost at sea, for example.)

          • Nick Ritter

            That is an interesting thought. I might counter, however, that it is Rán and her daughters who take those at sea: does one make offerings to them to prevent that? I could see that one might, but then how does this relate to Loki and blasphemy? I can’t see making offerings to Loki to prevent blasphemy.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I never suggested that the Loki worshippers were in possession of sound logic., but I agree, they’d be more likely to ask for help in causing blasphemy.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            I am a worshiper of Loki, and I disagree. It does me no good, in fact, it does me ill, to blaspheme Gods, my own or others’. I think that Loki’s place within Heathenry and modern Paganism can and, in my view, should be debated, but this is probably not the time and place for that.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            “I am a worshiper of Loki, and I disagree.”
            Yup, that’d be about right. ;)

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            *dies laughing* Heh, thanks.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          I would argue more than he fulfills a needed role that was often necessary in older times, but has only recently returned to vogue: The Jester. I mean that in the greatest level of respect. Those in power need a dissenting voice, no matter how ridiculous or mocking, to keep them honest, and force them to think through their actions. If a decision is easily mocked and derailed by the Jester, perhaps it needs rethinking or a better explanation.
          We have our modern Jesters, but those in power refuse to acknowledge them, and so the wisdom of mockery and the eloquence of offense fall on deaf ears in the halls of power.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            I think that modern Jesters are heard. Look no further than Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            You’ll find a lot of stand-up comedians are very much political, nowadays.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            The broken link was, in fact, originally a picture of the two of them. My point wasn’t that the people notice the jesters and their comments, but rather those in power are deaf to their mocking.

      • http://twitter.com/IndigoCeleste Indigo Celeste

        I *did* say “probably.” ;)

        That’s an interesting point–I’m a hellenist (academically and religiously), so of course the history of the northern germanic folks is not my strong point. My point was regarding the “One True Way-ism” that crops up in monotheist religions. Sure, Dionysus can and does get offended (just ask King Pentheus what happens when you try to stop Bacchic worship…hint, it involves dismemberment by gangs of mad-women), but as long as *I’m* not the one insulting the Gods, I’m OK. I’ll support and defend them as I can, and as suits my place, but They can revenge Themselves as they wish.

        • Nick Ritter

          Fair point, and thanks for bringing up King Pentheus as an example of the gods taking active revenge. This falls along the idea of “the gods can handle it” that so many seem to be supporting.

          I’ve been giving some thought to blasphemy and how I feel about it personally, and I’ve come to some conclusions that might likely displease some people on this forum. One the one hand, concerning blasphemy against religions that have blasphemed against, desecrated the holy places of, and destroyed other religions as a matter of course: I kind of think they have it coming. Turnabout is fair play after all. That said, I’m not the sort of fellow who seeks to offend for the sake of offense, so I would likely leave such folks alone unless pushed.

          Concerning blasphemy in general, though, I wouldn’t be pleased with people blaspheming my gods (it seems to me like listening to someone slander a respected friend or ancestor), nor would I blaspheme the gods of other religions. In thinking about the outlawry of the one fellow from Iceland, it occurred to me that in most pre-modern cultures, religion was tied up with society to the extent that belonging to a society implicitly meant participation in certain rites. Outlawry – expulsion from society – is therefore an expulsion from participation in those rites. I think I would personally handle verbal blasphemy against the gods of my religion in the same way: I would forbid that person from participating in the rites I perform (the only ones I have authority over), either permanently or until some restitution has been made to the gods insulted, depending on the situation.

          For merely saying scurrilous things about the gods, I do not think violence is appropriate. If someone attacked the places and things I consider holy, though – that is, if someone tried to cut down my oak, topple my altar, break or burn my idols, etc. – I may well resort to violence, especially in an attempt to keep that from happening.

        • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

          The case of Pentheus is highly significant and worth close consideration. Old Bromios did not demand that Pentheus, or anyone else, renounce other Gods. All that was required was that the son of Zeus and Semele be acknowledged alongside all of the other Goddeses and Gods.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        Nick: “Before Iceland was converted to Christianity, a particular Christian (I don’t remember his name) was outlawed for composing a blasphemous verse mocking Óðinn and Freyja.”

        I would be willing to bet that this took place during the (rather long) period when the Heathens of Northern Europe were locked in an existential struggle for survival against the Frankish Jihadists. In that situation, an Icelandic Christian who produced blasphemous verses against the old Gods was engaged in something comparable to an American who distributes openly pro Al Qaeda propaganda. Freedom of speech does not necessarily extend that far.

    • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

      Wasn’t Socrates executed for (essentially) blasphemy? Neither modern nor restricted to monotheists.

  • Eris

    I agree. I think simply expressing differing opinions is the height of reasonable action.

    • Eris

      I would just add that, cases of active and public calls for violence are an example where words turn into the destruction of someone else’s rights…and should be dealt with as such.

      • http://www.xkcd.com/285 Eran Rathan

        Hail You! And, also, Fnord!

        and also, I’m sorry about the potato incident. It was totally not my fault.

  • cj

    It is not for me to defend God — He does so quite well on His Own.
    The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America is the only reasonable role for a government. It “prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, [or] impeding the free exercise of religion[.]”
    That said, it is so clearly obvious which Religions are truly peaceful and tolerant, and which so-called “religions” preach and practice nothing but hatred and violence.

  • Castus

    I wouldn’t be pleased with someone who blasphemed the Gods, and I would certainly support some form of punishment, however I generally fall in line with the old Roman practice of ‘giving someone up’ to the gods for them to exact the punishment as pleases them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

    Beware of Gods who do not laugh. Seriously, Thor dressed in woman’s clothing as a comic means of regaining his hammer. This is the difficulty with having perfect, non-mortal and divine beings as one’s spiritual focus.

  • http://twitter.com/charlieincharge Charles Harrington

    Every time I have seen a film, video game, or television show in which the gods are killed (it’s usually the Greeks) I do get a little irked but I would never think to demand that the filmmaker apologize for it.

    The Onion recently ran an especially offensive cartoon depicting Moses, Jesus, Ganesh, and Buddha in an orgy with the caption “no one murdered because of this cartoon.” I thought it was wildly important. Better to move on with our lives – at least the Christians seem to have largely ceased in demolishing temples.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      They stopped destroying temples when they realised they just had to swap the idols.

  • Rhett Aultman

    If there’s anything I’ve learned from being in The Church of the Subgenius, it’s this:

    If someone mocks or desecrates your gods, you go out and mock and desecrate them even harder. Then, when you’ve embarrassed everyone else’s puny attempts, you shout “That’s how you do it, PUNK!”

  • Scott

    I think it’s also worth remembering that, despite the Catholic League’s attempts to equate the two, there are real differences in motivation behind these two works. “Innocence of Muslims” was created by a non-Muslim and is apparently intended as a direct attack on the religion. “Piss Christ” was created by a devout Catholic as part of a series of works (others featured a crucifix floating in milk and in water tinged with blood) intended to highlight the *embodiment* of Jesus by confronting the viewer with a Christian image viewed through the literal filter of the body, in liquid form. Offended Christians are reacting to the juxtaposition of sacred and profane in both the form and title of the work without engaging with the work itself.

    • Merri-Todd Webster

      I did not know that about “Piss Christ”. It might well be said that if you have a problem with that image as a Christian, then maybe you have a problem with the Incarnation….

    • JoFro

      In today’s world, a “devout” Catholic is anyone who says he or she is one. The fact that he or she does not go to Church, does not practise the Faith according to what the Church teaches. Heck, Lady Gaga considers herself a “devout” Catholic! That word does not mean anything now!

  • http://johnfranc.blogspot.com/ John Beckett

    Several here have said in so many words what I once heard Isaac Bonewits say: “our gods are perfectly capable of defending their own honor.”

    One of my oaths of priesthood is to never needlessly offend the faith of another. So long as it does not require violating our own beliefs and traditions, I believe we should show great respect for other religions. Not because someone from a different culture may react violently, but because it is the polite thing to do.

    But there’s a huge difference in respecting your religion and letting you walk all over people of other religions.

  • Sam Webster

    Humans insulting Gods? What Deity would care what we say or do? We have no impact on the Gods, They are ever Beneficent and Good. We can turn away from them but they are ever constant. If an ant crawled up on my boot and gave me the finger, I would just be amazed that it even noticed me. I could hardly be insulted by so small a thing. Wouldn’t the Gods be even greater?

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      If an ant crawled up on my boot and gave me the finger and I actually noticed, that’d probably be the funniest thing I saw all week.

      • CrystalK

        Maybe ants are giving us the finger all the time and we never notice. Doesn’t that thought blow your mind?

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          Not really. I think ants are pretty impressive things, and most humans are ignorant.

          As such, that scenario makes a lot of sense.

  • AKW

    “Overreacting to ugly or offensive art betrays a vulnerability that is telling, it says that our gods are so weak, and our faith so small, that a painting or picture or movie is enough to harm both.”
    I agree with this sentiment. If your faith is so fragile that a piece of art sends you into a frenzy says a lot about you as a believer. However, that said, it is a completely different situation when said “art” is made not just to make a statement, but is made to promote and further misunderstanding and hate for a group. There is a big difference between commentary and hate mongering.

  • Krystal H.

    I think our deities are big boys, girls, and beings of indeterminate gender, so no, I don’t think we humans should feel the need to be offended on their behalf. I can’t see any deity caring about one little picture or film, in fact, who’s to say they don’t have a chuckle over such things. “They put me in a horned helmet again. Don’t they realize how cheesy that is?”

  • wiztwas

    It is not a question of if we (the collective we of society not just us) should allow beliefs to be mocked.

    If I ask a question about which we have general consensus such as should we allow the belief that our children should not be exposed to pornography be mocked? I will get a pretty unanimous answer and society as a whole will back it.

    But if I were to ask about something where general consensus is not held, then I would not get the same answer.

    It is impossibly hard to put yourself in the position of someone else, however, we have to try. It is a fact that to some Muslims the mocking is highly offensive. It is also a fact that there is a large political element to this.

    I think that we need to address the issue, the issue is that the Muslim world, feels it is not respected.

    That lack of respect happens at many levels, political and religious. Might does not make right, even if we are powerful we need to be respectful and fair.

    We can only change ourselves, so we should try and openly respect others more.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    Just realised something. This isn’t really about mocking the gods, but about mocking a man.

    The typical mockery is aimed at Mohammed, not Allah. It’d be like mocking a Pagan author.

    • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

      To be more precise, it would be like mocking a Pagan author who was married to a six (or possibly seven) year old girl.

  • kittylu

    Bill Donohue and representative Grimm are huge hippocrites. Donohue pays for ads supporting child molestors in the New York times and Grimm is under investigation for corruption (he had foreigners raise money for his campaign illegally and then wiped his hard drives). People make art with pagan themes every day. It doesn’t hurt our cause even when presented poorly because something about it usually awakens people’s interest. It was the only way to subversively tell the stories in the past. I feel that today we have better representations of our beliefs out there in the world, but Pagans should counter disinformation whenever possible, like a lot of groups have been doing lately.

  • harmonyfb

    If everyone would just stop being a dick for five minutes, this wouldn’t be a problem. ::exasperated::

    Blasphemy should never be a concern of the State. I think the Gods can handle it on their own if They are offended. How egocentric are you, to think they require your aid to exact revenge?
    Do I think that worshipers should sit silently by when others are being deliberately offensive? No. But there’s a wide gulf between ‘Hey, quit being a jerk!’ and punching everyone within reach in the face because you’re so angry.

  • http://profiles.google.com/brotheratombombofmoderation Steve Caldwell

    Here’s what I said about the “Piss Christ” photo in a sermon I delivered in a Unitarian Universalist congregation back in 1993 on the National Endowment for the Arts and the continual “culture wars” that keep popping up around the issues of religion and sexuality:

    I’m sure that everyone has heard of the famous (infamous?) photograph titled Piss Christ. The photo byAndres Serrano depicted a plastic crucifix submerged in a transparent container filled with urine. To Reverend Donald Wildmon, it was “anti-Christian bigotry”. The meaning that the artist intended was much deeper than that. The artist intended the photo as a statement against commercialized Christianity. A “recovering” Catholic who had renounced the church, Seranno had struggled with doubt, faith, and the role that religion had played in his life. When Mr. Frohnmayer talked to Seranno about the meaning he intended in his photograph, he indicated that the photo expressed disgust with the “sugarcoating” that hides the theological significance of the cross depicting Man’s inhumanity to the Son of God (If Jesus were a modern-day religious figure, his followers would be wearing electric chair necklaces instead). Mr. Frohnmayer–upset with the religious right’s simplistic interpretation–contacted Dr. William Long (interim pastor of Westminster Prebsterterian Church and former professor of religion at Reed College in Portland, Oregon).

    Here’s what Mr. Frohnmayer wrote in his book about the Piss Christ photo:

    “… admitting that Piss Christ might be repulsive or blasphemous, [Dr. Long] said, ‘It also asserts that the cross, the very heart of the Christian faith, is itself an offense to God and human decency. Seen from this perspective, the work of Seranno may have the unintended effect of reminding Christians and others of the ignominy and repulsiveness of the symbol they hold so dear.’ … Dr. Long suggested that in Christian theology the crucifix is a symbol of rejection and pain … In our culture the cross has lost its repulsive character. In contrast, urine, in the modern parlance, is used to test for truth: for steroids, drugs, and alcohol. [Dr. Long] asked, ‘If we see urine as truth serum, does the crucifix in urine reflect some of the unyielding cruelty in human beings which we so desperately ignore or minimize?’”https://sites.google.com/site/uuwebman/nea

  • Sunweaver

    The right to free expression is, to me, a sacred thing. Artistic expression has been central to my education from the time I was very small and I can’t imagine living in a world that would be restrictive of that. Free expression of course includes everything from this blog to the shenanigans of Westboro Baptist Church.
    So, what is right action in regards to free expression? For me, this means being respectful in the way I express myself. It’s a sign a lack of skill if I have to be offensive or disrespectful to get my point across.

    Mocking my gods is well within another’s right to free expression – a right I will defend until my dying day (may it be far from now). But doing so devalues me and others who worship those gods. Yes, the gods can take care of themselves, but so can I. When I say “Wow, that’s really offensive” in the most skillful way I know how, it’s not to defend the Gods, but rather to speak up for myself and for others who would be denigrated, bullied, or devalued as members of society for a belief in those gods.

    There should absolutely not be restrictions on freedom of expression. We should not be violent in our response. We should not be overly sensitive and find offense around every corner. But we should skillfully respond to speech, art, and writing, that is offensive.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “We should not be violent in our response.”
      I am not saying I disagree but, why not?

      • Sunweaver

        …I’m not sure why I have to answer that.
        Violence is not a grownup response to someone showing their proverbial butt. It’s not going to make them not be jerks and will, in fact, exacerbate the problem.
        If one party acts like a jerk, and the other responds with violence, the first party will probably respond with violence right back and so on until the original offense is forgotten and there’s only animosity between the two parties.
        So, why resort to violence when it’s the least useful approach to the problem? The gods graced us with brains and problem-solving skills. If we can find no better solution than violence, we’re not trying very hard.

        • Lēoht Sceadusawol

          To the Germanic (notably the Scandinavian) tribes, protecting one’s honour was of utmost importance. Even if that meant using a sword or an axe to do so.

          I wouldn’t say it is the least useful approach. I’d say that very much depends on the individual situation.

          Mind you, the actual reason I asked was for a valid justification of the stance, which you kindly gave. It nicely demonstrates how words promote understanding far more than physical force ever will.

          • Sunweaver

            Sure, Germanic/Scandinavian tribes used to kill each other over matters of honor, but that doesn’t make it a good model for modern behavior. It’s barbaric and I’m having trouble coming up with a situation where violence is an appropriate response to a nonviolent offense.

            I still find it a little surprising that nonviolence needs justification. One would think it would be self-evident, but one would apparently be mistaken.

          • Obsidia

            Responding to violence with violence is like fighting fire with fire.

          • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

            Sometimes that works; snuffing a fire with another fire is a valid firefighting technique. Controlled burning, controlled explosions/demolitions work, but they require training, and especially care.

          • Obsidia

            Exactly.

          • Moe

            Actually some firefighters DO fight fire with fire.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Not all of us are pacifists.

          • Sunweaver

            Not all of us are violent people, either. And responding to a nonviolent offense such as a painting, drawing, photograph, or movie with violence is excessive and uncivilized.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m a tribalist. I am not a great fan of civilisation.

            Look at it another way – not exerting force where you can is weak.

            Might really does make right.

          • Sunweaver

            Not exerting force when you don’t have to is wise. It’s a waste of energy. It isn’t practical.
            “Might makes right” is the attitude of bullies and people who don’t know how to use their brains to solve problems.

            I’d bet two shiny pennies that you don’t use violence to solve most of your daily run-of-the-mill problems. Most civil laws frown on that sort of behavior. But since you’re not going to be convinced that reasoned action is a far sight better than violent reaction, I’m going to bid this conversation a fond farewell.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Define ‘violence’. There is violence of word, violence of action and implication of violence.

            I use all three, as I feel appropriate.

            Might makes right is, in essence, the way democracy works. It is tyranny of the masses, after all.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

            “Look at it another way – not exerting force where you can is weak.

            Might really does make right.”

            Wow, are you wrong. Not just historically (Um… You have heard about Things? Laws? Government?) but this should not even be a question these days. Unless you plan on giving your parents to the Ice. (Have you told your parents, yet?)

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Yeah, I’ve heard of those things. They are brilliant examples of enactment of might, wouldn’t you agree?

          • Moe

            Agreed. When someone is about to beat you, rape you or kill you, the pacifist nonviolence act is not going to stop them. Idealism is one thing. Reality is another.

          • JoFro

            Actually it is non-violence that needs justification. Nature is not kind to the pacifist. It is not non-violence that is self-evident, it is violence that is self-evident. This is the sad aspect the Western world lives in – so drenched in the Christian message of “turn the other cheek” that they actually do not realise that this is not the message of nature, which is “an eye for an eye”

          • Sunweaver

            Generally speaking, nature isn’t vengeful, as such, so eye-for-an-eye isn’t really accurate.
            Sometimes, when a snake or a spider bites, it’s because its personal bubble has been invaded and it’s afraid of being stepped on or eaten. It arises from fear. Rattlers rattle so they don’t have to resort to a bite– which has its own cost and risk. Predatory animals of all sorts hunt and eat their prey because they’re hungry. It’s not personal, it’s just dinner. There are territorial behaviors including protection of a nest or offspring and aggression that arises because of competition for mates and other resources. None of that is a personal vendetta, either.
            Trees generally hang out and absorb energy from the sun while fungi turn decaying matter into energy. And then there are parasites.
            So, if you’re looking for messages from nature, there’s quite a bit to choose from and it can’t really be narrowed down to such a simplistic view of things. Nothing about nature is simple. You don’t really find a whole lot of violence from revenge in nature, though. Not none, but very little that I’m aware of.
            And anyway, we’re human animals. Our big brains are our best assets and it’s generally better to use those first to solve problems. We’re really better at that (or can be if we apply ourselves).

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I’m more inclined towards the traditions of North West Europe than South East Europe.

            Let us just agree that both stances have their place.

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

            Frankly, I don’t understand how you function in society (ok, non-prison society) taking your ideas to it’s logical conclusion.

          • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

            It has been my understanding that the “eye for an eye” bit was intended to LIMIT vengeance, rather than DEMAND vengeance. That is, so-and-so took my tricycle, so I want his head on a platter. Well, you may want that, but all you get (under the ancient laws) is his tricycle.

          • moe

            Slight problem with your claim that nature isn’t vengeful or needlessly violent. You forgot that adult male felines will kill the cubs that are not their progeny. You also forgot that the species feud between lions and hyenas has it that each kills needlessly the member of the other species whenever they can. And then there are the chimpanzees, of which there are recorded instances of one chimpanzee or a group actually murdering another chimpanzee. Or that certain predators who bring down their prey actually start eating the poor thing while it is still alive.You might want to actually be better informed in animal behavior before making such a claim, because there are cases that disprove your claim.

            While I am not advocating a violent reaction to some idiot saying something offensive, there does come a point where if one is attacked, pacifism is foolish and one is forced to fight back physically or die like a sacrificial lamb.

          • Sunweaver

            I’m a biologist and quite well versed in animal behaviors. My point is that you cannot simplify natural behaviors into a simple phrase such as “an eye for an eye,” that those were not necessarily good models for human behavior, and that vengeance as we understand it is not particularly common– not unheard of, but uncommon. (Good scientists hardly ever use absolutes). I didn’t even go into insect behavior. Ichneumon wasps are pretty nasty things, as are bot flies. Nor do I want to be a bee or an ant. Their behaviors are appropriate for them, not for us. We’re a different sort of animal– one with a big brain that we ought to be using.

            Nor have I ever claimed to be a pacifist. That label came from others. What I do advocate is a reasoned response and reacting to a nonviolent offense with violence is unreasonable. The ideal solution to difficulty is nonviolence, but I’ve never said “turn the other cheek” or “don’t defend yourself.” If someone is actively trying to kill me, I’m going to try to kill them right back. That’s a reasonable response.
            Allow me to quote myself: “Reason is really more my schtick than pacifism and that’s what I’m advocating here.”

          • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Carron/100001353268347 David Carron

            Considering that they did not have a rule of law back then, it was kinda more understandable. After all a slave could have been killed for the Weregeld equivalent of five bucks so it was a little different situation.

            These days, I would hope that people understand that contemplating murder is less then appropriate and accepted in society, legally and usually morally.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Contemplating murder is fine. And, depending on context, carrying it out can be sympathised with.

          • moe

            Unless you are OC the one being murdered. Or someone you love,or a friend.

            Sorry this is where you and i part company. What you are advocating is a form of psycopathology/ sociopathy where you justify murdering someone because you want to. And what if you murder someone and find out you committed an error in judgement? While I do think certain people ( rapists, child molesters and the like) should be put to death, there should be a certainty the accused actually did what they are accused of first, so that an innocent is not murdered while the real guilty party gets away.

            Murdering or committing violence because someone blasphemed your deity or beliefs is in fact extreme.

  • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

    Prior to the rise and eventual “triumph” of Christianity, religious freedom was the norm in the ancient world. The amount of real freedom that people had back then is almost unimaginable to us today, because no one (or even two or three or four) religious traditions dominated the religious scene in the way that the so-called “Great” religions dominate today. That is, not only did the ancient world have no official state religion, they had no “dominant” or even “majority” religions, either. In fact, they did not even have distinct “religions” in the modern sense of neatly separate, “rival” religions. One could be (and many were) a Dionysian whenever that seemed appropriate (or just whenever it suited one’s fancy), or a devotee of Hermes or Athena, or Ammon, or Isis, or Cybele, or Pan, etc. And one could be all of them at the same time. The closest thing that there was to any kind of “exclusivity” was in the Mystery Traditions where certain things were reserved for Initiates, but none of those initiations required one to renounce other Goddesses or Gods, and one could (and many did) receive many different initiations from different cults.

    This stark contrast (in terms of both religious freedom and genuine religious diversity) with our modern situation is not limited to the Hellenic-Roman world (which, for that matter, comprised perhaps one fourth of humanity), but seems to also have been the case among Germanic, Celtic and other peoples as well. Wherever people had contact with other cultures, there was always borrowings and mutual interactions and influences. There were never any “pure” religious traditions! Never.

    The point here is that religious freedom is completely unproblematic for Pagans, except to the extent that we have been influenced by two thousand years of monotheistic madness. Although it superficially resembles the “No True Scotsman” argument, it is nevertheless the case that No True Pagan interferes with another person’s sacred right to follow whatever religious traditions they please. However, the moment that other person attempts to prevent me from following whatever religious traditions I please, that is a different matter altogether.

    The idea that if modern Paganism becomes numerically large enough that we will potentially be in danger of becoming violent fundamentalists is rather odd. This is simply not something that happens in non-monotheistic religious traditions, because there is no underlying basis for such fundamentalism in our religion.

    “Fundamentalism” is a problem only when the fundamentals are a problem. Polytheism is fundamentally tolerant, whereas monotheism is fundamentally intolerant.

    • Vision_From_Afar

      “That is, not only did the ancient world have no official state religion”

      I’d have to disagree, especially in the 2nd and 3rd century Roman states. There were requirements for making offerings either to or for the current emperor, and that was one of the main issues the Romans had with the Jews and the Christians (they blatantly and repeatedly refused). I’d say that perhaps the statement should be, “[...]the ancient world had no official state religion that claimed exclusivity. So long as one made the demanded offerings, one was perfectly free to worship whatever additional spirits and deities one wished.”
      /done splitting hairs

      Otherwise, excellent post.

      • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

        There was a civil religious requirement, but it wasn’t a theological dictatorship. In that sense, there was no official state religion. The reason why the Christians were persecuted was that they refused to take part in this social exercise, which was construed as subversive to the Romans and played upon their phobias of rebellion and dissent. Claiming their Christ as the “King of Kings” only helped fuel this.

        • Vision_From_Afar

          In a culture as steeped in religion, even as laissez-faire as Rome was about it, I think it’s difficult to separate a “civil requirement” from a theological one. The inherent Cultus of State, I would argue, is what allowed the Christian dictates of Theodosius I to continue Constantine’s work of forcing the pagans from positions of power and authority in the empire.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            Far from easily building on any precedent of “the inherent Cultus of State” established by Pagans before them, the process of forging a Christian theocracy was long and difficult and had to begin from scratch. Ramsay MacMullen discusses this in his book “Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries,” especially in Chapter 1. Decrees by Christian Emperors prohibiting the ancient religious practices of 60 million human beings, were, at first, often simply ignored. More significantly, no one really knew how to enforce such a thing, since nothing like it had ever been done before in all of human history.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            I actually took away from that book’s 1st Chapter that the Christians co-opted the idea that the State had the power and right to issue religious edicts, and those with any level of power took it as “taking the leash off”, especially when it came time to tear down those pagan temples.
            True, quite a few of the Roman districts took centuries to start listening to the emperors, but in the major cities, where Christians quickly gained majority, the same cannot be said.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            You might want to take another look at MacMullen. There is really very little ambiguity in what he has to say. The title of that Chapter, after all, is “Persecution”, and the chapter description reads as follows: “describing the determination of the Christian leadership to extirpate all religious alternatives, expressed in the silencing of pagan sources and, beyond that , in the suppression of pagan acts and practices, with increasing harshness and machinery of enforcement.”

            The phrase “with increasing harshness and machinery of enforcement” is key. It highlights the great difficulty faced by the Christian emperors, which, in turn, highlights the unprecedented nature of what they were doing.

          • Vision_From_Afar

            I think we might be arguing tangentially here. I’m not trying to say that the State, itself (cumbersome as it was), was following said edicts, but those sectarian and civilian forces who only a few decades before had been illegal mobs were. They became the de-facto enforcers of the edicts that the State bureaucracy was either too slow or unwilling to enforce. It seems to me that the earlier persecution of the Christians laid the groundwork for these edicts, as they saw the “offerings” that were enforced by State edict now become State sanction to return the favor.
            Granted, I’m “new-parent” sleep-deprived, and probably talking out of my bum. Feel free to ignore this if I’m still completely off target, and I promise to re-read the book regardless. It is a delightfully informative read.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        The situation with respect to Christians in the 2nd and 3rd century must be understood in the context of what Christians were doing at the time. Christians were engaged in criminal violence against both sacred sites, and also violence against persons, up to and including murderous assaults on priests and priestesses. No one knew how to deal with these people, because nothing like this had ever occurred in human history. The requirements for making certain offerings were not a normal or natural part of ancient Paganism, but came about only in direct response to this unprecedented pathological behavior. These exceptional (and in the end futile) measures do no amount to a “state religion”. They were simply ad hoc attempts to deal with a noxious social problem for which there were no precedents, and which people had no way of fully comprehending.

    • Carl Moore

      History is a bigger place than that. Lots of places had official religions, and people could be persecuted, even killed, for failing to pay homage to the official religion. Socrates was charged with inciting young people to worship foreign gods–which lead to his death. That’s Athens, most liberal and democratic of ancient city-states. The ancient Egyptians treated nonbelievers pretty harshly too (that’s recorded in Exodus). Romans fed nonbelievers to the lions for fun and entertainment. And the Aztecs… Just because a society tolerates more than one god doesn’t mean it will tolerate new and strange religions. And it says nothing at all of its tolerance for criticism of the gods.

      • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

        The very fact that you cite Exodus as proof casts everything you say here into doubt.

        • Strider

          Why does quoting Exodus cast what he says into doubt?

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

            By any objective standard, the book of Exodus does not qualify as historical and therefore cannot be used as proof of any kind of intolerance by the ancient Egyptians toward ‘nonbelievers’.

          • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

            Exodus is to ancient history as Genesis is to evolutionary biology.

          • Strider

            True, but the point that ancient pagans have been culturally intolerant in the past *is* quite provable.

          • http://kauko-niskala.blogspot.com Kauko

            There’s a difference between the fact that all humans, individually or collectively, have the capacity to do cruel, intolerant things versus ideologies that actively drive their adherents to institutional intolerance of anything outside itself.
            Moreover, all of Carl Moore’s specific examples are based on a very poor, unsophisticated understanding of history.

      • http://egregores.blogspot.com Apuleius Platonicus

        The city of Athens erected a statue to Socrates very soon after his execution. Those who had brought charges against him were exiled from the city, and one of them may have even been put to death. And for the next thousand years (almost) Athens was noted as one of the world’s foremost centers of philosophical study in the Socratic tradition, until philosophy itself was literally criminalized by the Christians and the Academy, and all other public philosophical institutions in Athens, were forced to close by the Emperor Justinian.

        All of this highlights the fact that what happened to Socrates was truly exceptional. It was a shameful aberration and it was explicitly recognized as such. The Athenians had made a terrible mistake, and it had been made at probably the lowest ebb in Athenian history – a time of moral and political turmoil. Socrates’ enemies were able to take advantage of this situation to settle their old score against him (which we know went back at least 25 years).

        The Christians, on the other hand, have always glorified in their “triumphs” over those they persecute. They enjoy it. It is how they roll.

        • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

          Thanks for that, @ApuleiusPlatonicus:disqus. I’d not known the execution of Socrates was such an aberration in its own time.

  • Guest

    The murders at the embassy were a planned terrorist attack, the video was a mere excuse and distraction. This is documented fact, but this is also pretty much true most times anybody kills somebody else over religion – century after century. Usually it’s claimed the murder is over religion, it’s really some murderer just using it as an distraction and excuse to rally up the rabble while a purposeful murder takes place.
    The price of free speech is to hear things that offend oneself. G-ds know its worth it

  • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

    This is a bit of a side-rant about Christian offensiveness:

    I would like to know, exactly, how many people are actually irritated and offended by the idea of “Piss Christ”, or are only offended that a minority group is getting special consideration and attention that they’re not getting. How much of it is privilege going crazy? I don’t doubt some very devout people would get very upset about this, but does the argument really apply across a broad spectrum in today’s opinion landscape?

    Personally, I think the whole veneration with the instrument of death, especially with the transition to the idea of the Passionate Christ in imagery in the 11th century and onward, to be rather…I don’t know. Macabre and (should be) offensive. Barring period pieces like ‘Dream of the Rood’ (which, depending on your translation, does a very good job at making Christ seem thoroughly BADASS by being crucified), the whole transition to the veneration of crucifixion is really off-putting.

    I had to work on Christ’s Mass last year, and a guy from New Jersey came into my store. About his neck he had a crucifix. Okay, yeah, no big deal. Except it was, literally, two pseudo-period nails lashed together in the shape of a cross. That seems a little morbid, to me, even more than the usual scenes of the Passionate Christ.

    Offensive material is entirely subjective. At least in my opinion. I’m notoriously hard to offend, but I’m not going to be so self-aggrandizing that I feel that MY opinions should be the basis for a social law. I think, in the case of this “Innocence of Muslims” film, it should be treated similar to shouting “Fire” in a packed theater when no such fire exists. This isn’t free speech, it’s an attempt to incite and antagonize a volatile situation – especially with how it is coming to light that this whole movie was a sham and that the actors themselves were duped. There is plenty of precedent in recent news which shows exactly WHY this kind of action would be a dangerous idea.

  • Guest

    Also, sentencing people to two years jail time for singing a bawdy song in a church is an abuse of power

  • Nicre

    Serrano’s piece isn’t the only one that stirs such outrage here. Alma Lopez has had even more virulent reactions to her Our Lady (http://almalopez.net/ORindex.html) since 1999. Personally, I’ve never felt the need to defend the gods. I figure they can take care of themselves.

  • Morgan Ravenwood

    I don’t ever really see a time when Pagans will take to violent defense of our gods, mainly because our gods are reviled all the time by Christians! Heck, they’ve even demonized them. Look up “Queen of Heaven” to see how they are giving the Goddess a bad name. Even the Satan character was modeled after the Horned Lord.

  • TheodoreSeeber

    So, how many Ambassadors have been killed over Piss Christ? How many embassies attacked with rockets?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      1. The Libyan ambassador was killed by a terrorist cell taking advantage of the chaos, not protesters.

      2. So death threats are meaningless until the artist is killed? Good to know.

      • http://sarenth.wordpress.com/ Sarenth

        Yeah, I’ll get right on telling Salmon Rushdie that he can visit Iran any time he wants. -_-;

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        I am fairly sure that some artists gauge their success by the amount of death threats they receive.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    I somehow missed this discussion. For the record, most emphatically, I oppose any violence or threat thereof in response to art/artists. I don’t even like boycotts to the same effect.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      I boycott artists all the time. But that is for aesthetic reasons.

  • JoFro

    Excuse me, but if you created an exhibit with Hitler taking a dump on the corpse of a Jewish toddler that has just been gassed at Aushwitz or put the the picture of the Rev MLK and Rosa Parks in a mixture of your urine and poop, would we be defending them as “works of arts” to be appreciated? Would US tax dollars be used to fund those exhibits? Would they get awards from top art agencies? So why the blatant mockery for the religious?
    And your excuse that Christians are being hypocritcal in their commentary against Piss Christ is itself hypocritical. There has been no riots around the world, people haven’t been killed over Piss Christ – all that has happened is vandalism and so-called threats from anonymous individuals, not death sentences made by the Pope or the Archbishop of Canterbury like was the case with the Ayatollah after the Satanic Verses was released.
    This movie was not a purposely inflammatory film – it was made by a Coptic Christian who had fled his own homeland over the intense persecution of the Christian community itself over there.
    And where is your picture or a YouTube link to Innoncence of Muslims? You thought it was OK to publish Piss Christ but did not have the guts to even link or have the YouTube video on your page? Why?
    Who is the hypocrite here? You are. And this article is pathetic!

  • JoFro

    Thank you for deleting my message about Hitler and the Rev MLK and for proving my point :)

    • Faoladh

      Look again.

  • David

    Personally, I think people who get offended over images they don’t like of people or Gods they hold Sacred really need to get some perspective. I remember when I read on this very blog that some American Hindus got “offended” by how Supernatural depicted Kali and how some people said it was “Supernatural’s Christian legacy” (which is BS, if anyone believes that Supernatural is a “Christian show”, considering the Angels are depicted as pretty much psychopaths, the Cross is effective against vampires only because a Priest sorcerer did a spell to use it as a weapon, not because of any religious symbolism, etc). Usually, those who get offended by such images, be they Hindu, Christian, Muslim, Pagan, Buddhist, or even Atheist (as they have their sacred cows they don’t want made fun of) are the very same people who would be making fun of other religious icons, for example, the Hindus who condemned Supernatural or Jeffrey Kripal (a Religious Studies Professor whose written some excellent books, but, has been a target of criticism by the Hindu American Foundation for daring to suggest Ramakrishna’s writings display homoeroticism (I mean, how terrible that he may have been gay!!, which says a lot about the Foundations attitudes towards homosexuality)) would probably think nothing of laughing at something negative about Islam or making fun of Muhammad (as many Hindu Nationalists, and their sympathisers, do), the Christians who complain about Jerry Springer the Opera, probably think nothing of mocking other religions, the Pagans who get upset about how their Gods are portrayed are probably the type you see on forums and blogs saying how evil the Jewish/Christian/Islamic God is, etc. They’re all hypocrites. Quite frankly, they’re a lot more important things to get angry about, for example, real oppression, persecution, etc around the world (perhaps the Western Christians should put more energy into fighting the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and other places than complaining about funny Operas, perhaps the Hindus who find Supernatural offensive should actually watch the show or put more effort into attaining Liberation than worrying what people are watching on TV, perhaps the Muslims who protested a pathetic Youtube “movie” should put more efforts into actually practicing their religion and fighting the fundamentalists, than give great PR to to some pathetic Californian, etc.

    Personally, I won’t stop watching Supernatural (one of my favourite shows, along with Vampire Diaries), I wish I had seen Jerry Springer the Opera live (I was too young when it first came out), and I don’t care how the Gods are depicted by Hollywood or anything like that. The only things that I get offended about are real oppression – the oppression of fellow LGBT people, persecution of any group, etc.

    BTW, Apuleius, you’re probably the type of person who has that pathetic Youtube “film” on your favourites, yet, you’d probably be the first person to march with Hindus against Supernatural, you’d probably be the first to get uppity if your beloved Plato or anything Pagan was insulted.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    I have to relate a recent experience right here on Patheos that still rankles.

    I responded to a political comment, and made a reference to the “Teabaggers.” By which I clearly meant members of the Tea Party. This resulted in an entirely unexpected explosion of verbal violence directed specifically at me, and I was threatened by the moderator with being banned from the site. At first I thought, “Holy Cat, what kind of nest of right-wing vipers have I stumbled into?”

    Finally, someone — the original exploder — bothered to explain (quite angrily) that the term “teabagger” is a derogatory sex-related term. I won’t go into her detailed explanation of what the term means, nor how it is used by those in-the-know. That was an education for me, and I (of course) apologized for use of the term, and have since avoided using it in political terms.

    I did intend the term to be derogatory — I have little respect for the Tea Party creed or its adherents (or its funders.) But the image I had in mind was a used tea bag, marinated in salt-water after being thrown into Boston Harbor. That is, weak, insipid, ultimately toxic, and entirely unappealing. I had no idea I was using a sexual epithet.

    Within that Internet environment, I had uttered a blasphemy. Unknowingly. The reaction was about as violent as possible, given the limitations of the venue: I suspect it would have been much worse had my face been available for slapping (or my gut for punching.) In a venue susceptible to and primed for mob violence, I might possibly have been killed over that remark.

    Which raises an interesting observation: blasphemy has nothing to do with the gods. It has to do with violating social convention.

    It isn’t the gods you offend with words. It is other people. Specifically other people prone to violence (verbal or physical) over perceived slights to themselves, their tribe, or their cause.

    • Lēoht Sceadusawol

      “violence (verbal or physical)”
      It is good to see that someone else acknowledges the potential for words to be violent, as well as actions.

  • Moe

    When the christians shout ” blasphemy” when their savior and god of the Bible are criticised or mocked, they forget that they themselves in the past and the present blaspheme the deities of other faiths and desecrate the sacred sites, holy objects and so forth of religions they do not approve of. Blatant hypocrisy. Bear in mind what both the fundamentalist Muslims and the fundamentalist Catholics ( in this case) would like to DO to US if they could.

    How many times have our beliefs been mocked or ridiculed? How many times have we seen certain Christians call the Goddess the ” great whore of Babylon” or see some altar or sacred figure smashed by such people? How many times have we been interrupted in our open ceremonies by those who call our deities demons?

    They want their beliefs to be respected, they should respect other beliefs.

    I would have sympathy for the Muslims and Catholics in this if it wasn’t for the fact that they are up to their armpits in the blood of those they murdered in the name of their version of deity. Bullies whining about getting their feelings hurt.

  • jerry lynch

    More harm is often done by the person who takes offense than the one who gives it.
    In reality, whatever is sacred to one can only be blasphemed by that person, for what a person honors or is devoted to can only be maintained by.that person. This person must take it the one who blasphemes is ignorant of what makes the object sacred or else that person would as well honor and be devoted to that object. Compassionate education seems the proper response to acts of desecration. Outrage or outright attacks against defamers is just a defense of our own sensibilities or pride, not the sacred. In effect, it is saying “My thinking is sacred.”
    The very notion of blasphemy is barbaric, an assault on the spirit of humanity to seek and find its own way in life. It precludes the glory of both diversity and uniqueness, or what is sacrosanct to our progress and freedom. It is imperialism of the worst kind.


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