Jesus, Drawing Muhammad, and the Idolatry of Free Speech

Jesus, Drawing Muhammad, and the Idolatry of Free Speech May 11, 2015


Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo
Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo

Pamela Geller had every “right” to host a conference in Texas that mocked Muhammad with a “Draw Muhammad” contest. The United States gives her that freedom – the Freedom of Speech, which includes the freedom to defiantly ridicule whomever she wants.

Geller is apparently not a Christian, but many Christians have come to her defense of the conference.

Let me be clear: There is no Christian defense of a conference that mocks Islam, Muhammad, or Muslims.

Please, tell me, when did Jesus ever endorse ridiculing others? Let me answer that for you: Never.

In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite. When he was asked which commandment was the greatest, he responded,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.

As if there were any doubt, Jesus extended the whole “love your neighbor as yourself” law to include even those we call our enemies:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not event he Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

If Christians are going to take seriously Jesus’ command to follow him, then we need to stop this absurd defense of drawing pictures of Muhammad. And if we defend the practice of ridiculing our fellow human beings by hiding behind the Freedom of Speech, then we have made Freedom of Speech into an idol.

Pamela Geller, as a non-Christian, has the right to host the conference. But Christians do not have the right, or the freedom, to support the conference. For Christians, freedom comes from following Christ in loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. The obvious implications of Jesus’ command to love our neighbors means that we should not mock them.

Jesus’ Challenge to Progressive Christians

And here’s where Jesus’ words about love come back to haunt me. I disagree wholeheartedly with Pamela Geller and the Christians who support her. Disagreeing is fine, but scapegoating isn’t. As a progressive Christian, I easily get caught up in scapegoating them; in thinking that they are everything that’s wrong with Christianity and that they need to get their act together.

In other words, progressive Christians are easily swayed by the same principle of hatred that we condemn in conservative and fundamentalist Christians. I start feeling hatred in my heart for Geller and her supporters, especially her Christian supporters. That hatred is my way of scapegoating those I deem to be scapegoaters.

And scapegoating doesn’t help. It only adds fuel to the fire of the scapegoating mechanism.

But if I’m going to seriously follow Jesus, then I need to own the fact that I have a strong tendency to scapegoat those I deem to be enemies. And that’s the problem. Each side is thoroughly convinced that their scapegoats are guilty and deserve to be mocked and ridiculed.

For progressive Christianity to make any progress, we need to repent of our tendency to scapegoat fundamentalists, evangelicals, and conservatives. If Jesus is right, which I am thoroughly convinced he is, then our fundamentalist, evangelical, and conservative brothers and sisters do not deserve to be mocked and ridiculed.

They deserve to be loved.

That’s what Jesus is calling us to do. And so, as we follow Jesus in standing up for justice, let’s repent of our own inclination to scapegoat and demonize the other side. Let’s repent of our own impulse to unjust actions. Let’s name injustice where we see it. Let’s work for a more just world. And let’s love our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, as we love ourselves.

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  • Wolf

    My view on this is simple: it is wrong for Christians to mock Islam and Muslims. Jesus never would have done such a thing. It is, however, equally wrong to murder people who believe differently from you. So yes, these people exercised their right of free speech – it was in poor taste, and it was not a Christian thing to do.

    However, their poor taste does not justify the murder and violence shown to them in return. We have to be very careful to temper our words so that we don’t blame the victims. It’s easy to say, “Oh, they shouldn’t have been doing that in the first place! They knew it was going to be offensive!” And that may be true – but pointing out THAT fact while not condemning the murders is a very ardent example of victim blaming.

    • I can appreciate that, Wolf. Thank you for your comment.

  • Gillian Trewinnard

    You are being admirably honest when you admit to feelings of blame and even hatred towards Christians who take it upon themselves to mock another religion and its followers. I concur with you that ridiculing others is foreign to the teachings and life of Jesus. Of course we must point out where we see injustice if we want a more just world, but we have to be vigilant to guard against sliding into our natural modus operandus: scapegoating. Where there is hatred, I find there is often fear lurking. When I think of a whole conference of Christians getting together to draw the prophet Mohammed, I immediately feel disgust and contempt, but also fear for innocent Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere who may end up being the scapegoats who pay the price for the insult. While I sincerely repent of my feelings towards those who organised the conference, I believe you are right to point to an injustice and stand up for those who are mocked.

  • 0BZEN

    Yes, love the murderous bastards.

    • The alternative is to hate and kill them. Then we’d be free of “the murderous bastards.” But forget the fact that we would become the murderous bastards ourselves.

      I agree. Love them. Either option is risky, but love is the only hope for transforming them and ourselves.

      Thanks for the thought experiment.


      • Marra Nathar

        I found your article very honest…and interesting.
        Reading the comments on Patheos – there is a lot of judgement going on on both sides of the fence – yet you are the first to admit it. To own up to it and recognise the need to do something about it.
        Yes we are all guilty – me included.
        Well done. A church divided will fall.
        We need to put Jesus first.

        • Thank you Marra. You have put it beautifully. Thank you for this.


  • KoreanKat

    This article is just a reminder of how ‘progressive’ religious people are ultimately carrying water for the reactionaries. You sound like nothing but another illiberal enemy of free expression. The fact your hatred is inclined towards Gellar and not the would-be murderers is profoundly disturbing to put it mildly, but again shows the progressive-reactionary proximity (like two ends of a horseshoe).

    • Can you show me in the article where I say that I hate Geller? I don’t think it’s there because I don’t hate Geller. So, your comment about me hating Geller is much more about you than it is about anything that I wrote.

      As far as free expression goes, I wrote that Geller has every right to do what she did. My point was about Christian freedom, which is based on love and compassion for all people, even those we may call our enemies. I call progressives to account for this. So, I’m critiquing the way many progressives treat Geller. You might appreciate that point.


      • KoreanKat

        “I start feeling hatred in my heart for Geller and her supporters,
        especially her Christian supporters. That hatred is my way of
        scapegoating those I deem to be scapegoaters.”

        Your denial is so brazen it really defies description. I at least expected you to tap-dance and pretend that was a ‘hypothetical’ hatred, yet even then it would speaks volumes that you would imagine another person hating Geller, at worst a non-violent bigot, rather the Islamic fundamentalist murderers.

        • Hey! Thanks for catching me on that. Nope. Not a hypothetical. It was honest and real. I honestly admit in that very quote you bring up that my problem is my feelings of hatred that come up inside of me. That is my tendency scapegoat. Then I call my fellow progressives to admit our tendency to scapegoat. So, I critique my own feelings of hatred as a way of scapegoating. If you think that is brazen denial of something, so be it. For me, it’s an honest struggle with my own scapegoating tendencies.

          Now, KoreanKat, what about your tendency to scapegoat? I’ve admitted mine. Will you be able to admit yours?

          Grace and peace,

  • radiofreerome

    As a gay man, I reserve the right to criticize religions that incite ritual murder against me. As a secularist, I reserve the right to not comply with religious laws and traditions than aren’t my religious laws and traditions. Therefore, I support Charlie Hebdo in their publication of benign cartoons that supported sympathy for immigrants from Muslim countries without bowing to the edict of their religion.

  • radiofreerome

    Criticism and even ridicule of other religions has long been a part of Christian proselytism. St Patrick ridiculed and violated Druid taboos to convert the people of Ireland away from Druidism.

  • kirtking

    When you start with putting the word “right” in scare quotes, it makes me ask what’s so “progressive” about the Christian thought you identify with.