Saturday, March 04, 2006

Heresy: A Crime Worth Dying For?

The recent spate of protests, death threats, and calls for censorship that came as a direct result of some Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammad doing unholy things got me to thinking about what kind of parallels might exist in other religions or at other times.

Although I can’t say I was shocked at what my research discovered, I can say with all certainty that I was at least mildly surprised by the frequency of religious censorship, even going as far as modern-day executions as retribution for what someone may have spoken or written.

A Danish newspaper last September published a dozen cartoons depicting Mohammad. They were caricatures, which means, of course, that they were not exactly flattering. The Muslim world, especially Muslims in the Middle East, responded by doing what they do best, burning embassies and calling for executions of the perpetrators.

Not to be outdone, though, two religious groups in Great Britain were also up in arms. One group rallied and yelled and said that the artwork sewed evil into people. They claimed it made a mockery of their god, and claimed that while they had no problem with freedom of speech there should never be freedom for desecration.

But these were not groups of Muslims protesting Danish cartoons; they were groups of Christians protesting the show “Jerry Springer: The Opera.”

They may have been right about that sewing of evil thing, because some members of the group published the phone numbers and addresses of BBC officials who showed the screening. At least one of them received death threats.

A second Christian group actually took the BBC to court to press charges for, of all things, blasphemy. The British High Court dismissed the case.

The biggest difference between the Muslim protests and the Christian protests were that no lives were actually lost in the latter.

It does show, however, that both fundamentalist religious groups, the Christians and the Muslims, get their feelings hurt far too easily. And when they do, their responses are those of five year olds.

They yell and scream and throw things. Then they want you to die, or at the very least, go to jail.

Take for example the case of an activist who was convicted in Germany last month and sentenced to one year of prison for mailing toilet paper stamped with "The holy Qur'an" to mosques and the media.

And in 2004 two Dutch film makers received death threats for their film exposing poor treatment of women in many Islamic nations. One of the film makers was eventually stabbed and shot to death by a Muslim.

Christian groups are more likely to call for censorship and bans than for murder, but there are also exceptions to that general statement. Abortion doctors have been the target of fundamentalist Christians, who believe firmly in the “right to life” for all humans, except, apparently, for abortion doctors.

Several movies have also been the target for censorship by Christian groups, including “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which depicts a love affair between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.

Monty Python’s “The Life of Brian,” which is a parody on Jesus’ life, was even banned in a couple of European countries, including Norway. But next door, in Sweden, the film was actually advertised as being so funny that it was banned in Norway.

Islamic countries, especially in the Middle East, are often a hotbed for violence. But that region has never earned a reputation for being a hotbed for innovation and invention. For them the Dark Ages have never ended. Religion often suppresses reason and creativity.

The Dark Ages are also still alive and well for Christian fundamentalists. If reason hadn’t finally supplanted the Christian forces that brought about the Inquisition, the witch hunts, and all the heresy trials throughout history, the U.S. might also be a third-world nation.

Personally, though I’m not religious, I do have one prayer. And that is may God help us to break free from our religions.

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