01.16.15

paris, and religion in general

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:38 am by Administrator

first, more reactions to paris.

when the press rallied around a publication that was previously marginal in every sense of the word, i found it inspiring. their collective assertion that this was an attack on freedom itself was dramatic and perhaps even extreme; but even then, i could understand that this was a direct reflection of how the attack violated a principle that deeply resonates with most everyone in the journalistic profession. when one is murdered for what he or she publishes, there is a crime that has been committed not simply against the establishment but against the very core of liberal society. hence, the headline “la liberte assassine” strikes me less as accurate social commentary and more as the visceral outcry of a profession under siege.

perhaps the greatest irony of the terrorist attack against Hebdo is that the attack is already validating the content and work of the publication. and it should. the proper revenge for any violent attack against a cause is the illumination and elevation of that cause. many people will still be rankled and even offended by the anti-religious and racist implications of the Hebdo cartoons; but the fact is that these cartoons are now inevitably going to represent far more than simply edgy humor or outright prejudice. they will symbolize a defiance of those who prosecute their moral agenda by force. Western governments have learned to pick fights with the press at their own peril; and now AQAP will learn the very same.

of course much has been discussed regarding the propriety of the content of the Hebdo publication, and most in the mainstream media have distanced themselves from its anti-religious content. the question i am having some difficulty answering is the question of whether Hebdo’s content ought to be conscientiously reexamined and even censured (not censored, mind you) by society at large. my answer before the terror attacks quite likely would have been an unqualified “yes”. it’s not that i’m personally offended by anti-religious lampooning; in fact, i find it to be healthy within some bounds, particularly given the seemingly hegemonic power that religious ideas have carried in our civilization over the centuries. but i would have contended that the anti-Islamic cartoons have to be questioned given their unique societal context: a France that has actively persecuted the personal expression of Islam. the attacks, however, have changed everything for me. because to reevaluate Hebdo’s content now is to legitimize the attackers in their purposes and ambitions. when given the choice between advocating for religious tolerance and for the freedom of speech (an odd choice, undoubtedly), my leaning in this case is toward the latter. because there can be no enduring tolerance of faiths without a free press; and religious tolerance enforced through the restraint of public opinion is tyranny. any discussion right now of what is proper or improper about Charlie Hebdo only stands to detract from the primary issue of importance: that a group of persons sought to silence their enemies through force, and that group of persons cannot be permitted to prevail.

to me, there is a legitimate social discourse to be had around the content and implications of religion, if the religious and their detractors are to coexist in the coming times. i’ve previously written about my fears that anti-Muslim sentiments are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secular society’s increasing agitation against religious elements in general. as long as those of faith continue to contend that religious freedoms and the preservation of their customs take precedence over liberal practices of tolerance and open dialogue, there will continue to be a hotbed of tension separating the ardently religious from their ardently secular counterparts. i’m impressed that the Catholic church and its new pope are entering this discourse with intentionality and avidity; i’m not so impressed by American Evangelicals, who continue to draw hard and fast boundaries around issues such as homosexuality and feminism. Christians and Muslims alike have to see in the distorted reflection of the Hebdo cartoons an opportunity to confront what the secular world most fears and misunderstands about their systems of belief. it does no disservice to these traditions to at least consider how and why the tension between secular society and religious communities is growing around specific trigger points rooted in ideas of individual morality and social ethics.

my belief is that God is relevant but so frequently misrepresented. the misrepresentations are so egregious and dangerous as to make me believe that we might sometimes be better off not representing Him at all. the consuming passion of the Evangelical church has been to expand and recruit new believers; but i wonder if our great size and diversity of beliefs creates a great confusion as to what we are, even to ourselves. i appreciate the secularist counterpoint, even if i sometimes see in it a great and troubling nemesis for our people. because their critiques and attacks remind me that there is a contrast between the image of God He puts forth and the petty, violent, and prejudicial idea of Him that we preach through our ways.

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