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Christianity and Cartoons Versus Islam and Cartoons

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There has been a small debate recently over at Daily Pundit over whether Christianity has some of the same seeds that can spring into irrational violence as Islam. I agree with those who say that it does but that Christianity as currently practiced is obviously not the stark threat to civilized life as is currently-practiced Islam.

Of course, individual practitioners of either religion can be all over the map with respect to how well they live their lives and interact with others. I’ve been to Indonesia twice, pre-9/11 and post-9/11, and have met many Muslims who are friendly and good. Surely there are many anti-terrorist Muslims, even if they’re not always as vocal in their anti-terrorism as we would prefer. It’s just that for whatever historical and cultural reasons, it’s much less likely these days, notwithstanding the occasional lunatic gunning down doctors at abortion clinics, to see Christian preachers advocating decapitation of cartoonists who draw cartoons offensive to Christian sentiments.

But this difference in contemporary temperament doesn’t mean that the actual doctrines of Christianity are or always have been thoroughly sane and mellow.

It’s been pointed out that what constitutes a particular religion tends to shift as interpretations shift. Yet the original and still-consulted scripture and all its specific passages are still there, saying, if we’re lucky, “It’s a good thing you don’t pay that much attention to me these days, or, if you do, that you go way out of your way to pretend I mean something different from what I do mean.”

For example, according to the Bible, isn’t God himself a murderer and mass-murderer? Cf., for evidence, Genesis:

6:13 And God said unto Noah, The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth.

6:14 Make thee an ark of gopher wood; rooms shalt thou make in the ark, and shalt pitch it within and without with pitch…. [There follow details of exactly what dimensions the ark must be.]

6:17 And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.

In another place, God instructs Abraham to make a sacrifice of his only son, Isaac. It turns out to be one of those just-a-test things, but God clearly states that Abraham was doing the right thing to obey him and would have been morally right to actually kill his own son as a sacrifice, on God’s say-so alone.

22:12 And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou
hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

I wonder what tossing a baseball around with the old man is like after you have learned that he was willing to murder you on some maniacal deity’s say-so.

Religions often teach that if the gods command it, it’s okay ethically: morality springs from deistic say-so alone, no matter how ugly and vicious the commandment may be. This is a precept which, although it has of course been used to inculcate some norms that do make practical sense independently, actually wipes out ethics. It means that whoever is strongest trumps…that the ability to impose one’s will alone actually determines what is “ethical,” by fiat. Gods, being gods and having special powers that humans don’t, are the strongest; so you’re pious, and good, if you fear the gods and submit. The omnipotent-type gods hold all the cards, and clearly feel no need of logical defense of their actions.

At least Plato, for all his faults, knew enough to ask whether piety and justice are the same thing.

So yes, I’d say there is something vicious in Christianity that is something like the something-vicious in the religion based on it. Fortunately, the worst aspects of Christianity have been largely tempered and de-fanged by civilizing ideas, institutions and cultural habits in a way that the worst aspects of Islam apparently have not been.

David M. Brown is the publisher of TheWebzine.com, a general-interest Internet magazine. He also runs the blog for the Laissez Faire Books site, where he recently talked about the refusal of Piggly Wiggly customers to be fingerprinted.
Edited: [GH]

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About David M. Brown

  • “I am making a point that no religion believes God is the “Old Man” that you play catch with.”

    Basic reading skills might be helpful here. I was obviously referring to Abraham in that sentence. Fathers and sons play catch. “I wonder what tossing a baseball around with the old man is like after you have learned that he was willing to murder you on some maniacal deity’s say-so.” There are two separate references here, one to “the old man,” a common phrase sons use to refer to fathers. The other reference is to the deity that the old man was willing to obey.

    Abraham was willing to kill Isaac on the say-so of a deity, God. Isaac, once he is spared, now knows that his father was about to kill him and willing to kill him. Why? Because some deity, without giving any reason, said so. So, what are the relations of Abraham and Isaac going to be like now?

    The mere assertion that a mythical God “created” the universe and hence has the “right” to destroy his creation carries no weight with me. It is a mere unsupported assertion. Granting for the sake of argument that there were a God, you might as well say that “God, being God, has a right to be a vicious monster.” Justin is confirming my thesis: that ethics is in fact tossed out the window on such religious assumptions. Any sane ethic would note regard murder as evil, certainly the kind of mass murder God perpetrated when he sent the flood to wipe out all mankind but Noah and a few relatives. If “might makes right,” there is no “right,” only the strongest fist.

  • I don’t know about authority Ruvy, I used the word in the sense of we who don’t believe the theory that all three strands of this god cult are based on. It’s quite simple logic to follow; no god, ergo you’re all barking up the wrong tree.

    I will go so far as to agree that some extremely unusual events went on since humanity started settling about 10,000 years ago, and especially around 3,000 years back.

    Let’s briefly review a few key highlights from back in the day, courtesy of Wikipedia’s excellent history timeline.

    12,000 years ago, the main headline events of the day were
    “Mesopotamia: Three or more linguistic groups, including Sumerian and Semitic peoples share a common political and cultural way of life. People begin to collect wild wheat and barley probably to make malt then beer.” That’s probably the start of the argument right there!

    10,000 years ago we saw the rise of the Punjab culture, possibly the first pyramid in Mexico, village building, musical instruments and globally widespread crop and animal farming development.

    By 8,000 years ago, the English Channel formed and Australia became an isolated continent as global sea levels rose drastically. According to the Byzantine Empire, the world was created.

    6,000 years ago, all sorts of stuff starts to kick off, including Creation itself on either March 29th or September 25th 3760BC according to the Jewish theory.

    About 5,000 years ago work started on Stonehenge whilst a few kilometres from where I sit here in Andalucia, something drove the people to haul blocks of stone the size of cars for tens of kms to build huge burial dolmens.

    More significantly, we can see many echoes of the contemporary world when Wikipedia notes

    The 3rd millennium BC represents the beginning of factual history, since it is the first time we do have real names to name and detailed stories to tell. And this new abundance of information may be best summarized as The rise of absolute ambition.

    The last millennium had seen the emergence of advanced urbanized civilization, new bronze metallurgy extending the productivity of agricultural work, highly developed techniques of information treatment in the form of writing. These exciting potentials and riches were certainly too tempting to be left alone, and it was not long before powerful individuals were to prey on the new civilization all around for their aggrandizement, to accumulate more wealth and power, and mark their names in the written books of fame. The 3rd millennium BC saw the first explosive appearances of mega architecture, imperialism, organized absolutism and… revolution.

    The civilization of Sumer and Akkad in Mesopotamia became a collection of irate city-states where war was the normal way of life and peace an unlikely event. Incessant wars drained all available resources, energies and populations. Ever bigger empires succeeded one another, conquerors were titled “The Great”, were depicted twice as tall as others on official representations, until the greatest of them all, Sargon of Akkad, pushed his empire to the whole Mesopotamia and more, so extended that it would not be surpassed in size before Assyrian times 1500 years later.

    In the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the trend of absolute ambition was pushed even further. Military expeditions were thrown all around the kingdom to bring back thousands of slaves at a time. Egyptian pyramids were engineered so immense that they would remain the highest and most massive human constructions ever for thousands of years ahead. Pharaohs were now posturing themselves as living Gods made of an essence different than that of other human beings.

    In Sumer as well as in Egypt, when some kings died tens of their suite, maids and guards, followed them into death. And even in still Neolithic Europe during the same period of time, the builders of megaliths were rising giant monuments of their own. Across the Near East and the Occident during the 3rd millennium BC, it seemed like if the spirit of the time was that limits do not exist.

    But in Egypt the fall was to be on the same scale as the ambition, and the very first popular revolution recorded in history exploded at the end, bringing the living Gods back down to their human stature. Also by the end of the millennium, out of general exhaustion the Sumerians had finally learned the necessity of unifying and settling down into a stable form of national government, a relatively peaceful, well-organized, complex technocratic state called the 3rd dynasty of Ur. It could have lasted longer than it did, if it had not been for a wave of nomadic invaders known as the Amorites, that were to play some of the major roles during the following centuries.

    I also note the start of Judaism around the relatively recent date of 1200BC, by the way.

    Let’s round off this tour of the long ago by noting that the final thousand years BC saw the founding of such diversities as Japan, Buddhism, Jainism, and the rise and fall of the Roman Republic.

    Superstars of the time included Alexander the Great, Israelite King David, Zoroaster, Gautama Buddha, Lao Zi, Confucius plus “Pānini, Indian Sanskrit grammarian, world’s first known linguist, considered the father of computing machines; Homer, Greek poet; Hebrew prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle; Chandragupta Maurya, founder of the Mauryan empire; Ashoka the Great, ruler of the Mauryan empire; Pingala, Indian mathematician, inventor of the binary number system and the concept of zero; Qin Shihuang, first emperor of China; Euclid, Alexandrian mathematician; Archimedes, Greek scientist; Cicero, Latin orator and philosopher; Julius Caesar, Roman conqueror and dictator; Virgil, Latin poet and Emperor Jimmu, the first Japanese Emperor.”

    All this gives me a sense of a species living, growing, learning, thriving and hopefully surviving; despite all our faults and problems, the tired and cranky concepts that serve only to separate not unite, the universe would be a lesser place without us.

    So if I could claim any authority at all, it would be that which is based on an honest acknowledgment of my species’ story so far, not the relatively recent ideas of these earnest but weirdly competitive theories so many of you seem prepared to espouse.

  • “…why should we even take any of you seriously?”

    I’m not arguing religion here, Chris, but just who is this “we” anyway? I speak for myself. What authority do you hold yourself out as representing?

  • But why should we even take any of you seriously? I think you’re all slightly mad. This is perfectly okay whilst you all remain in “dotty aunt” territory but when people are fighting and rioting like this it’s time to reel in the lot of you, frankly.

  • Justin Berry

    Chris I am not asking you to believe anything. I am not preaching to anyone. I am making a point that no religion believes God is the “Old Man” that you play catch with. In his post Mr. Brown quoted verses from the Bible, Old Testament to be exact, Christians need the Old Testament to gain insight into the mind of God and the history.

    Mr. Brown also says “Fortunately, the worst aspects of Christianity have been largely tempered and de-fanged by civilizing ideas, institutions and cultural habits in a way that the worst aspects of Islam apparently have not been.” My second comment is merely pointing out that we as Christians follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, as in the New Testament not “civilizing ideas…”

    If the New Testament is what Mr. Brown calls “civilizing ideas,institutions, and cultural habits” then I digress.

  • No, Justin, “god” is either a naive if well intentioned attempt to explain life, the universe and everything or a seriously out of control fairy story.

    As far as I’m concerned Muslims, Jews and Christians can believe whatever they like but if the rest of us are obliged to take their beliefs any more seriously than astrology, there’s something seriously wrong here.

    It’s about time we all woke up to the realisation that we need to save ourselves in the here and now, not look to some extremely dubious concept of paradise or heaven after death.

  • Justin Berry

    First of all God is not “the Old Man” that you toss the ball around with. He is the creator of the Universe and he has every right to destroy that creation. That applies to the God of every religion.

    Secondly, Is this post referring to Christians or Jews? I am assuming Jews because all of your cited verses were Old Testament. If you were refering to Christians you should probably find somewhere in the New Testament where our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ murdered or advocated murder or even violence.

  • Bidinotto’s latest at the Bidinotto Blog on the Latest Development re the cartoons (circa 2/8) (below, aside from the blockquote from the editor, is entirely Bidinotto’s commentary; I agree with the indictment of NYC editors, but not with the pessimism about the overall American spirit of resistance…we have to hope that Bill Quick’s predictions about the blogospheric ability to competitively beat the pulp out of the MSM will come true ASAP):

    Update #4, Feb. 8 — File this under “profiles in courage”: The editorial staff of The New York Press, an alternative weekly, resigned en masse when they were ordered NOT to reprint the Danish cartoons in conjunction with a planned story on the controversy. Editor-in-Chief Harry Siegel sent this explanatory email on behalf of the editorial staff:

    New York Press, like so many other publications, has suborned its own professed principles. For all the talk of freedom of speech, only the New York Sun locally and two other papers nationally have mustered the minimal courage needed to print simple and not especially offensive editorial cartoons that have been used as a pretext for great and greatly menacing violence directed against journalists, cartoonists, humanitarian aid workers, diplomats and others who represent the basic values and obligations of Western civilization. Having been ordered at the 11th hour to pull the now-infamous Danish cartoons from an issue dedicated to them, the editorial group — consisting of myself, managing editor Tim Marchman, arts editor Jonathan Leaf and one-man city hall bureau Azi Paybarah, chose instead to resign our positions.

    Folks, while cheering these men of principle, I must also say this: We may well be witnessing the bloodless, unopposed Islamist conquest of America…from within. Not five years after 9/11, in the once-grand city where these unspeakable vermin drove planes into our two tallest buildings, the geldings who own major media outlets are handing these same thugs the keys to their newsroom

  • Wow, let’s talk moral relativism (“hey the Christians and Jews are kinda, like, just as bad! Or used to be!!!) while Muslims riot, murder, behead, blow up, honor kill, oppress, fly planes into buildings, and kindnap kindergartners in Russia. etc. etc.

    I don’t see how my article argues for moral relativism. What is your evidence, TS?

    What I suggest is that there are murder-rationalizing ideas in the Bible and that it’s a good thing they’re not a dominant part of today’s Judeo-Christian character and culture. I stated that as explicitly as one could state it. It hardly constitutes an indictment of non-murderers, nor any kind of intimation of moral equivalence between those who live their lives as killers of the innocent and those who live their lives peaceably and well. I’m all in favor of non-murdering and not-following of the most immoral implications of scripture.

    Or are you suggesting that it is wrong to even note the more problematic ideas in the Bible, no matter how plainly they may be stated therein?

    Sure, let’s talk about moral relativism. You can start by defining it and showing how my article exemplifies it. You’re going to have a tough time though, I’m afraid.

  • TS

    Wow, let’s talk moral relativism (“hey the Christians and Jews are kinda, like, just as bad! Or used to be!!!) while Muslims riot, murder, behead, blow up, honor kill, oppress, fly planes into buildings, and kindap kindergartners in Russia. etc. etc.
    Sheesh. Pathetic.

  • Religion is the root of all evil. The IRA are still Happy, healthy and active in Northern Ireland. They kill innocent people all the time in the name of the christian god and with the blessing of the pope.

    I repeat religion is the root of all evil. It should come with a warning on the pack (God is bad for you and could be the cause of your violent and early death).

  • Okay. Some of my best friends and people I see in the mirror are shameless self-promoters, so I guess I can’t be too irked about it.

  • David:

    “muzzy oracularity for reasoned discourse:”

    + I was tring to point out the rational component in islam – i thought that tied in directly with ‘de-fanging’ the ‘worst aspects’ – a point that hits the target re islam, in my view, in the sense of reducing the ignorance of senseless behaviour and thought that characterizes a portion of islamic society, and others.

    “pitching own article frowned in all sacred texts”

    + yes its true the pitch is there, but only to comment on yours, as an instance where frowning is not the way the go for sacred texts

    my apologies, once again, for the double posting due to wrong url.[Now corrected by helpful Comments Editor]

  • Yeah, and a stitch in time saves nine, Gazelle. What are you talking about? I don’t regard muzzy oracularity as a good substitute for reasoned discourse.

    Ah, but I see you’re merely using the comment box as a way to pitch your own article rather than to comment on mine. Such usurpations are frowned upon in all sacred texts.