Cartoon Logic, or "All the other kids are doing it!"

It wouldn't be a true religious controversy without a blazing Christopher Hitchens column on the deplorable nature of religion. Whatever you think of Hitch's default anti-religion positions (I find them tired and politically suspect in general, but bracing in cases, like the present one, where events have set him up for the alley-oop*), he always manages to come up with some zingers:

Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party), and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Whole article, featuring plenty of dumping on hapless State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

And in this corner: Pope Benedict XVI, who for reasons that are increasingly less clear to me, still has a reputation for being more of an "intellectual" than his predecessor. The Vatican weighs in on the side of religious sensitivity:

"The freedom of thought and expression, confirmed in the Declaration of Human Rights, can not include the right to offend religious feelings of the faithful. That principle obviously applies to any religion," the Vatican said.

"Any form of excessive criticism or derision of others denotes a lack of human sensitivity and can in some cases constitute an unacceptable provocation," it said in a statement issued in response to media demands for the Church's opinion.

Cato's David Boaz writes in to object: "Wouldn't this mean that the teaching of evolution or the broadcasting of Desperate Housewives would fall outside the freedom of expression? Does the Vatican really mean that there is no 'right' to 'offend religious feelings of the faithful'?"

If that is what the boys in the Vatican mean, they might want to take another look at their own publications. The idea that the Prophet Jesus (PBUH) was a divine figure is an idolatrous belief that could just as easily run afoul of Islamic sensibilities as could a sexy TV show—but hey, we know no Muslim group would ever be crazy enough to make an issue of interreligious differences when there's a dictatorship of relativism to combat!

To get an idea of where Papa Ratzi's coming from, here's a passage from his new book Without Roots:

In our contemporary society, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam. But when it comes to Jesus Christ and that which is sacred to Christians, instead, freedom of speech becomes the supreme good. The argument has been made that restricting freedom of speech would jeopardize or even abolish tolerance and freedom overall. There is one major restriction on freedom of opinion, however: it cannot destroy the honor and the dignity of another. There is no freedom to lie or to violate human rights.

Have you ever seen anything more coy than that "thank goodness"? For the absolute unacceptability of anti-Semitism in European media, go here. As for the long-suppressed truth that the West's vanishingly small Christian minorities must suffer all insults in timid silence, all I can say is Happy Holidays, everybody!

I've been reading Ratzinger's stuff for years, and compared to John Paul II he's not only a charisma-challenged pope but an intellectual lightweight. I never hear anything out of this Great Thinker that couldn't just as easily have come from some stupid blogger. Specifically, where does this assumption keep coming from that there are natural limits to free expression that are universally recognized in the West? If Ratzinger wants to refer us back to the Ten Commandments let him do it; but a religious taboo doesn't become a universal truth no matter how preciously it's phrased. And a statement that sides with people who are burning down embassies because of a cartoon may be consistent with the history of the Catholic church, but it has no place in the contemporary civilization Benedict XVI seems so intent on rescuing.

* Apologies for any mental images of Hitchens airborne under the net, possibly wearing Julius Erving-era tighty whities. Further apologies for mixing sports metaphors: The Lord has made this day for football.

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    Ugh. As a nominal Catholic, I didn't put too much thought into the new pope. I figured he was being unfairly characterized as a Nazi based on his history, but have never read any of his publications.

    I'll have to agree with Tim on this one. He's an intellectual lightweight.

    Of course, we will undoubtedly see more comments in this thread denouncing the RCC in general now. Oh well...

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    The Catholic Church sucks ass. If you want a real church (i.e. one that's been around since the time of Jesus), but one that admits that people are human beings and lets them get divorced and use birth control, y'all should be a Greek Orthodox like myself. Another thing I have always loved about Eastern Orthodoxy is that they have never teached that the only way to get into heaven is through their church or through Christianity necessarily in general. I've always hated religions that have used fear of going to hell if you're not a part of them as one of their selling points.


    The thing that worries me the most is that maybe Christian wackos will get ideas from these riots and then hit the streets burning down buildings the next time South Park airs an episode of the Virgin Mary bleeding out of her ass.

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    The Pope is not a multi-culturalis. As I said in another forum, it is pretty hard to fight radical Islam within the context of multi-culturalism. Western culture through its embrace of multiculturalism has lived with and created an incredible hypocrisy. The hypocrisy is that multiculturalism never applied to all cultures equally. The dominant white Christian culture was of course never accorded the full respect of multiculturalism. That was reserved for designated victim groups only. Thus, it is okay for black people to call whites crackers. The west has been able to live with this hypocrisy because nobody is really very dangerous. Al Sharpton may be a buffoon but he is not a terrorist. The system also worked because the victims of the hypocrisy, white Christians, are generally on top in the West and many of them were guilty over their position on top. Occasionally we would offer up some celebrity who broke the hypocrisy in public (Al Campanus, Jimmy the Greek et al.) but mostly it was intramural fun, nothing dangerous.

    Along now has come Muslims into the West. Muslims have taken their Stone Age values and infused them with a good dose of Western victim hood and used the hypocrisy against us. Muslims claim to be a victim group and entitled to special treatment. Thus, Muslims can have garbage like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in their bookstores, openly call Jews and homosexuals pigs and call for the implementation of the Sharia law in the mosques but of course claim the benefits of victim status by viciously criticizing and categorizing as a racist anyone who criticizes Islam. The problem is that Muslims are not Al Sharpton. The Muslims make the hypocrisy of multiculturalism downright dangerous. Media people who live in liberal la la land where Christians who object to Broadway plays depicting Christ having gay sex with Judas pr government funding of "Piss Christ" is "chilling" of free speech are about to find out what real chilling of free speech is. Chilling of free speech is not an angry letter to the editor or Pat Robertson lead boycott by a bunch of people who wouldn�t' see the play anyway. Chilling of free speech is when a group of angry lunatics show up and burn down your theater or newspaper. So, the multiculturalists are left with a real problem. If they let Muslims continue to take advantage of the hypocrisy, as Mark Steyn says this morning, there will be "very little difference between living under Exquisitely Refined Multicultural Sensitivity and Sharia." If a cartoon offends Mohammad, why doesn't a woman in shorts or vulgar music do the same? Considering that the same network who is running a gay sitcom doing a faux cooking show featuring "cruci-fixins" on the Thursday before Good Friday won't run the cartoons our of "respect for Muslims", I am not confident of our ability to deal with this threat. I have a bad feeling that if you are a woman and live in Europe and maybe even the United States, you might want to start getting fit for your foulard or burka.


    I think perhaps the Pope realizes this and wants to throw out multiculturalism instead.

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    To be fair, "The Vatican" < > the Pope. Those statements were actually made by a couple of high-up cardinals pressed by the media for a response, not Benedict himself. I find it hard to believe that the author of Dominus Iesus, a CDF declaration that delivered an ex cathedra smackdown to other Christian denominations, calling them "not churches in the proper sense", would come down on the side of religious sensitivity.

    However, if those are indeed the Holy Father's sentiments, I'll have to fall back on the fact that his teaching authority is limited to matters of faith and morals, and does not extend to purely political issues such as freedom of speech. ie, he can authoritatively say that it is immoral to insult the religion of another, but not that it should be illegal to do so.

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    more and more this will pass as foreign policy because we have no money and are running low on soldiers to back up our leaders rhetoric...our republican gov't believes in free expression as much as the taliban does...today the people who bombed the cole are free...osama bin laden is free...al zahwari is free...we are bankrupt and in iraq...

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    Quit cross-posting, John. This is the exact same speech you just made in another thread, and it's of limited relevance here.

    crimethink: Given the very similar ideas in the book quote and the Vatican statement, I'd say the old argument that it's not a direct quote from the Pope is just a lot of "Somebody should tell the Tzar."

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    Tim,

    As usual, you are dead wrong. It is absolutely relevent here. The Pope wants respect for all religions. We can't have that without telling the Muslims to knock it off with the sharia talk and the anti-semitism. You can't tell Muslims they are wrong within the context of multiculturalism. It is real easy to pick on the Danes and get them to stop, but how can we do that and then not say anything about the stream of hatred that comes out of most Mosques?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    It is real easy to pick on the Danes

    Which is the only thing the pope has done. All the stuff about trying to get them to knock of the sharia talk comes out of your head and is not supported by anything the pope's actually done or said. If you think he's got a secret plan, let's see some evidence for it.

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    Tim Cavanaugh,

    I rather suspect you're right, but I'm giving the Pope the benefit of the doubt, especially since it really doesn't matter to me one way or the other what his opinion is on this non-faith-or-morals topic.

    I just hope he doesn't take away my title of Papist Avenger...

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    Remember the ABA is one of the very bestest things on the internet.

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    I commented on Hitchens' piece in the other thread before I knew this thread existed. I beg a thousand pardons--here's my comment:

    "By the way, I hope the reaction to all this by the Bush Administration's supporters has ended any further objections to the use of the term "cultural imperialism" when used to describe our Napoleonic president's foreign policy."

    "Back in grade school, I read a story about an elephant getting shot. I appreciate the line you've drawn, Mr. Hitchens, but, for goodness sake, maybe Orwell really does matter! Did you not seek to foist such cartoons on these people?"

    Hitchens wrote:

    "The prohibition on picturing the prophet-who was only another male mammal-is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death."

    I'll change your words around for you, Mr. Hitchens, but, please, as you read them, imagine them as having been written by some radical Islamic version of yourself. Had that happened, I think it would have read something like this:

    "The toleration of blasphemy is apparently absolute. Very well then, let a good, liberal, agnostic or otherwise, rigorously tolerate all the blasphemy he likes. But if he claims the right to make me tolerate blasphemy as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. In the future, this liberal seems to say, your culture will come to tolerate blasphemy, if necessary, as the result of American occupation."

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    In our contemporary society, thank goodness, anyone who dishonors the faith of Israel, its image of God, or its great figures must pay a fine. The same holds true for anyone who dishonors the Koran and the convictions of Islam.



    This must be referring to European laws, because I'm pretty sure I can desecrate a koran here in the US without arrest or fine.

    But more importantly, freedom of religion allows you to believe in a faith that thinks all other faiths are evil. Sure, it's stupid, but if a true believer can't call Mohammad a false prophet, they aren't really free.

    I'm pretty sure any attempt to squelch religious caricatures in the US will be shot down by the courts. So we're left to watch Europe get silently invaded by the Moors they thought they defeated.

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    I am not sure what your point is Ken. Are you saying that Hitchens' free speech is, in its own way, just as bad as the Taliban ?

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    Further apologies for mixing sports metaphors: The Lord has made this day for football.

    It's cool Tim, cuz alley-oop was also the name of a famous pass play by your 49ers way back in the 70's or maybe even 60's.

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    Yeah, I'm not sure that I get Ken's point, either.

    Certainly within a free and liberal society, one is able to, at will, criticize, poke fun at, or just outright hate a religious organization.

    But the members of that organization are just as free to do the same.

    Last time I checked, setting shit on fire is not a valid debating tactic.

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    Wow! It was all the way back in the 50's.

    The catch reminded older 49er fans of the "Alley-oop" passes that Y.A. Tittle threw to lanky receiver R.C. Owens back in the 1950s

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/San_Fransisco_49ers

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    For what it's worth, Oriana Fallaci regards Benedict as an ally and has repeatedly said so. Considering that she's currently under her prosecution for "defaming" Islam, I think her opinion deserves consideration.

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    The thing that worries me the most is that maybe Christian wackos will get ideas from these riots and then hit the streets burning down buildings the next time South Park airs an episode of the Virgin Mary bleeding out of her ass.

    Yah ... still cleaning up the mess from the last time the Christians went wilding.

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    Stevo, that is damn funny.

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    Stevo, that is damn funny.

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    I am not sure what your point is Ken. Are you saying that Hitchens' free speech is, in its own way, just as bad as the Taliban?

    No, I'm saying that the attitudes Hitchens denounced seem a reciprocation of his own attitudes. He complains about those who would reach across borders and impose their culture on us even as he insists that we reach across borders and impose our culture on them.

    How much of the indignation in the Muslim world regarding these cartoons is fueled by the realization that the United States, under President Bush, is working to bring American cultural values to a town near them? ...cultural values that would tolerate ridiculous depictions of the Prophet?

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    And when Sharon came out in support of "Jews Only" housing laws on government land, he did so in concert with the religious fundamentalists in his political base.

    Tim:

    For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

    Yeah, and when you think that God's on your side, you figure that you're afforded extra latitude if you choose bigotry.

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    You know, I didn't have any images of Christopher Hitchens in "Julius Erving-era tighty whities" until you brought it up. Thanks a lot, pal.

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    "How much of the indignation in the Muslim world regarding these cartoons is fueled by the realization that the United States, under President Bush, is working to bring American cultural values to a town near them?"

    I don't think that holds up. How then do you explain the reaction to "The Satanic Verses" ?

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    Ken, your rhetoric here is poor. You seem to be equating the practice of violently enforcing others' adherence to one's beliefs with protecting people from exactly that kind of coercion. These are not parallel.

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    Tim Cavanaugh,

    Pope Benedict XVI, who for reasons that are increasingly less clear to me, still has a reputation for being more of an "intellectual" than his predecessor.

    Intellectual is the term that Catholics use for someone who pens inscrutible writings which when deconstructed turn out to be largely based on circular reasoning.

    crimethink,

    I find it hard to believe that the author of Dominus Iesus, a CDF declaration that delivered an ex cathedra smackdown to other Christian denominations, calling them "not churches in the proper sense", would come down on the side of religious sensitivity.

    The RCC created an image of itself as a universal/catholic church when Constantine attempted to make it so.

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    crimethink,

    ...I'll have to fall back on the fact that his teaching authority is limited to matters of faith and morals...

    His teaching authority extends as far as any individual allows it. The RCC doesn't seem to understand that point however.

  • dhex||

    i wonder how pope benny and his jets square not destroying the honor and dignity of others with proclimations of hell, unnatural behavior, decadence, etc?

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    Ken, I think your point approaches sense when you consider Hitchens support for the war, however, his position can stand alone thus without the violence you by implication equate the muslim riots. Toleration of anothers dissenting and offensive words requires nothing but resisting ones own violent impulses. Thus Hitch is right when he says

    "But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species."

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    crimethink: you seem to be avoiding the possibility that the pope is a hypocrite. That would explain why he feels free to insult other religions for his own purposes, but condemns those who do so for other reasons.

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    His teaching authority extends as far as any individual allows it.

    That is not what a Catholic believes. And yes, I know you are not a Catholic (or if you are, you're pretending not to be). It would seem that, as neither of our statements is verifiable, we'll have to wait till Judgement Day to settle this argument.

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    Hakluyt,

    Intellectual is the term that Catholics use for someone who pens inscrutible writings which when deconstructed turn out to be largely based on circular reasoning.

    That's not just true of Catholics; people in general tend to consider writings that go over their heads more "intellectual" than those that they understand, even if the former amount to poppycock.


    Col DuBois,

    I fear you may be on to something. After all, papal history is hardly free of drunken, womanizing, simonious, and bestial popes, so I'm under no illusions that sitting on the Chair of Peter is sufficient to make one morally perfect.

    However, I would think that Ratzinger/Benedict would be more careful to avoid being caught in hypocrisy.

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    Hitchens tends to lump all "religions" together, dismissing the idea that there are morally-significant differences among them.

    That's sort of like blurring the distinctions between Lenin, Ayn Rand because "they're both atheists."

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    You seem to be equating the practice of violently enforcing others' adherence to one's beliefs with protecting people from exactly that kind of coercion.

    Does "protecting people" from "coercion" involve bombing, invading and occupying their country?

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    Iran is escalating the toon war.

    Muslim protesters infuriated by cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad raised the diplomatic stakes last night as Iran's best-selling newspaper announced it would retaliate by running images satirising the Holocaust.

  • ||

    So, in other words, they'll put the editorial cartoons on the front page?

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