Monday, January 19, 2015

The pope stumbles over Charlie Hebdo


     So what's the take-away?
     From the whole Charlie Hebdo atrocity.

     What's the lesson? The moral of the story?
   
     Naive questions, since in this, as in everything, at the end nearly everyone learns what they already believed at the start. The fearful have another reason to condemn Muslims en masse for the actions of a few. Free speech advocates can point to the popularity of freedom of expression, thanks to all those millions in the street in France. Terrorists have a textbook example of how a couple AK-47s can rivet the world's attention.
     
     How about this lesson: respect religion — all religion — or suffer the consequences?
     
     Did anybody learn that from the killings in Paris?
     
     The pope, apparently.
     
     "If my good friend Dr. Gasparri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Pope Francis said last week, on the way to the Philippines. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."
     
     You cannot? Since when? I would argue that you can and, at times, you must.
     
     But only at times. I don't mock the Catholic Church often only because it does such a good job of mocking itself, of undercutting Jesus' teachings in ways so clear that no commentary is necessary.
     
     But were I to decide to mock the church, I'd like to reserve the right.
     
     It's only fair.
     
     After all, the church mocks me.
     
     Where do Jews end up? Hell. Our children? Hell. Damned to eternal torment in a fiery furnace for the unforgivable crime of being ourselves. That isn't a doodle on a magazine, that's the official line, softened with various throat clearings to make it appear less vile, but here nonetheless. The fact that the pope isn't emphasizing it every Sunday is the sort of false politeness he seems to be demanding.
     
     I should have seen it coming. The Catholic Church being also subject to the crude derision of the French weekly, Catholic leaders were quick to try to use the slaughter as a teaching moment.
   
      "Killing in response to insult, no matter how gross, must be unequivocally condemned," said Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, on the day of the attack, as if reminding himself of a sad necessity. But that was throat-clearing before he rose to his true task. "Muslims have a right to be angry," he continued, citing some vulgar examples of Charlie Hebdo satire. "What they object to is being intentionally insulted over the course of many years. On this aspect, I am in total agreement with them."
     
     I bet you are, Bill. Frankly, I could shrug off Bill Donahue. He no more represents the main current of Catholic thought than some imam in a cave in Afghanistan represents all Islam.
     
     But Pope Francis, on the other hand, is a disappointment. He seemed so promising, out of the gate.
     
     Though it shouldn't have been a surprise either.
     
      The biggest bullies cry the loudest when touched. The weak learn to get along. If you saw "The Book of Mormon," you know a more obscene, wicked, hysterical and spot-on lampoon of faith could not be conceived. Yet the Church of Latter Day Saints didn't shoot anybody. They didn't cluck sympathetic noises at those who shoot people. They took out advertisements in the "Book of Mormon" Playbill. They realized that a church, like a person, gets respect by earning it. Not by silencing critics, through murder or through a hypocritical appeal for tolerance that you yourself don't practice.
     
     What we are seeing here is a clash between two systems. Not East and West, not Islam and Christianity. It is between the ancient tribal notion that your faith, whatever it is, is the One True Way and anybody else is blaspheming in error, at best to be tolerated and converted through suasion, at worst to be destroyed. That philosophy gripped the globe from the dawn of time until, well, now, though it has weakened in places by the very modern idea that the world is made up of many equally valid — or invalid — approaches to sanctity and God, and that which one a person follows is up to the dictates of that person's heart.
     
     Tolerance doesn't mean everyone coos sympathetically at every conceivable moral system. Tolerance means you don't demand that others ape your deeds, words or thoughts. You can believe something without imposing it on others. If you've ever been in a synagogue, you may have noticed something missing. No stained glass portraits, no statues of God with a big beard. Like Muslims, we believe it is wrong to depict God — we aren't even supposed to say His actual name.
     
     In our view, every New Yorker cartoon of God on His throne is blasphemy. But we don't shoot up the New Yorker. We subscribe instead. Jews don't go around slapping cheeseburgers out of people's hands.
     
     Paddle your own canoe. Practice your own beliefs. Put the passion that you apply to forcing others to do things they don't believe into doing the good that your supposedly superior faith system supposedly represents. Why isn't the pope teaching that?

48 comments:

  1. I've read that entire membership of the Catholic League consists of Bill Donahue.
    Apparently, no one in New York bothers to listen to him anymore, so neither should we.

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  2. Bill Donahue is despised by the New York Times and the rest of the print media. He's a fighter and fiercely independent and is never intimidated. He'll tell Abe Foxman, Frank Rich and South Park to go to hell. He'll stick up for Catholics who are told to remove their ashes from their foreheads at work. We never really had a strong Catholic voice before him. And the Catholic League has over 350k members so he's very relevant in the Catholic community. Heck just look at this worthless blog he's compared to an Imam in a cave-that alone is the best endorsement he could hope for, God Bless him and the Holy Father.

    Patty Palmer

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  3. Great column today. I hope others read it with better understanding than Parry P.
    Barbara Maginnis Palmer

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  4. I'm sorry for the typo. It wasn't intended...Patty P.
    BMP

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  5. Bill Donohue purchased an email list from Tony Perkins. THAT'S what the Catholic League is. He has no authority, and had remained quiet after his buddy Cardinal Burke was fired. Bill can't afford to be called out by anyone in the hierarchy, because then his grift would be up.

    I have no idea why people in the media give him any airtime. He's merely a crank.

    Excellent column.

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    1. agree, hate those right wing caths that never accepted vat. II and hate women, but not all of the cath church

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  6. Oh yes, Mr. S, jump on the Caths again. Mainstream Prots are less vocal but Caths aren't as antiscient. as the born again, fundamendalist, evangelical types, thinking earth is 10K years old. YOu don't say much about them and the junk they speak of on their channels . Not saying Caths perfect but why do you hate them more than the born agains? Born agains talk about Jesus and hell do. There's something more to this. Mr. P.

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    1. If someone seemed to hate Jews as much as you hate Christians, they'd be called anti Semitic and no paper would let them write a column. But okay for you to hate on Christians.. And I don't see how you go to bat for Muslims that would prob want to blow you up.

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    2. Quote a line that you consider "hate." It's called "thinking" and it's only hateful to those who can't bear to hear a different perspective.

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    3. okay, constantly pick on

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    4. You don't like to hear a diff. perspective either, Mr. S. and no need to be arrogant.

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    5. Your opinion isn't always the right one you know, Mr. S.

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    6. no more than mine is

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    7. atheists like to push there agenda too

      but I don't agree with the fanatically religious either

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  7. thank goodness, no more puppets

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  8. As an atheist, I've never been happier to be free from all this "my god is better than your god" nonsense. I grew up Catholic, FYI, so I know what was taught. While this pope is far more progressive than his predecessors, he's still got to pimp the dogma. He wasn't out of line as far as Catholicism and its teachings go, but I do agree his argument is silly.

    Free speech does not mean freedom from criticism or consequences; however, free speech certainly does include what some may see as offensive or downright disgusting. You have a right to be offended; you do not have a right to project your offense on others and expect them to kowtow to your beliefs.

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  9. Pioneers can expect arrows. "Settlers" can expect resistance from those who already lived in the places being settled, and those mocking the religion of others can expect to draw a few punches to the nose. Doesn't make it right, doesn't make it wrong. But there it is.

    God sure seems to have a sense of humor, and I believe most religious representations of Him or Her display that to some extent. Sadly, the same cannot be said for many adherents of those religions. If that is what Francis was trying to convey, (I don't know, not having seen the quote in context) then I have no argument with it. If he was saying it should not be done, then I disagree with him.

    But to hold him directly accountable for the centuries of wrongs by the church he is working so hard to change, and reader's comments that he is finally showing his true colors, well that seems to smack a little of the same kind of small mindedness of which he is being accused.

    But that is just my opinion.

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  10. Pope Francis' incomprehensible inversion of "turn the other cheek" will be cited to justify the unjustifiable for decades. Love the guy, but he blew it on this one.

    But I'd argue the "take-away from Charile Hebdo" is NOT the trivial-in-comparison side show of the Bill Donahue's of the world, anymore than the take-away from 9-11 was Deneesh D'Souza and his ilk's "it's terrible, but they do have a point that..." comments about Western degenerate society. The take-away is what Tom Friedman wrote: that despite attempts to minimize the problem (e.g., statements like "those who want to condemn Islam en-masse for the actions of a few,") the truth is more complicated: "The truth is there is a huge amount of ambivalence toward this whole jihadist phenomenon — more than any of us would like to believe — in the Arab-Muslim world, Europe and America. " With some exceptions that the press really has been bad about noting (e.g., Buddhist extremists - often incited by clerics - against Muslims in Burma for example), there IS a problem in Islam today - it's not the Fox News punditry's charicature of Islam or a widespread support for slaughtering those who mock the prophet, but neither is it the Ben Affleck appologism. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/14/opinion/thomas-friedman-we-need-another-giant-protest.html?_r=0 An athiest in Saudi Arabia was sentanced to 1,000 lashes to be administered over years - where did the outcry that muted the sentence come from? This isn't to say backlash against Muslims isn't a real problem as well - some of the incidents in France were sad to read though thankfully nobody was killed. It's an incidiary topic and one we need to watch our language.

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    1. Well said also, anon not anon. ANd beware of Wahabanism. Notice the west doesn't gripe much about Saudi cruelties due to our oil and business ties.

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  11. Neil, I'm sure Moses and Elijah at least were allowed into the gated heaven the nuns taught us about in the 50s and these days I think the Jewish quota has increased quite a lot. I like Pope Francis and have cheered his other offhand remarks that seemed to welcome rather than reject, so I hesitate to completely disavow him for his one big goof. If the sense of what he said can be defended in any way, the timing certainly can't: you don't condemn the victim while millions of people are mourning his death. Let's hope his next ad lib works better.

    John

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    1. Exactly. I am profoundly uninterested in what the victim of a horrible slaughter may have done to "provoke" his killers. As far as I'm concerned, once you shed a single drop of blood (or excuse, explain or rationalize those who do), you lose every right to be heard and considered rationally.

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    2. Agreed. I don't think I "completely disavowed" him. Thus the word "stumbles." If this is the fault we remember at his death, one hopes many years from now, he will be an extraordinary pope indeed.

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    3. Well, I guess "breeding like rabbits" isn't going over so well either.

      As the oldest of 7, I'm a little conflicted about that issue, not to speak about contraception which had good Catholic girls known anything about it, I probably wouldn't have been conceived.

      John

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  12. Christopher Hitchens did a nice job outlining the issue in YouTube video in which he voices his opinion on the subject of the Hart House Debating Club debate: -- Be it resolved: Freedom of speech includes the freedom to hate. It is persuasive.

    http://youtu.be/QIyBZNGH0TY

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  13. Not quite on topic, but a bit of relevant history. As a backslid Presbyterian, I don't expect to be admitted to the gated Catholic heaven either, but official Catholic anti-Semitism, at least until the end of WW II was not entirely theological, being based on the familiar notion that Jews, though their rapacious business practices and economic power, had victimized Christians over the centuries. When Mussolini passed the Race Laws in 1938 the Vatican went along, but argued that Jews who converted should be exempted. Il Duce, under Hitler's influence said "once a Jew always a Jew." Italians didn't murder Jews, but in 1944 authorities in territories still under Fascist control turned them over to the Germans, who, of course, did.

    Tom Evans

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  14. Tom You are wrong. CAths have nothing against, Presby, Meth, Episcop and Luth, just the whacko born agains.

    Now the Pope says don't breed like rabbits but use natural planning. Not realistic, he's better than past Popes but still not rocking it enough. Good he removed that one misogynist Cardinal from post.

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    1. Most of the branches of Christianity get along pretty well these days, although you "Papists" might encounter intolerance from some of the Evangelicals, particularly in the deep south. Theologically speaking, I'm not sure those in charge of dogma in the Vatican have put the Reformation entirely behind them, although it would be nice to know I would make it beyond the Pearly Gates. I have it on reasonably good authority that I wouldn't were I to join a Masonic lodge.

      My comment really spoke to Steinberg's attitude toward the Church speaking as a Jew. I was surprised to learn from reading a recent book titled "The Pope and Mussolini" how ingrained anti-Semitism was among some of the Catholic clergy until fairly recently.

      On the matter of artificial contraception, I like what H.L. Mencken had to say about the Church approving the rhythm method. "Catholic women who want to enjoy sex without becoming pregnant can now avail themselves of mathematics, although they are still denied access to physics and chemistry."

      Tom

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  15. Too many Non Caths have these 1950's style , outdated ideas about the CAth church today or at least the Amer. cath one.

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  16. I always enjoy your work Neil and mostly agree with this piece. However in 18 years of Catholic education and countless regular weekly and now bi-weekly masses (my boys attend on Fridays for school) I was never taught that Jews go to hell. My boys go to Catholic school and they aren't taught that either. (If they were I assure you we'd be across the street with the publics and their fancy computer lab). While it may be part of some official doctrine it's not the prevailing wisdom. To suggest otherwise is inflammatory, insulting, and inaccurate. Lastly, thank all of our Gods that we're past the puppets. Keep up the great work. John Cushing

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    1. same here, where does Mr. S get this? he wants to think the worst and has some motive, what I'm not sure

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    2. THe point, is that all religions, in their doctrines, teach things that are insulting. If Jews are waltzed into heaven, without belief in Christ or absolution, that is news to me. They might not write it in big letters on the blackboard, anymore, but that's the doctrine nevertheless.

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    3. Neil - I was never taught that Jews went to hell but conversely I was never taught they went to Heaven either. It was akin to being a Cubs fan, we concerned ourselves with how our team was doing and let the Sox fans fend for themselves. John

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  17. If you stick your hand into the cage to tweak the lion, don't be surprised if you lose your hand. If you tweak people who use guns to make their point, don't be surprised if you lose your life. No matter what you think of the cartoons, the magazine's owners were STUPID to not have adequate protection in place to protect their staff.

    On another note, I don't blame people for getting angry when someone trashes their most cherished beliefs. It's human nature and you can't fight it. What you can fight are the people who think that it's ok to use violence instead of reason in their reply.

    One last thing - I do not want to associate myself in any way with the juvenile and obscene cartoons put out by Hebdo. I can defend his right to publish them while rejecting them with the contempt they deserve.

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    1. yes, they didn't protect their own people

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  18. David: The magazine's staff had an armed guard and a door protected by a security code. The killers ambushed and killed the guard, and got the security code by threatening to slit the throat of the 3-year-old daughter of a woman who worked there unless she gave it to them. Doesn't sound like they were STUPID to me, but that their killers were cunning and determined.

    As for the CH cartoons, I don't give a rat's ass how offensive they are. Once a man is slaughtered in cold blood by a fanatic, I become completely deaf to suggestions that he might have had it coming.

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    1. Hmmm...you have received numerous death threats directed against both you and your staff from people known to commit acts of violence. You don't have a security portal or secured parking or a safe room and just a single security guard and a keypad. STUPID, STUPID...STUPID!

      I never said that Hebdo had it coming. I do think that if you taunt people who kill others that you are STUPID for not taking adequate precautions to protect your people and location. I also think that the cartoons were juvenile and no different than the kind of crap that you see peddled on the web by internet trolls just trying to get their jollies by torquing others off. If you are going to zing someone's beliefs, do it intelligently and not by publishing the intellectual equivalent of fart jokes.

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    2. Let's use your reasoning under a different context. You put on a uniform for a country that is detested in a certain place, and go to that place. STUPID. You go on patrols, knowing that someone might blow you up, STUPID. Your logic strikes me as both a) after the fact and b) timid. Were someone to kill me -- our security is worse -- am I stupid too? Should I stop writing because people get unhappy? I agree that Charlie Hebdo was tasteless. But the desire to kill was already there. If it's a schoolyard next time, are they STUPID too?

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    3. Neil,

      It is a matter of balancing the risk. It is STUPID to go overseas and patrol in a nation where they want to kill you unless there is an objective so important that it can be achieved in no other way. Don't even get me started on how STUPID our policy was in Viet Nam or Iraq where good people paid the price for the idiocies of Washington politicians.

      My logic is not after the fact or timid. I have worked for companies which took security seriously and so I knew decades ago that you don't pooh pooh threats. Why not ask one of your friends who has some experience in the security field what they think about Hebdo's security arrangements. I think it would be an eye-opening experience for you.

      If there is a credible threat and you don't take steps to adequately protect your life and family, then you are STUPID too. When are people going to understand that times have changed and not necessarily for the better? Schools should be better protected and I would tax the you-know-what out of the "everyone should have guns" crowd to pay for the measures.

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  19. Saw this today on Salon:

    http://www.salon.com/2015/01/18/the_pope_francis_revolution_inside_the_catastrophic_collapse_of_the_catholic_right/

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    1. @Anonymous

      Not sure if you're replying specifically to me, but I've never seen a link on the "Comment" section of this blog which one could click on to view; they all seem to require copying and pasting (there are 3 on this thread alone, including mine).

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    2. Update: It appears that "Anonymous" has deleted his reply that I should learn how to properly post a link, to which I in turn replied above.

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    3. Ah, I wasn't sure what he was referring to, and given his sharp tone, just deleted it.

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  20. Graf has a point on his 2nd comment.

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