In considering whether Christians can replicate the success of Charlie Hebdo at ridiculing Islam, the first question is whether we want to.
That’s the question that leaps out at me, at any rate.
I should start out by saying that I think Jesus loves a good joke, and can take one. Raising this question isn’t about being humorless.
In fact, now is probably a good time to run the Steven Crowder video – the one that has drawn a fatwa down on his head – so we all know what we’re talking about.
This discussion certainly isn’t about being fearful of the anger of Islamists. Their anger is a personal problem. It’s not other people’s to fix. Their fury burns even when no one means to provoke them. My policy: their anger must have no veto over anyone else, and the way to ensure that, at least in the last ditch, is to be armed, vigilant, and preemptive.
But we aren’t often in the last ditch. Mostly, we’re living out, in our daily lives, what we believe in. The choices we make are based on strategic priorities, not on the fear of imminent danger or death.
A choice of rhetorical style, like making points by comparing Jesus and Mohammed in a humorous video, is one of those daily-life decisions.
And this is where I keep coming down: on prioritizing a good advertisement for Jesus over an indictment of Mohammed.
That’s why I would defend to the death Steven’s right to put out his video, but I don’t feel vindicated by it. I don’t feel like my faith is explained or expressed by it.
My priority is to be free to make my statement of faith. That statement doesn’t even mention Mohammed.
Now, Islam regards my sincere statement of faith as blasphemy. And that – even more than the protection of deliberate provocation – is ultimately why there should be no laws for free people defining blasphemy, or insults to or “defamation of” religion. (Daniel Greenfield had an excellent discussion of this topic a few days ago.)
A Muslim and I might be able to agree that some depictions of Mohammed are objectively defamatory or insulting. But there are Muslims who would say I insult Mohammed just by declining to recognize him as a prophet of God. There are also those who wouldn’t say that, or who at least wouldn’t think there should be any armed authority that can take action against me because of it.
It’s incumbent on free people to keep the problem in perspective. Defining punishable insults to a religion or a philosophy is simply beyond the proper role of human government. No armed entity on this earth can be trusted with that highly corruptible power.
Just two more points. One, Jesus himself was not about comparisons of evil-doing. (He was quite pithy, in fact, on the topic of beams in our own eyes versus specks in our brothers’.) That’s basically why, if I’m going to talk about Jesus, it won’t be in the context of a sin-ledger comparison with some other guy. If Jesus was without sin, as I believe, then it’s kind of a pointless road to go down anyway.
I don’t expect other people to all see it the same way, however.
The other point is that Steven Crowder’s video drew a video response that is going viral on Facebook, and it (very typically) addresses Crowder’s points as “misconceptions.” In my experience, that’s how such a response is usually couched: as correcting the “misconceptions” that others are always falling into about Islam or the person Mohammed.
Of course, from a Christian’s perspective, this video is full of errors. But I don’t think there’s a high payoff in unpacking its arguments in detail. We’ve got to get out of the mode of criticizing and responding to criticism, and focus on the positive things we assert and believe.
This is a rule for living that the West will never have cause to regret. Liberty, limited government, and personal responsibility are a better way to live than any other. They survive self-criticism well, but they do the magical thing that goes beyond that: they unleash people to look forward with confidence and vision, rather than focusing on the past.
These points won’t convince Islamist radicals, but then, it’s not Islamist radicals who need to be convinced, if we want to keep the flame of liberty alive. It’s our fellow citizens of America and the West.