Thursday, January 15, 2015

Freedom, Humor, and Violence: The Charlie Hebdo Mixture

Until now, I haven’t written anything about the Charlie Hebdo attack. Nor did I address it specifically in Sunday’s sermon. (Though I did say, “If it is not loving, it doesn’t come from God,” so that pretty much covers it, I suppose.)

I haven’t really said anything yet because, frankly, I’m having a hard time processing it. For many people, it is simple. Freedom of expression was attacked, and those attackers are evil because, beyond the senseless killing of 17 people, they were attacking one of the core principles of a free democratic society.

To be clear, I abhor violence. Nothing I write here should indicate otherwise. The murderers/terrorists who committed the Charlie Hebdo killings were in the wrong and there should be clear consequences. Violence never resolves conflict, and I will never condone a harmful act.

And at the same time, also on my mind are the limits that society places on freedom of expression. Simply put, you cannot just say anything you want at any time to any person. And as a person of faith myself, I believe one ought not ridicule, demean, or belittle another’s belief system. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to do so to my own.

But on the other hand, I have no trouble laughing at some of the more absurd satirical presentations of Christianity. I love Betty Bowers, for example. So snarky! And Lark News is always good for a laugh (Headline: “Man Tired of Being Used in Sermon Illustrations”). I usually get a kick out of Jesus when he appears on South Park, too, although you can’t really watch that with your kids, if you know what I’m sayin.

So back and forth and back again; this whole thing is really complex for me.

The Vatican has officially denounced the attack while at the same time asking media outlets to treat religions with respect. And that would mean ALL religions. Pope Francis is quoted saying, “There are so many people who speak badly about religions or other religions, who make fun of them, who make a game out of the religions of others. They are provocateurs.”

Okay, but in no way shape or form does that mean they deserve to die. The staff of Charlie Hebdo was murdered in cold blood. They did not “have it coming to them.” It was shocking, appalling, an act of evil and hatred. And the Pope also said that it is an “aberration” to kill in the name of God and that religion can never be used to justify violence.

Now, a lot of religious satire seems to point at the way religious principles have been altered by practitioners of said religion. In that sense, the humor can be prophetic. I absolutely love the South Park scene where Cartman forms a “Christian” rock band and replaces the words “baby” and “darling” in pop songs with the word “Jesus” in order to make them “Christian,” for example.

Stuff like that illuminates truth, and if we can manage to laugh at it without taking offense, it can be quite helpful in our spiritual growth.

Comedians can be prophetic, too. People like Louis CK and Ricky Gervais and Nick Offerman sometimes say things about religion that might sound pretty harsh. But those things resonate because they are grounded in truth. I often end up laughing and wincing at the same time.

Of course also in the mix here: I had never heard of Charlie Hebdo before last week, so I was curious. Looking at their stuff now, it just really isn’t all that funny to me. It is crude, defiant, bold, all-inclusive, yes. But I guess I’m not really in the right context to find it amusing. And lacking the humor, the bite of the satire isn’t quite as illuminating.

So you see, all of that is tumbling around in my head, which has made it impossible to form a clear and coherent response. Freedom of expression. Humor. Violence. Prophetic words. Humility. Religious diversity. Truth.

So here’s where I am:
- You can’t just say whatever you want and expect no consequences to follow, especially if it is demeaning or insulting or harmful.
- To be able to laugh at yourself and your own absurdity is a gift and sign of maturity.
- Nobody should ever be killed for expressing an idea, no matter how crude and offensive it may be.

I guess what I’m saying is, we need to somehow figure out how to have all three of these ideas held together, always.

1 comment:

John Hampton said...

Thank you! Your sentiments echo mine. The violence is certainly awful but I've at the same time struggled with "Je Suis Charlie". Because I'm not Charlie Hebdo; nor would I ever be. But, of course, I certainly stand in solidarity with those murdered because of their speech.

Freedom of Speech and Expression have never meant you can say anything, anytime, without consequence. You could be boycotted, you could be ridiculed, people who speak poorly of you after you speak poorly of them. Often free-speech is associated with the modern Christian persecution complex (some Christian group spews something hateful, and when they get backlash, they decry free speech; somehow believing it means nobody is entitled to disagree with you, even to the point of boycotting your business or responding to you). But Freedom of speech and expression certainly DO mean that nobody can harm you, shoot you, or even arrest you for saying things that others don't like!