Our Daily Sacrilege

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day has faced criticism by the usual hardliners, and in the Western media. The issue at hand, apparently, is this divide between freedom of speech and religion, and religious tolerance/harmony.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day is slammed because, among other things, it violates one of the beliefs of Islam, specifically a prohibition against producing representations of the Prophet Muhammad, Allah, and other major religious figures. The idea was doing so would defeat the idea of idolatry. By drawing a picture of Muhammad, one would violate this principle, and so commit blasphemy and disrespect Islam.

Very well. But let me draw your attention to a little-known fact. Every day, someone, somewhere, deliberately commits sacrilege.

If you eat meat, you violate the Mahayana Buddhist belief of abstaining from harming sentient beings and cultivation of compassion.

If you eat pork, you violate Jewish and Muslim dietary regulations.

If you worship multiple gods, you violate one of God’s commandments.

If you worship a Creator deity, you violate Buddhist philosophy.

If you worship no gods…things get interesting.

Perhaps the one activity that does not contravene any religious philosophy is the act of breathing. Maybe sticking to a vegan diet, too. Every religion is so fundamentally incompatible that it is probably impossible to live without violating a religious rule or other — even and especially if that rule belongs to a religion you don’t believe in. The only sane way forward is to keep to the beliefs you believe in. Just you, mind, not anybody else.

Islam may prohibit idolatry. Very well — but this prohibition is only for believers. If I am not a Muslim, why should I concern myself with this, and other, rules? Conversely, if I were not Buddhist/Christian/Jewish/any other religion, I have no need to live my life by the beliefs of other faiths.

Respect for other religions cannot be refraining from actions that their doctrines call deplorable. It is simply impossible for everybody to do so all the time. Respect for other religions is simply the acknowledgement that their followers are on a different spiritual path, no less than one’s own. To demand that someone refrain from doing something offensive to your religion is to impose your religious belief on that person, and thereby take away his ability to choose his religious belief.

This is, of course, not to say that voluntarily acting in accordance with someone else’s faith is wrong, such as an atheist giving thanks in the presence of her Christian friends. These actions, while commendable, should be voluntary gestures of respect, to preserve the free will of individuals — this makes the gesture even more significant than it already is. This is also not to say that deliberately preventing someone from following his religion is acceptable, like serving non-halal food to Muslims. It is akin to imposing your belief or lack thereof on that person or persons.

In the same vein, I would think it’s unacceptable to do anything that deliberately provokes a person or persons on the basis of religion. Placing a pig’s head on the doorstep of a Muslim family falls under this category, because it implies that their choice of religion is invalid or otherwise wrong.

This does not, however, mean that criticism of certain religious philosophies or beliefs is wrong. For instance, one can argue that the Catholic Church’s position on abortion is right or wrong on various grounds. The difference between an insult and criticism is that insults are primarily designed to provoke anger or other negative emotions, while criticism (as I use the term here) is an analysed response that is grounded in the real world.

It is also unacceptable to resort to threats of or actual violence against people who do insult religions accidentally or otherwise — religious ideas are just ideas, and have no actual basis in the physical world. Hence the reference to Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, but not the South Park episode that started it all.

I really don’t understand why people are so sensitive about religion. A religion, at its heart, is a series of beliefs and practices. You belong to a particular religion for as long as you perform the required rituals (praying, going to church, etc.) and profess belief in necessary doctrine (there is but one God, the Four Noble Truths, the existence of the Sephirot). A religious belief has little if any material substance; it is an idea in your head. It is neurons firing in your brain — nothing more than that can be proven as yet. A religious practice exists exactly as long as people practice it; when people stop doing it, it ceases to exist. You may believe that a particular doctrine is true, but belief does not make something true, in the same way the Earth will always be a sphere no matter how hard I believe it is a two-dimensional rectangle.

A belief, in short, is merely a series of thoughts in your head, some of which may be shared by others.

Everyday sacrilege does not erode a religious belief. Neither does deliberate, apparently blasphemous, action. These things are physical actions, but beliefs exist in the realm of ideas. Ideas, especially religious ideas, are a step removed from the real world.

Everybody Draw Muhammad Day is not a statement against Islam. It is a statement against people who would threaten to kill, or have already killed, innocents in the name of religion. Even if it were disrespectful towards Islam, can the event harm Islam in any way? It cannot, for Islam, like all religions, is an idea in the minds of humans, and ideas cannot be wounded or injured. Ideas cannot bleed, cannot die, cannot erode.

Ideas either exist, or not exist, in the minds of people. It is the believers who will do the most ‘harm’ to any religion, for is it they who have an idea to lose — they may stop believing in their faiths, forever drop the ideas from their minds, or twist the mainstream beliefs into something else for temporal ends. Non-believers cannot possibly harm an idea, or cease to believe in something they do not believe in. It matters not if someone else criticises or mocks your faith, for if you continue to believe in your faith, it is not harmed. If someone else you know decides to leave your faith, it is her choice, not yours. Your belief is shaken not one bit.

(This is not to say that your belief in your belief may not be shaken — but a discussion of that is irrelevant here.)

Don’t worry about others violating your religious beliefs; someone, most likely a non-believer, most surely is, somewhere in the world, even if that person does not know it. The real question should be, what does it matter to you? And why?

As for me, give me this day my daily dose of new beliefs, and forgive me my own beliefs in perfect faith that to the god/s or ideas I believe in it is right to pray and that it is not right to pray to any being besides him/her/it/them, for I testify that there is no God to me but the god/s and ideas I choose to have faith in, in recognition that all god/s I may accept are aspects of a divine Unity I may choose to believe in, to attain cessation of suffering and enlightenment for all sentient beings. Blessed be, even if I or others do not believe or believe in something else.

See what happens when you try to pay respect to all faiths you think are important at once?

Our Daily Sacrilege

7 thoughts on “Our Daily Sacrilege

  1. The parallels you draw between a non-muslim eating pork and a non-muslim ‘drawing Muhammad’ is not entirely relevant. Let’s not forget the fuss kicked up, and rightly so, when Rony et all ‘dissed’ Buddhism. It is this that can be deemed similar to the ‘draw Muhammad Day’.

    To us, non-Muslims, we might think, ‘where’s the insult in that?’ But this is where we ought to take into consideration what is deemed to be an insult to the Muslims. The consumption of pork, whilst a sin to the Muslims, is not tantamount to blasphemy. Though blasphemy is a sin. The overlap does not mean similitude. Hence, non-Muslims are free to do as they please with regards to ‘sins’. But blasphemy takes on the prominent figure or God/s of a faith. That is another matter altogether.

    I suppose, amongst other reasons, to ‘draw Muhammad’ is to reduce him to a tangible entity as opposed to a system of ideas that is a part of, and received from, a celestial one. I have recognised, for a few years now, that this aspect of Islam operates at a higher metaphysical level compared to other faiths (i will not go into that at present). Hence, the tendency to view ‘drawing’ Muhammad as blasphemy. I think we can learn more from the observance of and reflection upon this tradition than to simply view all reality as our own experiences accustom us.

    Secondly, I really don’t see how a ‘Draw Muhammad Day’ is supposed to promote understanding or build ties with the Muslim community when non-Muslims would generally know little about Muhammad other than that garnered from the popular media. That is little more than exploring an individual whom we have little knowledge about through a drawing. This, I dare say, is quite the insult to Islam and Muslims.

    ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad’ is a statement against the Islamic perspective as it attempts to protect the creators of ‘south park’ from threats by providing them with a human buffer zone comprising fans. In essence, it attempts to enlist even more in the war against all that is different from the west, and in particular the Juvenile State of America. They call it the freedom of speech. I call it an abuse of it.

    ed

  2. Jerad,

    Thanks.

    ed,

    Pardon me for having a bit of difficulty responding to your statement. I cannot find a link between what you wrote and what I wrote. I also have difficulty understanding what, exactly, you’re getting at. I’m writing based on what I think you’re writing about; pardon me if I accidentally misrepresent you.

    You’re right that blasphemy is more severe than mere ‘sin’, as you put it. But I used the example of eating pork merely as an introduction to the rest of my points.

    Look at what I wrote about worshipping multiple gods. The Abrahamic faiths declare that there is no god but God. This implies that all other gods, like Buddha, Gaia, Krishna, Pan, etc. are false, demons, or delusions. Such a belief, as I’m sure you agree, ‘takes on the prominent figure or God/s of a faith’. This is reinforced through tales like the Plagues of Egypt, in which God smashes the Egyptian gods by afflicting Egypt with plagues that the gods supposedly have power over. Note, for example, that the God of the Christian Bible laid a curse of darkness on Egypt, in a time when one of its most important deities was Ra the sun god (who could supposedly dispel darkness). Note also the successes of the tribes that have gained God’s favour recounted in these holy books, specifically their conquest of nations that do not worship God and the destruction of idols and shrines dedicated to local deities.

    This is blasphemy codified as religion. Only, it’s blasphemy of some other religion. Which segues quite nicely into the rest of the essay.

    Please clarify this statement: ‘I think we can learn more from the observance of and reflection upon this tradition than to simply view all reality as our own experiences accustom us.’ I’m afraid I do not fully grasp this and invite you to elaborate.

    As for your second point, you are again correct to say that ‘Everybody Draw Muhammad Day’ cannot promote understanding or build ties with the Muslim community. It was not designed to do that. It was, after all, a response to the death threat levelled against South Park’s creators for depicting Prophet Muhammad in a bear suit.

    The emphasis here is ‘death threat’. I would think that that episode was insulting. But a death threat is not the appropriate response. I see the event as an attempt to make a mockery of the use of death threats against people who insult someone’s idea of religion. You read the poster too literally, I think. The point is not to defend South Park; the point is to prove that the death threat cannot possibly be carried out against large numbers of people, taking away the threat’s power to intimidate.

    The event, by the way, is not manned by South Park’s fans. Some participants may be, but ‘some’ or even ‘most’ does not mean ‘all’. It does not provide ‘a human buffer zone’, because any would-be assassins need not wade through any physical barriers to get to the creators of South Park.

    I think you fail to understand how politically liberal Americans view religion. They have little if any emotional investment in any kind of religious belief. They do not see religion as a core part of their identity, so essential that it must be defended at all costs. Instead of religion, they see rights as paramount. This is the platform from which they act. They call this freedom of speech, because they believe no one should have to be threatened by death in order to express an unacceptable view.

    This is not a defence of that view, rather the defence of life. It is not about the insult; it is about the threat. It is not about South Park; it is about life without fear.

    One last thing. You have used your freedom of speech to insult the United States and the West. The words ‘Juvenile State of America’ and ‘war against all that is different’ are seen as such. So, it is abuse to use freedom of speech to insult religion, but it is not abuse to insult countries? Please enlighten me.

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