Thursday, September 13, 2012

On Violent Reactions to Blasphemy

In the year 1656 James Nayler, one of the leaders of the Quaker movement, was convicted of blasphemy by the British Parliament. He narrowly escaped the death sentence. Instead his punishment was to have the letter "B" branded into his forehead, have his tongue bored through with a red-hot poker, be publically whipped in both London and Bristol and be imprisoned with the requirement that he perform hard labor in order to receive food.

Just a few hundred years ago, throughout Christian Europe and its colonies, one could be arrested, tortured, imprisoned and executed for heresy against the church or blasphemy against Jesus. The words or actions that could get you in trouble might vary from Protestant England and Germany to Catholic France and Italy, but throughout Christendom religious orthodoxy was maintained by force of law and threat of dire punishment. A person who expressed unorthodox beliefs might escape official sanction but still be subjected to mob rule. Again, as an example, Quaker men and women were often beaten by angry Puritan mobs. Anabaptists, Cathars and other minority sects within Christianity suffered similarly on the European continent.

If that was the behavior not so long ago of those who claimed to be defending the honor of Jesus, why should we be surprised to see the same kinds of violent reactions to blasphemy and heresy among some Muslims in Libya and Egypt and Yemen? The problem isn't Islam. The problem is fundamentalism and ignorance and factionalism. The problem is sin and evil masquerading as religion (as it so often does).

Christianity seems to have grown up and moderated itself considerably in the last few hundred years. We still make war in God's name and try to prevent mosques from being built in our neighborhoods but, by and large, we don't kill and maim our fellow citizens for believing differently than we do. Even the more radical elements in Western Christianity seem mostly content to hurl insults and taunts (sometimes in the form of Internet videos) rather than stones.

The religion of Islam began in the early 6th century. It is 600 years younger than Christianity. Islam has not yet had its great Reformation as Christianity did in the 16th century, but some Muslim scholars think that is coming. If some Muslims in some countries are acting now like some Christians in some countries acted 400 years ago, then why shouldn't we also consider that Islam will continue to become more moderate, as Christianity has done. Maybe Christianity just had a head start.

All three of the "Abrahamic faiths"--Islam, Christianity and Judaism--still have a lot of growing up to do.

"Let he who is without sin cast the first stone." - Jesus


Post a Comment

<< Home