Mohammed comics follow-up


in Politics, Writing

By now, it has become obvious that the response of many people in the Muslim world, and elsewhere, to the Danish comics has exceeded all reasonable bounds. To take umbrage against a perceived slight is perfectly acceptable in a free society. To start burning down embassies and calling for the murder of the nationals of the countries where the comics have been printed is insane. It’s not something that can be defended according to any reasonable system of ethics – by which I do mean to say that a religious ethic that required such a thing would be indefensible – and it’s not something that can be construed as acceptable conduct.

To actually believe that there is a God who would require or encourage such conduct is to effectively close out the possibility of their being a God who is both omnipotent and benevolent to humanity in general. It has always been absurd to say that you could have a God benevolent to all mankind yet still insistent on the practice of a particular faith. A benevolent being would not condemn to damnation worshippers in cultures where a different faith is the norm. Given that the faith of your parents is by far the best predictor of the faith you will adopt, it simply doesn’t hold water to say that anyone could be expected to convert to the ‘one true faith.’ It contradicts good sense and basic ideas of fairness.

A being that required people to adopt a certain faith in order to be treated decently would either be non-benevolent, and therefore not worthy of veneration as such, or simply incomprehensible and equally unworthy of respect or admiration. A being with ethics that cannot be understood or shared by human beings is no more worthy of veneration than a bolt of lightning, which is similarly powerful and lacking in comprehensible ethical purpose. A vengeful God is potentially consistent with the character of the world: a charitable one, much less so – and perhaps not at all.

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous February 5, 2006 at 11:06 pm

“It has always been absurd to say that you could have a God benevolent to all mankind yet still insistent on the practice of a particular faith.”

Milan, I would wish to highlight that this hypothesis is contingent on a very narrow reading of “practice of a particular faith”. From a wider perspective you could focus on the (implicit) adherement to certain core principles (e.g. from a Christian perspective: Love of “God” and thy neighbour) rather than the explicit acceptance of a particular creed.

Looking at the world I see an enormous extent of suffering,loneliness and hatred – on a private as well as political level levels. I therefore would like to posit the counterclaim: Only the idea of a compassionate and charitable God is theoretically justifiable if the imperative is to highlight an underlying ethical purpose.

In this respect I find the following quote provides interesting food-for-thought:

“Is truth knowable? If we know the truth, must we hide it in the name of tolerance? Upholding the notion of religious truth while asserting the right of religious freedom…”
(From the bookcover of “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions” by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger).

Good night, my friend,

Milan February 5, 2006 at 11:14 pm


I know it’s a controversial question and a collection of claims people may find objectionable. It’s the kind of thing I am very nervous about posting – not because such questions are unimportant, but because I don’t feel that I have the wisdom to deal with them well. That said, it’s obviously a matter that we need to wrestle with at this juncture in history. What are the ethics of faith and tolerance in a world of multiple religions?

Clearly, retreating from the position that a deity can demand narrow adherence to a particular faith reduces many of the problems highlighted here. If you can receive divine favour for being a good Hindu, a good Christian, or whatever, then it’s easier to deal with the question of how people are getting the fair chance to receive such favour. The question of how vigorously people can manifest their own faith remains, however.

Tristan Laing February 5, 2006 at 11:53 pm

To place ethics at the forefront of a discussion on this violence fundamentally blocks any genuine understanding of the other side, because it founds one position strictly in one’s own understanding of what is right/acceptable/tolerable simply by asking the question.

What is playing out in this debate is the dialectic of religion and the enlightenment, although not in a way that strictly mimics Hegel, or Adorno’s version. If we want “real” tolerance, and not simply the tolerance that, as Ratzinger says, forces us from speaking truth, then we will need to recognize the “Muslim World”, to which you so rightly refer, as a manner in which truth is revealed. The “enlightened world” is another way of looking at the world, which allows other things about the world to show themselves up to us, while unfortunately blocking perhaps some other inner properties which perhaps the Muslim World does in fact show up. Neither is “right”, in the sense of getting “the real truth” or “more of the truth”, mostly because the understanding of truth in both worlds is different, and derived (logically and historically) from a more primordial understanding of truth as alithea, or revealing.

We will of course condemn the burning of the embassies as horrific crimes, and rightfully so. But before we can understand why some others would consider them crimes on a level with what they would call the intolerance and disrespect shown by European newspapers, we will remain too Western in our ethical understanding to hope for real peace on any terms but our own. (Which, even on our own terms, isn’t much of a peace at all)

Anonymous February 6, 2006 at 12:26 am

“The right to freedom of speech which allows newspapers to publish such provocative cartoons has been hard won, is inextricably essential to liberty, must be robustly defended and has sometimes to be controversially asserted. If free speech is to be meaningful, moreover, the right to it cannot shirk from embracing views that a majority – or a minority – finds distasteful, even on occasions bitterly so. All those considerations point towards a case for wider publication of cartoons which, even though offensive and provocative, say something about uncomfortable issues that are central to the modern world and have triggered an anguished debate in Europe and elsewhere.”

More from The Guardian

B February 6, 2006 at 12:38 am

The world’s leading Islamic body – the Organisation of the Islamic Conference – condemned the violence:

“Over-reactions surpassing the limits of peaceful democratic acts . . . are dangerous and detrimental to the efforts to defend the legitimate case of the Muslim world,” said the organization, which represents 57 states.

Anonymous February 6, 2006 at 1:29 am

I’m an atheist with an interest in political satire (I wrote my undergrad thesis on UK political satire), and from that perspective they are a fascinating set of images. Three of the pictures were pocking fun at the provocateur impulse of the exercise without actually including a picture of the prophet and 2 of those 3 strike me as unobjectionable (the third caricatures Muslims as reacting violently to critique and did strike me as in poor taste). A fourth shows a sweating cartoonist drawing the prophet, and this seems me as somewhat objectionable since it had virtually no merit as a picture or concept other than to include an offensive image and caricature the predicted response. The ‘stop stop we ran out of virgins’ cartoon strikes me as a just a silly joke rather than a satire of Islam. In fact, the only one that I find really offensive is the bomb turban picture, which is very unpleasant; however, there are a couple with captions that aren’t in English, so the wording might change the sense of the cartoon.
It strikes me that the initial question is whether they’re justifiable from a Western perspective, and I think the answer is that some certainly are and others may not be – freedom of expression doesn’t justify inflammatory racism. Ultimately, I think the ideal is to be sensitive to others’ views without being ruled by those views. What worries me most about the whole affair is that the newspaper deliberately wanted to test how offensive they could be rather than having any broader political message or public purpose, and the underlying nastiness of that strikes me as very much worthy of criticism.

Sylvia February 6, 2006 at 6:06 am

I think we’re missing the big picture: how will this affect the World Cup?!?

Anonymous March 7, 2006 at 12:24 am

This comes close to the position
of Ivan Karamazov, who refused to respect, let alone worship, a God who would kill an innocent child even if that would save the entire world.

Anonymous April 17, 2006 at 4:04 pm

There is a whole discipline concerned with answering this question:

Theodicy is a specific branch of theology and philosophy that attempts to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with the assumption of a benevolent God. An attempt to reconcile the co-existence of evil and God may thus be called “a theodicy”.

. February 2, 2009 at 11:36 pm

Attenborough reveals creationist hate mail for not crediting God

Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
The Guardian, Tuesday 27 January 2009

Telling the magazine that he was asked why he did not give “credit” to God, Attenborough added: “They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds. I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in east Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball. The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator.”

. October 8, 2009 at 1:50 pm

“Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?” — Epicurus

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