Monday, January 19, 2015

Je Suis Charlie; How Would Christians Respond & Was Charlie Hebdo Justified?

            The phrase ‘Je suis Charlie’ (I am Charlie) is used to support freedom of expression. Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical weekly magazine, angered the Islamic community when they published offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammad. Charlie Hebdo’s action was predicated on ‘freedom of expression.’ The Islamic response, predicated on their version of ‘freedom of expression,’ was to launch a deadly assault on Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. 1

            Within the context of the Islamic assault against Charlie Hebdo and from the perspective of Christianity, we could ask two questions:

            1. How would have Christians responded had Charlie Hebdo employed its freedom of expression to publish offensive material against Christianity?

            2. What’s the motivating factor for the Christian response?  

Christianity Compels Love & Respect For The Unbeliever

            Christianity considers two vital theological dynamics while examining man’s tirade against God. First, Christian theology espouses God’s sovereignty and man’s freewill. A possible entailment of God-given freewill to man is man’s rejection and abuse of God. Second, God loves man even if he rejects HIM [although God’s love offers a rejecting man an eternal abode in hell].

            God loves the unbeliever. Hence, HE creates and sustains him by providing the basic necessities, and, in numerous instances, the superfluous luxuries of this life.

            Provision of basic necessities and superfluous luxuries of this life displays not only God’s love for the unbeliever, but it also reveals God’s respect for the unbeliever. God does not insult the unbeliever, for the Bible does not reveal God’s insult of the unbeliever for his unbelief. God thus respects the unbeliever during his life on earth by graciously sustaining and not insulting him.

            In fact, God out of HIS love and respect for the unbelieving man offers the unbeliever an option in eternal abode via hell. Hell is essentially the choice of the unbelieving person. The unbeliever chooses to live in hell by rejecting God during his lifetime on earth. Thus he could live outside God’s presence unto all eternity. This is the manifestation of God’s love and respect for the unbeliever, for God does not force the unbeliever to believe and love HIM.

            On one hand, God graciously sustains, and does not insult the unbeliever. On the other hand, the unbeliever, by virtue of his freewill, could reject and abuse/insult God. This is the harsh theological contrast between God and the unbeliever as revealed in the Bible.   

            Given that God loves and respects the unbelieving man, the believer is required to love and respect his unbelieving brother/sister. This love and respect should transcend unbelief and abuse. (The unbeliever’s abuse being considered in this discussion is an abuse directed against God. This abuse does not harm or kill a fellow man.) This then is the primary motivation for the Christian to love the unbeliever and be tolerant of his abuses against God and HIS Word. 

Christians Would Not Harm The Unbeliever

            Historic Christianity has always been under the radar of the unbelievers, so much so history reveals an assortment of exotic and mundane criticisms against the God of the Bible, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Bible. In fact one can anticipate a tirade against historic Christianity around the dates of Christian holy occasions such as Christmas and Easter; the most recent being Newsweek’s assault against the Bible and the ad nauseam nonsensical allegation that Christ had married Mary Magdalene.

            The most recent denigrations of Christ and the Bible are similar to the denigration of Prophet Muhammad by Charlie Hebdo. To the best of my knowledge, Christians professing to historic Christianity did not respond violently against the sources of denigration of the Bible and the Lord Jesus.

            Hence it would be reasonable to conclude that Christians would not have responded in a violent manner against Charlie Hebdo had the satirical magazine published offensive material against historic Christianity.

            (The unbelievers’ attack in the context of this essay is not a physically violent aggression but an intellectual attack at the most. Therefore, when the attack is intellectual, the response ought to be intellectual as well. The intellectual response does not physically harm anyone.)

Was Charlie Hebdo Justified? Scope of Freedom of Expression

            Was Charlie Hebdo justified in publishing offensive caricatures of Prophet Muhammed? Did Charlie Hebdo act within the scope of freedom of expression?

            On one hand is an opinion that defends Charlie Hebdo’s freedom of expression that permits a rather limitless scope to offend anyone. Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, ostensibly defended Charlie Hebdo and spoke against the terrorist attack since it was against freedom of expression, ““It wasn’t just a terrorist attack about just trying to do some damage and make people afraid and hurt people. This was specifically about people’s freedom of expression and ability to say what they want,” said Zuckerberg.” 2

            On the other hand, Pope Francis advocated for a freedom of expression within a limit, ““There is a limit,” he said, speaking in Italian. “Every religion has its dignity. I cannot mock a religion that respects human life and the human person.”” 3

            Freedom within a limit could work well within a theistic worldview. Those subscribing to a theistic framework are expected to respect life and the contradictory religious worldview of a fellow human being. For instance, the love-your-neighbor mandate of Christianity prohibits murder or abuse of a fellow human being.

            But Charlie Hebdo brands itself as a satirical anti-religious publication. 4 Hence, one should expect tirades against religious views.

            What then is the scope of freedom of expression? A cursory look at God’s relationship with an unbeliever could pave way for a conducive human response against unreasonable anti-religious diatribes that offend religious sensitivities.

            Here is a classic case in point. The bulldog of atheism, Richard Dawkins, in his work The God Delusion, considers the God of the Bible as, “arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” Significantly, Dawkins attacks God. But how does God respond to Dawkins?

            Although Dawkins’ assault of God is exceptional, God graciously allows him to live and live well. Thereby God offers Dawkins a chance to repent and believe in the one true and living God.

            God allows man to abuse HIM rather endlessly. So the scope of freedom of expression seems limitless from God’s perspective but within one’s mortal existence. When God allows man to abuse HIM endlessly and mindlessly, could man introduce boundaries against religious diatribes?  

            From the perspective of respect of fellow humans and peace, I would not justify Charlie Hebdo’s attack on Islam. Having said this, we should recognize an apparently limitless freedom offered by God to an unbeliever.

            Although Pope’s idea of limited freedom of expression is wise, one cannot expect every anti-religious Tom, Dick and Harry to respect religious sensitivities. Therefore, those subscribing to a theistic framework should love and respect even those who abuse religious sensitivities.

Advocating Reasonable Response Against Attack On Religion

            When the assault against religion is in the form of a cartoon, shouldn’t the response also be on the same lines? A violent response that kills and harms lives cannot be justified under any condition.

            Thus we agree with Pope Francis that ““One cannot offend, make war, kill in the name of one’s own religion, that is, in the name of God,” Francis said. “To kill in the name of God is an aberration.”” 5

            Let us continue praying for a reasonable response – a response that does not maim or murder anyone - even when our religious sensitivities are mutilated. Amen.



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