Violent protests have broken out in many parts of the world–from Western Europe (France) to West Africa (Niger) to Central Asia (Pakistan)–as Muslims have reacted to the publication of a now infamous cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Yeah, Charlie Hebdo. You’ve heard of it. It got me thinking about what the difference is between the Christian and Muslim ethic for responding to blasphemy.
*For the non-religious, consider it a study in comparative religions.
For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:19-21
Non-religious or barely-religious people may have a hard time understanding how inflammatory something like a cartoon can be for a religious person. The Charlie Hebdo cartoons are doubly awful because not only do they portray the Prophet in a highly offensive way, but the portrayal itself is offensive. That is, it violates Islamic law which forbids the visual representation of God’s Messenger, lest the faithful be tempted to worship someone other than God. We in the West can all believe in free speech, but that doesn’t obligate anyone to suppress their other ideals in order to respond neutrally to us. Just like you might believe in non-violence, until someone tries to assault your child. We hold some of our loves more dearly than others.
What if the cartoon had been of Jesus instead of Muhammad? Well, of course, we all know how plentiful the blasphemous depictions of Christ are in our era. Mocking Christianity is fair game everywhere. I’ve noticed, as a college student, it actually seems to be the only religion that anyone can mock at any time without violating social sensitivities (on a university campus).
How ought a Christian deal with such mockery? Shut up and deal with it, you deserve it–so would say lots of folks I know. Well, something like that is actually the biblical perspective on the question.
Peter, one of Jesus’ best friends, said that it is a “gracious thing” to endure abuse and offensive remarks when you are mindful of God and the sufferings of Christ. Jesus himself said to rejoice when anyone mocks your love for God, since all saints in all ages have been mocked for the same thing. So the Christian ethic is: endure, rejoice, stay quiet, do not retaliate, respond only with kindness and humility. Don’t protest in the streets; don’t file lawsuits; don’t react in kind with sarcasm or insults. Imitate the silent suffering of Christ as he was led to the cross. It is not the Christian’s job to vindicate God. He will surely vindicate himself. Rather, it is the Christian’s job to funnel the Holy Spirit to the world by suffering abuse with love and patience.
So the Christian ethic is again supremely unique in a world where even the enlightened rationalists and the devoted faithful fail to see to the heart of the matter. The expectation for Christians is always modeled after Christ himself, which is what Peter says just after his exhortation:
He [Jesus] committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 1 Peter 2:22-23
Christian friends, may we live this out so that the beauty of Jesus may become clear to anyone paying attention.