Bumper-sticker wisdom is inherently simplistic, but seldom more obviously so than in the artistic use of several religious symbols to spell “coexist.” Living in peace is one thing, but the underlying message – that all faiths are equally valid – is laughable to anyone with even an elementary grasp of their can't-all-be-true doctrines.
Which brings us to the religion of peace, whose defenders – when they were not praying – did God's work this week by burning the American flag, ransacking U.S. embassies and killing several diplomats, including the ambassador who had supposedly just helped make Libya safe for democracy.
Whether the atrocities were planned by organized terrorists to coincide with the 11th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks or were committed by mobs outraged by a heretofore obscure American film about the prophet Muhammad is, in a sense, beside the point. The degree to which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and others sought to mollify Muslims even before the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and others indicates they don't believe all religions are the same.
Coming from the secretary of state of a president who once mocked Americans who “cling to guns and God” and wants to force churches to pay for abortions, Hillary Clinton's condemnation of “efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims” raises an obvious if politically incorrect question:
Is there something unique to Islam that requires a high-ranking government official to apologize for a film produced by private American citizens?
Even granting for the sake of argument that the movie should not have been made as a matter of simple politeness, Mrs. Clinton's attempt to diffuse the situation was as striking in its theological implications as it was unsuccessful.
When it comes to offensive “art,” after all, no religion has been targeted the way Christianity has been – often subsidized by the very government that has just officially deplored “any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others.”
From Andres Serrano's “Piss Christ” (a crucifix in urine) to Chris Ofili's portrait of the Virgin Mary covered in elephant dung to Terrence McNally’s “Corpus Christi” play, which was performed at IPFW several years ago and depicts Christ as the “King of Queers,” Christians have been no less offended or outraged than Muslims, even though their responses have tended to be far less violent.
Mrs. Clinton's condemnation of religious intolerance was appropriate, but do Muslims really love their God more than members of other faiths love theirs? Or does the widespread sensitivity to hurt Muslim feelings – remember how most newspapers refused to publish Danish anti-Muslim cartoons that sparked deadly riots in 2006? – illustrate a fundamental difference between Islam and other faiths?
I'll not attempt to characterize any religion but my own, but I do suspect that Christ's message of turning the other cheek and loving even your enemies has something to do with Christians' relatively benign response to provocation – just as it invites abuse from people who believe they have little to fear.
Do “Christians” do horrible things? Sadly, yes. But, in contemporary times at least, how many of those acts are committed in the name of God by organized groups or nations? Even the insanely homophobic members of the Westboro Baptist Church, who regularly picket the funerals of slain servicemen and women, aren't waging an anti-gay jihad. In fact, they are widely and correctly condemned by the vast majority of Christians for perverting the very faith they claim to cherish.
There are, certainly, Muslims who condemn what happened this week. But their public voices are neither particularly forceful nor plentiful. Does the bulk of Islam sympathize with Stevens' killers or are they, too, afraid of the degree to which their faith has been hijacked? Silence invites suspicion.
The antidote to the denigration of religion is not for Christians to become more violently militant. As I wrote following the “cartoon riots” in 2006, the answer lies in the very Western notions the radicals find so distasteful: “When we allow others to speak, worship and vote – even though we do not agree with their words, god or choices – we ensure our liberty as well.”
Liberty should not be confused with license, but as much as I reject blasphemous art and government subsidy of it, still more do I reject the perceived need to apologize for or limit the freedoms that allowed it to be produced. Those who truly believe an all-powerful god is on their side should not feel the need to smite heretics or infidels on his behalf.