Thursday, February 09, 2006

How soon we forget

I've been reading the news about the editorial cartoons and the Muslim reaction, and then about the reaction of "the West" (in that monolithic sense).

Especially in the English speaking west, say the UK and the US, there seems to be a strong current of befuddlement about why Muslims find the cartoons offensive. CNN even has a little video entitled, "Why won't Muslims draw Mohammed's face?" (I may or may not have successfully managed the video link; if I didn't, or if it's time sensitive and goes empty fast, I apologize.)

As is obvious from my little side bar, I'm an early modernist Shakespeare type, so I tend to study early modern England, including that period of history when English protestants found graphic representations of prophets, saints (oh, yeah, especially saints!), and Jesus/God so threatening that they destroyed statues and paintings in fairly large numbers. This was a time when the stakes were high for religious belief in England, and subsequently among English colonists in the US, so people were punished severely for advocating the "wrong" beliefs.

I want to ask protestants, who make up a fairly large part of the US population, what they know about early protestantism.

And I want to ask them why so very many protestants are willing to put up Santa Claus images when their religious ancestors wouldn't allow any saintly images. All that "no craven images" stuff went where?

Why did protestants find representing God/Jesus on stage so threatening that they banned Corpus Christi dramas?

If we look back, I think we can find in our own history a sense of how threatening and dangerous graphic representations are, and maybe we should use some self-knowledge to temper our response to Muslim outrage?

My response isn't all that tempered, I'm afraid. Political cartoons and satire are supposed to challenge our ideas and understandings, our ideologies. Yes, they can be offensive. But they make us think, at least they should.

You want some really offensive material, go read Foxe's recounting of the deaths of Latimer and Ridley. Religious prosecution and hate sucks whether it's Catholic against protestant, protestant against Catholic, Christian against Jew, or Muslim against Christian.

(You know when you hear people try to put pain on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the worst you can imagine? 10 for me is Latimer and Ridley. If I have to be burned alive, please please please someone make sure my gunpowder necklace goes off fast!)


  1. Another religious persecution type of book is Foxes Book of Martyrs, of course the newer one has been cut so much you don't really get the hate. Or you could read the book of how to tell if your woman is a follower of satan and what to do if she is and all because we know women are more suseptible to ideas of the evil one. The cartoons, well I think people shouldn't use any cartoons of any kind to depict a bad image of another race, culture, or religion. I don't think it's worth killing over should someone do make a bad joke or cartoon, but people should be a little more sensitive, like you said these are testy times.

  2. Hey Zelda1, I totally agree that Foxe is also persecuting Catholics, and doing protestant propaganda. It's a wonderfully nasty read.

    I disagree about cartoons, though, since I think political cartoons are a form of critique that should make us think about things; we need more open public debate and critical thinking, and cartoons help provide a little of that.

  3. Ooh! This drives me NUTS!

    Whenever I talk about the Reformation generally or iconoclasm specifically, and the Protestant distrust of images comes up, I see heads nodding and looks of complacency in the classroom. Then I mention that many reformers would not permit even the representation of a cross--wearing one around your neck? totally idolatrous--and those same faces get very uncomfortable indeed.

    Now, I'm Catholic, but I really groove on the Reformation and I like and respect most of its ideals. I deeply respect many things about the Puritans. And it pisses me off no end that there are people in America today who would pay lip-service to the Reformers, and for what? You turned your back on some of the most breathtaking religious art ever created. . . but now you have cheesy, back-lit prints of Jesus in your homes, his face on t-shirts, those gawdawful books and DVDs, and you're claiming miraculous healings and signs and so on--NEWS FLASH: the age of miracles is past.

  4. La Lecturess,

    You're so right! I also get tired of people who try to shove their religion in my face and at the same time can't tell me how their sect understands the Eucharist or Baptism. And sometimes, they're so busy denouncing homosexuality, or any sexuality at all that they forget completely about things like greed and wrath.