As a born-again agnostic, I tend to feel I have a nice, neutral, outsider’s perspective on religions in general. And I find myself completely befuddled about the way certain faiths are covered in the media.
For example, currently in Iran those who do not abide by the strictest tenets of Islamist laws are being arrested, beaten, humiliated, and probably killed by agents of the government.
Last week, Muslims around the world held violent protests over the Queen of England’s knighting of Salman Rushdie, threatening a wave of terrorism against the United Kingdom for daring to bestow a rather meaningless honor on this most dangerous of people, a writer. (Rushdie now stands among the ranks of the valiant alongside such fierce warriors as Bill Gates, Dame Edna, Elton John and Stephen Hawking.)
This was very reminiscent of the uproar the publication of cartoons of Mohammed in Danish newspapers and riots over Newsweek’s utterly bogus report of a Koran being flushed down a toilet at Guantanamo — except this time, it appears no one was killed.
Sir Salman’s dubbing reminds us all that he has been living under a death sentence for almost twenty years for simply writing a book that a lot of people didn’t like. (Most of whom didn’t even read it — lord knows I tried once — and a good chunk of whom couldn’t read it if it was put in front of them.) But that is sufficient to merit his killing, sanctioned by numerous Islamic scholars and at least one state.
On the other hand, just how are other religions treated in the news?
Well, hardly a day goes by that we are not reminded that former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is a Mormon. I’m sorry, that’s not correct — he’s a MORMON. And his great-grandfather was a polygamist. Somehow, discussing the actions of one candidate’s great-grandfather, who died 43 years before the candidate was born is worth repeated accounts, but to discuss the actions of another candidate’s husband (who just happens to be the most recent former president) is considered in bad taste.
Chastity among teens is considered by most people a good thing. (The dissenting opinion is most often held by those teens who feel constrained by the chastity.) A large number of movements have arisen to encourage this sort of thing, many of them faith-based. The effectiveness of these groups is open to debate, but few would quibble with their intent.
Some of those who would quibble, it seems, don’t like the idea of faith being used to justify anything, even something as laudable as preventing teen pregnancies. And in that spirit, they’re banning the emblems of one of those movements — a silver ring.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas now reigns. Hamas, the group that won the last round of Palestinian elections. Hamas, the group that has enshrined in its charter its goal of exterminating the state of Israel and replacing it with an Islamist state. Hamas, which in its charter eschews any negotiations, compromise, or any other potential solution short of total military victory.
Well, after helping to make Gaza Judenrein, someone noted that there were some other non-Muslims in the area. A couple thousand Christians call that hellhole home, and they might have thought they would be allowed to live in peace.
Closer to home, in Oakland, California, the city has traditionally allowed employees to use their e-mail to organize groups around their interests — even political ones. Then some foolish Christians (who forgot that in such places, they are third-class citizens at best) tried to get together over matters of their common faith. They got slapped down hard — even threatened with summary firings — for daring to state their faith alongside calls for gay rights rallies, pro-choice causes, and other, more acceptable actions.
It occurs to me that Christians are lucky that they constitute a majority in this country. Banning them from wearing religiously-associated jewelry and threatening their jobs for expressing their faith are bold enough attacks — if they didn’t have the numbers on their side, they could end up here much like their brethren in Gaza.
I think I’ll stick to my agnosticism for now. My apologies to my dear friend Candy, one of the most devout Christians I’ve ever met, but I have enough people who don’t like me already.
And it’s also good for the media that the Christians are, generally, a peaceful sort nowadays. They media has already shown its willingness to be cowed by threats of violence by religious sorts (thank you, Islam); if Christians were still into that sort of thing, I bet we’d be seeing a whole lot of journalists being burned at the stake.