Blasphemy is in the news. Mocking God has been a non-issue, at least in Western civil society, for nearly one hundred years. A combination of Enlightenment thought, joined with a correct understanding of what Jesus taught about church-state and one’s public and private actions, helped to rid the West of barbaric attempts to enforce respect for God. Now, the issue blasphemy is all about violent Muslim reaction to cartoon portrayals of the prophet Muhammad. The outcry from the West is strong. Freedom of speech is our highest value, so it seems. Religion is a private affair and of no concern to the public in general.
But is religion simply a private idea? Isn’t the worship of the true God, and living in obedience to his law, our highest ideal as Christians? And to raise that age-old problem we Western Christians face every day: “How does our faith properly intersect with public policy and practice?” Mercatornet (www.mercatornet.com) editor Michael Cook argued in “Blasphemy, Protest and Freedom” (February 10, 2006) that Christians, of all people, should be able to open dialogue with Islam about this issue. We should not be antagonistic, suspicious or unforgiving Cook argues. Why? Our faith provides “a philosophical and theological framework to establish a dialogue with Muslims. It knows how to live with blasphemy without slaying the blasphemer.”
Is he right? I believe so. There has been no violence, for many decades, from Christians responding to shows of public blasphemy. Yes, we discipline our own flocks, if we are wise and biblical, but we do not discipline the general public. Several have cited the Christian response to Dan Brown’s blasphemous book The Da Vince Code. We have protested, argued and written our deeply felt response to this positively terrible book. And when the movie appears in May do not expect Christians to fire-bomb theaters.
Michael Cook correctly argues that “Christianity is supple and adaptive.” I think he hits the nail on the head. Islam may become such a faith in time but right now it finds this response difficult, especially as it clashes with others in the modern world. We need to invite this to happen and the right way to do it requires respect, even though we abominate the horror and present reaction. Surely those who are called to be “peacemakers” can offer such a response in the midst of violent culture clash.