I didn’t write a post yesterday because I was unsure I could add anything much to the discussions. On the one hand, there is no doubt that the murders ought to be condemned in the strongest terms, and I think everyone wants the murderers caught and brought to justice.
On the other, I was uncomfortable with the “je suis Charlie” meme, because, as several people said on Facebook and elsewhere, no, I am not Charlie. I may defend the freedom of the press and believe to the core of my being that no one should ever be killed for writing (or drawing) something unpleasant about someone else’s deeply-held religious beliefs. But I didn’t particularly like the examples I saw of Charlie Hebdo’s anti-Catholic writings and illustrations either. What it boils down to for me is this: you may have the right to create deeply offensive anti-Catholic or anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim speech (written or visual), and no one has the right to stop you or threaten you for doing so. But I also have the right to find that sort of speech rather reprehensible and juvenile. I think we can all agree that it is heroic and noble for people living in Islamic states to stand up against Islamic fundamentalism, often risking their lives to do so (see: Malala Yousafzai). To the extent that creating anti-Muslim speech, even offensive examples of it, involves standing up against Islamic fundamentalism I think we can see a similar sort of heroism, but that doesn’t mean we have to like the actual speech involved in every instance.
Combing through these sort of nuances in the aftermath of tragedy is a human thing to do, though I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that prayer for the victims and their families ought to take precedence over such things. But combing through these sort of nuances is a far cry from being told (as some have reported) that, after all, Christians react with violence when anti-Christian stuff gets said, or that even if it’s not really “violence,” Christians used to punish blasphemy with murders just as heinous as what happened in France so no Christian has the right to criticize any Islamic fundamentalist, ever.
And here I thought that old corollary of mine had served its purpose years ago.
Years ago, frustrated at the turn a discussion at Rod Dreher’s old Beliefnet blog had taken along those very lines, I dashed off this little thing:
Manning’s Corollary to Godwin’s Law: In any online conversation about an incident of violence perpetrated by adherents of Islamic fundamentalism, the conversation will inevitably devolve into claims that Christians commit the same type and degree of violent acts, regardless of how demonstrably false that is; further, the claim will be made that past historical violence involving Christians means that present-day Christians are morally incapable of denouncing current violence involving Muslims.
If I had it to do over, I’d try to be less wordy. I’d probably fail, but at least I’d try.
That aside, though, the depressing thing is that there still seem to be an awful lot of people who honestly believe that Hobby Lobby going to the Supreme Court in order not to be forced to pay for other people’s abortifacients or contraceptives is exactly the same thing as armed terrorists walking into the office of a satirical weekly paper and shooting and killing twelve people and wounding several more. Or they honestly believe that because Christians in ages past fought actual wars against actual Muslims, no Christian today has the moral standing to point to the murder of twelve people and say, “That is wrong, and heinous, and those responsible must be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
How did this happen? How is it that so many Americans seem convinced that you can use the phrase “Christian atrocities” as if this is some sort of current, present, ongoing problem? How is it that some commenters regularly use the term “Christianist” to mean “fundamentalist Christians who, if not restrained by the Enlightenment and the secular state, would probably go around shooting and killing everybody they disagree with too?”
Most Christians I know, for one notable example, think that the Westboro Baptist Church people are totally vile and not Christ-like at all, and we strongly repudiate their words and their tactics whenever the opportunity to do so arises. But the Westboro Baptist Church’s “fundamentalist terrorism” amounts to: protesting. That’s it. Showing up at inopportune times in totally inappropriate ways to hold up badly-written signs and say uncouth and mean stuff. Yet when you get into an online discussion about Islamic fundamentalists who just, you know, killed twelve people there’s nearly always sure to be someone sputtering, “But...but Christianists! But...but you guys do this stuff too! But...but Westboro Baptist Church...” as if the sanity-challenged folks protesting outside funerals are exactly the same as people who bomb or gun down or behead or otherwise kill people.
Again: how did this happen?
We could blame the media, or we could blame the current state of public education, or we could blame secularism generally, or we could point to pop culture or the currently-irreligious level of society, and all of those things could be part of it. Myself, though, I think it runs deeper. I’ve heard too many people, online and in real life, lump Judaism, Christianity, and Islam together as if all three were basically the same religion and as if all three were equally falsified by a “proper” understanding of the “real” world. To people who hold that view, the only reason Christians don’t go around killing anybody who disagrees with us today is because we’re restrained by modernism--and that if modernism’s restraints slip even the tiniest bit, all Christians will receive some sort of “marching orders” that will incite us to wage war against those who don’t accept our beliefs--because this, they honestly believe, is how Christians lived up until the modern era.
And people who believe this not only don’t understand Christianity; they also don’t understand Islam. They tend to think that the way to “fix” Islamic fundamentalism is to import modernity and secularism until the Islamic fundamentalists quit killing those who disagree with them and start begging for blue jeans and condoms. They think that just as Christians could be weaned away from our “murderous” ways by an inundation of bread and circuses, or fast-food and infotainment, so, too, can Islamic fundamentalists--some of whom are fighting the same wars they’ve been fighting for six hundred years. And just as the people who believe Christians=Muslims are wrong about Christians, who in following Jesus Christ were told to put away their swords, turn the other cheek, etc., so are they wrong about fundamentalist Muslim terrorists, who believe they are serving God and his prophet when they kill unbelievers, and who aren’t likely to change that view just because reruns of Friends are being streamed into their homes.
When an attack as horrible and evil as the one launched against Charlie Hebdo occurs, it’s disheartening to have to drag out that old corollary again. Because one would think that the repeated acts of violence and terror by fundamentalist Islamic terrorists would show not only that these terrorists are unlike Christians but also that they are unlike the many good Muslims in the world who reject these violent acts in the strongest of terms. Alas, to many in our country, the only difference between a “Christianist” and a fundamentalist Islamic terrorist is that the “Christianist” lives in an enlightened nation that keeps him from shooting his neighbors for their unbelief.