Tuesday, September 25, 2012

To Protest or Not to Protest?

In 1988, Martin Scorcese released a movie entitled The Last Temptation of Christ, based on a novel of the same title by Nikos Kazantzakis.  This movie, from its pre-production period in 1983 to after its release, earned the dubious honor of being a flashpoint against popular culture depicting Jesus in a less than acceptable way, according to certain Evangelical ministers and organizations, and the Catholic Church.  I've been thinking about this movie a lot lately because of the virulent Muslim protest against a video on YouTube that depicts the Prophet Mohammed and includes anti-Islam dialogue.  Both Scorcese's movie and the YouTube video each depict an ancient religious leader crucial to each religion -- Jesus to Christianity, Mohammed to Islam.  The protests against Scorcese's movie were minor and peaceful by comparison to the demonstrations that have spread across the Middle East against the YouTube video.

A huge difference exists in the intent of each of the filmmakers, and perhaps that explains the huge difference in the character of the demonstrations.  Scorcese, like the Greek novelist Kazantzakis, worked to illuminate the life of Jesus in a way that could make him more human to a modern audience and therefore easier to relate to.  Jesus was both human and divine -- but how was he human?  Was it only in his physical form and psychology, or did he also struggle with an emotional life and the experiences of being human?  How did he feel about being both human and divine?  Would being human be the ultimate temptation preventing him from fulfilling his divinity?  These are all valid questions beautifully explored in Scorcese's movie.  But Evangelical and Catholic Christians objected to any depiction of Jesus enjoying an ordinary human life, including sexuality and marriage.  No God of the Christians can have sex and marry, but must be celibate and single.

(Karen L. King 2012)

In the last week, the news media has reported on television and in news magazines (I saw an article in Time) about a fragment of papyrus on which is written in Sahidic Coptic what appears to be a conversation by Jesus of Nazareth talking about family and discipleship.  The small papyrus piece doesn't contain the entire conversation but a small piece that includes Jesus quoted as saying, "My wife...."  Karen L. King of Harvard Divinity School, who translated the papyrus fragment, believes this is the "first known statement that explicitly claims Jesus had a wife."  But she also goes on to put the fragment into the context of the fourth century culture in which it was written, in a Christian society that was struggling to understand sexuality and marriage within their belief system.  Isn't that what is happening on earth right now?  I'm waiting for the protests to begin, to be honest, against Ms. King, against the papyrus fragment, and against anyone who might agree that it's reasonable to expect a 30-something Jewish man living during the same time as Jesus to have a sex life and either be married or want to be married, so why not Jesus, too.  

As I understand it, for believers in Islam, it is forbidden to depict the Prophet Mohammed, either in a picture, with words in text, or in a movie (I've decided not to illustrate this post with stills from the YouTube video).  To do so is to disrespect Islam in the most profound way.  (Christians have no such prohibition regarding Jesus.)  I would guess that most Christians share ignorance about this prohibition, and those same Christians probably wouldn't want to do it anyway.  The YouTube video, from everything that I've heard on television and subsequently read in the media, was produced by a Coptic Christian producer who bamboozled his actors and crew into making a movie with the working title "Desert Warrior" and then took the finished footage and dubbed anti-Muslim dialogue over the original dialogue.  He clearly intended to make an anti-Muslim movie.  Some of the actors, understandably angry, are suing the producer who posted about 14 min. of the footage on YouTube.  What was he thinking?  I mean, really.  What was that producer thinking?  His actions bring into question his intelligence, his producing experience, and his motivations for doing the movie.

(From Wikipedia.com)
I've not seen the YouTube video.  I have no desire to see it.  But I'm wondering if perhaps the producer couldn't be prosecuted here in America for a hate crime, i.e. producing a hate-filled movie against Muslims, to incite hatred against Muslims, as well as the civil prosecutions related to the breach of contracts with his cast and crew.  From what I've seen, heard and read about the protests his video sparked in the Middle East, I tend to think the Muslim protestors over-reacted.  But then there are reports on television that perhaps terrorists or extremists had either used the protests as an excuse to make their own violent statements or to escalate the protests into violence.  Either notion makes sense to a certain extent.  As a result, I tend to agree with Fareed Zakaria in his Time article, "A Moment for Moderates," that moderate Muslims need to have a stronger voice and more influence over Muslim society.  The protestors are actually giving Islam a very bad name.  Who'd want to be part of a religion that flies off the handle violently and irrationally when someone outside their religion attacks their beliefs?

I'm trying to understand.  One of the things I do not understand is the lack of compassion and understanding on the part of the Muslims for the ignorance of those outside their religion.  Hate fighting hate only produces more hate.  Violence fighting violence only produces more violence.  Neither is the way to live in a world full of different belief systems and cultures.  And where are the moderates?  Why has this situation not been grasped as a teachable moment by Muslims rather than a moment to react violently?

Don't you ever wonder: will any human being ever make it to Heaven considering how human life on this planet proceeds?  We have not yet learned how to defang our fears so they don't grow into hatred.  We have not learned effective communication at all levels of human society in every country.  We have not learned well just how connected we all are, and that hurting someone else is the same thing as hurting oneself.  Is Humanity stuck in a loop, doomed to repeat over and over the same thinking, beliefs, and behavior without question?  Hatred does not really feel good, and once the object of the hatred has been destroyed, there is no satisfaction, no relief, no accomplishment.  Destruction of the hated object or person cannot relieve the hater of his hatred and fear.  Only the hater can do that by facing himself and his beliefs.

I wish it were as easy as saying, "Enough already!"  But anything worthwhile requires a supreme effort..... 

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