An Argument for Secular Government
Last Sunday on Meet the Press, Chuck Todd interviewed Gerard Biard, new editor of Charlie Hebdo. Condolences were expressed, and concern for the living staff, those still hospitalized, and those wondering why they escaped injury and what they can do for their colleagues.
In the midst of this, Charlie Hebdo published its’ largest edition ever, 3,000,000 copies compared to a normal run of 60,000.
That’s quite an accomplishment, really, in the face of such shock, grief and upset. The magazine had been warned before to stop the pictorial depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in its cartoons and had received death threats. The now-deceased editor responded that he would rather die standing than to give up the principles of Charlie Hebdo.
I checked out the cartoons, and learned Charlie Hebdo is an equal opportunity satirist. Along with the gruesomely offensive cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad, nude on his hands and knees, with something dripping from one of his organs, I found a depiction of the Catholic Holy Trinity. This charming cartoon depicted all three members of the Trinity engaged in a sexual act with each other.
Living in a society which considers some of these depictions pornographic, and where such pictures would not normally be made public, I was a little shocked. Europe is different from the United States, though. I remember watching a news show on television – when stranded in the Czech Republic after 9/11 – in which all the characters and reporters were nude. I was a little shocked then, too, although very amused, but Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons certainly border on the offensive, even in the present day.
The new editor surprised me then, with the most moving and clear explanation of the mission of this little magazine that I could ever imagine. That mission for which a number of people worked fearlessly, and for which they gave their lives…what an amazing group, and what a mission.
The mission of Charlie Hebdo is to applaud secularism in government, freedom of expression and democracy, and to fight against politicizing of religion.
Charlie Hebdo is fighting for secularism in government. That means a government like that of the United States. In these governments, religious ideology – Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist or any other – has no place. That doesn’t mean people who create and run these governments should not act upon their principles, often derived from their religious beliefs. It means government laws should not be religious laws.
That’s how it should be throughout the world. It’s easy to see this when the religious ideology leads to stoning of raped women, or 1,000 lashes and 10 years in prison for writing your opinion, judges as apostasy. It’s not so easy when it’s an ideology of fundamentalist Christianity in the United States.
That’s because, if your government is based on a religion and it’s not your religion, your freedom to follow your beliefs is inevitably compromised.
What should happen in government is that it should get out of the way of religious expression. The rights of all should be protected.
Charlie Hebdo’s editor said they only satirize religions that have been politicized, that they’re not against religion itself. I believe him, and I applaud the brave people who write for this magazine.
Though right after the brutal murders in Paris is a difficult time to mention this, there may be a line somewhere that those of us who believe in free expression should draw. It may have been funny, but it’s highly questionable behavior to create a movie speculating about the actual assassination of a currently ruling head of state, no matter how looney Kim Jung Un appears to us. Charlie Hebdo could consider making their point without the extremes of vulgarity and disrespect they display in their cartoons. That would be my choice.
That doesn’t for one minute justify terrorism. The only appropriate response to being offended would be to stop buying the magazine or watching the offensive movie. Maybe a boycott or a peaceful protest would be a more appropriate response.
That would be freedom. That’s what we all should be standing for.