Volume 91, Issue 23

Wednesday, October 8, 1997

glass houses


Society makes it difficult to pay speacial honours to God

Mike Veenema
UWO Christian Reformed Chaplain

Jews and Christians have in their scriptures a commandment that explicitly forbids trivialities the name of God. It is one of the Ten Commandments. I don't know if a similar command exists in the Muslim scriptures (I am a Christian). But it should not come as a surprise that Muslims would want to treat their God with the highest respect.

Yet, members of these faiths find themselves immersed in a culture that routinely makes light of their god(s). Why is this so?

The democratic impulse in our society makes it difficult to pay special honours to anyone. Prime ministers can be lampooned, presidents sued, monarchies ridiculed and god(s) made to look as intelligent as Homer Simpson.

That God is not exempt from such treatment is supported by our culture's annoyance with religion. In spite of the rhetoric about appreciating (major) religions, many would gladly see them disappear. Religions get in the way, they say, of building a unified country or university culture. Since the so-called Enlightenment of about 200 years ago we have seen religions marginalized, especially the one nearest at hand, Christianity. In such a climate it becomes acceptable to trivialize the gods of various religions.

No one ridicules assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy. No one trivializes the memory of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why not? It seems to me that the answer to this is simply that there are some who are so revered that we would be ashamed or embarrassed to make light of them. We would feel guilty if we did it inadvertently. We choose to exempt some people from the threat of lampoon. Why not God?

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that we don't exempt God from trivialization because we choose not take Him seriously. Jews, Christians and Muslims do take God seriously. That is why they grope for a way to speak against cartoonish depictions of Him. They (and I) take the command to treat God's name with the highest reverence seriously.

If an organization such as a university or those who produce its media want to cultivate an atmosphere where all are treated with dignity, something more than "freedom of expression" sloganeering and calls to lighten up will be needed. We will have to begin by understanding both what motivates adherents of religions and what cultural currents give us permission to act the way we do.

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Copyright The Gazette 1997