I have been observing Pope Francis over the two years he's been in office and have admired him almost from the beginning. The other day I finally sat down with my yellow pad and wrote out some thoughts which Uni and I discussed. Uni types them and publishes them on the blog. She had not yet done so when not long after this, she awoke me from napping during the evening news. She informed me that I might not want to publish the post I had written; Francis had just said some things I may not like.
Well we got online and found his comments about the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. Though he had previously condemned the act of violence, he now apparently felt that he needed to do a little "blame the victim." And though he seemed to be attempting to be congenial, he rather came across as crude.
Some of his talk: "You have an obligation to speak openly. We have that freedom. But without causing offense. It's true we cannot react violently, but if Dr. Gasbarri here, a great friend, would say something insulting against my mother, a punch awaits him. But it's normal ... You cannot make provocations. You cannot insult people's faith. There is a limit ..."
So is Francis correct? If so, is he justifying the behavior of the Islamic terrorists? Is he making the religious views of others off limits for satire? Much of our humor in America seems to be composed of just that.
Perhaps he has forgotten that many Christians, including Roman Catholics are suffering, even being put to death in Moslem lands. Their crime? Blasphemy - insulting the Prophet Muhammad by claiming that Jesus is greater than he.
Or has he forgotten that during the Middle Ages and the Reformation, those of his own church tortured and put many to death for speaking out against them? Is he justifying their actions? And yes, Roman Catholics suffered at the hands of zealous Protestants?
Or perhaps he has not read of the Old Testament prophets who mocked the competing "faiths" of their day? Isaiah draws a verbal cartoon that is definitely a lampoon of the idol worshippers of his day:"The ironsmith takes a cutting tool ... The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man ... He cuts down cedars or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak ... Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat ... And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, 'Deliver me, for you are my God!' ... No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, 'Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?'" (Isaiah 44:12-19 - ESV)
There are plenty more where this came from! Of course, the prophets frequently suffered the same kind of holy wrath that the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo suffered.
Move into the New Testament. How about John the Baptist referring to the religious people of his day as a "nest of snakes"? (Matthew 3:7) Wasn't he mocking their faith?
And then Jesus used that same expression at least twice on those same religious people (Matthew 12:34; 23:33). In fact, the first 33 verses of Matthew 23 are filled with scathing pictures of those religious people of Jesus' day - the same religion that Jesus belonged to! The hyperbole and metaphors He uses bring up pictures in the readers' minds that could be perceived as cartoons." ... they make their phylacteries (Scripture boxes they wore on their foreheads and wrists) broad and their fringes long" (Matthew 23:5).
" ... you travel all over land and sea to make one convert and whenever he converts you make him into twice the son of hell you are" (verse 15).
" ... blind guides ... " (verse 16). Elsewhere He says, " ... if the blind guides the blind, they'll both fall in the ditch!" (15:14).
" ... straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel" (23:24).
" ... you clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence!" (verse 25).
And of course we know where this kind of sarcasm got Jesus.
I've been warned by nice people of all persuasions - fundamentalists, atheists and others in between - that sarcasm and satire should not be used, that it signifies a weak argument or that it is hurtful. Sometimes I simply reply, "Tell it to Jesus" or "Read the Bible" or "Read any good literature."
Our American culture is filled with sarcasm, satire and lampooning. Admittedly much of it may seem crude and tasteless, though you may want to read Ezekiel 16, where Israel is compared to an old whore who is so undesirable that she has to pay her "lovers."
In many ways the cartoonists and late-night comedians of today fill in the space that was once occupied by the prophets. They point out to us the hypocrisies and inconsistencies of our politicians, pundits and preachers. Most of their sarcasm is spent not on our faith but upon its practitioners, and much of the time we deserve it and could even learn from it. Sometimes they seem to understand the requirements of our faith better than we do.
I even attempt satire at times, though apparently I'm not succeeding very well; I've received no death threats!