CULTS, CULTURES AND CARTOONS
I understand that the Islamic religion forbids any image of Mohammed. There is an artistic rendering of Mohammed, along with others possessing great legal minds, on the portals of the Supreme Court. This, I am told, caused the Muslims to request that the artistic image be removed, but the Supreme Court justices refused, because Mohammed was considered to be a base for our legal system, along with the other fellows portrayed.
Of course, a cartoon is a bit different than an artistic rendering. In our culture, cartoons are a way of life. They lampoon everything and everyone, and no political or religious figure is exempt. Our cartoonists are beautifully creative when it comes to throwing political darts and sometimes it is just downright funny, even if you may disagree with their politics.
Cartoons can also be amazingly poignant. After John F. Kennedy's untimely and violent death, who could forget that drawing of Abraham Lincoln's statue bent over in grief?
We have cartoons. We have comic strips. We have comics who come on television at night and literally shred our politicians, our presidents, our foibles, our lifestyles. We love them, from Jay Leno to Letterman to Jon Stewart. Why? Because they are funny, they are fearless, and they brook no nonsense. Nothing, they feel, is sacred. Everything is fair game for their pointed humor.
So, to watch those hordes of people, storming and screaming, dressed in their sheet-like robes and brandishing posters, protesting a cartoon, a mere drawing on a sheet of newsprint, is almost inconceivable to the American mind. Why the fuss? We ask ourselves this, with a total lack of understanding of the whole affair.
Yet, I have to backtrack here somewhat. Remember, years ago, when the Beatles first arrived in the United States? They appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, a wildly popular entertainment series hosted by the stone-faced newsman, Sullivan, who also introduced at least half of Elvis Presley to the populace. The bottom half was banned from the cameras, since Presley wiggled a bit too much for the horrified parents of the teens who loved him. If only a wiggling bottom were all we had to worry about today!
Anyway, here came the Beatles, John, Paul, Ringo and George, with their Prince Valiant bangs and their unusual, inspiring music. The young girls went into a tailspin. Our British guests were idolized and mobbed. And John Lennon, that scamp, made the remark that they were "more popular than Jesus", which described the commotion around him quite graphically.
What a furror! There were angry protests and boycotts of Beatle records! Indignant letters were written to editors! The Beatles were told they had worn out their welcome and should return to Britain.
Years later, the same thing happened to the Dixie Chicks because one of them declared to the British that she was ashamed that George Bush hailed from her home state, Texas. There was the same furor, the same indignation......which has nothing to do with the Cartoon problem, but proves that history repeats itself.
However, no matter how indignant were our Christians that John Lennon had dared make that remark, stating that HE, a lowly rock singer, was as popular as Jesus, we Americans restrained ourselves to bitter protests. We did not gather in huge hordes, make up posters, and demand that the Queen of England be beheaded.
So, when push comes to shove...and whatever that means is beyond me.... I guess Americans get a little shook up if their primary religion is attacked, just like the Muslims in the Middle East. And, I think you also have to remember that the Muslim anger is also fueled by resentment over the War in Iraq, loyalty to their terrorist sons, brothers, cousins, etc., and also by the problems between Arabs and Jews.
It's a tumultous world, today's universe, and it is a frightening sight to see an unruly mob storming down the streets, setting fires, destroying things, demanding retaliation. And all because of a cartoon!
I frequently think that the world might be a better place if there were no religion in it at all. With apologies to those with devout faith, it seems as though religion has caused a hell of a lot of trouble in this world. If there were only one religion, it might be different, but there are so many different religions, and so many different divisions within the different religions. It is a huge mishmash and beyond comprehension.
I once read a book about the South Pacific islands and, evidently, even in today's world, there are some tribes still practicing cannibalism in these remote places. And there you can find what is called the Cargo cults, where the natives believe that material goods will rain from the Heavens on some gloriously sunny day. One of those cults is called the Jon Frum religion. The natives believe that someday, from the sky, a tremendous shower of material wealth will flow downward, showering them with refrigerators, stoves, clothing, jewelry, etc.
It is thought that, at some time or other, an American or British pilot may have landed briefly on the island and somehow made friends with the natives, introducing himself as John from Pennsylvania...or John from London. Thus, the Jon Frum Cult may have had its birth.
Can we say our own faith is any different than the natives waiting for Jon Frum? Every religion has its belief in reward and punishment. Every religion brings forth deep emotions and deep resentments, as well as a protective anger that indignantly responds to nonbelievers.
So, as the Middle East erupts in violent upheaval because of a Danish cartoon that poked fun at a religious icon, we have a chance to sit and mull over the true meaning of faith. Should it be enmeshed with anger....like twin emotions forever entwined? Faith, a tree covered with the entangled vines of indignation and violence, like Spanish Moss dripping from a Live Oak and eventually killing its host? Or should true faith bring out the best in humankind, promoting love and mercy and all of the virtues man is capable of feeling?
Most religions claim they are based on principles of love and mercy. Few display these qualities. Perhaps it would be better for all of us if there were no religions, no churches, no gatherings, no cathedrals, no temples, no mosques. Just complete freedom to believe in whatever entity you choose to believe in, untrammeled by anger, indignation, violence or bloodshed. Would it be better for everyone?
I don't know the answer to this, but I do know we should ask ourselves the question and study the values of our beliefs, each and every one of us.