Okay. First: Laura, I get that you’re upset and hurt and angry about this, and I want you to know that I don’t want that. So I’m going to try to say what I have to say, as best as possible, in a way that doesn’t exacerbate it.
How can I do this?
Let me start by making a comparison. You’re a grassroots progressive Democrat, and a pretty ardent, practicing one. You probably see and hear people making fun of Democrats and progressives on a daily basis, calling you (among other things) stupid and crazy, and worse. And I’m sure you get ticked off at this sometimes, especially when you think the jokes are inaccurate or mean-spirited.
But you don’t get angry at the very idea that people would make fun of Democrats and call them stupid or crazy or other bad names. Not this angry, anyway. (At least, I assume you don’t. Weâve talked about politics many times, and I’ve never heard you get as angry or as hurt as you seem to be about the Blasphemy Challenge.) You accept that that’s part of the public conversation about politics.
I’d like to ask you to look at religion in the same way.
Religions are (most of them, anyway) an idea about the world: a theory about how the world works, and a philosophy about how the world should work. And as such, it should be part of the public discourse, part of the marketplace of ideas — no different than any other ideas about the world, and treated with the same level of respect and/or irreverence.
Right now, this country is having a public conversation about religion, in a way that, as far as I’m aware, it never really has. And part of that conversation is going to involve people making mean, snarky jokes, both about the ideas and about the people who hold them. I personally wish more atheists would be more careful about aiming their jibes at Christianity rather than ChristiansâŠ but you know, I’m not always careful about making fun of Republicanism rather than Republicans, and I don’t think it’s the crime of the century.
And I don’t think it’s fair to be more angry at people who are childish and insulting about your religion than you would be about people who are childish and insulting about your politics.
Or, for that matter, people who are childish and insulting about the politics you oppose. Speaking for myself, some of my favorite pieces of social commentary are sometimes childish and insulting. South Park, Beavis and Butt-Head — very often childish and insulting. The Simpsons, Monty Python — not infrequently childish and insulting. The Daily Show, The Colbert Report — yeah, sometimes. I think if we’re going to accept this type of social commentary when it works in our favor, we have to accept it when it’s aimed at us.
You’re upset because many of the Blasphemy Challenge people treat Christianity as a joke, make fun of it — sometimes disrespectful, mean-spirited, not very nice fun. I’m not sure how to say this in a nice wayâŠ but this is kind of what I’m talking about when I talk about religion getting a free ride in the marketplace of ideas. Making fun of people is a respected, time-honored form of public discourse in this country. Making fun of big, powerful institutions — of which Christianity is most assuredly one — is an even more respected, even more time-honored tradition. I’m sure Republicans and other folks get upset when Jon Stewart makes fun of them and calls them stupid and crazy. Tough beans. That’s life in the big city.
And I really think we need to start looking at religious ideas the same way.
So that’s the big issue. Now a couple of somewhat smaller, more specific points.