Fighting censorship by dissing Muhammad

It just came to my attention that today is Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

Apparently, because the South Park guys received a couple of threats for making fun of the prophet, some folks on Facebook decided that others should do the same as an organized opposition to self-imposed censorship.

A Swedish artist was also recently attacked because of his depictions of the prophet.

According to CNN, by mid-morning, “more than 7,300 images had been uploaded to the Facebook page, most of them drawings of Mohammed.”

19 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists — including the Journal News/Lohud’s own Matt Davies — have signed a petition supporting South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

But the Washington Post writes today that most editorial cartoonists have not included Muhammad in their work today.

It seems to me that the American Muslim community ought to consider how it will respond when the prophet is treated in ways it does not like in this country or elsewhere.

Because it will happen. Over and over.

The reality is that no institution, religious or otherwise, can escape media attention that it does not like.

In the U.S., everything is deconstructed — by academics, comedians, artists, bloggers, you name it.

Consider the treatment of Christianity in the West. The U.S. is in many ways a Christian country, in practice if not on paper. And yet, Jesus and his followers are critiqued in every conceivable way.

In the last 25 years alone, how many books have been written about the “search for the historical Jesus” by academics who question the divinity of Christ? Entire libraries worth. And Christians consider Jesus to be God, not merely a prophet.

So how can the Muslim world simply demand that free societies lay off their prophet?

It can’t. (Well it can, but it won’t work).

That’s why American Muslims need to fashion some sort of new approach to dealing with media depictions of and criticisms of Muhammad (and Islam itself).

Threats of violence and actual violence in Europe and elsewhere will only serve to piss off those who already desire to mock the prophet.

They will also alienate Americans and others who might be inclined to support peaceful explanations of Muslim traditions and beliefs.

Clergy need a life outside church

Are clergy lonelier than other folks?

A short but insightful column on clergy loneliness, by Tom Ehrich, an Episcopal priest based in NYC, has been floating around the Web in recent weeks, thanks largely to Religion News Service.

It’s worth reading:


A Facebook group to which I belong held a discussion of loneliness among senior pastors.

People commented that pastors tend to have few friends with whom they can relax and be themselves.

Clergy said they need to be guarded about what they say and wary of being judged on superficials, such as their attire. They said their work is so all-consuming that they rarely have time for friendships outside the congregation.

It isn’t just senior pastors, participants said, but all clergy, and indeed most organizational leaders. Hierarchical leadership leaves them cut off from sustaining friendships, even cut off from their families.

My immediate contribution to the discussion was to say this:

— The No. 1 need is to have a life outside church — a life filled with nonchurch activities and nonchurch friends, where the pastor can be just a guy or gal. If the pastor has a family, life outside church should put family first. Children need a parent, not a role model standing in a pulpit.

— Second is to have healthy boundaries, where church work ends and rest of life begins. Fuzzy boundaries lead to loneliness.

— Third is to have realistic expectations of church members. To them, the pastor is never out of role. True intimacy with church members tends to be problematic.

Loneliness takes a serious toll. It can lead to sadness and depression. It can lead to boundary problems, acting out and inappropriate behavior. It can sap the pastor’s energy and self-confidence.

Some laity impose isolation as a way to keep clergy under control, which is also a way to keep God small and nonthreatening. One pastor told me, “Many laypeople are unwilling to treat their leaders as human beings who need a compliment or kind comment from time to time.”

Another told me, “I turned down a call to a small-town parish once because the chairperson of the calling committee said, ‘We always know what’s going on in the rectory.”’

Most constituents, I think, contribute to the loneliness unwittingly by making comments that treat their pastor as a curiosity and by not including the pastor in certain activities.

Politicians learn to exploit such behavior — although they still get into boundary troubles — and celebrities ride it to the bank. Clergy occupy a strange middle ground: needing to be political but not possessing the politician’s thick skin; serving as a local celebrity but not equipped to manage the spotlight.

As church staffs shrink and church institutions provide less collegiality to clergy, the pastor’s loneliness seems likely to worsen. Dealing with that loneliness should be a primary task for both congregations and their denominations.

Nervous clergy might be malleable, but the Gospel is better served when clergy feel able to preach boldly, to tend to all constituents and not just the powerful, and to lead with godly vision, not paycheck anxiety.

Clergy who have full lives, including friendships, downtime and acceptance (of both their personalities and their flaws), will be more likely to connect with their constituents’ lives.

Isolated clergy tend to get too institutional because institution is the one place they feel safe and competent.

It’s unclear why, as clergy report, denominations have stopped working to promote collegiality among clergy. Maybe denominational leaders are themselves too lonely to imagine better. But they should take the lead in breaking down their mutual isolation.