Monday, February 22, 2010

Jesus Christ, Beer, Tobacco, Idols and Indian Law

The image of Jesus Christ, holding a beer can and a cigarette, reminds me of the weird but (I trust) well-intentioned efforts in the sixties to make Christianity like, you know, relevant.

It's not. The image is in a handwriting workbook published in India.

The company that made and distributed that book made a really, really big mistake. India is one of those countries where deliberately offending someone's religious sentiments is illegal.

Which may or may not be a good idea.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the news:
"Christians in India's northeast are outraged after a picture showing Jesus Christ holding a beer can and a cigarette was discovered in primary school textbooks.

"The image appeared in a handwriting book for children in church-run schools in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya, where it was used to illustrate the letter 'I' for the word 'Idol'....

"...Police said they were hunting for the owner of the New Delhi-based publisher, Skyline Publications, who faces charges of offending religious sentiment, local police superintendent A.R. Mawthoh told AFP.

"The Roman Catholic Church in India has banned all textbooks by Skyline, while Protestant leaders called for a public apology.

"The state government also denounced the publication.

" 'We strongly condemn such a blasphemous act. Legal action has been initiated against the publisher,' M. Ampareen Lyngdoh, an education minister in the Meghalaya government, said...."
(myFOX New York) [emphasis mine]
Interestingly, here in American blasphemy is - according to the dominant culture - a constitutional right, guaranteed by the idea of 'free speech.' American academic institutions are particularly 'open minded' about blasphemy, since acts like trashing a page from the Quran and some atheist's book, driving a nail through a consecrated Host and publishing a photo of the lot are considered an exercise in 'academic freedom.'

(from PZ Myers, Pharyngula (July 24, 2008), used w/o permission)

Change Happens: Deal With It

America is growing away from being a country of devout Protestants: divided on whether using tobacco or using alcohol is an unpardonable sin; but united against those Catholics and other heathen foreigners. I'm exaggerating: but there are days when I feel like it's not much of an exaggeration.

Maybe America could learn something from India. That country has been learning to deal with differences in religious belief. Religious affiliation broke out this way in their 2001 census:
  • Hindu 80.5%
  • Muslim 13.4%
  • Christian 2.3%
  • Sikh 1.9%
  • Other 1.8%
  • Unspecified 0.1%
    (2001 census, via CIA World Factbook)
Legal sanctions for people who go out of their way to offend someone else's beliefs are, in my opinion, the same sort of juridical and philosophical mine field that America's 'hate crimes' laws are. On the other hand, there are times when I wonder if they might be a good idea. (More: "Tolerance: Yes, it's a Good Idea" (August 3, 2009))

Jesus and Beer?

I wasn't all that offended by the beer and cigarette. But then, I've spent a sizable fraction of my life as a Christian on college campuses, and grew up in the sixties: my 'offended' threshold is set pretty high.

As far as historical accuracy goes, I'm not at all convinced that my Lord wore clothes like that, or had those long ringlets. As for looking like a teenage boy in need of fresh air, exercise and an adequate male role model - I've been into that before. (February 15, 2010)

The beer bothers me only on historical grounds. It simply wasn't part of the culture where my Lord lived. When they were running out of drinks at that wedding in Cana, Jesus provided wine, not beer. Which I've discussed before, including this, from March, 2009:
"Marriage in the Catholic Church? Yeah, it's Kind of a Big Deal"
" On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign-at his mother's request-during a wedding feast. The Church attaches great importance to Jesus' presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ's presence.'
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1613)
"If you'd rather think that Mary having Jesus get more drinks for everybody is a purely spiritual thing: fine. As I said before, that's your business. Fact is, though, the party was running out of wine: and Mary was very insistent about her son doing something about it. Which he did...."
(The story's in John 2:1-10.)
("Annulment: Divorce, Catholic Style - NOT!" (March 27, 2009))
When it comes to booze, the Church teaches that we're not supposed to get drunk: not that alcohol is the work of Satan. (Catechism, 2290, for starters)

The Cigarette? Yeah, I'm More Iffy About That

A half-century ago, smoking or chewing tobacco wasn't, in my opinion, as wrong as it is now. Not because I think God changed His Mind: but because we know more now. I remember when links between smoking and some kinds of cancer changed from a pretty good guess to certain knowledge.

Up until around the mid-point of the 20th century, someone who smoked might not realize that there were serious health risks involved. And, as far as I know, the jury is still out on whether there is a safe minimum limit to smoking and chewing.

There was even a Pope - Blessed John XXIII (1958-63), I think - who smoked. It was either one or two cigarettes a day, again as I recall.

As with so many other things, it looks like moderation is the key.

My own opinion, by the way, is that we'll find that zero is the safe maximum for tobacco use: but that's no more than a guess. And, another topic.
'But I Read it in a Book:' Facts and Imagination
Then there's the story I've heard, that Pope Urban VIII forbade tobacco - allegedly because it was too sexy. Well, that could be true. Someone wrote a book that says so.

But then, Maria Monk wrote a book too - which quite a few people still buy - that's full of whoppers about those wicked Catholics over there. (September 26, 2008)

As I researched Catholicism and the Catholic Church, I discovered that quite a bit of what I thought I knew was centuries out of date - and much of the rest was flat-out wrong. Where the Urban VII story lies, I don't know.

For me, the idea that Urban VIII banned tobacco because he thought it led to sneezing - and that sneezing was too much like sexual ecstasy for his taste - sounds like one of those urban legends that's a little too good to be true. Sure, people who use snuff sneeze. But sexy sneezing reminds me, humorously, of the 'good old days' when sophisticated people discovered that sex was sexy and started talking and writing about sex. It was, like, "relevant." Fer sure.

"I" is for "Idol" - What 'Everybody Knows' About Those Catholics

What jumped out at me in this bit of news was the choice of words:
"...The image appeared in a handwriting book for children in church-run schools in the Christian-majority state of Meghalaya, where it was used to illustrate the letter 'I' for the word 'Idol'....."
(myFOX New York) [emphasis mine]
From Maria Monk's day to this, quite a few 'good Christian' people in North America (M.M. lived in Canada, as I recall) 'know' that those heathen Catholics worship idols.

There's a (tiny) grain of truth in this assumption. Catholic churches and Cathedrals are not, as a rule, the sensory-deprivation chambers favored by some Protestant groups. The Catholic Church noticed that most human beings can see, and has used visual imagery to get the Christian message across, since before the days when my ancestors were cobbling feudal Europe out of a network of local warlords.

So today you're more likely to see pictures and statues in Catholic Churches, than in Protestant ones.

The statues are illustrations, not idols. We do not worship idols. But historically we don't go out of our way to insult people who do. (Acts 17:22) And yes: I'm sure you've encountered a Catholic who did. What can I say? We're human beings: sinners, members of a fallen race.

It's idolatry that's on the no-no list. (Catechism, 2112-2114, for starters)
"...Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc...."
(Catechism, 2113)

Not all Statues are Idols

I don't expect to convince anybody whose mind is made up, and doesn't want to be confused with facts. My job is to present facts: what others do with them is their business.

As the Catechism explains, Catholics use statues and pictures to assist worship. Not because we don't believe the Bible: but because we understand it.
"The Christian veneration of images is not contrary to the first commandment which proscribes idols. Indeed, 'the honor rendered to an image passes to its prototype,' and 'whoever venerates an image venerates the person portrayed in it.'70 The honor paid to sacred images is a 'respectful veneration,' not the adoration due to God alone:
Religious worship is not directed to images in themselves, considered as mere things, but under their distinctive aspect as images leading us on to God incarnate. The movement toward the image does not terminate in it as image, but tends toward that whose image it is.71"
(Catechism, 2132)
I venerate (a few) people. I adore God: And I know enough not to get the two mixed up.

'Nuf said.

Vaguely-related posts:In the news:


Brigid said...

Oy ve. Well, I gotta hand it to the Indian government. They at least seem to be willing to defend the people who don't believe the same way they do.

Oh, and a typo: "and much of the rest was flat-out wring."

Brian H. Gill said...


Yeah: India isn't perfect, just like America. But they're learning to live with a country where everybody doesn't have to agree with the dominant culture. Kudos.

Brian H. Gill said...


"...flat-out wring"?

Yeah. That certainly was a typo. Had a sort of 'ring' to it, though. ><

Brian Busby said...

Brian, I boggles the mind that Maria Monk's "Awful Disclosures" continue to be taken seriously by anyone. I dare say that most who see it as the gospel (pun intended) haven't read the thing. That said, if I may, I'd like to defend my fellow Canadians. All evidence, court documents included, indicates that the sorry Miss Monk was used by a group of clergymen - American, with a single exception - to promote their own brand of anti-Catholicism. Indeed, it seems likely that Maria wrote not one word of the book.

And, at the risk of appearing defensive, I can't agree that the Maria Monk book was ever "very popular" in Canada (as you write in your 2008 post). Indeed, from the time of its first appearance, Montreal's Protestant community suspected a hoax. In all my travels, I've only come across one edition that claimed to have been published in Canada... without providing a publisher or address.

If you are at all interested, I've written a couple of pieces on Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk here and here.

Brian H. Gill said...

Brian Busby,

I didn't intend to disparage Canada or Canadians: my intent was to clear up a point about where Maria Monk lived. Too many people assume that "North America" and "Unites States of America" are synonymous - and I didn't want to imply that this is the case.

As for popularity: Someone's buying the books, in large enough quantities to justify reprints.

In your position, I wouldn't take umbrage. People here in the States buy - and presumably read and believe - the works of Monk. My experience has been that Canadians aren't all that much different from human beings elsewhere - which is good news and bad news.

Seriously: I didn't mean to insult Canada or Canadians.

Brian H. Gill said...

Brian Busby,

Oh, and about those American clergymen: I believe it. I guess Ms. Monk could be portrayed as a victim of Yankee imperialism: but I wouldn't try to do so.

My view of the matter is that Monk, the clergemen, and I, are human beings: fallible; and occasionally failing.

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Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.