Monday, July 28, 2008

Free Speech and Religion

I recently read an article in the Star Tribune which talked about the controversy surrounding a professor who was producing potentially offensive images. The debate was whether his images were protected by free speech and the concept that with art anything goes, or whether their sacrilegious nature allowed him to be punished creating them. The art in question consisted of a Eucharist wafer that was stabbed with a nail and had scraps of the Qur'an as well as a book by Richard Dawkins. The intent of Professor Meyers was to illustrate that there is nothing that should be held as sacred, neither religious texts and artifacts, nor scientific ones. My question on this is where does Meyers' right to dialogue and his opinions conflict with the beliefs of Muslims and Catholics who feel that the Qur'an and the Host respectively contain the divine and are more than just the empty symbols that Meyers views them as. Personally I am quite torn on this issue. I greatly value the free flow of ideas and believe that we must work hard to allow people to express their opinions, even opinions which seem to run contrary to others or may even be offensive to others. I am well aware that open-minded liberal thinking often becomes highly exclusive when it comes to considering the opinions of fundamentalists. At the same time I feel that Meyers did not do this act as part of a discussion, he did it to create a response, to prove a point. And as myself and other bloggers are proving, he was sucessful in creating a response. I am not sure he really proved a point, though others may disagree with me. I think Meyers' actions are inappropriate because they were not intend as dialogue nor did they respect the views of others. Meyers did not set out to offer his opinion as to why objects are not sacred and that these items were merely symbols. With complete disregard to the views of others, views he was well aware of, he took religious artifacts and desecrated them. I am not sure I want to say his actions should be illegal, because to do so would seem to impose the religion of some over the religion of others. I do believe that we as individuals in this society have a right to be outraged by his actions and that we have the right to desire better forms of conversation. I believe there are better ways for him to freely express his beliefs over and against the beliefs of others. I think really my need to blog on this also just to work through the sorrow I feel at an issue like this. From what I understand there were a great number of people on the Internet encouraging Meyers in his actions, which reminds me how many people are out there who are hurting from things the church has done to them. Unfortunately the inappropriate responses of many Christians who made threats on Meyers and elevated his actions through their own hatred further deepen the rift between Christians and ex/non-Christians. From those of us who want to find a better way, this action by Meyers destroys not only sacred items, it destroys some hope we have in reconciliation sooner rather than later.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Resistance is Futile

I always like to say that my parents raised me right, which meant that one of the things I did growing up was watch Star Trek: the Next Generation. This allowed me to learn about the Borg, a race of aliens who move around the galaxy assimilating other species into their collectives. Their famous line is "resistance is futile, you will be assimilated." In the last couple of weeks I have received a couple of mailings at church inviting me to attend a new seminar, "The Assimilation Seminar: From First Time Guest to Long Time Members." This mailing both reminded me of my old Star Trek days and also disturbed me. I don't like the idea that goal of the church is to assimilate visitors into our church collective. First of all, the Borg at least tried to take the best of all those and so the collective was changed as new people were assimilated in, something that is not really implied in this church assimilation. I also just don't like the notion that conformity is the solution for the church. I think there is a tendency in the church for us to value membership and conformity too much in the church. We want visitors to come into the church but we really want them to leave looking just like us. While I believe that the church as something to offer people, namely a Gospel of love and grace that will change people's lives, I also think we need to realize that visitors have something to offer those of us in the church as well. How do we look at visitors not by what they need from us, but instead by what they offer us. I don't mean what they offer us in terms of "another Sunday school teacher" or "a strong giving unit" or "the next chair of the trustees." I mean what do visitors have to offer us in our faith journeys. How can we learn from visitors in the same way that we want them to learn from us? I guess the kind of assimilation I like is the one where both sides are changed by the other, so that all are bettered by the experience.