How do we know it was right?

It occurs to me that those readers (I haven’t posted all their comments yet) who disapprove of the destruction of the blasphemous poster of Mary by Catholic activists in Wellington, New Zealand and disagree with my support for the activists may be thinking along lines like this: There is no rule book, in Christianity or elsewhere, that says you may destroy a painting or a poster if you are offended by it or regard it as anti-Christian. In fact we have civil laws against the destruction of private property.

I would approach the issue like this. Let’s say a child sitting at the family dinner table says something very fresh to his mother and she slaps him in the face. He bursts into tears and is extremely upset, feeling put upon and mistreated. But guess what. He realizes that speaking in that fresh way to his mother is totally unacceptable and he never does it again. When his mother slapped him, she didn’t have a rule book. There was no catechism which said, “Under circumstances X and Y, it is permissible to slap your child.” She knew, immediately and instinctively, that his fresh comment to her was totally unacceptable and she reacted appropriately.

Now, are there parents who use inappropriate physical force on their children? Yes. How, then, in the absence of a rule book, can we tell the difference between a parent who uses physical force correctly, and one who uses it incorrectly and excessively? We know it through a total grasp of the situation, a grasp which is not readily amenable to systemization. We know it through the same rational/intuitive apprehension by which Aristotle in The Nichomachian Ethics made the spoudaios, the mature or wise man, his practical standard for human behavior. There is no formal set of criteria defining the spoudaios. We know the spoudaios when we see him. In the same way, we know when a parent is acting appropriately in using physical force to reprimand a child, and we know that the Catholic activists in New Zealand were using appropriate force when they applied scissors to that disgusting and totally unacceptable poster of Mary.

- end of initial entry -

Daniel S. writes:

You could add another element to your argument. How is the destruction of this blasphemous picture morally different than our Savior using a whip to chase the money changers out of the Temple? Did not Christ display what would amount to intolerance by modern standards and did he not act rashly by the standards of those who would have us grin and bear it every time our sacred faith is mocked and denigrated? It does seem that some people are far more upset with the righteous indignation of these Catholic activists than they are with the evil Anglican vicar who blasphemes the very religion he supposedly represents, and that is very telling. The courageous Catholics that destroyed the poster mocking the Holy Virgin Mary and the disgusting “Piss Christ” portrait in France deserve our praise and admiration. Such men are emulating the example set by Christ in the Temple, and represent the sort of men who may yet stand up and save what remains of Christendom and the West.

Sage McLaughlin writes:

My position on the vandalism of that blasphemous picture boils down to this:

We have laws against vandalism, and those are necessary laws. But they are man’s laws, not God’s. We also have God’s law, which is much more difficult to know and to act on, but not impossible, and the difficulty is not so great that it frees us from its constraints. In this case, we can know that the Catholics who destroyed the picture did the right thing, and we can also know that they did something which our civil society cannot let pass. These people are vandals, whether or not they are justified, and anyway this is what prosecutorial discretion is for.

So my basic view is that we as Christians should applaud their example, support them in all ways we can, and at the same time submit to the legitimate authority that metes out their punishment. The idea of this sort of civil disobedience is not necessarily to change the law, but to assert the truth. Bearing the consequences of civil disobedience has always been a part of the Christian call to witness. Of course we cannot allow people to disfigure or destroy any picture they find offensive, because even if our intuition can tell us that they are spoudaios, the law cannot reliably recognize such a category of man.

The practical fact is that we rely on the law’s protection from vandals. I have no problem with the vandal in this case being prosecuted, and I have no problem with the actions that he took in defending not only truth, but ordinary decency. If it is a contradiction, then maybe it is a necessary one.

To me the much greater horror is that the Anglican Church has reached a state of such apostasy that one of its pastors could put this blasphemous thing up and call it “thought-provoking.” It goes without saying that he would almost certainly never praise a similar picture that gratuitously insulted Islam as “thought-provoking,” and that he would be the first in line to defend any Muslim who destroyed such a deliberately offensive image.

Vivek G. writes:

I am a Hindu (follower of Sanatana Dharma) from India. We have had such problems for quite sometime. A Muslim painter painted Hindu deities in the nude, and when people protested, they were categorized as fanatics. Recall that people throwing bombs because of Danish cartoons are NOT called terrorists, they are called followers of the religion of peace!

Often people use twisted arguments about freedom of speech, and the liberty to mock anything. In my opinion, we will get better insight by addressing the question: Is there any distinction (at least in practical terms) between sacred and profane? One may be at liberty to mock at the sacred but is one at liberty to deny existence of sacredness itself? Is there Truth? Is Truth sacred?

Those who romanticize “blasphemy” (read as mocking with a view to denial of sacred), should not be surprised if there are other people who do not consider “Human Civilization” (read liberal values) as sacred. After all, if there is nothing sacred, why should I consider the liberal doctrine as sacred?

And if liberals want their doctrine to be considered as sacred, they must concede the existence of sacredness. And therefore they also need to learn how to revere the sacred of others, including non-liberals, as well. In this particular case, if the Virgin Mary is not sacred, there is no reason why peace or opposition to vandalism is sacred either. And if non-vandalism is to be accepted as sacred, then one had better accept the sacredness of Mary as well.

Paul K. writes:

I heartily agree with Daniel S. I am surprised that a number of your correspondents take the view that action taken by the Catholic activists was too severe; my initial reaction was that it was too mild. If we continue to put up with the mocking of Christianity we can look forward to a great deal more.

Jim Kalb writes:

Isn’t it a matter of whose ox is gored? If someone put up a grossly racist or anti-Semitic poster, or an obscene representation of one’s own mother, I doubt there would be much outrage if someone defaced it.

As you suggest, the “how do you know” is a matter of practical judgment. It can be discussed but not demonstrated, and people aren’t going to agree on it in many cases. That’s life. It’s one of the many obvious reasons cultural coherence within a society is a good thing.

LA replies:

Yes. I was going to say in the initial entry that the “total situation” that is being intuitively grasped includes the nature of one’s culture and society.

LA writes:

Below is a comment I received before posting this entry. (Another reader has sent a much longer comment dissenting from my position but it’s 1,600 words long and I’ve asked him to shorten it.)

Scott in PA writes:

I’m sorry to read of Christians doing this. Protest or pray, yes, but don’t destroy. It reminds me too much of the way Muslims react to “offenses” against Islam. This one isolated incident will be used by the media to draw equivalence between Christians and Muslims in this respect even though the differences are vast. Recall the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas. Yes I know they don’t compare to this tawdry poster. [LA replies: But of course there is no equivalence between Muslims who (a) threaten murder, (b) attempt murder and (c) carry out murder for the crime of insulting Islam, and Catholics who apply scissors to a blasphemous poster of Mary. Are you seriously suggesting that we run in fear from false equivalances by the media and make the media’s false reports our guide to what we can do or not do?]

There is a cathedral in Italy (I don’t recall off hand which one) that depicts Muhammad in Hell on a ceiling fresco. It is known to be an object of the jihadi’s wrath. What would you say if they successfully defaced it? [LA replies: See Jim Kalb’s comment above. In a Western society without Muslims, there would be no jihadis in Italy and it wouldn’t occur to anyone that the painting of Muhammad in hell was a problem. It is impossible to discuss social standards sensibly in the absence of a general social consensus on what is right and wrong, and extreme ethnocultural diversity precludes such a consensus.]

Better for all objections to free expression be associated with Muslims. Christians will always have secularists among them, and must deal with free expression. Muslims can’t deal with secularists, which is another reason why they should not be in the West.

Tim W. writes:

The destruction of the blasphemous Virgin Mary poster is an example of Christians responding to the Anarcho-Tyranny in which we live. In the liberal Western nations, there is danger in offending Muslims. These dangers can include hate speech prosecution (Canada, Great Britain, Holland), having a bounty placed on your head (Salman Rushdie, Theo Van Gogh), or being blamed worldwide for Muslims killing people to protest your non-violent act which offended them (Terry Jones). There are also dangers that are less brutal but still serious, such as the risk of losing your job for offending a politically protected group.

Those who offend Christians face no such dangers in the Anarcho-Tyranny West. As a consequence, there is a constant flood of insults directed against Christians. We get Dan Brown and Ron Howard giving us a book and a movie declaring Christianity to be a murderous, conspiratorial fraud. We get crucifixes dropped in urine and other such insults as tax funded works of “art.” We get stage plays depicting Christ as a homosexual. Every comedian who wants to establish himself as an “iconoclast” lets loose with a string of anti-Christian jokes. Now it’s reached the point that even supposed Christians insult their own faith in order to appear fashionable.

This is the Anarcho-Tyranny we live in, where the word Islamophobia is seen daily in our news reports but the word Christophobia has yet to be officially recognized. Can you imagine a New York Times headline that says “Christophobic Poster Destroyed in New Zealand?” Yet we all know that if an Anglican vicar put up a poster depicting Mohammed in an insulting manner (or even depicting Mohammed at all) there would be violence and the “Islamophobic” vicar would be blamed.

At some point, people simply get fed up with sustained abuse. It’s bad enough that Christianity is mocked and abused around the clock, while Islam is protected by law and by thuggery. But when a supposed Christian institution such as the Anglican Church joins in the fray, on the side of the forces amassed against Christianity, it’s understandable that someone says enough is enough. The billboard poster was destroyed. No one was killed or injured. That would be outrageous and anti-Christian. But to finally declare that after taking ten thousand insults from the ideologically approved forces arrayed against Christianity, the ten thousand and first one was just too much is quite reasonable.

It would be one thing if insults against Christianity were rare. It would be another if they were common, and insults against Islam and other religions were also common. But neither of those situations exist in much of the West. We have an Anarcho-Tyranny that shuts down insults against any religion except Christianity, which then takes a ton of abuse. Civil disobedience in which no one is hurt, and where no property damage occurs beyond the insulting material itself, seems quite a reasonable response on the part of Christians to this situation.

LA replies:

While I of course agree with Tim’s overall point, I think he is mis-applying the term anarcho-tyranny, famously coined by Samuel Francis. Anarcho-tyranny refers to the behavior of authorities in liberal society whereby they voluntarily abandon normal authority over things that need to be controlled, while at the same time, in order to establish that they still have authority and are not meaningless, they pick out some secondary issue that does not have strong moral content, like smoking, and treat it tyrannically.

Yes, there is some similarity between anarcho-tyranny and the phenomenon Tim is discussing, in which liberal society gives full freedom to cultural enemies while suppressing cultural natives. We might call that practice alienism, to use Joseph Sobran’s term. But alienism and anarcho-tyranny are not the same thing.

Doug H. writes:

I am fascinated by your comments regarding the destruction of the blasphemous depiction of Mary. I most certainly approve of the destruction. That said, I have always been troubled when it comes to situations such as when to use violence. As a career military person, I had no problem using force when directed, that is as long as I could justify orders as lawful. But i have struggled to find where the line should be drawn at a personal level. Jesus and Paul seemed pretty clear that violence was not to be used in defense of Christianity. I have always felt God can easily defend himself. The greater problem seems to be, if we always roll over, then we will get buried. But then, if I really believe in God, why worry? He will exact His own violence.

Can you or your readers recommend some sources to read that discuss this issue in depth?

James N. writes:

I am in complete agreement with the private removal of the blasphemous billboard, but I would like to broaden the discussion to a more general look at private redress of grievances, which used to be quite common and, within limits, generally accepted.

Whenever I read of one of these episodes of “dating violence,” for example, the first thought that occurs to me is, “where are this girl’s brothers? Where is her father?”

Not long ago, if a miscreant laid unwanted hands on a young lady, retribution did not come from the dating violence counselor at school.

Similarly, when a woman was disrespected in public, the offenders had to worry much more about her male relatives than the law. And, if retribution did not go to far, legal consequences were very unlikely.

Since the triumph of liberalism, such normal social limit-setting has become a grave offense in itself. A single example will suffice. The crime of murder in the second degree was invented so that provocation by sexual jealousy would be a MITIGATING factor. But today, a man who kills his wife’s lover found in flagrante delicto is charged with a HIGHER offense because his “domestic violence” is an aggravating factor to the underlying crime.

We live in a time when provocation is protected and normal reaction to provocation is deplored. The results are all around us, and easily visualized by those not drugged into insensibility by liberalism.

December 22, 10:15 p.m.

James N. writes:

I guess broadening the discussion didn’t work.

The point I wanted to make at mid-day today was that people seem to be quite willing to turn over management of their intimate, interpersonal affairs to the state and to the “experts,” when in fact they themselves are best situated to handle these matters themselves.

The result is that provocation builds on provocation, outrage upon outrage, and nobody does anything because it’s the job of “the authorities.”

Except that “the authorities” can’t be everywhere and can’t know everything. Just as running to the principal’s office to tattle on a bully makes the bullying worse, the avoidance of healthy, angry reactions to infringements on one’s person, one’s property, and one’s honor makes more such infringements a certainty.

Bravo to those brave souls who took down that billboard.

December 24

Michael S. writes:

Ultimately, we cannot be bothered with the question of offending those who refuse to believe in the name of the only Son of God (cf. John 3:18-19). Ultimately, we must be more concerned with whether or not we are offending God, than whether we are offending other men by honoring God. God’s honor comes first. The opinions of those who refuse to believe, by definition, mean nothing. (Cf. Isaiah 2:22—“Turn away from man / in whose nostrils is breath, / for of what account is he?”)

Also, Scott in PA wrote:

“I’m sorry to read of Christians doing this. Protest or pray, yes, but don’t destroy.”

The billboard in question is utter filth. It is garbage. Garbage is meant to be thrown out, destroyed.

So there is a cathedral in Italy which pictures Mohammed in hell. Amen! There is no reason to suppose that Muhammad is anywhere else. Are Moslems offended? Who cares? The purpose of a cathedral—the seat of a bishop, successor to the Apostles—is to preach the Gospel of Christ. Not to spread the lies of Islam.

What would I say if they succeeded in defacing it? I would say that it’s time for another crusade. Islam and Christianity are not compatible. Islam is circling the bowl, and has been from its beginning, just as Satan was put on notice in Genesis 3 that he was the ultimate loser.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 22, 2011 08:34 AM | Send

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