THURSDAY Column with Mohammed Adamu
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An enraged ‘Jesus’, in company of disciples and followers, walks into the Temple, yelling at a rabble of Jewish elders: “I am the saint of blasphemy! Don’t make any mistake; I did not come here to bring peace! I came to bring a sword!” And one of the Jewish elders interrupts with a warning: “Talking like that will get you killed!” And to which ‘Jesus’ replies scornfully: “Me killed? Listen to me! This Temple will be destroyed in three days! Torn down to the ground! There won’t be one stone left to build with!” And now even as the disciples and other followers get apprehensive about the Master talking himself into harm’s way, an unperturbed ‘Jesus’ proceeds to bruise even more sensitive Jewish nerves: “You think God belongs only to you?” his voice pitching louder with every statement: “He doesn’t! God is an immortal spirit who belongs to everybody! To the whole world!! You think you are special? God is not an Israelite!” Boom!!
And by now it is no longer whether the Jewish rabble will pull do some swinging; rather it is: ‘when will the Jewish rabble pull to do some swinging?’ But thank God, almost as swiftly as Jesus’ blasphemy was unleashed, swiftly too, do the disciples grab and whisk Jesus out of the Temple –before matters come to a head.
But hey! Don’t get it wrong! This scene is not directly from the Bible itself. Nor is it a dramatic irony from some poorly scripted Sunday School ‘play’ where the one who should be sacred is the one ironically accused of blasphemy. Rather this is a scene from the 1988 Academy-nominated fictional religious film, titled ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’, which itself was an adaptation by Paul Schrader from a 1955 novel of the same blasphemous title written by Nikos Kazantzaki and directed by Martin Scorsese. This controversial ‘film-drama’ portrays a hallucinatory Jesus submitting to a medley of temptations, ranging from self-doubt, fear and lust, so that in the end he resolves to marry Mary Magdalene and leads an ordinary life.
The war between theists (those who believe there is God) and atheists (those who deny there is God) has been as old as humanity itself. But atheists it appears are the subtler and stealthier opponents. For a man, Jesus, believed by 2billion ‘theistic’ Christians all over the world to be God or at least a third of a Trinity, nothing can be more blasphemous than ‘atheistic’ producers of this film setting aside both the historically austere and the Biblically abstinent Jesus, to create in his place a sexually-indulgent character who abandons the divine in pursuit of the lustful. And so, when Christian Europe in 1988, in spite of its famed secular temperament, lost its cool and violently protested the premiering of that blasphemous film, including by detonating bombs at cinema houses, the world of make-belief was merely being told in no uncertain terms that there is a limit even to the exercise of literary imagination. An atheist’s enjoyment of his right to free speech cannot be on the altar of blatant profanation of what a theist holds to be sacred. Nor must sacred things, to proof their sacredness, necessarily command the obeisance of atheists who do not consider them sacred. And just as an atheist should not be compelled to deify what he does not hold sacred, equally too, in the appreciation of what they hold sacred theists should not be compelled to appreciate the profanation of their sacred deities in order to prove their liberal-mindedness when the same liberal-mindedness is not demanded of atheists to respect the sensibilities of the former.
What ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’ did to Jesus and to Christianity was what Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ did to Prophet Muhammad and to Islam. It angered the entire world Muslim community and it even incited a minority of it to untoward action. The year, 1988, that Europe was battling to calm restive Christian nerves over a fictional film-drama, that same year Salman Rushdie, a British-born Indian writer, ironically sponsored by the UK, would publish a fictional novel, ‘The Satanic Verses’, -as a comic fable blaspheming Islam and profaning its revered Prophet Muhammad. Like the canonical Jesus was mischievously set aside for the fictional one, the author, Rushdie using a combination of magical realism and fantasy -rather than objective scientific research- set aside the Quranic Muhammad to create in his place a fictional character, called ‘Mahound’, who allegedly mistook ‘satanic verses’ suggested to him by the devil, for ‘divine revelation’. Not only that, the Prophet’s revered wives were also luridly portrayed as women of easy virtue. Muslims all over the world considered this a flagrant and provocative abuse of free speech –especially when it is exercised in blatant profanation of what others hold to be sacred. And when Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa sentencing Salman Rushdie to death and also placing five million dollars on his head, the author had to go into hiding under the protective custody of the UK with which Iran had also broken diplomatic ties. Two translators of the blasphemous book –one an Italian and the other a Japanese- were variously stabbed to death; and just like cinema houses were bombed to protest the premièring of ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ, so were many places including libraries and bookshops suspected to stock or sale ‘The Satanic Verses’, bombed or destroyed.
Ironically both ‘The Last Temptation Of Christ’ and ‘The Satanic Verses’ were promoted at a time when most countries of the West, including the UK had in their criminal codes largely ineffectual laws against blasphemy. Interestingly today –and following persistent pressure especially by atheists masquerading as ‘humanists- there are very few countries left that have not abrogated these laws. From Canada to Australia, France to the United States, atheists and agnostics (under the guise of humanism and humanistic associations) have been mounting pressure on both secular and even clerical democracies, in the name of human rights and freedom of expression, to do away with blasphemy laws –as if blaspheming what others hold sacred is a necessary oxygen for the enjoyment of these fundamental rights. On the contrary it is some atheists and agnostics that have made profaning what is sacred to others a necessary oxygen for the survival and growth of their irreligious ideologies. These characters although they operate always as atheists and agnostics, hoping some day to totally banish religion from the face of the earth, but when they organize to de-campaign laws on blasphemy with a view to getting them abolished, they do not do so as atheists and agnostics. That will give the motive away as the promotion of unbelief and not advocacy for free speech. Rather they pose ‘harmlessly’ as ‘humanists’ in so called defense of ‘fundamental human rights’-as if members of organized religion from whom they hope to salvage these rights are themselves disentitled to the enjoyment of those rights.
And maybe it beggars my repeating that I know where atheists derive the right to advance argument that there is no God; because they have as much right under the law, to preach to save us from religion as we have always arrogated the right under the law to preach to save them from irreligion. But I do not know where they derive the right to haul unprintable obscenities at deities held by others as sacred. I do not see how this helps the argument of atheists or agnostics that there is no God or that his existence is not provable. What is not provable rather is that the arrest and prosecution of an atheist or agnostic for violating the laws against blasphemy, expressly provided for in the nation’s two Codes, is tantamount to an interference in his religious rights or his freedom of worship. Nothing can be stupider! Nothing more bigotedly hypocritical!
To be concluded