First off, let’s not shed any tears for Gillian Gibbons, the British teacher sentenced to 15 days in a Sudanese prison for naming a teddy bear “Mohammed.” Any woman who chooses to go live in a nation with Sharia Law, where you can be jailed for allowing yourself to be raped, deserves no sympathy.
More interesting to me are the curious responses from a couple of prominent Christian spokespeople. First, the Archbishop of Canterbury condemns the Sudanese court’s decision:
The spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, Archbishop Rowan Williams, says Sudan’s reaction has been absurd.”I can’t see any justification for this at all,” he said.
“I think that this is an absurdly disproportionate response to what is at best a minor cultural faux pas and I think that it’s done the Sudanese Government no credit whatever.”
Then Dana Perino, speaking on behalf of the United States’ highest-ranking religious leader, President George Bush, weighed in:
“Obviously, it’s an outrage,” White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said after a judicial source in Sudan said Gillian Gibbons, 54, would be jailed for 15 days for insulting Islam and then deported.”We stand with our UK allies in trying to make sure that this woman is protected from the court that says that they want to impose this sentence on her,” said Perino.
“Anyone looking at this on its face would have to conclude that it was outrageous.”
I’m at a loss to understand this criticism, when clearly the West’s Christian leaders ought to be praising the Sudanese. While Islam and Christianity obviously have different ideas about what constitutes heresy, both agree that the consequences should be grave. Deuteronomy commands that heretics should be stoned to death, for instance, and the medieval church for centuries pursued a variety of rather final solutions for all kinds of heretical behaviors. The colonial government of Massachusetts explicitly authorized the death penalty for heresy, as well, and it wouldn’t take long to find any number of traditionally minded Christians even today who’d certainly sympathize with the idea that those who flaunt God’s teachings ought to be killed.
In other words, the holy texts governing the religions of the Archbishop, the President and the White House Press Secretary are even more severe than the Sudanese court, which has apparently exercised a fair measure of mercy in the Gibbons case. As the American writer Sam Harris notes in his controversial The End of Faith, you can criticize fundamentalists all you like, but they do understand what their sacred books say. That apparently can’t be said of those complaining about the events in the Sudan.
So, to the Archbishop, the President and the Press Secretary, I suppose I’d advise silence and reflection. It’s bad form to criticize people merely because their faith is stronger than yours.
Categories: Religion & Philosophy