Religion & Philosophy

Mohammed the teddy bear case: Christian critics need to shut up

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.

9 replies »

  1. Well, your Bonesparkleness, what you fail to realize is that there is nothing in any holy book, including the Old or New Testaments, that cannot be interpreted any way one wants, or flat out ignored, by one of the most diabolically clever of all human inventions: theology. What the Sudanese are lacking is enough theology to allow them to pretty much ignore whatever it is their particular Good Book says. They don’t have more faith, They just have a purer faith.

  2. “Then Dana Perino, speaking on behalf of the United States’ highest-ranking religious leader, President George Bush, weighed in:”

    Had to laugh out loud on that one.

    Take religion out of it entirely and it says enough. Foreigners have to respect local customs. End of story. For instance, in Germany, naming a child “Adolph” is considered a punishable form of child abuse. Raising one’s arm in the “sieg heil” salute will also get you jail time there.

    If anything, I think Gillian should have some sort of reprimand waiting for her at home … a sort of “thanks for making the British look bad” thing.

  3. The British consulate in Sudan needs to get a big teddy bear, drape it with a crucifix, and affix a nameplate to it that reads “Jesus.” They can trade it for Ms. Gibbons.

    What I take away from this incident is how quick the British government was to come to its citizen’s support. Reports are that a deal will soon be worked out and she’ll be on her way soon.

    Were Ms. Gibbons American, our government would probably leave her to rot in a Khartoum jail. On the other hand, if Iran imprisoned her, they’d treat it as a gift-wrapped pretext to commence bombing.

  4. She should know better…

    When you go to another country to live and work, you are accepting that nation’s culture. You have your chance to make some small mark on that culture, particularly as a teacher.

    It may have been an innocent mistake, but innocents shouldn’t be living in Sudan. Furthermore, as a foreign teacher, students devote a disproportional amount of family conversation time about school to you…you’re different, after all. Nothing that a foreign teacher does escapes notice, but the situation does give foreign teachers a great deal more influence than native teachers in some ways. She led those children to insult their own culture, whether that culture is right or wrong.

    As someone who has taught English in several countries, i have absolutely no sympathy for her. She bought the ticket, let her take the ride.

  5. The milk of human kindness obviously is absent with some of you lot.

    I remember my Dad was offered a job in Saudi when leaving South Africa (I was 13). He knew a lot about a lot but never forgot where his heart was located.

    Anyway, he discussed the opportunity with his wife and two kids. He explained much…and scared the living daylights out of me.

    I remember really being worried about having my hand chopped off. I asked “Why would someone do that?” He explained about theft of property. But what if you found something that belonged to someone else…and handed it in? They could accuse you of theft of the object (a purse found in the street was my example) even if one were handing it in. I remember asking what I should do. Dad said to leave it there.

    In any event we didn’t go.

    *hats off* to our Muslim Peers who have flown out there. The crowd chants for her death…but we look after our women even when they do fly across the world thinking they *know* what they are doing.