As Flies Are We To The Gods – Part MMXV

As flies to wanton boys are we to th’ gods. They kill us for their sport.
– Shakespeare

The world has been drowning in the bloodshed of religious violence for thousands of years. Greece vs Egypt vs Rome vs Turks vs Mongols… Christians vs Muslims vs Jews… Shia vs Sunni… Catholics vs Protestants… eternal hatreds, endless wars. We like to think of ourselves as advanced and enlightened, but our medieval roots are showing.

Nine years ago, this commentary was published following the violent reactions of religious extremists to the publication of a Danish cartoon. So we don’t have to wonder what the late Christopher Hitchens would have to say about today’s massacre at the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo. It’s worth another read, and sadly just as relevant now as it was then.

“Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.”

Read the full article at Slate:
Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion, by Christopher Hitchens

“Mockery of religion is one of the most essential things, because to demystify supposedly ‘holy texts dictated by god’ and show that they are man made, what you have to show is their internal inconsistencies and absurdities. One of the beginnings of human emancipation is the ability to laugh at authority… it is an indispensable thing. People can call it blasphemy if they like, but if they call it that they have to assume there is something to be blasphemed – some divine work, well I don’t accept the premise.” – Christopher Hitchens 16 May 2013


  1. Ahhh, Christopher HItchens and his rare and beautiful mind. I worry we are starting to go all wobbly in the battle against freedom of expression and wish his essay would be run in every newspaper in the world as a reminder of what is at stake. Thank you so much, Steve, for this important post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sadness swamps me when we as humans show that we can’t live on this planet in harmony.
    Fundamentalists are dividing, rather than encouraging people to a better way of life.
    Thanks Steve for this thoughtful post. My thoughts are with those who have lost loved ones.
    May the pen continue to be mightier than the sword.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It has always seemed to me the problem is less about religion and more about fundamentalism. Fundamentalists are convinced their way is the only way, their beliefs the only beliefs and they have an inability to see and, more importantly, respect another’s viewpoint should it differ from their own. Genocides in Cambodia and China, soccer riots, race riots – all of these stem from a fundamentalist view of the world. Admittedly, religion has had more than its share of fundamentalists and is therefore more than its share of horrors inflicted in its name. Inhumanity occurs when we do not view those who are different as human like us, whether secular or religious.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Hitchens, how much are you missed …
    How long are we to put up with being tormented by these madmen ? – not only by their weapons and their murders, but also by their insistence on getting their way in all things, to which our elders acquiesce ?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My heart is heavy. I am outraged by the violence. One can wish, one can dream. I wish that everybody who could afford it, would buy a subscription to the newspaper to show support. The damage that has been done saddens me. We shouldn’t have to watch what we say/write/print. I wish every magazine and newspaper in Europe, America and the free world would reprint the same cartoon that supposedly invoked this insanity. Showing support and strengths, that’s what I would like to see. I agree with Joannesisco. Today was a sad day for freedom of speech.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Reblogged this on The happy Quitter! and commented:
    Extremism is at its height at the moment, to deny that is to put one’s head in the sand. There is no place for hate based upon religion, culture, race , ethnicity or sexuality and it should not be tolerated. The lesson from all this cannot be that we have to watch what we say. I’d like to see every paper/magazine in the free world reprint the same cartoon that supposedly invoked this “vengeance” as a show of support and strength that we will not be intimidated.
    I was born and raised in Europe. My heart was saddened by the news. As I was trying to find the right words…still debating if I should make a post on my little blog anyway. There came a post from a blogging friend who I adore. He didn’t give me a choice, I had to reblog:

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I really wish that posts like this one wouldn’t be necessary … but unfortunately that’s not the world we live in.
    Even worse, like-minded people will read this and nod their heads knowing this is a reasonable thing to expect. The rest will not ‘get it’ … or even be open-minded enough to consider peaceful co-existence in spite of differences in philosophy.
    Today was a sad day for freedom of speech.

    Liked by 5 people

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