A new movie portraying Christ released on Netflix recently. In the satirical comedy The First Temptation of Christ, Jesus is portrayed returning from his 40 days of temptation in the wilderness with a flamboyant gay lover. Joseph is an incompetent and bumbling moron. Mary is having a sexual affair with God. His friends and family are caught up in a weed-smoking celebration of Christmas.
The film was released in Brazil to immediate outrage and protest from the public and members of the government. This was undoubtedly the intent as there is no publicity as good as the free publicity that comes with shock and outrage. Let’s face it, I would not be writing about the film were it not for the outrage that drew my attention to it.
Religious Persecution and a Double Standard
The double standard of this is what is initially striking when it comes to this ridiculous movie. In 2015, following the terrorist attacks in Paris, media outlets around the world refused to publish the Charlie Hebdo cartoons or images of Muhammed. Doing so was seen as insensitive and provocative. Today the common standards of refrain from publishing images or portrayals of Muhammed are maintained.
Make no mistake, I support the common sense, good neighbor postures of not provoking outrage among the Muslim community. (When the rest of the world was going bonkers in support of Charlie Hebdo following the terrorist attack in 2015, this is what I wrote at the End of History.)
As believers, we are warned against stirring up strife.
Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man. But any fool will quarrel. Proverbs 20:3
A perverse man stirs up strife…Proverbs 16:28
But there is a common misperception today that abuse and disrespect toward the Christian faith should be accommodated in popular culture even while these same standards do not apply toward Islam and other religions. Imagine Netflix releasing a moving about Muhammad being a gay, pot-smoking, troll.
Misperceptions of Reality
Acceptance of this double standard is presumably because Christianity is the world’s largest religion and therefore people believe Christians are more likely to be perpetrators rather than victims of persecution, disrespect, and insensitivity. This is a misperception that does not hold up against the facts.
Christianity is the world’s largest religion, but Islam is the world’s fastest-growing religion. Islam is growing twice as fast as the overall world population and is expected to become the world’s largest religion, surpassing Christianity, sometime around the middle of this century. This growth is not based on any great spiritual awakening within Islam. It is based upon birth rates in predominantly Muslim countries where people assume the faith of their parents (sometimes by law).
In 2019 the Associated Press noted religious persecution was one of the widest prevailing trends around the world. Muslims are included within this current trend. We remember the attacks on the mosques in Christchurch New Zealand for example.
More often than not however most of the attacks on Muslims throughout the world have taken place by people also identifying as Muslims. Thanks to fanatics in ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, and the Taliban, mosques and public gathering places within Islamic communities are common targets. Therefore, most of the victims of terrorist attacks in 2019 happened to be Muslim but they were not targeted because they were Muslims.
On the other hand, Christians were frequently targeted throughout this last year specifically because of their faith. Recall the attacks in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. Throughout 2018 Christians have been a frequent target in Burkina Faso. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt ordered a report which stated persecution against Christians in 2019 is at near-genocidal levels.
The Christian population in Iraq is less than a tenth of what it was in 2003. In Eritrea, a massive number of Christians are now imprisoned in the country which the Economist referred to as Africa’s North Korea. Churches and Christian schools are frequent targets for attack throughout the continent of Africa as Islamic extremist groups have grown in number and levels of atrocity.
Do the Right Thing
We need to become better at respect and decency for one another in all areas of life including perspective on religious persecution. In order to do this, our motives must be derived from an internal drive for correct responses – not external norms or loyalties. We should not be taking our cues for what is right and wrong from our surrounding environment. That surrounding environment too often gets this important judgment wrong.
As people of faith, our spiritual journey requires that right and wrong be defined on a Biblical basis above all else.