Blasphemy in the Media
Blasphemy and the debate surrounding the limitations of free speech were catapulted into the national spotlight recently following an Action Alert e-mail I sent to FPI subscribers requesting they respond to a gratuitously offensive and blasphemous article in the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) annual Sax Appeal magazine. To my surprise, the e-mail alert elicited an unprecedented response from Christians across the country, including New Zealand, the UK, the US and Uganda. Both UCT and the Rag’s main sponsor, Pick n Pay, were inundated with e-mails from Christian citizens expressing their disgust at the vile contents of the magazine. Thankfully, UCT and Pick n Pay executives responded swiftly to the deluge of complaints by immediately issuing public apologies to the South African Christian community – promising to tighten up future editorial controls of Sax Appeal. The Christian unity demonstrated during this campaign was a powerful indication of the profound impact of the Body-of-Christ on society when it operates in unity of purpose. More importantly, this rare but unified response from believers across the denominational spectrum struck fear in the hearts of the mockers and scoffers who previously had experienced very little resistance from the Church of Christ regardless of their outrageous conduct.
Sadly, however, the apologies from UCT and Pick n Pay were maligned in the liberal media for apparently “capitulating to religious fundamentalists” and for “threatening hard won civil liberties.” Subsequently, the debate generated by this debacle centred on censorship, free speech limitations (if any) and the rights of Christian citizens. Many of the liberal secular humanist journalists and columnists held the view that religions and their deities (read Christ and Christians) deserve no protection whatsoever from blasphemous ridicule and mockery under the current provisions of the Bill of Rights. Hate speech, they argue, which leads to incitement of violence and slander are the only acceptable prohibitions to free speech. According to this warped definition, you may mock and slander God but not certain groups of people. However, my extensive interactions with the liberal media in South Africa have revealed that their level of commitment to free speech is directly proportional to the subject matter being debated.
According to cartoonist Jonathan Shapiro (Zapiro) and others, blasphemous attacks and the mockery of the person of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith helps generate much needed debate around religion. Quite how referring to Christians as “stupid c***ts and Jesus as a ‘tool’ promotes intelligent debate has never fully been explained by the liberal media’s intelligentsia. Alarmingly, research of the liberal media’s treatment of Christianity over the past decade reveals an undeniable bias and in many cases – staggering hypocrisy. There are several instances of unwarranted blasphemous references to Jesus Christ in the media which served no purpose whatsoever other than to mock and denigrate the Christian God. At one point, both E-TV and the SABC broadcast programmes that were openly hostile to Christianity, maliciously slandering the Name of Jesus Christ at every opportunity.
In 2005, The Daily Voice tabloid in Cape Town ran a story with the headline: ‘I saw Jesus in my toilet’. Further investigation revealed the story was based on a mocking report about a Cape Flats woman who allegedly claimed to see an apparition of Jesus in her bathroom window. During a meeting with the Independent Group’s editorial team to discuss this issue, the Daily Voice publisher, Rashid Seria, struggled to adequately explain the deeply offensive headline in light of the stories subject matter. In addition, The Cape Argus and its sister newspapers ran a series of news stories about a serial killer in Cape Town they dubbed the ‘Jesus killer’ allegedly because an ‘eye witness’ claimed the killer had the word Jesus tattooed on his lower lip. This claim was never substantiated by reporters but was nonetheless used repeatedly by various newspapers. When the killer was eventually apprehended, it emerged the Jesus tattoo was a complete fabrication. Predictably, the Independent Group was not convinced the Christian community deserved an apology.
The liberal media’s defence of free speech is mostly found wanting. During 2001 I confronted Sheryl Ozinsky, the then manager of Cape Town Tourism, for abusing her position by unilaterally promoting Cape Town as the ‘gay’ capital of Africa. As fellow members of the Cape Town Press Club, Sheryl and I had a fairly amicable relationship. However, I was attacked by the liberal media and kicked off the Press Club for daring to challenge a lesbian city official for using the city coffers to promote her sexual preference. Alarmingly, the Press Club and the media establishment it represents claim a long and staunch tradition of defending free speech. Tragically, however, it became patently clear that the liberal media was not prepared to tolerate a Christian citizen challenging the homosexual agenda in the city despite their commitment to the Bill of Rights. Ultimately, free speech is permissible only when it falls in line with the liberal media’s narrow definition. In other words, they claim the exclusive rights to define and determine the limitations of free speech, including what is considered sacrosanct. And according to this definition, Jesus Christ and Christianity are fair game. But homosexuality – the liberal humanist’s equivalent of blasphemy – in all its forms is strictly off limits.
A Christian leader in Cape Town who identified himself as an ‘evangelical theologian’ wrote to me recently in defence of free speech claiming that God “tolerates the blasphemous misuse of His Name”. The obvious inference of this statement is: “If God tolerates blasphemy, why do we oppose it?” In addition, I received several e-mails contending that Christians must not react to the blasphemous mockery of the Name of God but should follow Christ’s example when He was mocked and insulted on the Cross with the response: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.
Firstly, nowhere does the Bible suggest that God tolerates sin, more especially the mockery of His Holy Name. In Exodus 20:7, the third Commandment clearly refutes this, “You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul issues this dire warning to both those in and outside the Church: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man (or nation) sows, that he will also reap” Gal 6:7. Consequently, promoting the erroneous theology that God ‘tolerates’ the blasphemous misuse and blatant mockery of His Name reduces the Grace of God to a common thing worthy to be trampled underfoot by men. Essentially, God’s Grace is that period of time during which His righteous judgment is withheld to allow the sinner time to acknowledge his sin and repent! Significantly, however, the sentence for blasphemy is still death. Mercifully, God’s Grace delays (never commutes) the execution of the sentence which is an active demonstration of His love, longsuffering and His desire that none should perish. But this must never be confused with the toleration of sin or the mockery of His Holy Name.
Secondly, as for Christians responding like Christ to blasphemy – I fully agree that as Christians we must walk in forgiveness and must never react to provocation in an attitude of hate and vindictiveness. However, Jesus prayed that God would forgive those who mocked, ridiculed and crucified Him because it was His purpose at that time to die on the Cross for the sins of all mankind. However, Jesus fully fulfilled His purpose on the Cross. Hebrews 12:2 declares, “Looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the Throne of God.” Jesus, therefore, is currently seated in the place of all power and authority and no longer hangs on the Cross (the place of mockery and ridicule). As a result of His highly exalted position over all principalities and powers and names that can be named, the blasphemous mockery of His Holy Name can serve no other purpose but to elicit God’s terrible wrath and judgment on individuals, families and nations who participate in or tolerate this abominable practice.
But why is it necessary for Christian citizens to speak up against blasphemy? I was asked the question several times – “Do we need to defend God”? Does the third Commandment suggest some Divine insecurity or defensiveness? A more helpful interpretation of this Commandment recognises the interconnectedness of God and humanity and also of God and morality. The Judeo-Christian worldview is that men and women are created in the image of God. Those who honour God must also show due respect to every human being, irrespective of race, gender or social status.
All are created in the image of God, so to mistreat any person is to show disrespect for God. Conversely, therefore, to show disregard for God leads to a diminished respect for our fellow human beings. The connection between God and morality is equally fundamental. The Ten Commandments present themselves as a revealed morality, not constructed by man but delivered by Divine inspiration. They provide not a set of provisional suggestions or a law code specific to a single culture and generation, but rather a framework of moral absolutes. In contemporary South African society, increasing concern is being expressed that our children are no longer able to tell right from wrong. With every new set of statistics concerning crime, violence, drug abuse, sexual immorality and anti-social behaviour among children and teens, social commentators frequently voice anxiety at a sense of imminent moral collapse.
More worrying is the growing trend in the Church of the tacit acceptance of blasphemy and the mockery of the Name of Jesus Christ in society. Some argue that blasphemy and the disrespect of the Name of Jesus is a natural consequence of a fallen society. Many argue that, as a secular state, South Africa’s secular constitution entrenches the right of all its citizens to freely oppose or criticise whomever they wish, including religion. However, a secular state does not necessarily relegate religious citizens to second class citizenship nor does it imply their rights are of lesser importance than the rights and freedoms of secular citizens.
How many of us would adopt the same casual approach to mockery and ridicule if it were directed at our wives, husbands or even our children? When malicious attacks are unfairly directed at people we love, we tend to react with indignation and instinctively seek to right the wrong. How much more then should we seek to rectify the unwarranted and insulting denigration of the Lord of Glory in whom we live and breathe and have our being. Can you imagine a society where the Name of Jesus Christ is the object of regular scorn, mockery and disdain while false gods and idols are revered and treated with cautious respect? If the Church of Jesus Christ tacitly approves of the blasphemy and mockery of its Commander in Chief, not only will it lose its respected status and standing in society but eventually will itself become the object of derision and scorn.
A society that repudiates the Christian God, in a rising tide of militant atheism and casual misuse of the name of Jesus Christ, will inevitably lose its moral cohesiveness.
In short, opposing the blasphemous misuse of the Name of Jesus Christ is not so much about our personal sensibilities or free speech as it is about the terrible consequences that potentially can be visited upon a nation that tolerates the willful desecration of the Name of God. There are many good prayer initiatives currently encouraging believers to intercede for the country and to call on God to heal our land. However, a fundamental question we must all answer is this – Will God bless a nation that consistently mocks and ridicules His Holy Name while His Church remains silent? It is my contention, therefore, that the collapse of morality in South Africa and the final demise of our civilisation may have imperceptibly begun with the casual and habitual cursing and careless disregard for the Name of the Judeo-Christian God.
Family Policy Institute