Date: Tue, 29 Sep 1998 17:54:17 EDT
Subject: [Atheist] re; AANEWS for September 29, 1998
There is a disturbing rise in the number of incidents involving
disrespect of religion on the
European continent and elsewhere—a strange backdrop to the
recent developments in the case of embattled novelist Salman Rushdie.
The latest flap involves a photographic essay book titled
by Serge Bramly and Bettina Rheims. The initials stand for
of Nazareth, King of the Jews, the title ostensibly given to the
Christian messiah by his executioners. Photos in the book allegedly
portray the 12 apostles as
thugs, and place the Nativity in a
garage, notes Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper. The authors,
however, insist that they were trying to portray Jesus Christ in a
modern context. Bramly told news media,
We just wanted to
show how one can transpose the story of Christ to today. We didn't
want to wind up the bourgeoisie or shock anyone...
An unidentified spokesperson fore the Roman Catholic Church in Paris,
however, declared that
We can't rule out a law suit by the
association founded by the bishops of France, adding
limits which shouldn't be crossed. He described INRI as
sensationalist attack on the Christian religion.
Blasphemy laws are still on the books in a number of European nations
despite lipservice concerning
freedom of expression. Austrian
Atheists have been prosecuted for allegedly blaspheming or insulting
Jesus Christ; and in England, the blasphemy statutes there, while
relatively unenforced, are being cited by Islamic groups who wish to
see laws prohibiting any insulting remarks about religious belief or
Twenty years ago, family values activist Mary Whitehouse successfully
took a gay newspaper to court for publishing a poem about a gay Jesus
Christ. Now, however, the dusty blasphemy statutes are being
considered again in connection with the introduction to a new Bible
series which reportedly describes Jehovah as a powerthirsty maniac.
The series, known as The Pocket Canons, are to be published next month
by Canongate. While the Bible verses are taken from the Authorised
Version, the introductions by novelists Will Self and Louis
deBernieres are at the center of the new controversy. DeBernieres,
for instance, suggests that God is
an unpleasantly sarcastic
botches up the reparations when he decides to
make them. He later adds in his 1,000 word introduction to the
Book of Job that God is either
a mad, bloodthirsty and capricious
despot, or that for thousands of years
we have been
inadvertently worshipped the devil.
The Book of Revelation draws criticism by Mr. Self who describes it as
Leading the call for a blasphemy prosecution of the two essayists is
Paul Slennett, head of a firm which distributes religious books and
was an original partner in the deal to sell The Pocket Canons.
Slennet is known for being behind a national campaign to include the
Jesus is Alive on postal cancellations; he has asked the
Scottish Bible Board, which granted a franchise to Canongate to
publish portions of the Authorised Version of the bible, to pull the
Litigation would be the last resort, warns Slennet,
but obviously the law is there and we would take advice on how to
Canongate is sure that it can refute any libel or blasphemy charges.
The British blasphemy statutes prohibits
reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus
Christ, the Bible or the formularies of the Church of England.
Since the flap involving Salman Rushdie, Islamic and other
non-Christian religious groups have been insisting that they also be
protected under the coverage of the blasphemy statutes.
Religious groups in the UK have also been expressing displeasure with
what they see as the growing use of religious themes, often in a
humorous context, to sell consumer products. In August, the
Advertising Standards Authority responded to complaints by the
religious, and noted that it had upheld 124 complaints against a
stationery firm which had promotional slogans such as
Behold! The King of paper is born. Beer companies
have come under attack, as have commercials promoting jeans and safe
sex. Diesel Jeans used pictures of nuns wearing jeans with the
superior denim. These sorts of complaints, though,
paled in comparison with the volume of gripes about an effort by the
British Safety Council to promote safe sex. A picture of the Pope
wearing a hard hat was captioned,
The 11th commandment; thou shalt
always wear a condom.
The Board attempted to measure public attitudes about the use of
religious themes in advertising. According to the Telegraph
Almost 80% of those interviewed said that disrespectful
references to any religion, race or culture should never be
And this past summer—two oceans away, in Australia—a
television commercial for the Sizzler steak house chain sparked
complaints when it showed Jesus Christ taking orders for food. In the
humorous ski, two Israelites meet, and one says that
a fella is
turning fish and loaves of bread into sufficient quantities to feed
1,000 people. The other asks,
How about some prawns and scallops?
Or a big, juicy steak with Greek salad?
Jesus, replies the other Israelite.
Where does he think he
The Roman Catholic Church promptly branded the humorous advertisement
irresponsible, saying that it
borders on blasphemy.
And in March, evangelicals in Britain were contemplating legal action
over a play which portrayed Christ as a Teletubby and says that the
Virgin Mary had sexual relations with the
Holy Goat. The
production was done by The Reduced Shakespeare Company, and was
a complete mockery of the word of God by a local
minister. Rev. David Carson told reporters that he had not actually
seen the play but, but
I do not need to see filth in order to know
it is filth. I am outraged that this production is being allowed to
go ahead. He added that no other religion
would be allowed to
be ridiculed in such a way. It is clearly blasphemous.
A spokesman for the Company noted that the play had already toured
American and the Bible belt
Finally, in New Zealand, an official with that nation's Arts Council
apologized for a work displayed in the National Museum titled
Virgin in a Condom. The militant group Catholic Action
threatened to try to have the museum prosecuted under blasphemy
statutes for showing a three-inch plaster Virgin Mary in a condom.