Friday, December 7, 2012

Religion and Comic Books

Life.  Sometimes it just hands you amusement on a silver platter.  Some time ago our Four Musketeers who write on Comics and...Other Imaginary Tales touched on religion and science, a curiously hotbed issue in the USA and among more than a few other spots in the world, though less so here in our wonderful blog world.  We have one of our number who's a devout Christian, believing the literal truth of the Bible.  I'm the only outright atheist amongst the remaining three.  I'll not lay any claim to what the other two believe.  They can share that if they like.  We do not have sectarian strife.

I'm one of the rare atheists who likes religion.  I don't believe a lick of it but really like the stories.  That's one reason why I've studied religion a good bit.  In college I took several courses on religion.  I've read the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon, some Upanishads, some Compassionate Budha, a lot of Native American myth stories, and a lot of Greek/Roman mythology, with a lesser amount of Norse, Japanese, and Chinese myth.  Oh, yeah, some Aztek, Maya and Inca myth, too.

So when I bring criticism to statements of faith and belief superseding scientific fact, I'm not just whistling Dixie.  I have some basis for knowing religion.  I particularly know the tenets of Christianity.  My wife is a Christian who was raised one, became something of an agnostic, then went the born again route.  When she was deep into the literalism of the faith I was made familiar with a lot of the literalist Christian attempts to undermine scientific research with faith based science, which is an oxymoron if ever there was one.

The thing is, all of them should be read like comic books published by DC or Marvel.  Despite orders from on high, there's really no way to reconcile all the conflicting stories and origins to make a coherent whole. 

Take Christianity as a good example, especially for those hung up on literalism in the Bible.  The first problem is that there are editors to the Bible.  It's not like it was presented by God as a fait accompli like the Ten Commandments.  Second, the various chapters were written over long periods of history by many, many different writers.  Within chapters there is evidence of collaboration and editing, too.  That's why you have Genesis providing different time lines for creation.  Literalism in Christianity is a hopeless endeavor unless you engage in a willing suspension of disbelief.  That's fine for reading fiction stories, but no way to try to live your life.

Not that Islam is any better.  You'd think it might be, the Quran having been written all within the lifetime of Muhammad, who dictated the whole thing.  Of course, like the Bible it's limited to some extent by the writer's inability to forecast the future (Revelations notwithstanding).  So, worship of graven images, or idolatry, is forbidden, as it is in Judaism and Christianity, and that somehow gets translated, well after Muhammad's death, into a ban on depicting Muhammad, or any other living being for that matter.  And yet, most Islamic authorities don't believe TV is forbidden.  Even the king of Islamic extremism, the late, unlamented Osama bin-Laden, watched TV.  Liked to watch himself quite a bit, from what I read. 

Then there are the plethora of dictators in the Muslim world who have their pictures on every corner.  Saddam Hussein, the Assad family, the Ayatollahs, Mubarak, Ghaddafi, and on and on, all had their pictures everywhere but also held themselves out as protectors of the faith, whenever it suited their purpose.

So what's the big deal about a depiction of Muhammad, or anyone else?  In all the pictures on this post, can anyone say that one of them is Muhammad?  It's a trick question.  None of these pictures was done in the lifetime of the subject, let alone by someone who actually knew what the subject looked like.  They're all imaginings of an artist, so strictly speaking none of them is a depiction of Muhammad, even if one of them is intended to be. 

Ok, the Tebow picture is Tebow and not Muhammad, so that's a gimme. 

Read comic books.  Enjoy the stories.  Read the stories of the world's religions with the same enjoyment and willing suspension of disbelief but don't think you're reading something that should be a guide for your life.  Spread the word.  Maybe we can put an end to religious strife if everyone just treats it like the latest effort by Marvel and DC to spend your hard earned money on their product.  The Big Two make a profit.  You enjoy a story (maybe).  Everyone's happy. 

No one ever shot anyone over the revision of Wolverine's origin or the New 52.  That's a good lesson for religions of the world (including the Marxist/Leninists who treated Communism like it was a religion).  If you don't like it, just go read a different story.  Try an indie.

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