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Entry 729, on 2008-03-31 at 19:39:08 (Rating 4, Comments)

I often debate with people on contentious subjects such as global warming, the war in Iraq, and religion and politics in general. I do this because I enjoy the intellectual challenge of the debate but also because I can test my beliefs against a counter-argument. There have been some rare occasions where I have actually changed my mind, at least partially, on a subject as a result, and there are other situations where I have moved from a position on one side of the argument to a less well formed opinion.

The latest instance of this is a debate which has been going on in my main blog for a while regarding material which is offensive to people's religious beliefs. The major source of offense was the infamous "Bloody Mary" episode of South Park which screened on NZ TV about 2 years ago, accompanied by much complaint by Catholics in particular.

Originally I thought that the program was legitimate satire and the people who found it offensive should just toughen up. But after discussions with a regular contributor to my blog's comment area, SBFL, I am now not so sure. What I failed to take account of is the close attachment religious people have to characters from their religion. To them they are real people and an insult to them is like an insult to a close friend or family member. I would object if the South Park episode lampooned one of my family so was I not being unreasonable in supporting the program against the complaints it received?

As I said, I'm not so sure now. I still think the program was a clever satire but can its offensiveness (which undoubtedly exists but is a critical factor in some satire, especially the edgy stuff that South Park often presents) be justified because of the cleverness of the message?

The reason I didn't even consider this factor originally is that the idea that anyone would take a character from a religious story that seriously was totally ridiculous to me. I mean the whole Jesus story is fairly unbelievable and unsupported by evidence so why take a part of that story so seriously that a character from it was as important to you as a relation? Its crazy but some people take it seriously and shouldn't we respect that?

I personally think there is an appropriate level of respect which falls short of total obsequiousness which many people would advocate but might be somewhat above the level of respect observed in South Park. I say that now but then I see the silliness of the bleeding statues and other miracles the churches often believe in and I think they deserve to be ridiculed to some extent.

See how confused I am? Everyone deserves the right to an opinion but I think its fair to expose the weakness of an opinion through vigorous satirical treatment. If one of my relations pretended to have given birth to the son of god, but said they were still a virgin, and then didn't die but went up to heaven, and then Jesus was really three guys at once except he wasn't, and god allowed Jesus to die but god was Jesus, and he performed miracles and died but really didn't, and all of this was only documented after the fact and by biased sources, I would probably say they deserve to be satirised. But satirising something which is important to someone (even for silly reasons) isn't nice so what is the answer?

I add this to my list of things I'm just not sure about. Interestingly enough, abortion is another, which my Catholic friend might be interested to know!


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