Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jesus Sites and Danish Cartoons

Every once in a while it is interesting to hold two stories side by side and compare them.

Story 1: Jesus sights

The military buys a number of telescopic sights for its rifles from a company called Trijicon. Trijicon, it seems, puts an etching on its sights that reference biblical quotes. For example, a sights might contain the etching JN8:12. This refers to John 8:12, "Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

There are certainly a number of things wrong with this type of act. It is as if the government were to issue Christian bibles and require that its soldiers carry them into battle, or to have a Christian cross included on their dog tags regardless of the soldier's personal beliefs.

However, the concern that I am interested in looking at in this case is that the references ought not to be included because it angers certain Muslims and may incite them to greater violence.

"This is probably the best example of violation of the separation of church and state in this country," said [Michael "Mikey") Weinstein [of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation]. "It's literally pushing fundamentalist Christianity at the point of a gun against the people that we're fighting. We're emboldening an enemy."

Story 2:

The story that I want to compare this to is the story of a Dutch newspaper that published several cartoons that some Muslims found offensive and responded to with violence. Recently, police shot a man "linked to the radical Islamist al-Shabab militia" who had broken into the home of one of the authors, Kurt Westergaard, with an axe and a knife.

(See: BBC, Danish police shoot intruder at cartoonist's home)

What I see is an interesting point of comparison is over whether the fact that somebody is prone to respond to certain speech with acts of violence is a good reason to condemn the speaker.

There are, in both cases, good reason to condemn the speaker in these cases.

Some of the Danish cartoons commit the Bigot's Fallacy. They take qualities that are found in a subset of a particular group and they use those qualities to denigrate the whole group. They are bigoted in the same way that trying to brand all atheists with the crimes of Stalin is bigoted.

And we have good reason to condemn an act of the Government of handing out military equipment with religious inscriptions on them promoting the views of a religion that the specific soldier may not share. It is not the job of the military to indoctrinate soldiers into a specific religion.

In neither case are these objections grounded on the possibility that others might respond with violence.

If and when there are people who are prone to respond to particular text with violence, then the condemnation never falls on the person who is doing the speaking. It falls upon those who have decided to respond to words with violence. This is exactly what the doctrine of the right to freedom of speech condemns. That right states that, while a speaker has no immunity from condemnation for what he says and writes, he shall enjoy an immunity from violence or threats of violence.

When we yield to violence and threats of violence in matters of freedom of speech, we weaken that freedom for everybody. It sends a message throughout the community that responding to words with violence and threats of violence is not only effective, it is permissible. We effectively allie ourselves with those making the threats and against those who are doing the speaking.

So, is it the case that there are people who may be embolded to respond to words with violence a good reason to condemn those who issue those words? Should we count among our reasons for condemnation the fact that, "There are people who may respond with greater violence to your act of including religious inscriptions on these sights."

I would argue that this should not count as one of our reasons.

Admittedly, there is a complication here. The military's job is to win battles. So, one of the questions that the military has to ask and answer is whether a particular set of actions contributes to or reduces the possibility of winning a particular conflict. If this type of act empowers and emboldens the enemy, thus increasing their power in the battlefield, then this consequence has military implications.

Yet, it might also be argued that the Danish cartoons embolded and empowered the enemy as well. It was also an effective recruiting tool that made the Muslim forces stronger than they would have otherwise been. So, if it is permissible to condemn these religious inscriptions for empowering the enemy, then is it not also permissible to condemn the Danish cartoonists as well?

To condemn the cartoonists in a way that condones the threats of violence made against them is to abandon the principle of freedom of speech. It may help to win the battle or the war, but it does so by destroying that which the war was supposed to be defending.

As I have said, we have good reason to condemn the government for purchasing and distributing these sights, and the company for including them on the scopes. Our reasons have nothing to do with the fact that others might respond violently. They have everything to do with legitimate prohibitions against the government using the military to push a religious doctrine.

That others might respond to these words with violence is NOT one of those good reasons. It should not be included as such in this debate. Doing so requires siding with those who respond to words with violence - condoning the violence by joining the violent in condemning the speakers.

14 comments:

John 3:16 Doe said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE thereof." Congress' purchase of weapons from the lowest bidder that happen to have "codes" on them do not "establish religion." The private company has the right to put codes on their weapons if they choose to do so. If Congress doesn't like it they can purchase from the second lowest bidder, etc. However, then Congress would be discriminating against the private company by rejecting their weapons solely because of some "religious code" inscribed on them.

Poor dear atheists don't have veto power over what others put on their manufactured goods, much as you wish you did. If the manufacturer of the Humvee wants to call its next model the John3:16, little crybabies would whine about it and want the government not to purchase it. This is no different than atheists putting up advertisments on government run buses. If you don't like it, don't look at it. Or better yet, start your own company, produce better and cheaper scopes, and call them Model ThereIsNoGod, and get the government to purchase them instead.

Sheldon said...

Better yet, it seems to me that the govt. ought to request that the scopes not have any extraneous written material on the scopes period. Brand name, model, serail number, period.

other than than, why waste time on such a petty issue? Yawn.

NAL said...

Spending taxpayer money to proselytize a religion is a violation respecting the establishment of religion. It violates not only the letter of the Constitution but also the intent of the Founders.

James Madison:

There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle in religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.

John Doe said...

I agree NAL, it is improper for the Govt to "spend money to proseltyze." But the private company just inserted the "code" within the serial number. It said something like: AC004J3:16 as a serial number on the side of the scope. It would be equally absurd if a Humvee had a V.I.N. of XM78WR007J3:16.

You have to get a magnifying glass almost to see it in a picture. I know "proselytizing" and that ain't it.

Eneasz said...

I find the irony of putting verses from a teacher that many people consider the ultimate pacifist on the sides of tools of death to be most delicious. :) I eagerly await bayonettes with "WWJD" stamped on them.

Anonymous said...

Dutch ≠ Danish

John Doe said...

Eneasz, I believe that your understanding of Jesus is flawed. Jesus was a "pacifist" about his own death. He was destined to be crucified. That was his purpose in being incarnated as a man.

The real issue is whether Jesus' command to "love thy neighbor" encompasses killing those who are trying to kill "your neighbor." If somebody was breaking into your house, in order to kill your loved ones, would you sit back and allow it to happen? Hell no, you wouldn't. Neither would Jesus.

Sure, he'd allow them to kill him. But he sure as hell wouldn't allow them to kill the little children next door. That's not "loving your neighbor."

Once you see that sometimes people must be killed in order to protect others, then you are on the road to understanding the theory of "the Just War." Granted, not all wars (few if any, some would argue) are "just wars." But if you accept the concept of the just war, then it is merely a matter of opinion what is "just" and what isn't. Was WWII a "just war"? If not, are you a total and complete pacifist? If you aren't, that means that you agree that some wars are just. And if some wars are just, what's wrong with putting Bible versus on scopes? You want people to miss when they are shooting at the bad guys in a just war? You want them to shoot poorly, and let the bad guys win?

To me, you have this juvenile understanding of Jesus, just enough to think that you know what you are talking about. It's like me claiming to know WTF atheists believe. Leave the deep thinking about Christianity to those of us who know what we are talking about...

Eneasz said...

Must.... not... feed... troll.....

maybe just a tiny bite

Actually I was raised in a very Jesus-The-Conqueror version of Christianity. With the smiting and the second coming and the bowls of wrath poured out upon the earth. So this is not a view that is native to my thinking. What I know of the peace-and-love Jesus is entirely what I learned during my study of other forms of christianity. And yes, those forms do exist, and they make for the fun irony.

The fact that you claim to "know what we are talking about" and claim to be an authority on Jesus while blind to the fact that he can legitimately be interpretted in either way (plus many shades in between) simply shows that you are the one burdened with a juvenile understanding of chrisitianity. I again urge you to learn more about the religion and the holy book you follow.

Sorry all. :( Back to the non-feeding now.

John Too Smart For Eneasz Doe said...

Eneasz' definition of a troll is the same as a liberal's definition of a raaaaacist: one who is defeating him in a debate.

Actually, if you were a scholar you would know that the vast majority of Christians see Jesus as one who would reject pacifism as it pertained to innocent victims. Your comment made it sound as though it was inconceivable that Jesus would ever want "the good guys" to fight and win.

And I noticed that you didn't touch my hypothetical about what you would do if bad people were breaking into your house to kill your family. Would you want the best scope/weapon available so you could shoot them, or would you sit around saying "Must...Not...Feed...Troll?"

Does being an atheist mean you give up using your common sense? Here, let me try to make a poll of what would a person with good desires under the circumstances?

TGP said...

WWJD is the last thing I'd want on a bayonet, considering that if I was in a trench and actually had to enter melee combat, I'd want my bayonet to exist!

The government only has to take the low-bid when the item being purchased meets the requirements in the bid request. The Army can't buy toilet paper with Karl Rove's smiling face on every sheet, even if it is cheaper.

John Doe said...

TGP, not sure that we disagree much if at all.

But I'd worry more about the steel that made up the bayonet, and the man behind it, than I would about what was inscribed in it.

And I'm not at all sure that the govt couldn't purchase toilet paper with Rove's face on it. But to keep to the topic at hand, it would be more like if in tiny letters on the back were inscribed CMXOCRROCKS or CMXOCSUX. Sorry to nit pick, but I am a lawyer, and the devil is always in the tiny details for a lawyer...

TGP said...

Neither inscription should be acceptable. Buy the third bid, the one with no 'magic' on it.

Consider also, that the US military is a big enough customer to request an identical site without an inscription and get it without any hassle.

Johnnie 316 36DD ;) said...

True, the government CAN request anything that they want. Then the question devolves into should we demand that they be petty and prevent a private manufacturer from having certain "codes" in their serial numbers? Have you seen these serial numbers? Then perhaps we set up a bureaucracy to carefully scan all the VINs on cars to ensure that JN316 never happens to line up within them.

And what happens to the millions aleady sold? Should the USA scrap them? Or should the USA force the company to take them back as defective? Sometimes, things are so petty that they should never become an issue...

TGP said...

Point of fact: nobody's freaking out about serial numbers that contain certain sequences. VIN are sequential and if one ends in 316, I'd expect that the next ends in 317.

The etchings in question are not sequential or random in nature. They are an intentional reference to a specific bible verse. We should order no more of them. The US military is a big enough customer that it should be able to demand a scope without inscriptions on it and get it.

As for the ones already made? If they were ordered with knowledge of the inscription, fire the guy who placed the order and file off the numbers if the company won't take them back. If the company takes them back, I'm sure there are plenty of bible-thumpers who will buy them privately. If not, clearly it's a product for which there is insufficient demand.