The release of the film Innocence of Muslims on YouTube had unfortunate, but fairly predictable results (which may have been the intent). And while it bring serious questions like freedom of speech to the forefront; unfortunately, what gets lost in the furor of anger and apologies is a serious discussion of the underlying issue: what is the nature of God? Assuming the worst, that the film is a deliberate blasphemy against God (or at least his prophet Mohamed), we need to ask what blasphemy mean, and what should be the reaction to it?
There seems to be an underlying assumption that blasphemy diminishes God, taking away his dignity and status. While I can agree that blasphemy might diminish God in my sight, I find it theologically difficult to assume that God Himself can be diminished or harmed by such words and actions. I believe it uis in this distinction between perception and reality that a view of tolerance will be found. Traditional Christian theology holds that God is immutable and unchanging, beyond passions. Whether we love Him or hate Him, there is no change or threat to His being and security. This does not mean that God is inert with no passions, for God is love, but His love is unchanging. Thus His anthropomorphic reaction to the nations that rage against him is one of laughter – it is foolishness to consider them a serious threat. This being the case, God does not need us to defend him.
What is true for God is not always so much the case for us, especially in the fallen state of the world. To the degree that we find our identity in Christ, we have the same immutability of our being that God has – as the martyrs have shown, even death is not an ultimate threat to our existence. Due to our weakness, however; such blasphemy and threats can and do weaken our faith and resolve. It is here that the discussion of tolerance and restraint must take place. Ideally, we should be unaffected by external influences and allow total freedom to others; but as a society we need restrictions on freedom in order to protect our weakness. These two ‘fences’ mark the bounds of social discourse, and it is through legislation, social agreements and good manners that we determine where the fence posts are placed. Because the fragility of the nation of Israel requires a small space (the stoning of blasphemers – Leviticus 24:16), but this does not mean that Paul as wrong in his openness to the pagans of Athens (Acts 17:23). And even less does this give us as the right to take perceived in-justice into our own hands as individuals or as a mob. Christians have experienced similar ‘insults’ in film (The Last Temptation of Christ), books (The DaVinci Code) and art (Robert Mapplethorpe) but reacted differently.
This difference is rooted in theology, and the solution needs to be through theological discussion. Both Christians and Muslims ground our belief in God on the Old Testament books of Moses, and it is here that we should find common understanding to resolve these social issues.
I tried watching the Innocence of Muslims and had to quit. Irrespective of the content, the acting, dialogue and production standards were so bad that it was more than I could endure, it doesn’t even deserve the respect of laughter.