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February 11, 2006

Cartoons of the Atheist

We can imagine, as some Muslims have asked us to do, the outrage that would greet satiric cartoons featuring Jesus or, were the point sufficiently nasty, Moses.

How about a satiric drawing of an atheist? What would it show? (A man lost in a microscope oblivious to the wonder of all that goes on around him?)

Wait, by the grace of Google, I found one (our artist is Jack Hamm):

Atheist cartoon.gif

I suspect that this image would not be sufficient to rouse the residents of the Left Bank or the Upper West Side to burn flags or embassies. Would it be possible to come up with a cartoon that would seriously offend atheists? Are they above (below?) this sort of thing? Is this because for the atheist "nothing is sacred"?

Doesn't a feeling for the "sacred" increase the inclination to take offense? Would this not be a response to the assertion by Madeleine Bunting, in the Guardian, that, in essence, religion is merely one of many "collective identities" societies can use as an excuse for violence?

Posted by Mitchell Stephens at February 11, 2006 7:47 PM


A "feeling for the sacred" is only one of many excuses for anger, which is what we really mean when we speak of taking offense. Anything that arouses emotional defenses can lead to anger, and through anger to violence. This is a built in attribute of the human brain and religion is just one of its possible triggers. No need even for a theory of collective identity, though that kind of identity does lend strength to the sense of one's entitlement to offense and anger.

Posted by: Catana at February 12, 2006 1:53 PM

not sure, Catana, "sacred" isn't important here -- tending toward, if not requisite for, sectarian violence. "sacred" defined broadly enough to include "blood and soil." to include "honor." (all quasi-religious notions?) Could "sacred" also be defined so broadly as to include "freedom" and "democracy"? but then what would it mean to take "nothing as sacred"? Could one be that much of a disbeliever? And, to further confuse the matter and myself (confession: I'm reading Derrida), is "making sacred" the opposite of another religious impulse: "being scrupulous"?

Posted by: mitch at February 12, 2006 7:29 PM

Not saying the concept of the sacred isn't important, just that it's one of many emotional triggers. I imagine anything could be considered sacred. Certainly many people believe the flag is sacred. At least their behavior indicates it. Hmmm, how much of a disbeliever can one be? I don't hold much sacred except the basic right of all humans to live their lives with a modicum of dignity, and the need to discover the truth about things as far as that's possible, and to speak the truth. Flags, blood, religion, and all the rest of the myths and symbols--fuhgeddaboudit.

Posted by: Catana at February 13, 2006 2:53 PM

Surely anything put together by thought is not sacred.

Posted by: Peter Rock at February 14, 2006 10:05 AM

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